2002 Ford Ranger Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Most popular compact pickup packs most power in class.
Ford Ranger is the overwhelming first choice among compact pickups. Prices for basic work trucks start at less than $13,000, while the availability of a powerful V6 engine with a five-speed automatic, along with a slick four-wheel-drive system and a variety of trim levels and body styles make the Ranger appealing to a wide audience.
Last year, fresh styling, new engines and redesigned components made the Ranger stronger, more practical, more convenient and more comfortable than ever. Those strengths have all been carried over to a largely unchanged 2002 model.
Ranger comes in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models, spread through three trim designations, three cab configurations, and three wheelbase lengths, with six- and seven-foot beds, and flat Styleside or notched Flareside fender shapes.
Three engines are available, two V6 engines and a four-cylinder. The 2.3-liter four-cylinder with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder is rated at 135 horsepower and 153 foot-pounds of torque. The 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 154 horsepower and 180 pounds-feet of torque. The 4.0-liter V6 develops 207 horsepower and 238 foot-pounds of torque.
Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions are offered with all three engines.
The price-leading base edition is the XL Regular Cab Styleside ($12,270) with the 2.3-liter engine, manual transmission, and two-wheel-drive. Add an extended SuperCab, four-wheel drive, and a 4.0-liter V6, and the price climbs to $21,250. Opt for a SuperCab Flareside XLT with 4WD, and the tab rises to $22,645.
Options include a new five-speed automatic transmission, a limited-slip rear differential, power windows and auxiliary rear doors for the SuperCab, all of which can load the bottom line by as much as $3,000.
Special models supply a surplus of attitude. The Edge sports monochromatic color schemes that include a vivid Chrome Yellow. Edge comes in 4x2 and 4x4, but either way it rides at 4x4 height. Tow hooks, fog lights, and a 60-watt stereo with CD player all contribute to its attitude. Edge prices start at $17,295 with a 3.0-liter V6, but can climb as high as $23,905 with a 4.0-liter, 4WD, and four-door SuperCab.
New for 2002 is an off-road package called the FX4 ($24,830). Based on a four-door SuperCab XLT, FX4 comes with 4WD, 4.0-liter V6, a 4.10 rear end, skid plates, tow hooks, Bilstein shocks, and other serious off-road equipment; interior trim includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, and a host of power luxuries and conveniences.
Redesigned for 2001, the Ranger sports revamped front styling, a bulging hood and aggressive fender flares. The designers borrowed elements from the larger F-150 trucks and used them to strengthen the Ranger's visual cues and streamline the package.
The Styleside design sweeps a continuous line from tip to tail, but the Flareside version carves a recessed step into each side panel immediately behind the cab. The notch accentuates a rounded rear fender. Indentations in the bed support partitions to segment cargo.
The Edge focuses on a monochromatic treatment, with a power-dome hood bump that hints at a powerhouse beneath. Edge also features protective bed rails and four tie-down hooks. An optional bed extender flips out and rests on the tailgate, like a U-shaped cage of tubular stainless steel. It won't keep much dirt in, but it will sure stop your kayak from sliding out. An optional ($895) hard tonneau lid unfolds in separate front and rear sections, divided by a central vertical partition, with a lock added on the forward bin for security.
The Ranger's cab was revised for 2001. The most noteworthy improvement is a newfound quietness. Previous Rangers consistently set the standard among compact trucks for spacious, comfortable accommodations and convenient features. The latest models build on that foundation with new seat designs clad in new fabrics, a revised instrument panel with tachometer supplied at all trim levels, and a revamped center pod for climate and audio systems with large easy-to-use rotary dials.
The Regular Cab carries a bench seat that can squeeze three aboard. The SuperCab offers an interior storage bay behind the front seat, with a 6-foot (71.8 inch) bed behind that. Two small side-facing jump seats may be added to the cab's rear bay; each folds down from the back wall. Two optional rear-hinged doors allow easy access to the SuperCab's rear quarters.
The Edge adds a textured rubber floor cover for wash-and-wear convenience. The bench splits 60/40, with side bolsters for outboard positions and a center armrest that folds down and contains a pop-top storage bin. Seats in our SuperCab Edge had cloth center sections surrounded by satin vinyl on the bolsters, and they felt luxurious. Deluxe interior components also come with the Edge, including air conditioning and an audio kit with in-dash six-CD swticher. Our SuperCab Edge test vehicle also featured the optional Power Equipment Group ($405), with electric assists for windows, locks and mirrors, plus remote keyless entry.
Topping Ranger's power chart is a 4.0-liter single-cam V6 built by Ford in Germany. With this engine, the Ranger leaps off the line and runs quickly to speed. More important it provides strong low-rpm torque for off-road work in four-wheel-drive or pulling trailers or heavy loads.
The V6 teams with either a heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic with adaptive shift logic. Rather than a taller overdrive, the five-way autobox adds a gear between what would be first and second in a four-speed automatic. This produces closer ratios for better throttle response when accelerating, towing a trailer or driving off road. A high-gear lockout switch on the tip of the shift lever enables the driver to kick down a gear with the tap of a finger.
A Ranger SuperCab 4x4 with the 4.0-liter V6 and optional five-speed automatic delivered good performance for passing, even at altitude. It could scamper up mountain grades or effortlessly pass a line of heavy freight haulers.
The Ranger handled bumps and curves with confident dexterity. Its rigid ladder-like chassis, fully boxed in the front section, combines with an independent wishbone front suspension to produce smooth ride sensations.
At the same time, the Ranger offers aggressive performance off the pavement, as we saw on a primitive track laced with lumps and rocks and tire-sucking mud pits. A high ground clearance enables the Ranger 4x4 to clear ruts and bumps easily. And when it doesn't, skid plates shield the transfer case and fuel tank from damage.
A pulse-vacuum hub-lock device engages the front hubs quickly, for push-button shifting into four-wheel-drive, while rolling as fast as 80 mph. A rotary dial on the dashboard provides seamless switching from rear-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive high, or further down to four-wheel low for serious off-road maneuvers.
For a growing number of individuals, even young families, a compact pickup is a sensible choice. Base prices compare favorably with those of entry-level sedans, and many folks feel that a truck has more personality. Virtually any power or luxury item you might order for a compact sedan is offered on a truck as well. A truck can be a versatile weekend workhorse and, especially when equipped with an extended cab and auxiliary rear doors, a competent family car the other five days out of the week.
Ford Ranger remains a popular choice. One in three compact pickups sold last year was a Ranger. More than 5 million Rangers have been built since the first one rolled out in 1982.
Fresh exterior styling and innovative add-ons (like a cargo bed extender and the two-flap lockable tonneau lid) make America's best-selling compact truck even more attractive and appealing. In performance, the 207-horsepower V6 propels Ranger to the head of its class.
The Edge adds attitude with a monochromatic exterior and an easy-to-clean interior.
XL ($12,270); XLT ($14,405); Edge ($14,855).
Twin Cities, Minnesota; Edison, New Jersey.
Options As Tested
5-speed automatic transmission ($1000); limited-slip rear axle ($295); SuperCab with vinyl rear jump seats, Power Equipment Group ($405) includes power windows, locks, mirrors, remote keyless entry; step bar ($295).
Edge SuperCab 4x4 ($21,020).
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