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SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

By Matt/Bob Hagin

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,690
     Price As Tested                                    $ 23,785
     Engine Type                            4.0 Liter V6 w/MPFI*
     Engine Size                                 245 cid/3996 cc
     Horsepower                                   160 @ 4200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               225 @ 2750 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  125.9"/70.3"/201.7"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3628 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  19.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                    P245/75R16SL OWL all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            15/19/18          
     0-60 MPH                                       10.0 seconds
     Payload                                         1260 pounds
     Towing capacity                                 5620 pounds

     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

(Ford's first mini-pickup was a rebadged Mazda called Courier. When Ford introduced its own Ranger in '83, it quickly became the best- selling compact truck in America, according to Bob Hagin. Matt Hagin remembers a Courier as the "shop rig" he drove while fetching parts.)

MATT - The Ranger emerged in '83 and unlike its Courier predecessor, it could be had with four-wheel drive and a V6 engine right from the start. Ford didn't quite get the jump on the competition with the Ranger but more importantly, it got away from rebadging imports. The present Ranger was redesigned in '98 and among other things, it eliminated the archaic Twin "I" Beam front suspension that millions of Ford trucks used for years. That system was tough, but difficult to align.

BOB - I had to work on a lot of those Twin "I" Beam suspension systems when I was a mechanic and I never could figure an easy way to get them right. When the Ranger line went over to its current conventional "A" arm front suspension, it improved the handling a lot. Now driving one now feels like driving a car. Most Rangers are sold to buyers in the 18-35 year-old range, which includes both Generations X and Y, so its obvious Ford doesn't have senior citizens like myself in mind when they market the line. I tried to squeeze into the rear jump seats and although I finally made it, I don't think I'd want to climb back there on a regular basis. Two swing-out rear doors make access to the rear area easier, but the jump seats are best left to kids.

MATT - Those jump seats are just right for my little girls, Dad. There is a four-cylinder offered in the Ranger line, but only with two-wheel drive. Standard on all 4x4 models is a 3.0 liter V6 engine, but in the case of our XLT Supercab test model, the powerplant is an optional 4.0 liter V6. It uses antiquated pushrod technology to operate its two valves per cylinder, which isn't as sophisticated as the overhead camshaft engine of the Explorer. The horsepower is a little low at 160 ponies, but it puts out 225 pound-feet of torque, which gives it plenty of pulling power. Another V6 comes standard in the Ranger 4WD, but it displaces only three liters. Ranger also offers a longbed, but not with the handy Supercab like the one we're evaluating this week.

BOB - Ranger's four-wheel drive system was upgraded last year to include a vacuum-operated front hub device that lets the driver engage or disengage four-wheel drive at speeds of up to 60 mph. That comes in really handy when the road surface is covered by alternating patches of snow and dry pavement. It's exciting to see a five-speed automatic transmission in a truck, because that type of technology is usually reserved for luxury cars. It allowed me to get almost 20 miles per gallon when I drove it smoothly. Our test rig came with what Ford calls its Sport Package. This bumps the wheel and tire size from 15 to 16 inches, which makes it looks a lot more rugged. And like most other domestic 4X4 trucks and SUVs, our Ranger rides on torsion bars up front and traditional leaf springs in the rear.

MATT - That tough suspension system is what helps the Ranger fulfill its role as a no-kidding truck. Its maximum payload is 1260 pounds and it can tow almost three tons if properly equipped. The rear brakes are of a drum design and I hope this is the next area to be updated because rear disc brakes work best. It also has a couple of tow hooks mounted front and rear which can come in handy if someone is stuck in a snow bank. Having the optional limited slip rear differential and a set of low gears would help in this type of work. Standard on 4X4 models is a set of fog lamps to help guide its driver in foul weather.

BOB - Somehow I don't see these tricked-out XLT Rangers with their flashy graphics and polished aluminum wheels being used to haul much more than skis to the slopes, power boats to the lake and off-road bikes to the mountain trails.

MATT - You must think the younger generation is pretty shallow, Dad. When I did my couple of days at the wheel of our Supercab, I also used it to haul groceries and go to the movies. That's what most Americans use their four-wheelers for.