A Capable Compact
Ford is proud to inform us that the Ranger has been the compact-truck sales leader for the past 14 years. Of course with plenty of competition in the compact-truck market, one does not stay at the top of the heap by simply putting out the same vehicle year after year. To stay on top, the Ranger has been reengineered several times since its introduction in '83, with plenty of refinements and upgrades along the way. For the '02 model year, one of these refinements is the FX4 off-road package.
You may recall that when we tested the Ranger's bigger brother, the F-150, with the FX4 package ("2002 Ford F-150 FX4," April '02), that vehicle yielded marginal results. Fortunately, the Ranger and F-150 FX4 packages are similar in name only. The Ranger's includes a more substantial list of dirt-ready equipment. When it's equipped with the FX4 package, the Ranger receives a 4.0L V-6, 4.10:1 ring-and-pinion gears with a limited-slip rear diff, Alcoa aluminum wheels, 31-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO tires, Bilstein shocks, and heavy-duty springs. Also included are tow hooks, a heavier front skidplate, sport bucket seats, special rubber floor mats, and the power equipment group. We were eager to see what the Ranger, newly armed with this impressive list of equipment, was capable of.
Right from the start of our test, we noticed that the 4.10:1 gears, five-speed trans, and 4.0L V-6, which makes 207 hp and 238 lb-ft of torque, is a sweet combo. Coupling this power with the 4.10:1 gears meant that the Ranger gets up and goes when the accelerator pedal is stomped on. Adding to the fun is that the peak torque for the 4.0L comes in at a low 3,000 rpm. Yes, it was fun to stomp on the Ranger's go-pedal, as plenty of power is available down low in the rpm curve. Meshing nicely with the 4.0L V-6 is an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission that always seemed to have the appropriate gear on hand.
Another high point for the Ranger included its rack-and-pinion steering. While a bit on the heavy side in terms of effort, the rack-and-pinion setup provides quick, precise steering. The steering also gives a good road feel and that was a benefit whether guiding the Ranger through city traffic or across a twisty mountain pass.
The interior of the Ranger also earned high marks in our test. While the seats are somewhat basic, they are comfortable for a wide range of body types and do offer a good amount of adjustability. A full complement of gauges also conveys all of the necessary information to the driver. The only drawback to our Supercab Ranger was that there was not a lot of room behind the seats. However, this is common among compact pickups as there is only so much space available to work with; the Ranger was no worse than its competitors.
While the drivetrain and the interior of the Ranger received compliments, the brakes didn't draw much praise from our testers. While the brakes provide excellent pedal feel and were easy to modulate, they only provided average stopping distances at the track when going from 60 to 0 mph. Loading the Ranger up to half of its 1,333-pound payload taxed the brakes and produced longer stopping distances.
So what about the performance of the components included in the FX4 package? Pretty effective, overall. At the core of the package are its heavy-duty springs and Bilstein shocks. Spring rates are just about right for a variety of activities from cruising down the highway to bouncing along a rutted two-track. The shocks did an effective job of handling impacts of all sizes. Their effectiveness gave the Ranger a smooth ride on the highway, let it absorb slow-speed impacts when crawling around in low-range, and also allowed for spirited high-speed dirt running where bigger bumps must be absorbed. Only the lack of wheel travel inherent to the design of the Ranger's independent front suspension limited the suspension's performance; luckily, the rear of the Ranger has a good amount of articulation. A pleasant surprise was the Ranger's twisty pavement ability. Its handling was above average for a compact pickup.
The 31-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO tires provide excellent trail traction. Having a three-ply sidewall also meant we didn't have to worry about changing flats resulting from cut sidewalls. The only slight drawback was a minimal increase in tire noise at freeway speeds, thanks to their aggressive tread pattern; but their performance, when compared to the passenger car tires that we normally see on trucks, was well worth this small price.
Also helping to provide traction in the dirt was the Ranger's limited-slip rear differential. It was tighter than many of the other limited-slips we have tested, and transferred power quickly, helping the Ranger find traction on the loose and rocky sections of our test trails. The only major drawback of the Ranger on the trail is that its belly is somewhat low and this caused it to drag in some sections.
With our test over, we grudgingly returned the Ranger FX4 to Ford's test fleet. While we did have a few minor complaints, for the most part we were impressed by the F-150's little brother. A fun engine, nice transmission, functional interior, and great steering made the Ranger a blast to drive. Coupling those fine traits with the FX4 package make it capable on the trail making it a good choice for someone looking for a compact pickup with some trail capability straight from the factory.
Check It Out If:
You're looking for a compact pickup that can run the trails straight from the factory and is still comfortable on the highway.
Avoid It If:
Interior space and a big cargo bed are at the top of your list.
|Vehicle model||Ford Ranger Supercab FX4|
|Price as tested||$27,525|
|Options as tested||Automatic transmission, class III hitch, tonneau cover with bedliner, air conditioning, FX4 package|
|Bore x stroke (in.)||3.95 x 3.32|
|Mfg.s power rating @ rpm (hp)||207 @ 5,250|
|Mfg.s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft)||238 @ 3,000|
|Mfg.'s suggested fuel type||87 octane|
|Transfer case||BorgWarner 13-54|
|Engine rpm @ 65 mph||2,250|
|Front||Independent with coils, Bilstein shocks, antiroll bar|
|Rear||Leaf springs, live axle, Bilstein shocks|
|Wheels (in.)||15x7 Alcoa Aluminum|
|Tires||31x10.50R15 BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO|
|Actual combined, city/highway/trail||14.9|
|Overall length (in.)||202.9|
|Overall width (in.)||70.3|
|Track f/r (in.)||58.6/57.3|
|Minimum ground clearance (in.)||7.4|
|Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft.)||43.0|
|Bed dimensions (LxWxH) (in.)||71.8x52.0x16.5|
|Approach/departure angles (deg.)||29.1/21.6|
|Maximum towing capacity (lbs.)||5,600|
|0-30 mph, empty/half payload (sec.)||3.77/4.31|
|0-60 mph, empty/half payload (sec.)||10.53/11.84|
|30-50 mph, empty/half payload (sec.)||4.03/4.45|
|50-70 mph, empty/half payload (sec.)||6.28/7.08|
|Quarter-mile (sec. @ mph), empty||17.95 @ 78.42|
|half payload||18.79 @ 75.87|
|Braking 60-0 mph, empty/half payload (ft.)||164.97/204.19|