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Pickup Truck: Ford Ranger/Mazda B-Series

The Ford Ranger always maintained its compact size, and due to its age, Ford had plans to retire it.

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In the belief that “bigger is better,” automakers have been bulking up their trucks for the last decade. That worked fine until fuel prices skyrocketed, and that segment’s drastic fall from grace is a major factor in the massive auto slump we’re seeing.

The Ford Ranger always maintained its compact size, and due to its age, Ford had plans to retire it. Now, with its new focus on small vehicles, the company has announced that it’s been extended to at least 2011. It’s also sold over at Mazda as the B Series pickup.

You never get something for nothing, and there’s a catch to the fuel-sipping rating: the EnerGuide award applies only to the 2.3-litre four-cylinder, which is strictly available in two-door regular-cab configuration with a 6-foot box, in two-wheel-drive, and in the base trim line.

To get into the extended Super Cab model, or 4×4 or 7-foot box options, you’ve got to move up to either a 3.0- or 4.0-litre V6. Even those aren’t bad compared to full-size trucks, but fuel use will rise accordingly, to as high as 15.7 L/100 (city) for the 4.0-litre 4×4.

Most buyers will move up a step, because the base engine’s 143 hp and 154 lb.-ft. of torque aren’t enough for heavy-duty work or hauling (tow rating is a maximum 1,170 kg for the four-cylinder).

The default transmission is a five-speed manual, with an optional five-speed automatic.

The equipment list is basic, including a radio and vinyl bench seat (a plus if you’re planning on getting it dirty). Extra-charge add-ons include air conditioning, CD stereo, cloth upholstery and cruise control.

Anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard on all models. The Mazda version offers more for less money, with standard cloth seat, CD stereo and sliding rear window.

PRICE: $15,646 (Ford), $14,995 (Mazda)

FUEL RATING: City 9.9, hwy 7.5 L/100 km

WHAT’S BEST: A basic truck that’s perfectly sized for city use

WHAT’S WORST: Heavy-duty use requires the bigger engines

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