Note: 1994 and later Mazda B-Series pickup trucks are basically twins of the Ford Ranger, save for slight differences in grille and taillight design. Therefore, comments for Rangers of those years apply to Mazda trucks, as well, unless otherwise indicated.
Joining Chevrolet in the fight against the small pickups from Japan, Ford introduced its all-American Ranger in 1983. The Ranger replaced the Courier, which was basically a Mazda pickup with some Ford styling tweaks. Introduced in mid-1982 as an early 1983 model, the Ranger was at first only available as a two-wheel-drive truck. By the Fall of 1982, a four-wheel-drive (4X4) version was offered. The style of the Ranger was inspired by its bigger brother, Ford’s F-Series pickup, and similarities could be seen in the grille design and bodyside character lines. A choice of two wheelbases provided two bed sizes; a 108-inch wheelbase truck had a 6-foot bed whereas a 114-inch wheelbase truck sported a 7-foot bed. Ford boasted that the Ranger had more interior room than the best-selling imports and that 4×8-foot construction material could be carried in the bed (with the tailgate down).
At first, only Ford’s 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine (remember the Pinto?) with a meager 80 horsepower could be found under the Ranger’s hood. Later in the year, a more powerful 115-horsepower 2.8-liter V6 became optional. Transmission choices consisted of the standard four-speed manual, optional five-speed manual and optional three-speed automatic. Payload capacity was respectable, with 4X4 Rangers able to haul up to 1,600 pounds. Four-wheelers also had an independent front suspension (dubbed Twin-Traction) and 15-inch wheels/tires that provided ground clearance nearly equal to an F-150 4X4.
Four trim levels were offered for the Ranger: base, XL, XLS and XLT. Base models were fairly spartan trucks with no frills. The XL dressed things up a bit with chrome accents around the wheelwells, a chrome front bumper (instead of the black one on base models) and color-keyed headliner, floor mats and seatbelts. XLS models were the sporty variant, with blackout trim, tape stripes, bucket seats and full gauges for the instrument panel. At the top of the heap stood the XLT, with accents such as bodyside moldings, pinstripes, brushed aluminum trim on the tailgate, vent windows and more luxurious door and seat trim.
1984 saw no changes.
Transmissions were upgraded for 1985 as the five-speed manual transmission became the standard gearbox and the optional automatic now had four speeds. The 2.3-liter engine was improved, as well, gaining fuel injection and 10 horsepower, for a total of 90 ponies. An STX version of the Ranger standard cab was introduced for western states and featured a sport suspension with larger (215/75R15) tires, a two-tone paint scheme and bucket seats.
A plethora of changes took place in 1986. A new fuel-injected 2.9-liter V6 replaced the previous 2.8-liter unit and had 25 more horsepower for a total of 140. The STX became available nationwide and had the 2.9-liter V6 standard. An extended-cab body style, called SuperCab, debuted. The SuperCab rode a 125-inch wheelbase and had a 6-foot cargo bed. Jump seats were an option that increased passenger capacity for SuperCabs to five, though these jump seats were best left to kids.
A “High Rider” STX 4X4 debuted (for standard cab only) in 1987 and featured heavy-duty shocks, off-road tires and a ride height that was 1.5 inches greater than the ’86 STX four-wheeler’s. New graphics, consisting of three stripes that kicked up as they neared the rear of the truck, adorned the STX. Realizing that the 90-horsepower four-cylinder was not enough to motivate a four-wheel-drive SuperCab, Ford made the more powerful V6 engine standard on that truck.
New alloy wheels adorned the STX for 1988. This year also saw a revamped five-speed manual gearbox (which was standard on all Rangers) and the debut of the Ranger GT, a street truck with fancy wheels and color-keyed bumpers, grille and lower bodyside cladding.
1989 brought functional and cosmetic changes for Ford’s baby truck. Making it easy to tell an ’89 from an earlier Ranger was a new, more aggressive front-end design with flush-mounted headlights. Inside the cabin, a new instrument panel featured a large glovebox in place of the former open cubby, and new seat and door trim completed the update.
A more powerful base engine debuted; the 2.3-liter inline four used twin-plug heads and was rated at 100 horsepower, 10 ponies more than before. Standard antilock rear brakes debuted this year, increasing safety in panic-stop situations. This was the second and last year of the short-lived Ranger GT, of which fewer than a total of 2,000 units were produced.
A new decade brought new power, as a 4.0-liter V6 with 160 horsepower became optional in 1990 for 4X4 Rangers. A heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission was optional for that engine; a five-speed manual was standard. SuperCab models got a larger (20-gallon) fuel tank in place of the former 16.3-gallon unit.
A Sport model joined the Ranger lineup for 1991 and was little more than an appearance package with bodyside stripes and alloy wheels. The STX received new graphics and fog lamps. A new 3.0-liter 140-horsepower V6 debuted as an option for two-wheel-drive Rangers, while the 2.9-liter V6 remained optional for Ranger 4X4s. Other engine news included the increased availability of the 4.0-liter V6; now base Rangers could have the most powerful engine. Adding comfort was a new 60/40 split-bench seat option.
Changes for 1992 were minimal, with new tape stripes for Sport models and revised fuel injection for the 3.0-liter V6 as the major updates.
After a 10-year run with the same basic body style, the Ranger was substantially redesigned in and out for 1993. The new Ranger sported a slightly rounded nose, flush glass and new light clusters front and rear. A revamped interior greeted the driver and passengers and featured new seats, door trim and instrument panel. Upgraded sound systems added enjoyment to the new cabin. Nuts and bolts changes included the dropping of the 2.9-liter V6, a slight drop in output for the 2.3-liter engine (from 100 horsepower to 98), improved on-center steering feel and the addition of a high-mounted third brake light. Trim levels were revised and now consisted of base XL, XL Sport, XLT and STX. Halfway through the year, the perky Splash model (regular cab) debuted, featuring a stepside style (Flareside, in Ford lingo) bed and colorful graphics.
1994 marked the year that Mazda borrowed the Ranger platform for its B-Series pickup truck line. Numbers after the letter B indicated what engine the truck had: The B2300 had the 2.3-liter 98-horsepower inline four; the B3000 had the 3.0-liter 140-horsepower V6; the B4000 had the 4.0-liter 160-horsepower V6. The B-Series came in three trim levels: base, SE and LE. Base models were identical to a Ranger XL in terms of interior decor (vinyl bench seat and floor covering) and affordability. SE models featured bucket seats, center console, full instruments, a stereo with cassette deck, blackout exterior trim and white-letter tires. The top-dog LE had a 60/40-split bench seat with fold-down armrest/storage compartment; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; and an upgraded stereo. As with the Ranger, both standard and extended cab (Cab Plus in Mazda lingo) as well as two- and four-wheel-drive trucks were available.
The Ranger’s changes for 1994 involved the debut of side door guard beams (also standard in the Mazda) and a Splash SuperCab.
Safety was increased even more in 1995 for the Ranger (and B-Series) when a driver airbag became standard and four-wheel ABS became optional. However, on trucks with the 4.0-liter V6 engine, ABS was standard. Power was increased for the 2.3-liter and 3.0-liter engines, now rated at 112 horsepower and 145 horsepower, respectively. Ranger SuperCab models could now have a (optional) power driver seat. The sporty STX was now only available as a 4X4.
For 1996, the XL Sport was cut from the Ranger team, and the Flareside-style box became available for two-wheel-drive XLTs, though inexplicably only those with the four-cylinder under the hood. Also newly optional was a passenger-side airbag that featured a deactivation switch to allow the use of a baby seat.
Mazda made a passenger-side airbag and four-wheel ABS standard on the new SE+ as well as the LE trim levels. The SE+ was essentially an option package that loaded up an SE and also included power windows, locks and mirrors; air conditioning; keyless entry; and a premium sound system. The four-wheel ABS also came standard on all 4X4 B-Series trucks.
A few upgrades and one downgrade took place in 1997. A new five-speed automatic transmission became available with the 4.0-liter V6 engine, which improved both performance and fuel economy. The 3.0-liter V6 was now standard on all 4X4s (not just SuperCabs as before) and was made available on Rangers with the Flareside box. The 4X4 models lost their formerly standard four-wheel ABS to the options list.
The B-Series was thinned out this year, as both the B3000 model and LE trim level were dropped, leaving B2300 and B4000 models available in either base or SE trim. However, an SE-5 or an SE-5+ package could be ordered, meaning that a loaded B-Series was still an option.
Having been the best-selling compact pickup since 1987, the Ranger kept the pressure on the competition thanks to a 1998 revamp that boasted many improvements over the previous iteration. A fresh facelift gave the Ranger (and B-Series) a stronger presence and a stretch in wheelbase for standard-cab trucks (from 107.9 inches to 111.5 inches) increased comfort by allowing more legroom and a greater seat-recline angle. Making the most of the new cabin were new seats, a storage tray behind those seats and an optional sound system with both CD and cassette decks.
Functional upgrades included a new short/long-arm front suspension that improved handling and ride, a fully boxed front frame that increased stiffness, a pulse-vacuum hub lock for 4X4 Rangers (that provided smoother engagement into and out of four-wheel-drive) and power rack-and-pinion steering, which had better response than the former recirculating-ball setup. A larger (2.5-liter) four-cylinder engine with 117 horsepower replaced the 2.3-liter unit and also had the environmental benefit of reduced emissions. A new Off-Road package debuted, featuring charcoal bumpers and grille, 235/70R16 tires on alloy wheels, an off-road suspension and a 4.10 rear axle gear ratio.
Mazda’s new B-Series gained the Ranger’s improvements as well as a bit more individuality with its 1998 redo. Though no stepside (Flareside) version was offered, the new B’s bed had fender blisters that gave it a rugged look all its own. Trim levels now consisted of the base SX and upscale SE.
An electric-powered Ranger debuted, targeted toward fleet buyers who were environmentally conscious and could deal with the vehicle’s severely limited range of less than 60 miles.
Halfway through this year, a four-door option debuted for SuperCab and Cab Plus trucks, which allowed folks to access the rear compartment of these pickups via two rear-hinged doors, making loading of cargo or passengers easier.
The Splash vanished in 1999, and the XL Sport reappeared. An XLT Sport was also offered, and all XLT models acquired air conditioning as standard. The Sport versions essentially replaced the Splash as they featured color-keyed bumpers and grille, fog lamps and fancy wheels. Off-Road models got chrome bumpers and grille, replacing the former charcoal-painted pieces. The 3.0-liter V6 was now a flexible fuel engine, meaning it could run on gasoline, ethanol or a combination of the two.
Mazda brought out “Troy Lee” editions of its B-Series trucks. Named after a graphic artist who catered to extreme sports enthusiasts, these rigs featured both cosmetic and functional upgrades. The Troy Lee B2500 was mostly an appearance package, with alloy wheels, fender flares, big tires and interior flourishes such as monogrammed seats and door panels. The Troy Lee B3000 was a two-wheel-drive B3000 Cab Plus that featured a raised suspension, skid plates, fender flares, large tires, unique wheels and the obligatory graphics. The idea here was to offer a two-wheel-drive truck with near four-wheeler capability…and Mazda needed something to battle Toyota’s similar Tacoma PreRunner, introduced a year earlier. The Troy Lee B4000 was a 4X4 with all the features of the Troy Lee B3000 along with leather seating and a trailer-towing package. Mazda simplified the purchase of the other B-Series models by adding standard features (such as air conditioning, alloy wheels and a CD sound system on SE models) and deleting some of the confusing option packages.
Joining the raised suspension, big tired, two-wheel-drive truck party for 2000 was the Ranger with the new Trailhead group. This option was similar to Mazda’s Troy Lee B3000, in that it offered enthusiasts the look and some of the ability of a 4X4 without the higher cost, increased maintenance and decreased fuel mileage of a true four-wheeler. On 4X4 models, the pulse vacuum hub lock system was replaced with a more conventional arrangement and two-wheel-drive Rangers received 15-inch wheels in place of the former 14-inchers.
Over at the Mazda camp, the Troy Lee B2500 was dropped, B3000 SX and SE standard cabs were added (B3000s were previously all Cab Plus bodies) and standard features grew for many of Mazda’s B-Series pickups. All B4000s now had a CD sound system and 4X4 versions came with a 6,000-pound trailer-towing package, which was optional on the two-wheelers. All 4X4s retained the pulse vacuum hub lock system and now came with fog lamps. Not to be left out, SX models sported bigger (225/70R15) tires.
For 2001, Ford continued to improve the Ranger lineup with more power for the V6 and an expanded lineup to ensure that there would be a Ranger for everyone. The 160-horsepower, 4.0-liter overhead valve V6 was replaced by the more modern overhead-cam 4.0-liter V6 found in the Explorer. This transplant resulted in 47 more horsepower for the Ranger, giving the truck a total of 207 ponies underhood. Brakes were also upgraded, with 2WD Rangers getting full ABS, as opposed to the rear-only system they had previously. Another trim level joined the family. Called Edge and available with either two- or four-wheel drive, this Ranger sported a monochromatic paint scheme, a raised suspension for the 2WD version, a trailer towing package and a few luxury features such as air conditioning and a CD deck for the stereo.
A new FX4 model debuted in 2002. Offered only on the XLT Extended Cab model, the FX4 was geared toward buyers who planned to do some serious off-roading. Hardware goodies fitted to the FX4 included a limited-slip differential, 31-inch BFGoodrich all-terrain tires, special 15-inch alloy wheels, tow hooks, skid plates, Bilstein shocks, special exterior trim and sport seats. All Rangers got a SecuriLock antitheft system, while XLT and Edge 4WD models received a new 16-inch wheel design. For audiophiles, a “Tremor” sound system with an ear-splitting 485 watts could be ordered, as could be an MP3 player. Models equipped with the 3.0-liter V6 got improved fuel economy.
Mazda, in a fit of marketing creativity, renamed the B-Series simply “Truck” for 2002, and offered most of the same improvements as its Ford cousin.
With the Tremor option package becoming its own trim level for 2003, there were now four versions of the Ranger, the others being XL, Edge and XLT. More significant changes included offering the FX4 package in two versions: standard and serious-duty Level II, the latter adding a Torsen limited-slip differential, 31-inch (outside diameter) off-road rubber mounted on Alcoa aluminum wheels, tow hooks and two-tone interior trim.