There is really no other way to put it; the new Ford Ranger is an absolute winner.
Ford’s new Ranger, which has been designed, engineered and tested here in Australia, is about to give a rude wake-up call to its major rivals. With class leading towing capacity, car-like interior, advanced powertrain and transmission packages, and superior safety, Ford has a sure winner in its stable.
The commercial pick-up segment is very competitive in Australia, with the Japanese having dominated for a rather long time. The Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton and Isuzu D-Max have all managed to maintain the status quo that if you want a ‘real’ ute, you go Japanese. Of course, this is not true. Firstly, apart from the Volkswagen Amarok which comes from Argentina, all the other models mentioned, plus the all-new Ford Ranger, are made in Thailand. Secondly, the new Ford Ranger is a generation ahead of the rest.
For that reason, it’s almost unfair to compare the new Ford Ranger with its competition, as the majority are mid-way or almost through their lifecycle (apart from the Amarok), but as it stands today, if you’re looking for a proper ‘get the job done ute’, you’d be kicking yourself if you looked past a new Ranger.
The new Ford Ranger development program started over four years ago with a blank sheet of paper. Ford says there is not even one single screw or bolt in the new Ranger that can be found on the old one. This meant the team in Melbourne had the opportunity to design the perfect ute, without having to worry about legacy. As a result, the new Ranger is taller, longer and wider. Plus it comes with a chassis that is twice the stiffness of its replacement.
The most interesting thing about the new Ford Ranger is that it's pretty much an Australia ute at heart. It may not be built here, but a whole heap of the engineering and design work was carried out in Melbourne under the One Ford program. In essence, Ford has smartened up its operations by using the best and brightest engineers and designers from around the world to come up with its new vehicles, but keeping manufacturing costs down by basing factories in Asia. It’s a win-win for both Ford and its customers.
To give CarAdvice the opportunity to test drive the all new Ranger, Ford brought us to Adelaide where we embarked on an on-road drive experience before flying out to Flinders Range to review the vehicle’s off-road capability.
Ford will launch the Ranger range in October with just two variants, both powered by a 3.2-litre turbo diesel engine and available only in Double Cab 4x4 XL ($46,390) and XLT ($53,390). Both variants come standard with a six-speed manual transmission but can be optioned up for a six-speed automatic ($2000). The remaining variants will arrive throughout the rest of the year and into 2012.
The models we drove were powered by the already mentioned 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi five-cylinder turbo-diesel, which has a respectable 147kW and 470Nm of torque. Other engine options arriving later include the 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi four-cylinder turbo-diesel (110kW and 375Nm) plus a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol with 122kW and 226Nm, to power the absolute entry model.
Despite all the photos and prototypes we’ve seen of the new Ford Ranger, there is something special about seeing one in the flesh. As expected, the exterior design is very much a reminiscent of the 'Built Ford Tough' ideology, which Ford now refers to as '21st century tough'. The design team has certainly utilised the F-Series lineage in coming up with the front shape. According to Peter Jones, one of Ford’s main designers, customers want their ute to look like a truck (which makes you wonder what the focus groups said about the look of the new Mazda BT-50?), so Ford set out to design a very masculine yet good-looking ute.
There are a whole heap of design features that you’d miss unless you paid close attention. Compared with the old Ranger, the proportion of glass to body size is now very different, the space between body and box has been reduced as much as possible and there is a surface lip all around the shape (including the tray), which although may seem to serve no real purpose, actually helps with improving aerodynamic properties. Speaking of which, Ford utilised the help of ex-Formula 1 aerodynamic engineers (including one from McLaren) to get the shape just right.
Even so, the two Ranger models differ noticeably in the looks department thanks to the inclusion of a chrome grille on the current top-of-the-range XLT. This adds a very tough, American look, which in this instance actually seems to work well.
The standard black grille is also a good choice and there was great debate among the attending automotive journalists as to which one looks better (which goes to show you both variants appeal to different buyers).
Although one can perhaps dispute its good exterior looks, its interior quality is truly where the Ford Ranger stands out. In the same way that the Volkswagen Amarok’s interior was leaps and bounds ahead of the HiLux at the time of its launch, the Ranger feels as though it’s yet a further improvement on the VW offering.
Ford’s interior designers joked that they were one of the very first customers to buy an Amarok to inspect its interior. They took the best bits of the HiLux, Navara, Amarok and other popular utes to design and engineer the Ranger’s cabin.
Comfortable seats, well designed and proportioned interior features, padded arm rests, great access into second row seats and heaps of technology help radiate an overall modern feel to the cabin.
During our drive program we found the interior quietness to be better than some passenger diesels we’ve recently driven. That’s more than likely due to a 40 per cent improvement in air leakage (compared with previous-generation Ranger), much stiffer chassis, hydraulic body mounts (first time used in a ute) and a whole heap of other features that would require us to have a PhD in engineering to understand.
Technology is also abundant with some notable features including Bluetooth telephone connectivity and audio streaming, auto wipers, auto adjustable (light/dark) mirror, follow-me-home light and satellite navigation on the soon to arrive top-of-the-range Wildtrak variant.
On the road the new Ford Ranger is very car-like in its handling characteristics and the six-speed automatic is effortless in the way it changes gears. Steering feel is much more robust than the HiLux and the additional gears help extract more power and better economy from the engine. Indeed, if one were to compare driving a HiLux to a new Ranger, it would be similar to driving a truck compared to a modern passenger car. They are totally different beasts.
To give you an example, Ford’s drive program for the new Ranger included many kilometers of twisty mountain roads and even a stint through Gorge Rd in Adelaide, one of the roads used in the famous Classic Adelaide rally. It marked the first time we’ve seen a manufacturer include a rally stage for a ute drive program! Ford hadn’t even bothered to load up the tray to keep the rear planted.
But having driven our Ranger test car through the selected roads, we realised why. Ford has nothing to hide. The Ranger drives like a car, it goes around corners like a car and even if things get a little out of hand, the sophisticated array of electronic safety technology help you maintain control at all times, even in the wet.
With the tray loaded with a few hundred kilos of cargo, the Ranger felt a tad more stable but you’d really have to be pushing it to notice the difference. We found the six-speed manual to be a tad finicky at times but it’s a case of getting to know the gearbox. Power delivery from the 3.2-litre turbodiesel is smooth and consistent, our average fuel economy for the whole trip, despite our fascination with the right pedal, was 9.9L/100km, marginally higher than the official 9.2L/100km.
Overall the extra $2000 for the superior six-speed automatic over the manual is a worthwhile investment as not only is it a better drive but in some variants it’s also more fuel efficient (3.2L XLT).
Once we were done with our on-road drive program we flew out of Adelaide to the Flinders Ranges, home to a 4km-wide meteorite that hit the region about 580 million years ago.
Here we put the Ford Ranger through some challenging off-road tracks to prove its worth. As we’ve mentioned many times before, today’s 4x4 commercial utes can pretty much climb anything (within reason) thrown at them, which is exactly how the Ranger felt. Even though the great majority of buyers will never subject their beloved Ranger to such harsh environments, it’s good to know that if the need arises, it’s more than capable of the task.
With ground clearance ranging from 201mm to 237mm (depending on variant), wading depth measuring between 600mm to 800mm and a towing capacity hitting an excellent 3350kg (with the bonus of having trailer sway control system), it’s easier to let the numbers speak for themselves.
After hours of consistent off-roading, we came to the conclusion that the Ranger is a truly capable all-terrain vehicle. It comes with a bunch of technology that will help you climb, descend and pretty much do anything else you can think of. In fact, with the hill descent control in place, all we had to do is steer and the Ranger did the rest. Once again the manual gearbox proved a little more difficult than we expected (particularly when going from third to second in low-range), but the six-speed automatic was an absolute breeze both in the climbing and descending phase.
Using a simple switch you can change between 4x2 high to 4x4 high on the move at up to 130km/h, but you’ll need to come to a stop to get into 4x4 low.
Although we didn't get much chance to play around with the Ranger's tray, we did notice that it offers six tie down points, a 12v power socket and locking tailgate handle. Measurements differ for each body style so best to refer to specification sheet found at the end of this article.
Safety was a top priority for the Ranger and Ford says it conducted over 9000 simulation crash tests in 38 real-world crash modes. As part of the real-world testing program, 110 Ranger prototypes met their maker to ensure buyers remain safe. Some of the features available include Hill Descent Control, Hill Launch Assist, Trailer Sway Control, Adaptive Load Control, Emergency Brake Assist, Roll-Over Mitigation and a whole bunch of airbags (front, side curtain and thorax). Most of these features are standard across the range except for the absolute base models.
For now Ford has no plans for a petrol V6 but may investigate the possibility of an EcoBoost engine in the future. The Ranger is covered by Ford's fixed priced servicing with 15,000km intervals.
There is much more that can be said about the new Ford Ranger and we will cover the range more extensively once we spend more time behind the wheel, but if you want our advice (as it stands today), Ford’s offering is without fail the best ute on the market. There’s not much more we can say!
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