Manufacturers appreciate long-lived vehicle lines because they provide superior economies of scale, and automakers get the most out of their intial development investment. For those reasons, Ford must just love the Ranger. The pickup has been with us, in one form or another, since 1983, and is largely unchanged since this generation's introduction for the 1998 model year. It's the quintessential small pickup, holding steady even as its competition grows bigger, heavier, and more expensive. The Ranger's compact dimensions, relative low weight, and standard four-cylinder engines make it ideal for today's fuel-conscious New Austerity.

Regular-cab Rangers have always been on the tight side, so for the 1998 model year, Ford added 3 inches in length to the regular cab and performed a mild sheetmetal rework on the outside. And while Ford has historically given the F-150 more permutations than a chemistry exam, the Ranger has stayed pretty simple: a regular cab with either a 6- or 7-foot bed, or a SuperCab with side-facing fold-down rear seats and only the 6-foot bed. Three wheelbases, from 111.5 to 125.9 inches, get the job done.

Under the hood you'll find one of three basic engines. A 2.5-liter SOHC inline-four was standard, a 3.0-liter OHV V-6 was the middle option, and a 4.0-liter OHV V-6 was the top choice. Power was modest for all: 117 horses for the I-4, 145 for the 3.0, and 158 for the 4.0, though the latter's torque, at 223 pound-feet, was respectable. All three engines could be purchased with a five-speed manual. A four-speed automatic was available on the two smaller engines, and a five-speed autobox was optional on the 4.0-liter engine. Part-time 4WD was available with either V-6.

Ford updated the Ranger's engine selection for the 2001 model year, which makes it a good starting point for current shoppers. The base engine was swapped for an updated, DOHC 2.3-liter four making 135 horsepower; the middle engine stayed unchanged; and the biggest mill was replaced by an OHC 4.0-liter making a healthy 207 horsepower. With the new four-banger came a revised five-speed automatic as an option. The middle V-6 was dropped for 2009.

While the Ranger got few alterations in chassis and powertrain, it received a host of trim levels and special packages, including the FX4 (a heavy-duty 4WD version with stiffer suspension and big wheels), the Splash (a trim package with body-color fender flares), and the XL Trailhead (a RWD gussied up to look like a 4WD model).

A review of online reliability ratings shows the Ranger had trouble with the 4WD system in 1999, 2001, and 2003 models; consistent problems with engine sensors through the 2002 model year; and ball-joint issues in 2002, 2004, and 2005. Even so, the Ranger's reliability ratings are far closer to (though not as good as) similar-year Toyota Tacomas than the comparatively troublesome Chevy S-10. The Ranger is usually valued lower as a used vehicle than the Tacoma -- we spot-checked a few and saw a 15-percent premium placed on the Toyota. The 2011 model year marks the end of an era: It's the last year for the Ranger in the U.S. Get one while you can.


1998-2010 Ford Ranger
Body type 2- or 4-door pickup
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Dual front
Engine 2.5L/119-hp SOHC I-4 (1998-2001);
3.0L/148-154-hp OHV V-6 (1998-2008);
4.0L/160-hp OHV V-6 (1998-2000);
2.3L/135-143-hp DOHC I-4 (2002-on);
4.0L/207-hp SOHC V-6 (2001-on)
Brakes, f/r Disc/drum, ABS
Price range,trade-in $1275/$3150 (1998 standard cab, retail (KBB) 4/-cyl, RWD); $19,825/$24,650 (2010 Sport SuperCab, 6-cyl, 4WD)
Recalls Too many to list; see www.intellichoice.com
NHTSA frontal impact Four stars/four stars