Review: The 2005 Ford Ranger is more useful than it is desirable
Even cheapness for the sake of cheapness has some redeeming qualities
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It's all well and good to wax poetic about how we used to be able to buy cheap basic cars, but living with those cars is not as romantic as you may remember.
This review is based on my experience with my grandfather's owned-since-new old third gen 2005 or so extended cab Ford Ranger equipped with the Vulcan V6, 5 speed automatic, and 2WD. I drove it daily for about two months at one point and have had plenty of seat time since then, but it's been a few months. You would be hard pressed to find a better condition example anywhere but this particular spec is not a desirable one.
The Ford Ranger has been Ford's compact pickup for America through three generations from 1983-2012 before the current fourth generation was launched in the US in 2019, itself dating back to 2011 globally.
The third generation debuting in 1995 still rode on a modified version of the first generation's chassis from 1983 and it shows.
It drives like a loud slow wet noodle.
The infamous Vulcan V6 would make around 148 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque in this application but it feels like much less through the old automatic. This is a very slow vehicle and it only gets slower when you start loading it up. Unlike full sized V8 pickup trucks, every extra pound in the bed or towed is felt from behind the wheel.
Even at the best of times with only a driver and an unladen bed, I've had difficulty keeping up with semis on the interstate. It has just about enough power to merge onto the interstate as long as you aren't held up by someone in a more powerful car taking their time. Top end acceleration is basically nonexistent.
The Vulcan V6 is basically only good for transforming gasoline into noise over an extended time period. It makes a tremendous racket but doesn't provide much oomph or MPGs or really do anything well besides not break. My grandfather's example has been meticulously maintained but these are well known to withstand substantial neglect and abuse without any issues.
The steering on the Ranger is very old school. The power steering isn't overboosted and is reasonably heavy though somewhat vague. Road feel is surprisingly decent as you really feel the mechanical connection between the wheel and the road but there is some steering slop. Inputs are not precise but you get a decent feel for what the front end is doing. It feels somewhat like a golf cart in that regard but with a large on-center dead spot.
What you do feel through the steering wheel is tons of chassis flex and body roll. You get the sense of how the vehicle flexes over rough pavement or even smooth pavement through the steering wheel. Body roll is to be expected and is excusable but the car feels about as rigid as a wet noodle.
Despite its rudimentary construction, the Ranger is unrefined without being unruly. The truck is still very maneuverable, especially compared to its full sized brethren and makes for an easy drive if not the most confidence inspiring one.
I will say the NVH levels are much better than you may expect. The engine is quite loud from the cabin but wind noise is unobtrusive even on long trips. You feel road imperfections but the ride is better than you might expect.
Being full old man spec, this particular Ford Ranger sports the extended cab and accompanying jump seats (I'll get to those in a second) and luxuries such as AM/FM radio power locks, windows, and mirrors. However, the truck's archaic roots and shoddy construction shine through in the copious hard plastics and lack of any features at all.
It's not a particularly attractive interior but it has held up to quite a few years and around 100,000 miles pretty well.
Perhaps the most telling indication of its age is the old fashioned mechanical horizontal gear indicator for the column shift automatic. I find it strange that they shelled out for a digital odometer but kept the P-R-D-N-2-1 display mechanical. It does have a tachometer and temperature gauge but that's not saying much in the 2000s.
The actual material quality isn't terrible for a vehicle designed to be disposable. The plastics have suffered UV degradation despite being garaged its entire life with the finish coming off on some high sun surfaces.
The front seats are reasonably supportive and have about the right amount of bolstering. The cloth has a small tear at one corner which is unusual given how gently this vehicle has been used. The seating position is upright with excellent visibility to the front and sides plus great views over the shoulder for merging. It's supremely easy to see what space the truck occupies from the driver's seat, though actually taking advantage of it to steer the truck through tight spaces isn't as easy.
Now the rear seats are not fit for humans. They are tiny sideways facing foldable jump seats that face towards each other. They have seat belts and are technically seats but should not under any circumstances be used as such, not even for children. I once had to transport someone on my high school basketball team over an hour in the rear and the results were not pretty. Fortunately it's such a difficult position to get into that few are brave enough to try it. The clamshell door layout at least makes it possible as the rear half doors open up the entire side of the cab for swinging your legs over the seat back.
It looks like a truck in the best way. It's classically proportioned with a minimalistic style, possibly out of cheapness, in a subtly handsome way. There's not much too it and that reflects its character. I find the last run of these to be some of the better looking ones though it definitely looks more modern than its underpinnings suggest.
Some people may not like the large chrome grille or old man pinstripes along the side but I think it's reasonably well put together for a simple truck.
Don't worry, we tied down the load after this photo was taken; Photo: Who
The Ford Ranger really shines when it comes time to load the bed. The sides of the bed are low to the ground and extremely easy to reach over. A person of average height can easily reach beyond the middle of the bed, making tying down large loads effortless.
It really makes you question why modern trucks have such tall beds that make lift over for side loading a strain on the back. The bed is at the perfect height, being just below the point where you would comfortably carry a heavy object. Easily reachable bed tie-downs also fall to hand ergonomically. Nothing short of a flatbed is easier to load than this thing.
However, the Ranger is not great at towing. The simple bumper hitch is adequate for pulling single axle trailers but it won't enjoy it. A chassis mounted hitch would improve dynamics but the power and chassis rigidity simply isn't there.
The Ford Ranger is old school in every sense of the word; how much that appeals to you is highly dependent on personal tastes. It is great at being cheap but not much else, but sometimes you just want a good cheap truck.
They were meant to be disposable but nothing more modern can come close to them for being cheap to buy, cheap to run, and not massively oversized. However, there is a reason that cheap basic trucks have fallen out of favor with consumers: they simply are not very pleasant to live with day to day.
That said, the Ranger has developed into a sort of cult classic for being essentially a truck from the 1980s with 90s tech in a 2000s suit. It can do just about anything but can do very few things comfortably. It's just about right for old man things like hauling the circular saw from the barn to the garage or making a Home Depot run but for anything more rigorous you're better off with a full sized pickup that will be more comfortable and capable. Its geriatric reputation about sums up its appeal. It's great at effortlessly being good enough and sometimes that's all you need.
I'm sure tons of you have experience with some more desirable specs of Ranger so let me know what you think in the comments.