Aspirational purchasing isn’t something normally associated with commercial pick-ups, but since its 2011 launch the Ford Ranger has gained a reputation as the tradie’s ultimate status ute.
The Ford Ranger is part of a small group of premium grade dual-cab workhorses that provide car-like comfort, safety and driveability, including rivals such as the Mazda BT-50 (sister ute to the Ford) and the Volkswagen Amarok.
It’s that very duality of performance – taking driver from building site to beach – which has made the current crop of top-end dual-cab utes increasingly popular among buyers that require even greater versatility than traditional SUVs can offer.
The Ford Ranger 4x4 double-cab line up kicks off with the XL 2.2-litre TDCi from $43,890 (plus on-road costs) with a six-speed manual (Ford charges an additional two grand for their six-speed auto across the range) and climbs to $59,390 for the range-topping Wildtrack 3.2-litre TDCi with auto transmission.
We tested the second-from-the-top XLT 3.2-litre TDCi auto, priced from $53,990.
To put the Ford’s pricing in perspective, the Mazda equivalent to the Ranger XLT is the 3.2-litre BT-50 XTR (one below the range-topping GT) that costs $4500 less.
Meanwhile, the Volkswagen has the Amarok TDI420 Highline from $53,990, but that includes an eight-speed automatic transmission.
While the Ford Ranger is clearly the pricier choice among its closest rivals, it goes some way to offsetting its premium asking price by offering a comprehensive list of standard kit, over and above that offered on the BT-50.
Items such as a tray liner and tray-mounted 12V socket, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlamps, auto-dimming rear view mirror, reverse-parking sensors and reversing camera, cooled console and heated power fold mirrors. Privacy glass and a sports bar round out the Ranger’s key features.
There’s also standard Bluetooth phone and music streaming with voice activation across the entire range.
However, the BT-50 partly counters with a larger, 5-inch (4.4-inch for the Ford) screen and standard satellite navigation.
There’s plenty of car-like comfort in the Ranger’s cabin with interior styling that’s closely aligned to Ford’s passenger vehicle line-up – namely, the latest Focus. So there’s a stylish [but busy] centre stack, housing the audio and climate control switches.
We particularly like the Ranger’s clean and easy-to-read instrument cluster with blue-lit metre needles along with the leather-wrapped multifunctional steering wheel (though it’s adjustable for rake only like most rivals except the Amarok).
Despite this niggle, the Ford’s driving position is excellent. The fabric seats are low-set and especially comfortable; broad based, but with decent levels of bolstering to hold all shapes and sizes firm through corners.
There’s a ton of room inside – front and rear, with generous head and legroom even for those in the second row wearing bulky work boots. The only complaint is an absence of rear air vents for passengers.
There’s no shortage of storage spaces and cubbyholes for drink bottles, phones and wallets, either, while the generous-size glove box can hold a 13-inch laptop.
While the interior is certainly one of the more appealing in the segment, it’s the Ranger’s rugged exterior styling, more than any other factor, that makes the biggest impression.
The truck-like Ford F150-style grille is the Ranger’s standout design feature – a key factor in this decidedly male-dominated market.
But it’s not all looks – the Ranger is certainly no slouch in the workhorse department. There’s a decent-size tray with six tie-down points (shared with the BT-50) and a handy 12v 20amp charge socket. It’s also got a 1041kg payload capacity and boasts a 3500kg towing ability.
Despite the Ranger’s various car-like qualities, there’s no push button start for the Ford – so you still need a key to turn it over.
There’s the usual diesel clatter on start up and some rattle during acceleration, but engine noise from 470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel is reasonably well muted inside the cabin, at least in respect to this class of vehicle.
There’s also some hesitation off the line, but from just 1500rpm the Ford pulls hard while the smooth-shifting six-speed auto is superb in its refinement and a great match with the muscular diesel.
Mid-range punch is particularly robust and power delivery is nicely linear throughout the rev range.
Highway cruising is also a refreshingly refined experience in the Ranger, with any sound from the engine far less noticeable than the commotion caused by the wind hitting the large side mirrors.
At 2159kg, the big Ford is no lightweight and fuel consumption during our test was higher than expected – averaging 13.7L/100km against the official combined ADR figure of 8.9L/km. However, the point must be made that the Ford Ranger handed to us for our evaluation had done less than 100km since rolling off the production line, so there’s no way of telling how such a new engine might have affected fuel consumption.
Underneath, the Ranger’s load carrying capacity means it gets a traditional leaf spring rear suspension setup – a consistent characteristic throughout the segment.
The Ranger’s ride quality, though, is exceptional. It’s firm enough to deliver excellent body control, but with just the right amount of suspension compliance to soak up even the harshest of bumps.
More car-like traits can be found with the Ford’s steering tune. It’s perfectly weighted for effortless low-speed manoeuvring, meaty enough for the open road and sharp enough to negotiate S-bends with confidence.
It’s also just as impressive on dirt and gravel, with 4WD selection on the fly via a knob next to the shifter, though transitioning to low range requires a complete stop.
The Ranger XLT is also equipped with a standard locking rear differential, when conditions require more traction. There’s also hill-descent control, which maintains a 7km/h speed on steep downhill sections, as well as a segment-leading 800mm water-wading ability.
On the safety front there’s a stack of active and passive safety gear including six airbags, stability control, trailer sway control, load adaptive control, roll-over mitigation and anti-locking brakes with brake assist to give the Ranger a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Ford offers a three-year/100,000 warranty period along with capped-price servicing over the same period totalling $2095.
The Ford Ranger XLT may well be one of the more expensive utes on the market, but it’s also one of the best.
Superb styling, brilliant ride and handling and decent levels of equipment place it in an elite group of pick-ups that feel just as at home in the suburbs as they do on a work site.