2004 Ford Ranger Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
America's most popular compact pickup.
Ford Ranger has been America’s best-selling compact pickup for 16 years running. Nearly a third of all compact pickups sold are Rangers and more than 5 million Rangers have been built since the first one rolled out in 1982.
For 2004, Ranger features a sporty new interior, revised exterior styling and a new Pioneer audio system. And Ranger's suspension has been retuned for improved ride comfort.
Prices for basic work trucks start under $16,000 and there's a wide range of options available, including a powerful 4.0-liter V6 engine, a five-speed automatic transmission, and four-wheel drive. Edge, Tremor, and FX4 models are available. Buyers should watch for big cash rebates that can substantially reduce the MSRPs reported here.
The 2004 Ranger is available in XL, Edge, XLT, Tremor, and FX4 trim levels in both 4x2 and 4x4. Regular Cab and SuperCab models are available in Styleside and Flareside versions. A long-wheelbase option is available on Regular Cab Styleside models. Five-speed manual and five-speed automatic ($1000) transmissions are available.
Three engines are available: The 2.3-liter four-cylinder is a modern dual overhead-cam design with four valves per cylinder rated at 143 horsepower and 154 pounds-feet of torque. The optional 3.0-liter V6 is a traditional overhead-valve engine rated 154 hp and 180 pounds-feet of torque. Ford offers this engine with flexible fuel capability, meaning it can operate on ethanol, gasoline or any combination of the two fuels in the same tank. This engine is standard on all 4x2 SuperCab models equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission. Topping the chart is a modern 4.0-liter V6 with single overhead-cams developing 207 hp and 238 pounds-feet of torque.
The price-leading Ranger XL starts at just $13,765 and comes with the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, manual transmission, and two-wheel-drive.
XLT adds chrome trim, interior amenities (including a CD player, tilt wheel, full carpeting), and useful truck accessories (rear step bumper, sliding rear window, mud flaps). XLT models with 4WD get step bars and fog lights, and upgrade from 15-inch steel wheels to 16-inch aluminum rims, wearing P245/75R16 outline-white letter (OWL) tires. A Bright Appearance Package ($495), offered only on XLT SuperCabs with the Styleside bed, adds chrome step bars, exhaust tips and bedrails with platinum-colored end caps. An XLT Supercab 4x4 retails for $23,050.
Ranger's top trim level is called Edge, and sports monochromatic color schemes that include a vivid Chrome Yellow. 2004 Edge models feature improved shock tuning and larger wheels and tires. Edge comes in 4x2 and 4x4 editions, but either way it rides at the 4x4 height. A raised power dome hood and mesh-pattern front grille contribute to its hip attitude. Four-door SuperCab buyers can choose Edge Plus, with aluminum wheels, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The Edge comes with either a 6-disc in-dash CD player or an MP3 player, depending on the model. Edge prices start at $15,850 with the 3.0-liter V6 as standard equipment.
The Tremor package boasts an upgraded Pioneer sound system producing 510 watts, and a custom-designed subwoofer enclosure that fits in the rear floor area. A high-output alternator keeps the current flowing and white-faced gauges add interior style. Tremor is distinguished by 16-inch wheels, P235/70R16 all-season tires, a 4x4 ride height, and special color schemes. 2004 Tremor models benefit from improved shock tuning and larger wheels and tires.
The FX4 package is for serious off-roading. The FX4, based on a four-door SuperCab XLT, comes with heavy-duty shocks, skid plates, all-terrain tires, and a limited-slip rear differential. The FX4/Level II package gets Bilstein shocks retuned for 2004 for improved handling on and off road. The package includes a Torsen limited-slip axle, eight-hole Alcoa forged aluminum wheels and 31x10.5-inch B.F. Goodrich All-Terrain T/A tires. It comes with stainless steel front tow hooks, black wheel lip moldings, and skid plates that cover the front suspension and differential, transfer case, and fuel tank. Two-tone, thick bolstered bucket seats and ebony interior trim lend a distinctive look, while deep-groove floor mats help protect the carpeting from slush and mud.
Minor styling revisions for 2004 freshen the looks of the 2004 Ford Ranger a bit. The raised power dome hood is standard on all trim levels and there are subtle changes to the front end. Otherwise, the Ranger's exterior appearance has changed little since 2001.
We find the door handles a bit hard to hang onto; they snapped away from our fingers when we were in a hurry. An optional bed extender ($195) flips out and rests on the tailgate, a U-shaped cage of tubular stainless steel. It won't keep dirt in, but it will sure stop your kayak from sliding out.
Full-width Styleside beds sweep a continuous line from tip to tail, while sporty Flaresides carve a recessed step into each side panel immediately behind the cab. The notch accentuates a rounded rear fender. Indentations in the bed support partitions to segment cargo.
The Edge features a monochromatic treatment. The Edge also features protective bed rails and four tie-down hooks. We didn't care for the Edge trim, and the running boards/stump guards looked tacked on.
Ford Ranger offers spacious, comfortable accommodations and convenient features.
For 2004, there's an all-new seat system with sculpted bolsters and higher seatbacks for improved comfort. Also available are optional cloth sport bucket seats ($200) and leather-trimmed bucket seats ($365). There's a new four-spoke leather-trimmed steering wheel along with a new floor console and cup holders.
New for 2004, Ranger offers a 290-watt Pioneer AM/FM/CD/MP3 system with nine speakers and an integrated power subwoofer. Also from Pioneer, Tremor delivers 510 watts through a new in-dash CD/MP3 player, available on 2WD and 4WD models.
Instrumentation and interior trim were upgraded for 2003. A tachometer is supplied at all trim levels. The center pod for climate and audio systems uses large, easy-to-use rotary dials.
Regular Cab models get a cloth bench seat that can squeeze three aboard. The seat splits 60/40 for access to the space behind it.
SuperCabs offer a larger interior storage bay behind the front seat, with a 6-foot (71.8 inch) bed behind that. Two small side-facing jump seats may be added to the SuperCab's rear bay; each folds down from the back wall. Two optional rear-hinged doors (standard on Edge 4x4's) allow easy access to the SuperCab's rear quarters.
Edge adds a textured rubber floor cover for wash-and-wear convenience. A 60/40 split bench is standard, but bucket seats with black twill bolters are optional. The fabric in the Edge seemed tough.
For 2004, the Ford Ranger gets improved bushings, springs, shocks, and tires, all designed to improve the ride quality. The brakes were improved for 2003.
The Ranger leaps off the line and runs quickly to speed when equipped with the overhead-cam 4.0-liter V6 built by Ford in Germany. More important, it provides strong low-rpm torque for off-road work in four-wheel-drive, or for pulling heavy loads or trailers.
The V6 teams with either a heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic with adaptive shift logic. Rather than adding a taller overdrive, the five-speed automatic adds a gear between what would be first and second in a four-speed automatic. This provides closer ratios for better throttle response when accelerating, towing a trailer or driving off-road. A high-gear lockout switch on the tip of the shift lever enables the driver to kick down a gear with the tap of a finger.
Our Ranger SuperCab 4x4 with the 4.0-liter V6 and five-speed automatic delivered good performance for passing, even at altitude. It could scamper up mountain grades or effortlessly pass a line of heavy freight haulers.
The Ranger handles bumps and curves with confident dexterity. Its rigid ladder-like chassis, fully boxed in the front section, combines with an independent wishbone front suspension to pamper passengers with smooth ride sensations.
At the same time, the Ranger offers aggressive performance off the pavement, as we saw on a primitive track laced with lumps and rocks and tire-sucking mud pits. A high ground clearance enables the Ranger 4x4 to clear ruts and bumps easily. And when it doesn't, skid plates shield the transfer case and fuel tank from damage.
A pulse-vacuum hub-lock device engages the front hubs quickly, for push-button shifting into four-wheel-drive while rolling as fast as 80 mph. A rotary dial on the dashboard provides seamless switching from rear-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive high, or further down to four-wheel low for serious off-road maneuvers.
As a work truck, the Ford Ranger offers serious truck capability at affordable prices. Watch for cash rebates and other incentives.
The high-level models deliver strong performance on and off road. The four-wheel-drive system with vacuum-activated hubs works very well and you can't beat the 4.0-liter V6 for performance. Several high-zoot trim packages are available, including Edge, Tremor, and FX4.
Ranger XL ($13,765); XLT ($15,230); Edge ($15,850).
Twin Cities, Minnesota; Edison, New Jersey; Norfolk, Virginia; Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
5-speed automatic transmission ($1,000); limited-slip rear axle ($295); sliding rear window ($125); Class III trailer hitch ($215); Power Equipment Group ($405) includes power windows, locks, mirrors, remote keyless entry; cloth sport bucket seats ($200).
Ford Ranger Edge SuperCab 4x4 ($22,205).
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