If you are looking for a good daily city commuter, with need for utility, these Rangers can't be beat. The rear suspension has the leaf springs installed over the axle, which is great for hauling heavy loads, which is not found on any other truck in this class. The trade-off is that the ride height is quite high, and there is a lot of body roll. Make sure you look for anti-sway bars if purchasing this truck.
If you are looking for performance out of this vehicle, the 3.0L V6 is not the way to go. The 3.0L is a common run of the mill midsize V6 with a pushrod valve train. It is a good work engine with lots of low end torque, but there is no aftermarket to improve this engine. The 4.0L is a much better choice for performance, or if even more power is needed, the 2.3L turbo engines, and 5.0L Ford V8s drop in quite easily. The transmission has lots of spacing between gears, which is good for towing, but bad for performance. 3.73 or 4.10 rear end gears improve off-the-line acceleration greatly. In terms of street handling performance, this truck is terrible. The front I-beam suspension is ancient, conveys little road feel to the driver, and does not respond well with the road. The 98+ rangers have a revised front suspension which make them handle much better on the street. The rear leaf springs are not very stiff, and there is lots of axle sway. Anti-sway bars help quite a bit. The shocks all around are very soft, not good at all for street performance. The open differential also hinders grip and thus performance. I believe all trucks after 95 came standard with anti lock brakes. Make sure you get anti lock brakes, as when stopping, weight transfers to the front of the vehicle and the rear wheels lock, anti lock brakes solve this problem. The stopping distance of my truck is acceptable.
Reliability is a rather strong suit of this vehicle. I had some freak electrical problems, including a heating problem that was incredibly expensive to fix, but these are just freak incidents. It is unlikely many other vehicles will have these problems. The starter is on its way out, but that is quite common in any vehicle getting to be 6 or 7 years old. One thing I noticed is that the accessory belts need to be replaced quite often. I'm not sure if that is common with all Rangers. Mechanically, this truck has held up very well. I learned to drive standard on it, and I drive it quite hard, but the engine and drivetrain of these little trucks are rock solid.
The interior is very nice, and more attractive in my opinion then any other compact pickup except for the new Nissan Frontiers. The regular cab may be a bit cramped for anyone over 6 feet. I have taken 15 hour drives in this vehicle and have been fine.
This is not a good vehicle for winter driving. Because the drive wheels are in the rear, and the vast majority of the weight is in the front, traction in adverse conditions is horrible. Without a limited slip differential, you must drift into other lanes when passing, for accelerating over a snow drift causes the vehicle to spin out very easily. Winter tires and over 100 lbs of weight in the box are an absolute must. 4X4 models with larger tires and limited slip would be competent winter trucks.
Safety is a concern with this truck. Without anti lock brakes, a limited slip differential and good tires, the truck does very poorly in adverse conditions. The poor setup of the suspension, and large amount of body roll mean this truck rolls easier than most in its class, and accident avoidance is worse. On the other hand, the Ranger has always come out on top in crash tests, including a recent offset crash test. Drivers side airbag came standard in 97, while passenger side was optional.