The vehicles I test usually come well-equipped, not stripped. But when Ford sent me a fully loaded Ranger with a price tag of more than $21,000, I sent it back.

If the wheels were made of gold, the compact Ranger still probably wouldn't be worth that much. Especially when you consider that twenty-one grand will buy you a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Ford Explorer or even a fully loaded Ford F-150,Ford's big truck.

It doesn't make sense to take a small truck and stuff it full of price-bloating options.

Instead I asked for the entry level Ranger, the one without all the creature comforts and add-ons.

Option-wise, all I wanted was an air conditioner and a radio.

And although this week's test truck didn't have cruise control, electric windows, a sunroof, CD player, power mirrors, electric door locks or even carpet, none of that affected the Ranger's basic roadworthiness.

Even the entry-model Ranger is peppy, stylish and fun to drive.


The Ranger's standard engine is a 2.3-liter 100-horsepower four cylinder. It's a rugged motor that delivers good performance at most speeds.

The engine can get a bit choppy, however, when it is revved close to its 4,600rpm limit. For quick acceleration, it's best to shift to the next highest gear and avoid revving the engine.

The test truck came with a smooth-shifting, five-speed manual transmission, which is a good match for the engine. I loaded the test vehicle with 25 bags of cypress mulch and several flats of potted plants and discovered the Ranger was not affected by the heavy load.

The clutch is easy to work, and that makes it easy to drive the Ranger in stop-and-go traffic.

If a four cylinder just won't cut it for you, Ford offers the Ranger with either a 3.0-liter V-6 or a 4.0-liter V-6. But if you order either V-6, you have to settle for an automatic transmission, because Ford doesn't offer the V-6 Ranger with a manual transmission.

To complicate things further, you can't buy a four-cylinder Ranger with an automatic. You have to take the five-speed.

Fuel mileage with the air conditioner running came in at 21 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway.


The Ranger's road manners may be its most endearing trait. It is as comfortable and easy to drive as a small or midsize car, yet it is also tough, sturdy and able to take a pounding when the road gets rough.

I repeatedly drove the test truck over a badly paved railroad crossing and on a dirt road pockmarked with holes.

The suspension system - a twin I-beam setup in the front and leaf springs in the rear -absorbs the worst of what you might encounter and enables the vehicle to handle with finesse.

The cab never bounces and the steering wheel never shudders when you encounter bad terrain.

The front disc and rear drum brakes had a heavy-duty feel. The anti-lock feature is active only on the rear brakes.

On the road, the Ran ger offers a carlike ride. That is, it's fairly soft and quiet on the highway.


The interior of the test truck was about as simple as they come: a vinyl bench seat, roll-up windows and an AM/FM cassette radio.

Ranger's stylish one-piece sloping dash is what separates this truck from many others. Its attractive styling and sensible layout help to make the transition from car to truck an easy one.

The no-nonsense analog gauges are easy-to-read and unobscured by the steering wheel.

An armrest with a pop-out cupholder folds down from the center of the bench seat, which is nicely padded and comfortable.

Although three people can ride in the Ranger, it's much better suited for two - at least when equipped with manual transmission. Shifting would be difficult with a third person in the middle of the seat.

The only significant gripe I have is that for the nearly $11,500 price, carpet should be standard. The test truck had a rubber-t ype mat across the floor.

Truett's tip: Ford's entry-level pickup truck is stylish, tough, versatile and well-built. It offers decent performance and excellent fuel economy.