I'll start with the good things.
First and foremost, I purchased this truck as a material hauler/estimate vehicle for my electrical business. I was looking for the least expensive, most fuel efficient pickup I could find, with low miles on it. I searched for about a month before buying this Ranger. I knew the 2.3L engine had been developed by Mazda in the late 90's, and had been in service in the Ranger as well as various other Mazdas since the early 2000s. I'd heard a lot of good things about the reliability and fuel efficiency of this engine.
I knew I was going to buy a manual, but I had no idea that finding a 4 cylinder/manual/extended cab was going to be so difficult. It didn't seem like any dealer in S. California had one in stock, or if it did, it only lasted a few days. I reluctantly settled for a regular cab. I wish I had waited.
I really like the small size of the truck, in fact it is truly the last of the "compact" pickups; even the Chevy Colorado, which I would have preferred, has expanded the size of their 4 cylinder engines.
The bed is a standard 6ft., which means with the bed liner installed, I can't fit a 6ft. ladder in. I may end up removing it and using a spray on bed liner, but the loose fitting plastic bed liner has wrecked the paint on the bed rail, so I would need rail caps as well. Overall, the bed is deep enough and easy enough to get things in and out of.
The cab interior is typical base level truck, meaning limited extras and drab hard plastic dash and buttons. The steering wheel is a nice enough piece, meatier than most entry level trucks, and has a good feel to it. The seats are comfortable, and the cloth material seems heavy duty to me. I would compare it to my Honda Element seats. Being a regular cab, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I fit comfortably, and the steering wheel is well placed. The center console is useful and rather large, a definite upgrade from my S-10s tiny box. The floors are rubber, which is great for cleaning, but are rather slippery. I am going to invest in some high end soft rubber floor mats.
The visibility out of the truck is marginal, and there is a HUGE blind spot just to the left, making merging and lane changes a rubber neck event; otherwise it's adequate.
The truck looks good, and has a definite lifted feel to it that you just can't find in a completely stock base work truck. My truck came with over sized tires (235/75 15), which only enhances the look. The rear is clean, with bold lettering for the Ranger nameplates. I have never been fond of the Ford logo, so it being so prominent on the back is the only distraction. The body of the truck is simple and clean, no overtly stamped body panels like my S-10. It seems to make the truck "look light", not overwrought with body cladding.
Like I said, I bought this truck for low cost of ownership and gas mileage, and it really does come through, as I am averaging about 26.5mpg, with a personal best of 30mpg on a 500 mile trip. The only truck that comes close to that is the 4 cylinder Tacoma, and you are looking at a $2000 premium in initial cost. With the 2.3 Mazda engine and the manual transmission, I really don't see myself spending too much money on this truck for the duration of ownership.
Now for the not so great stuff.
Despite having a lower payload and towing capacity than most all of its direct competitors, the truck rides as stiff as a washboard. Numerous times I have been driving into a turn, only to have a pothole springboard my truck sideways, causing me to jump a few feet. Not safe. My S-10 by comparison rides much smoother unladen. There are a few caveats though. The Ranger weighs in at 3025 lbs. while the S-10 is about 3500. Also, I am still riding on stock shocks, and plan to update this if changing them improves the ride any. That being said, it still feels too stiff for such a low payload rating. The bright side to that is that there is very minimal body roll for such a high riding vehicle, which is great when the road is nice and smooth.
The drive train feels adequate when the engine and transmission are warmed up, but boy is it a herky jerky affair the first few miles of the morning commute. I pride myself on my better than average shifting skills, having owned 5 manual vehicles in my life, but this truck makes me work hard to keep it from bucking as I drive through my small downtown community in the morning. Once everything is warmed up though, it's as smooth as silk.
The shifter is placed so far forward from the drivers seat that I literally have to move forward every time I shift into 3rd or 5th, unless I move my seat so far forward that by stomach is almost touching the steering wheel. By comparison, my S-10 shifter is right next to my knee, not 6" beyond.
So there you have it.
Overall, it does what it's supposed to do, and for being the lowest priced truck on the market, you really can't ask too much more. I plan to put a ton of miles on it for the few years I own it, while I'm waiting for either the new Ranger to come out, or for GM to put a proper V6 in their small trucks.