Having slowly come to the realization that I dig pickup trucks, I thought it was high time I got behind the wheel of Ford's compact model, the Ranger. But, I don't think compact is an accurate moniker. The Ranger Edge sits as high as a full-size truck. According to Ford engineers, the Edge has a 434 ride height even in a 432 configuration. Along with the higher stance, the Edge package includes a monochromatic exterior, bed rails and raised dome hood, textured vinyl flooring, a four-speaker CD system, custom wheels and tires with tow hooks, fog lamps, a mesh-type grille, and air conditioning.

Our test vehicle carried the optional 4.0-liter V6 that puts out 207 hp at 5,250 rpm and 238 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. Standard for the Edge is a 3.0-liter V6 producing 150 horses linked to a five-speed manual OD transmission. Our 4.0-liter powerplant uses a five-speed automatic OD tranny. It has closely spaced gear ratios in the first four gears for quick throttle response and acceleration, say Ford engineers. But even with the more powerful V6, the Edge lacks get-up-and-go. While entering the highway, the powerplant strained to accelerate, making it a painfully slow process. And this was with an empty bed.

But the bed didn't remain empty for long. Being a new homeowner, I put the Edge through multiple trips to Home Depot throughout the week. The high point was hauling 90 concrete patio blocks and a wooden park bench (not assembled) with no complaints from the truck and some room to spare. Our test truck had an optional hard two-piece tonneau cover and bed liner. The cover opens from either the front or rear and locks as well. Also, a sheet-molded-composite bed divider separates the cargo bed into two distinct areas.

For 2001, all Rangers carry four-wheel ABS and electronic brake force distribution which adjusts rear brake pressure according to load for the shortest stopping distances. The Edge 434 carries an independent SLA front suspension with torsion bars and gas shocks and a rigid 4.10 rear-axle ratio with a stabilizer bar.

A fully boxed frame provides additional strength. Middle and rear portions of the frame use "C-channel" construction with rails on three sides. Electronic shift-on-the-fly 434 system is controlled by a three-position switch on the instrument panel. An electric motor shifts the transfer case instead of a lever-operated mechanism found on manual 434 systems. All of these factors contribute to a surprisingly smooth ride, especially for a pickup.

On the inside, textured-black-vinyl flooring puts any worries of damaging carpeted floors aside. After a particularly wet and muddy trip, I simply hosed off the floor and was back in business. All automakers should offer this option, even for cars.

Base price for the Ranger Edge is $23,585. With the optional towing package, tonneau cover and bed liner, discounts and destination charges, the final tally was $24,780. As a homeowner with many projects to tackle, it's an inviting price for a hard-working truck.

Sherri Koucky