Ford’s popular compact pickup moves into 2005 with very few changes. The Super Cab 4×4 now comes in the more budget-friendly base XL trim line. Two new wheels have been added to the Edge and XLT models.

Ford has also targeted the all-important youth market with the new Tremor package, available on the Edge. The most common aftermarket add-ons are wheels and stereos; the $2,255 Edge package installs them at the factory with 16-inch, five-spoke aluminum rims, a Pioneer six-CD player with MP3, 510-watt multi-channel amplifier, 10-inch bass subwoofer and 6×8 coaxial speakers for each corner.

The Ranger, which is also sold as the Mazda B2300/B3000, comes as a regular cab or the extended-wheelbase Supercab, in two- or four-wheel-drive. Both are two-door models, but the Supercab adds two small “suicide” doors, which can only be opened or closed when the front doors are open, for easy access to the rear seats or stored cargo. The 4×2’s six-foot box stretches to seven feet in 4×4 configuration. Three engines are available, depending on the model: a 2.3-litre four-cylinder, 3.0-litre V6, and 4.0-litre V6.

The base XL 4×2 “FEL” (Fuel Economy Leader) really is very base, suitable for work or as a starting point for customization: it’s the only 4-cylinder, and standard features consist of a five-speed manual, 15-inch steel wheels, AM/FM stereo, vinyl floor covering and 60/40 split bench seat in vinyl.

The popular Edge package includes 15-inch split-spoke aluminum wheels with all-terrain tires, fog lamps, CD player, and cloth seats.

The line tops out with the Supercab 4×4 XLT in FX4/Level II trim, at $29,420. That includes the bigger six, five-speed automatic transmission, two-speed shift-on-the-fly electronic transfer case, Bilstein shocks, 15-inch Alcoa forged aluminum wheels, air conditioning, sport bucket seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, manual sliding rear window, fog lamps, and a power equipment group of windows, mirrors, and locks with keyless entry.

In handling, refinement and overall quality, the Ranger doesn’t stack up to competitors such as the Dodge Dakota, Chevrolet Colorado or Toyota Tacoma, but it does have its merits. For one thing, it’s cheap, which is a prime consideration for young, first-time buyers or those who just want a utility vehicle they’re going to bang up on the job site (the Dakota, for example, only comes with a carpeted floor). It’s small, bucking the current trend of bulking up compact pickups; not everyone wants a mid-size. And unlike Dodge Dakota, it comes in a regular cab.

The Supercab becomes a five-passenger when its two rear jump seats are folded down, but they’re a very tight and uncomfortable ride for adults. They’re fine for older children, but cannot be used with infant or child booster seats. When not in use, they fold up for extra cargo space.

The Ranger is built in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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