2008 Ford Ranger Review
Thanks to John Steinbeck and Nat King Cole, Route 66 is an American icon. But Highway 77 in South Texas gives "kicks" of the international kind. As this highway winds down Mexico way, we find neglected and discarded compact trucks in pairs, towing their belittled brothers to a new life south of the Border. And while America's insatiable demand for new product continues apace, Highway 77 speaks to a silent majority who favors cheaper and smaller vehicles. It's the spiritual home of the Ford Ranger.
The Ford Ranger is more WYSIWYG than Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Unlike its mid-size competition, the Ranger is perfectly happy without top-drawer flares, flashy paint, extensions and bulges. While the Blue Oval Boyz updated the grille and side mirrors to mimic big brother F150, nobody's buying it. (Literally.) But the Ranger's low beltline, expansive greenhouse and modest 15" steel wheels work as promised. The Ranger is a simple, respectable pickup truck.
The ease of ingress offers another reason why this ancient platform feels more timeless than outdated. Its thickly textured flight bench seat is both reassuring and supportive. The solid rubber floor smells like a new pair of professionally-endorsed kicks. Fit and finish is class average. No surprise there; this is the same interior that Clinton-era Eddie Bauer fans snapped up for more than twice the price. Other than its complete lack of fashion sense, the Ranger has aged well.
Sliding out of the Ranger is just as easy as entering; if only all trucks knew that "small" is the new "big." But adding a CD/MP3 player and a sliding rear window to the Ranger provides an honest driving experience not normally associated with today's electronic overkill.
Since options cost money, there are only two that earn their keep: the mid-grade V6 and its automatic five-cog gear swapper. The cast iron "Vulcan" mill walks the fine line between four-banger affordability (a $300 option) and V6 power, getting the Ranger to work early with 180lb-ft of pushrod twist. Even with the close ratio transmission keeping the meager 148 ponies at their peak, the Ranger moves with no sense of urgency. The zero to sixty "dash" take around 10 seconds.
But what the numbers don't tell you is that the Ranger's engine offers smooth power delivery and a flat powerband. Unlike its thrashy four-banger competition, the 3100lb Ranger scoots like a big truck and tows a Ridgeline-beating 5860lbs behind its puny frame. Fuel economy penalty be damned, ye olde Vulcan is still a peach.
Not to mention the fact that the torquey Ranger is fun to drive. Its not rocket science. Take a tiny rear wheel-drive truck, add a beefy powertrain, responsive steering, a modicum of roll control and voila! Cheap thrills. Sure the Continental tires have zero grip, and an unladen bed gives the solid axle plenty of wiggle room. But the Ranger gladly explores its limits at speeds safe enough for Ralph Nader's approval. Push any harder and the Ranger quickly points out it isn't a modern truck, much less a mild-mannered econobox.
But when the performance-anxiety reality sets in, the Ranger's parking lot skills and distraction-free visibility are a breath of fresh air. U-turns are effortless in this 69.3" wide platform. It's so nimble that a fleet of Rangers could perform in a down-home drifting team, touring the nation behind Toby Keith's tour bus.
That said, the blue-collar Ranger's inherent ugliness on bumpy roads reveals that this pickup's frame has all the torsional rigidity of half-cooked tortellini. Its underpinnings lose composure over every pothole, no matter how miniscule its proportions. Sadly, this neglected rig has none of the mighty engineering prowess of its F150 brother. And that's a damn shame.
With the departure of the compact Toyota Tacoma in 2004, the Ranger is the only safe haven for "right-sized" truckers. The Ranger's long bed carries a full 43.6 cubic feet of cargo, with a metal tailgate that easily closes with a single hand. And while the latest Ford F150 boasts class-leading stepladders to access its bountiful bed, Ranger-philes need not stretch a single vertebra to grasp a misplaced tool in their pickup's cargo hole.
After my time with a Ranger, the words "reasonable" and "honest" sprung to mind. As gas prices soar, the housing market tanks and sales of mid/full size pickups return from whence they came, the time for the Ranger to shine is now.
But the staggering neglect and obligatory demise of another famous Blue Oval product is proof positive that Ford is lowering its overhead via unnecessary self-mutilation. As the threat of mini-rigs from once-foreign lands grows more credible, the low-brow Ranger is a potential profit center. Come 2009, Ford's decision to kill the Ranger will soon become another haunting melody from another, better time.
Nohara on Apr 05, 2008
I've worn out two Rangers starting with a 1988 model. Then had to move to larger pickups as I began to put in more road time (about 50K miles a year now). But the Rangers did exactly what I bought them to do ... transport me and my tools and materials back and forth across Texas in all weather. Yesterday I went to the Dallas Auto Show. There were a couple of 2008 Rangers in the Ford exhibit and one of them called to me to open its door and climb in. What an odd feeling ... It was exactly like getting into my "brand new" 1988 Ranger twenty years ago. Yeah, time and technology have advanced and the Ranger hasn't. But the little trucks did a straighforward, economical and uncomplaining job for millions of people.
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