Umm as far as engines you have 2 choices IMO. If you want economy and don't care about power then get a 4 cylinder. If you want power and don't care about economy than get a 4.0 V6. The 3.0 V6 gets the same gas mileage as the 4.0 with half the power.
Fords are pretty hard on the front ends and the factory ball joints on 98+s at least suck so they usually need replaced before 100k.
Other issues depend on the year, engine, and mileage.
From what you've said it doesn't sound like that 96 is the best bet for you. If you want to find a Ranger that you will really like and fits your needs it might take a month or two of hard searching to find it. If you jump the gun you will make a purchase and end up with a truck that you will regret later.
2010 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab 4x4 Auto V6
2000 Ford Ranger 2WD 2.5L & 1976 Ford F150 Supercab 2WD 302