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1998 Ford Ranger

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

For model year 1998, Ford's Ranger compact pickup gets its first major rethink since '93, making a nice truck better.

Improvements include new front-end styling, a bigger regular cab, beefed-up engines, a ride/handling massage and stiffer body frame.

Standard dual (and depowered) airbags come with a cut-off switch for the passenger bag.

Ford is also talking up the truck's revised, shift on the fly, four-wheel-drive system that eliminates the need to back up to disengage the front hubs.

The patented "pulse vacuum hub lock" technology cuts noise, vibration and harshness and boosts fuel economy, according to

Blue Oval types.

And, they swear, the system lets you dispense with regular servicing, unless you're violently into offroading.

The advances should make the Ranger a shoo in to hang on to its title of Canada's best-selling compact truck.

Ranger comes in four trim levels: base S, XL, XLT and Splash.

You can also throw in the Rebel Youth package, which combines the brawny looking Flare side box with special wheels and tires.

CHOICE OF WHEELBASE

Regular cab models give you a choice of short or long wheelbase.

Cab length is the same in either case (2,725 mm), but the SWB hauls an 1,824 mm long box while the LWB's grows to a capacious

2,129 mm.

A SuperCab model (cab length: 3,081 mm) has a pair of facing jump seats. It comes only with the 1,824 box.

Both cab formats can be attached to a Flareside or conventional slabside (Ford prefers "Styleside") box. And rear wheel and four-wheel-drive are available across the lineup.

I tried out three 1998 Rangers, all packing the customary amenities. And all had optional four-wheel anti-lock brakes hyping front discs and rear drums (yours for $815). The testers: A black, rear-wheel drive SuperCab with a 4.0litre V6, five-speed automatic transmission and the sporty Splash trim package. Price as tested (all prices include $735 for transportation and handling): $26,862. A gray, four-wheel drive regular cab XLT with a 3.0litre Vulcan V6, four-speed automatic tranny and Rebel Youth togs. Price as tested: $28,337. A

Boysenberry Blue (actually a classy looking deep purple), 4WD regular cab with the 4.0 litre V6, five-speed manual box and the Splash package. Price as tested: $27,424.

Given Ford's penchant for toothy grilles and starship flourishes, the Ranger's facelift could have gone awry, but didn't. This is an arresting looking rig from any angle particularly in jacked up 4×4, Flareside dress.

Inside, the handsome dashboard is wisely laid out. The cabin has the comforts and style of a mid-priced car, but with the traditional pickup virtues of tall windows, big screen windshield and loads of head room.

That's looking ahead or to the side. Turn around, of course, and you're nose to nose with the space limitations of the genre. The SuperCab's rear section is handy for storing items, but entering and exiting the area is not for the stiff nor the bulky. I had to turn my fairly slim frame sideways to ease in and out.

My 4×2 SuperCab handled surprisingly well in snow, the limited slip axle (a $330 option) pitching in as required.

The seamless five-speed tranny new last year is a joy, but then it should be for $1,311 piastres.

The 160hp 4.0 litre six isn't the silkiest motor, but has plenty of pep. The extra $421 it costs is money well spent.

Firestone FTX all-season touring tires of the P235/60R15 persuasion gave this Ranger the most coddling ride of the three.

Truck 2 a wedgy, industrial gray Flareside, perched on knobby Firestone Wilderness all-terrains oozed presence. You sit high, looking down on the effete and the frivolous. This short wheelbase model was a breeze to park.

To dial up 4WD, you merely turn a dash knob to the right of the steering wheel. You can go from 2WD to 4×4 high at speeds up to 88 km/h. But to shift from 4×4 high to 4×4 low for max traction, you have to first stop the truck and shift into neutral.

The 150-horse 3.0 litre six has okay snap; its maker claims a 10 per cent hike in midrange torque for '98.

The Ranger's standard four-cylinder engine, incidentally, expands to 2.5 litres from 2.3 for '98. Horsepower rises 5 per cent to 119.

The column shifters for the two automatics exhibited a somewhat mushy feel, but the floor mounted stick running the third Ranger's manual box was a pleasure to stir.

The clutch was light and progressive hardly truck like at all.

Despite the '98 regular cab's 7.6 cm stretch at the rear, the wheel felt a little close. There's a concealed oddments tray behind the seats that comes in mighty handy. There are also various cubbies to stash items.

But my priority accessory would be a storage chest installed in Truck 3's long wheelbase box.

The Ranger was a nominee for 1998's Best New Pickup, one of the Car of the Year awards presented by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. It was edged out by the Mazda B Series, its near twin. Short Turn is an occasional column describing quick impressions of new vehicles supplied by the manufacturer.

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