Why is the Ranger Loved While the S-10 is Merely Liked?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
why is the ranger loved while the s 10 is merely liked

Way back in the Clinton Era, two compact pickups battled each other to an inch of their amortized sheetmetal. The Ford Ranger, which had been the ruler of the small truck roost since 1983, and the Chevy S-10 which fought equally valiantly with rebates, market incentives, a branded clone in the form of the GMC Sonoma, and even a rare-for-America four door configuration.

Not to say the Ranger didn’t resort to many of the exact same tactics. Ford was just as busy trying to crank out the supersized and super-profitable trucks and SUV’s as the General did at the time. These compact pickups were considered a bridge to what both automakers sought for their respective brands; to attract the long-term loyalist who would forever buy the ever higher profit vehicles… preferably on a lease or finance deal.

Price competition became fierce in this segment and profits were minimal. Was it even possible to have big profits for small pickups? Not in most cases as far as the manufacturer was concerned. You could price the top of the line models right near the cost of a base Explorer or Blazer by the late 90’s. But only a salesman with the talent of a Jack Baruth could routinely push them out the door.

By the time America started to head towards the ‘ bigger is better’ buffet line, both vehicles offered very similar… well… everything.

Wheelbases were within a couple of inches from each other in regular or extended cab form. The four and six cylinder engines were also neck to neck competitors with both brands utilizing their manufacturer’s well-amortized powertrains. The S-10’s offered a good enough for the Cavalier 2.2 Liter four cylinder and the forget-about-fuel-economy Vortec 4.3 Liter V6.

Rangers offered a substantially better 4.0 Liter V6 by 2001 when it became a 207 horsepower SOHC instead of the boat anchor slow Cologne 4.0 Liter. The 3.0 Liter V6, 2.5 Liter and 2.3 Liter 4-cylinders were nothing to sneeze at either. But neither did they give much grunt on the open road. All of the engines used for the Rangers were pretty much in the midst of million plus runs that would typify Ford’s penny pinching penchant for manufacturing engines that long outlasted their market competitiveness.

Oh, and you wanted parts bin components to keep the costs down even further? No problem there. Ford and GM even saw fit to include their automotive partners into the mix with Mazda marketing their B-Series and Isuzu offering the paradoxically named Hombre and serialized i-Series.

Truth be told, both trucks represented the very last small vehicles that combined decade plus long model runs with cost containment redesigns. Millions were made. Millions since have been crushed. There is just one gnawing question that doesn’t seem to find an easy answer.

Why are there so many Ranger enthusiasts out there… and so few S-10 aficionados?

I have my theories. But I want to hear from the Best and Brightest first. Were there durability issues? Are the S-10 and their ilk merely liked while the Ranger is loved? Or was it the quality of their redesigns?

Remember that there are usually no right answers in the comments section. Just SWAG’s, anecdotal evidence, and the unyielding march of logic towards a biased opinion.

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3 of 110 comments
  • JD-Shifty JD-Shifty on Mar 13, 2012

    The ZR-2 looks much better than any Ranger ever made.

  • Punkrockmechanic Punkrockmechanic on Nov 09, 2012

    I've been a professional auto mechanic for 25 years. I will never buy a Ford because of their long history of exploding / burning vehicles. Say what you want about Government Motors and GM quality (I know it's not perfect), but my experience in the workplace leads me to believe that Ford is WORSE. For all the America-haters out there: I've seen my fair share of appalling import failures, too. I always thought the Ranger was an ugly truck, and I find that many people who drive them are annoying. I've never seen a V6 Ranger that didn't have a cracked cylinder head. The power steering pumps are noisy. The 4-cylinder models get horrible gas mileage compared to the S10. I've seen far more emissions, electrical, and "check engine" light problems on Rangers than the S10. I currently own an S10 pickup that I bought new in 1996. It's a 4-cylinder, 5-speed, regular cab, short bed. It now has 275,000 miles on it, with the original engine, transmission, and rear axle. There are no rust issues. The local auto parts suppliers I deal with use S-10 pickups for parts delivery and have over 300,000 miles on them. My only complaint is that at the current high mileage, mine has the same piston-slap noise when cold as the old Toyota 22R engines did. I still get 22 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, and it burns about a half quart of oil between changes. I've replaced the brakes, battery, belt, water pump, replaced tires, done tune-ups, and all the other types of maintenance I'd expect to do on a truck of this age with this kind of mileage. I replaced the clutch once. This truck has seen its share of punishment. I've hauled 500 lb. steel girders in it, and regularly tow two jet skis on a trailer with it. It has survived Death Valley in the summer on numerous occasions, and has been across the country. Even though it's a 2-wheel drive model I still take it off-road. The only time I ever got stuck was when I was keeping up with a Jeep 4 X 4 club and slipped in a foot of snow with my street tires. I do agree that the Ranger is more popular with off-roaders because the front suspension on the four-wheel-drive models is stronger. The S10 is not a speed demon. Most 4-cylinder models were geared low, and you have to rev them up quite a bit for power. If you want to go fast, buy a muscle car. If you want a tough economical pickup truck, buy an S10.

    • Angus McClure Angus McClure on Nov 11, 2012

      I would have a tough time finding someone discussing the S10 where I agree more. Mine is a 91/4.3/700r4 combo that loves abuse. It spent life as a security truck and now I need to fix the drivers side door. The mechanic says it needs bushings so I will so that. A tach has replaced the speedometer thanks to a power surge. Otherwise, its tough to imagine how it could fill the bill as a tough dependable truck. Been slogging for two years plus with me and expect it will outlive me if I don't do something stupid.

  • Ajla From what I can see in the NHTSA data nontire part failures make up about .5% of reported crashes and aren't listed as a cause in the fatal accident reports. While we've all seen hoopties rolling around I'm guessing they don't go far or fast enough for many negative outcomes to occur from their operation.While I wouldn't want to be in that .5% I'd also want to avoid a "Bear Patrol" situation. When it comes to road safety nontire part failures are more like animal attacks while aggressive or impaired driving are heart disease and cancer.
  • Art Vandelay On the right spec truck, that is a screaming bargain for the price. And you can buy it safe knowing that as it is a Ford you'll never have your vehicle's good name sullied by seeing EBFlex and Tassos puffing each other's peters in one...a nice bonus to the horsepower!
  • Art Vandelay Too small for Tassos and EBFlex to puff each other's peters in.
  • Spookiness I can see revising requirements for newer vehicles, like 3 years, but not for older. I live in a state with safety inspections next to a state without, within a common metro-area commute "shed." Besides the fact that the non-inspection state has a lot of criminals to begin with, they're poorer, less educated, have a lot of paper-tag shady dealers, very lax law enforcement of any kind, and not much of a culture of car maintenance. It's all of their janky hoopties dead or burning on the side of the road every mile that farks up the commute for the rest of us. Having a car inspected just once a year is a minimal price of civilization, and at least is some basic defense against some of the brake-less, rusted-out heaps that show up on YouTubes "Just Rolled In."
  • Pippin Republicans Senators - "We refuse to support your nomination because you don't have a background in traffic safety! That's the priority!"Biden nominates someone with a background in traffic safetyRepublican Senators - "This new nominee is totally unacceptable! They're in favor of new regulations to improve traffic safety! We need big government out of (men's) lives!"