At the launch of the 2022 Ford Maverick—the company’s first truly compact pickup truck since the old Ranger was discontinued in 2011—we looked at our archives and learned that the 1996 Ford Ranger SVT V-8 prototype was completely outclassed by the EcoBoost four. the turbocharged 2.0 liter cylinder of the new Maverick. And the V-8, rear-drive Ranger SVT had a lot of trouble fitting the tires, while we’d assume the all-wheel-drive EcoBoost-powered Maverick would have fewer problems.
Either way, it’s worth taking a look back at the attractive compact muscle truck that never was, and to consider what a similarly sized Maverick could bring to the table in terms of performance.
Read our original first test from August 1996 below:
Not everyone will like the SVT Ranger V-8. But then, Ford didn’t make this truck for everyone. In fact, this one-time engineering prototype was only released to MotorcycleTrend for this exclusive first test.
Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering Group knows that there’s too much hair on this sports truck’s knuckles to please the many major street poseurs who have sported pickups and western designer outfits. So even if Ford decides to launch this powerful model onto the assembly line, we’d only expect about 5,000 a year to see the light.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; Ford Motor Co. not yet committed to producing this truck. Built for Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT), responsible for the 305-horsepower SVT Mustang Cobra and full-size F-150 Lightning pickup, this one has been subject to review by high-level managers and engineers for possible production in the ’98 model year. .
An elite internal group founded in 1991, SVT has been tasked with creating a factory-made “driver’s car and truck” with a balance of engine and chassis, road grip and supple ride, and refinement and performance.
What we found during our demanding review was a well-sorted development mule with fast steering, a firm but reasonable ride, and chassis dynamics that reminded us vividly of the previous generation Mustang GT. But his purest and most entertaining talent is his ability to whip 240 hard horses into action. Yeee-haaaaaa!
A close look at the ingredients that go into the bones of this bad-boy pick ’em-up truck reveals why we can’t wait to add it to our long-term test fleet. The foundation is a simple anvil Ranger 4×2. Ford Engineering then raided the Mustang GT and Explorer dumpsters to create a very lively and capable version of the compact pickup.
Inside, things are simple too. Instrumentation consists of standard Ranger fare: speed gauge, tachometer and coolant temperature, oil pressure, voltage and fuel level. There is a center console with dual cup holders and a shallow covered storage area. The seat is a bucket with hard foam and “SVT” sewn into the fabric. SVT is clearly spending its money on modifying the go-stuff and not on additional interior frills.
The base price on this red-hot carrier will likely hover just under $20,000 with items like air conditioning, power steering, sliding rear windows, premium sound system, and foglamps. Add the power options and passenger-side airbags and you’re out the door for about $22,000. It’s not cheap, but hey, it’s about four thousand less than a well-equipped Mustang Cobra, and you can’t lug a Jet Ski or a set of dirt bikes in the back of a pony car.
SVT’s style philosophy is to skip the wild graphics and tack-on air scoops. As a result, the truck is a bit of a sleeper with only four hints of a beast inside: wide wheels and tires, a slightly lowered suspension, four-wheel discs, and two large stainless exhaust pipes poking through the rear roll pan.
The most radical, but obscure, modification to the exterior sheet metal is the grafted Explorer front end. While that may sound like a backyard tweak, it actually requires some pretty serious bodywork and welding as the straight edges of the Explorer’s front fender won’t normally match the curved front edge of the Ranger doors.
Back to the revamped exterior elements: Chrome five-spoke wheels borrowed from the Mustang Cobra R. The debate continues over SVT over a flat silver or chrome finish for production trucks. There’s no doubt the Ranger SVT has a big footprint. The front wheels are lined with 255/45ZR17 Goodyear Eagle GS-Cs. At the rear, the wider 285/40ZR17 is mounted on the same 17×9.0-inch alloy wheels.
Good rubber can make a big difference in the turning and stopping performance of any vehicle, but it can’t make up for poor weight balance. Remember, this is a pickup. They’re inherently tricky when wet or cold and there’s no weight in the bed, as most of the static weight (in this case, 2,204 of 3,554 pounds) is concentrated over the front wheels. With the V-8 iron block in compact trucks, the problem can be intensified. Despite these conditions, the SVT Ranger recorded a respectable best stop of 148 feet from 60 mph — thanks largely to four-wheel discs and anti-lock electronics stolen from the Explorer.
SVT engineers gave us an idea of what’s to come with this Ranger short- and long-arm suspension prototype: Ford’s next-generation compact truck will be equipped with a similar SLA system. Essential for cab driving, this front suspension provides a fairly smooth cruise considering its core mission of steering accuracy and tight anti-roll control. Even with the high level spring and large roll bar, we never felt uncomfortable. And that’s saying something considering Michigan’s system of potholes.
The Ranger’s engine bay is filled with a 5.0-liter Cobra OHV V-8 taken from a pre-’94 Mustang and features an oil cooler, a fabricated aluminum radiator with a thick core, custom headers and a handcrafted stainless exhaust. system with as many special sections as Bill Gates’ tax return. However, as hard as it sounds, we’ve seen a much tighter engine-to-engine-bay match. This truck experienced no cooling issues, even during track testing, and appeared to have reasonable service access. With a little self-control, the V-8 Ranger driver can save on road fuel in the high 20 mpg range. Around town, it should be in your mid teens, or lower if you keep pressing the trigger.
5.0 is the engine that rebuilds the Mustang legend. Driving it in the Ranger illustrates why. Despite the incredible acceleration figures, the 7.2 seconds to 60 mph doesn’t even begin to tell the whole performance story. Just like a powered, unloaded pickup, the Ranger had a hard time connecting to the curb. And that’s okay if your mission is to fry Goodyears and leave thousands of miles of black rubber lines at every intersection. But it also makes leaving the line an involved process. To get our best time, we had to start with just 1,200 laps on the tach, and we still had way too many laps.
Ford took a scientific approach to the wheelpin gremlin by installing a Zexel-Torsen torque sensor differential—but it was easy to overwhelm it. Of course, with a few well-placed bags of gravel or peat in the bed to provide weight over the rear wheels, 0-60 times is probably closer to a mid to low six. The Ranger’s best quarter-mile speed of 15.1 seconds is fast enough to surprise Z28 drivers, but it’s a powerful 94.1-mph trapping speed that demonstrates the mid-range and high-end power of this not-so-aero pickup.
Tremec’s rugged TR-3550 five-speed manual transmission is mounted behind the 5.0, ensuring that the durability will be there for repeated “executive reviews”. Our experience is that these boxes are bulletproof. On the downside, the Tremec’s 5.0 liter rev limit and top second gear hit just under 60 mph, requiring a shift to third that added a few frustrating extra tenths to our speed 60.
If this little player does manage to get to market for under $20,000, we think Ford may want to adjust its volume projections to well over 5,000 per year. The Ranger SVT is an absolute hoot to drive.
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Technology Data: Ford Ranger SVT Prototype
|body style||2 doors, 2 passengers|
|Vehicle configuration||Front engine, rear drive|
|Machine configuration||V-8, OHV,|
|Engine displacement, ci/cc||302/4942|
|Horsepower, hp @ rpm, clean SAE||240 @ 4800|
|Torque, lb-ft @ rpm, clean SAE||285 @ 4000|
|Transmission||5 speed manual|
|Base curb weight, lb||3554|
|Fuel capacity, gal.||17.0|
|EPA city/hwy., mpg||17/25 (approx. )|
|Suspension, f/r||Up & down control arm/live axle|
|Driving||Circulation ball, power assist|
|Brakes, f/r||Disc/disc ventilated, ABS|
|wheel||17×9.0, chrome aluminum alloy|
|Tires, f/r||Happy GS-C year,|
|Acceleration, 0-60, seconds||7.2|
|Quarter mile, sec/mph||15.1/94.1|
|Braking, 60-0, ft||148|
|Basic price||$19,950 (approx. )|
|Price as tested||$22.250 (approx.)|