Ford's Ranger XLT is a little truck with a big heart. Even if you don't like trucks, the chances are you would like this one. The test truck came with a pair of sporty, comfortable bucket seats, a powerful V-6 engine and four-wheel drive. It rides almost like a car, can haul a convenience store's worth of cargo, and it is a teetotaler at the gas pumps. It is also this nation's best-selling compact truck. ENGINE, PERFORMANCE The test vehicle came with Ford's 160-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6, an engine that pumps out loads of torque and can break the rear wheels loose with a moderate application of the accelerator. There are three other engines available. If you prefer a little less power there are two smaller V-6s - a 2.9-liter with 140 horsepower and a 3.0-liter with 145horsepower. The base engine is a 2.3-liter, ''twin plug,'' 100-horsepower four cylinder. The test truck's optional ($300) 4.0-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission is an ideal drivetrain for the Ranger because it offers a nice balance of performance and economy. As with Ford's other four-wheel-drive vehicles, such as the Explorer and F-150, the XLT has a button on the dash that allows the driver to switch from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive. For the most part, the driver feels little difference between two-and four-wheel drive. There is no additional noise, but performance drops slightly. I averaged better than 21 miles per gallon in city driving with the bed loaded with cargo and the air conditioner running. The Ranger XLT with the 4.0-liter is EPA rated at 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The engine sounds nice and tough. It's generally quiet, even when laboring under a heavy load. The transmission shifts are strong and positive. Overall, the drivetrain has a rugged, heavy-duty feel to it. STEERING, HANDLING Unlike other trucks I have tested, the Ranger XLT does not have a bouncy, jerky ride - not even when traveling over rough terrain. The suspension system easily dispenses with bumps, and the XLT's ride is nearly always smooth. I'd credit that to an extremely sturdy undercarriage. Underneath the body is a rigid carbon steel frame with six cross members. Mounted to that is the XLT's twin traction beam/coil and leaf spring suspension. The power steering is not the type that is speed-sensitive or that engineers designed to have a little extra weight. The steering wheel spins so easily you could turn it with one finger. Response is fairly quick, though not particularly crisp. The brakes are outfitted with anti-lock drums on the rear, but the discs up front are not equipped with ABS. The brakes are power-assisted and strong. The pedal has little free play, and even on wet pavement the XLT stops quickly. FIT, FINISH Ford engineers have done a masterful job designing and laying out the XLT's interior. It is simple, user-friendly, and class y. For a small truck, foot, leg and head room is abundant. Controls, gauges, switches and buttons are easy to reach and use. The test truck featured power windows and door locks, a sliding rear window, and a powerful AM/FM cassette stereo. The cloth-covered bucket seats, separated by a floor console, were comfortable and featured numerous adjustments. There was not one flaw in the XLT's assembly. There were no rattles or squeaks. At cruising speed the XLT is quiet.