It’s pretty clear that these days the 4WD dual cab ute market has been thoroughly transformed – especially at the top end of the model range. Sadly for those of us that prefer our dual cabs covered in mud or loaded up with tool boxes, fashion has taken hold over purpose. Not too many top-spec dual cabs ever get dirty on a worksite anymore that’s for sure.
The reasons for these shifting sands are twofold. Firstly, the spectrum of dual cabs on offer is better than it’s ever been in terms of driving dynamics and most importantly safety. Secondly, dual cab utes are being snapped up in ever increasing numbers as the alternative ‘second family car’. Just go to a kid’s weekend sporting event and take a look at the carpark… Parents always used the work truck as the family car on the weekends, that’s true, its just that the work truck was never very comfortable.
There’s a small technicality here too. Utes – as we know them in Australia – are car-based utility vehicles. Think Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon. As such, utes drive and feel pretty much like the car they are based on. Vehicles such as the Ford Ranger I’m spending the weekend with are more accurately described as ‘light duty trucks’. They are built on a full, ladder-frame chassis, with the body and tray bolted on top. As such, 4WD dual cabs have never been known for their dynamic prowess – being a whole lot more truck-than-car-like.
Over a broad range of testing, two have stood out over the past few years as leaders of the segment – Volkswagen Amarok and Ranger. Amarok set the standard from its launch – with Ranger (and its sibling the Mazda BT-50) getting as close to the VW as anything on the market. Perhaps most impressive for the Ranger is the fact that it was designed right here in Australia. As such, it excels in real world, Australian conditions.
We’ve nabbed a 2014 Ford Ranger XLT as part of our towing comparison video and the inclement weather meant that I got to spend an extra week commuting and running some weekend errands in the Ranger.
I treated it as a default daily driver, which needed to be able to run to the shops, carry four adults around comfortably and negotiate the cut and thrust of Sydney’s congested arterial roads. I won’t bore you with all the technical details, which you can find by reading Anthony Crawford’s review here but the Ranger XLT starts at $53,990. The second from top model in the Ranger, um, range is no cheapie, but the range topping Wildtrack trumps the XLT starting at $57,390. Yep, dual cabs really are that expensive.
Ranger gets a powerful 3.2-litre turbo-diesel five-cylinder engine that is capable of doing everything you need – and more – without ever raising a sweat. Even towing a 2000kg boat and trailer combination, the Ranger got up to speed easily. Whether you intend to give the Ranger a workout or not, it’s been built from the outset to be as tough as nails. It really is too, you only need to thrash around off road for ten minutes to work that out. Point the Ranger down the nastiest off road track and you’ll come out the other side just as composed as you went in.
I had some home renovation work to do and some landscaping as well, so over my weekend with the Ranger, the tray was chock full of tools, and garden waste. Apart from the tray being a little higher than I’d like, loading and unloading was a cinch. The plastic tub liner is an excellent addition to any ute and the Ranger’s unit fits perfectly. Ranger also gets sturdy tie down hooks at each corner, which came in handy for making sure that things like the lawn mower stayed where I wanted them.
Much of my driving was during torrential rain. The Ranger’s high and mighty driving position was a real benefit here, and the visibility is excellent. The front seats of our XLT model aren’t luxurious, but they look tough as nails and a fair smattering of rain didn’t phase them one iota.
The Bluetooth system is easy to connect and stayed connected over the week of testing without ever dropping out. Sure, the audio system is a little prehistoric, and looks a generation behind the game now, but that’s only a minor gripe I reckon.
The second row offers up more than enough room for adults and the backrest isn’t so upright that it’s uncomfortable either. If you’re a family buyer with children to consider, the Ranger is a definite contender. Dad’s listen up. You can easily justify the Ranger so you look tough during the week, but you can use it as the default ‘family runaround’ come the weekend.
I think the Ranger is way more utilitarian than it is ever likely to need to be. I’d like slightly softer door trims on the areas where you’re likely to bash your elbows. This would be especially beneficial off road when you’re being tossed around the cabin a little more. The electronic stability control light only flickered briefly exiting a particularly slick roundabout where some oil or coolant must have been dropped onto the road. You have to careful of the throttle, and wary that the significant amount of torque the engine generates can get the Ranger moving very quickly when need be. Even more so when the road is wet. In the dry, the Ranger is always well behaved.
You need to approach dual cabs – especially the 4WD models – knowing that the ride is going to be more agricultural than luxurious. Keep in mind the fact that these trucks are designed to haul a pretty serious payload. So the rear springs that are usually carrying zero weight at all beyond the body of the Ranger, also have to be designed to cope with nearly 1000 kilograms of payload. As such, the Ranger (with an empty tray) can be stiff on nasty road surfaces and feel like it’s skipping around a little. Add a few hundred kilos of weight though and all that changes. The ride settles down and absorbs the nastier bumps with a whole lot more composure and comfort.
I’d still like to see full time 4WD on offer – like the Super Select system that the Mitsubishi Triton gets – but it’s not like the Ranger ever desperately needs it either. I just like to think it might be easier to include as standard equipment than the manufacturers claim.
Towing 2000 kilograms the Ranger was in it’s element. In my opinion, the Ranger looked the best with the boat loaded up behind too, and that must count for something in this increasingly appearance-based sector of the market.
The daily commute is a pleasure in the Ranger. Such is the engine’s flexibility, you can cruise around effortlessly, get up to speed easily, and stay at speed without ever feeling like the engine is working hard. It sounds like a diesel and there’s some clatter at idle, but it’s never offensive.
Given its direct lineage to the legendary F-Truck, the Ranger looks the most like a proper truck of all the dual cabs when you get down to design points. From every angle, it looks ready and willing to go to work without ever looking boring, ugly or slab sided. It’s big, and you’ll need to factor that in around town.
Ranger is -in my opinion – as good as the truck market gets at the moment style wise though. I love to see dual cabs being used for work, and if you need a work truck, the Ranger is right at the pointy end of the field. What we’ve managed to ascertain over nearly two weeks of testing in rubbish weather is that the Ranger can also play the family weekend game just as well.
It’s no Discovery 4 in terms of refinement and luxury, but it isn’t meant to be either. You can rest assured that the Ranger is ready to do harder work than you’ll ever require of it.