Ford's new 4x4 Ranger looks a bit different from the two-wheel-drive version.

The 4x4 has larger wheels and tires, a different grille and optional lower front valance, with driving lamps and optional fiberglass wheel-well trim.Our 4x4 test truck was the extended cab model with 15-inch wheels, wider tires and a 60/40 front seat, plus larger brake discs and drums.

Our two-wheel-drive test truck was the standard cab STX model with cast aluminum 14-inch wheels, side graphics and bucket seats with power lumbar adjustments.

Both had automatic transmissions, fuel-injected V-6 engine and anti-lock brakes on the rear.

The new Ranger dashboard is laid out nicely, with easy-to-read gauges and conveniently placed controls. There are pockets in the doors and a not-very-useful tray built into the top of the dash. The tray is shallow and anything put there tends to slide out on turns.

One drawback with a standard cab pickup is there is little or no room for the seats to recline. In the Ranger the seat backs were tight against the back of the cab. There is also very little room to carry anything inside the truck, especially if the driver has a passenger.

There was plenty of reclining room in the SuperCab, plus room to carry groceries or other cargo inside. The extended cab also creates a better place to put the rear speakers for the sound system, and provides the air space to make the system work. The hinged quarter windows allow a lot of air to move through the cab, even if the side windows are closed.

The small fold-away seats should be considered for occasional or emergency seating only, but it is possible for an adult to sit back there, after crawling through the passenger door opening. A windowshadelike cover pulls forward to cover the cargo area behind the seat, and a handy little cargo net is on the rear of the cab, to contain some of the stuff that litters up the average truck cab.

One drawback of an extended cab - other than the added cost - is the longer wheelbase, which results in a larger turning circle. The short-wheelbase two-wheel-drive truck has a turning circle of 36.5 feet, compared with 41.6 feet for the extended-cab version.

The price of a base model Ranger is $8,781. For a base model extended cab the price is $11,775.

Ford's push-button four-wheel-drive system is a big improvement over the old days, but when disengaging the Ranger's four-wheel-drive it's still necessary to back up at least 10 feet to unlock the front hubs. (How many drivers of Ford 4x4s have never read the owner's manual and don't know it's necessary to do that?)

The 4x4 is a real truck and has the sort of ride a driver should expect from a small four-wheel-drive pickup: choppy, stiff, hard. The big tires and four-wheel drive helped it motor confidently through some rough terrain of broken-up ice, hard-packed snow, newly frozen ice and newsnow, all on the uneven base of an off-road trail.

In both trucks, the fuel-injected 4-liter V-6 engine provided plenty of acceleration, from a standing stop or at cruising speed.

The two-wheel-drive version has better road manners on the highway, but with its short wheelbase, light rear end and smaller tires, it's easy to break the rear wheels loose on accelerating.


Base price: $15,947

Price as tested: $20,902

Powertrain: front engine, four-wheel drive

Curb weight: 3,516 pounds

Engine displacement: 4 liters

Horsepower: 160

Fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 21 highway


Base price: $11,293

Price as tested: $15,715

Powertrain: front engine, rear-wheel drive

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Curb weight: 2,918 pounds

Engine displacement: 4 liters

Horsepower: 160

Fuel economy: 18 mpg city, 24 highway

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