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The new-look 2016 Ford Ranger PX Series II is an important vehicle for the Blue Oval brand. And that could be an understatement.
So far in 2015 the Ranger is Ford’s biggest-selling model line, with 16,157 units sold to the end of July. The ute – in two- and four-wheel-drive specifications – makes up a whopping 40 per cent of all sales for the company in Australia.
It means getting the updated version spot-on is all the more vital.
It’s more than just a few styling changes – though the front-end amendments are comprehensive – and there have also been significant revisions for the Ranger ute line-up under the skin.
The company has tweaked the suspension for all models, with the Ranger chief program engineer Ian Foston claiming it was one of his personal aims to make the Ranger ride better, particularly in higher-spec models.
There’s also a new electronic power-assisted steering system (EPAS), which takes load off the engine (the previous version was hydraulic) and helps cut fuel consumption, as well as offering a lighter steering action around town, and offering the ability to work in conjunction with the brand’s class-first safety technologies.
Those tech systems include lane-keeping assistance, which can help steer you in to your lane if the car starts to wander. There’s also radar cruise control and collision prevention assistance, which can apply some braking pressure if an accident is deemed imminent.
So, this is one high-tech piece of machinery, with kit that rivals some luxury SUVs. But it doesn't come standard.
Buyers need to either fork out for the expensive XLT model (which kicks off from $46,690 plus on-road costs in 2WD guise or $52,390 plus costs for the 4WD) or get the top-of-the-pops Wildtrak, which starts at $57,890 for the manual and $60,090 for the auto (4WD only).
And even then, the driver assistance tech is not standard.
You’ll need to add an extra $1100 to the XLT price (which includes the addition of a reverse-view camera, which isn’t optional on any lower-spec models) while the tech costs $600 in the Wildtrak, which is the only variant to have a camera system standard.
We spent most of our time at the launch in the XLT model fitted with the optional safety tech.
The XLT accounts for a fair share of sales – Ford says that spec was the top-selling variant last year – and part of that comes down to the role it plays as second fiddle to the more aggressively styled and more expensive Wildtrak model.
The company has said that the XLT is its more luxury-focused model, where the flagship Wildtrak is a sports-luxury ute. Who would have though those words would have been uttered about workhorse truck just a few years ago...?
But you know what? It’s about right.
While you won’t find leather or even 'pleather' inside the cabin, the interior is much improved in XLT specification. There are fewer confusing buttons, with the brand’s Sync 2 touchscreen media system instead taking pride of place.
We’ve tested that system in the Mondeo and other Ford models, and once you get to know the placement of the menus it proves a simple system to work with. On the home screen in the top-left corner there’s the phone menu, top-right is navigation, bottom-right is climate, and bottom-left is where you’ll find the media/radio controls.
That system lifts the cabin ambience over the previous XLT model immensely, and thankfully the vast majority of the buttons that littered the dashboard have been done away with in vehicles fitted with Sync 2, though there are hard buttons below to quickly adjust the climate controls rather than having to use the screen menu (which we guarantee you’ll come to appreciate).
We should note that on our launch loop we had numerous issues with the navigation system, which continually showed our position as being a few blocks from our true location, and even became completely confused at one point when we were just 12 kilometres from our destination.
In terms of comfort there is dual-zone climate control but no seat heaters in XLT (Wildtrak gets them), and the seats up front are well bolstered and offer good adjustment.
The steering wheel – frustratingly, given Ford put an entirely new steering system in – still doesn’t adjust for reach, though, meaning awkwardly shaped humans would be better off looking at a Mitsubishi Triton or Volkswagen Amarok to be ultimately comfortable.
Behind the steering wheel in the XLT and Wildtrak models there’s a new instrument cluster, which has twin digital screens either side of an analogue speedometer.
The left information screen has a menu system to choose different audio settings and also doubles to give you next turn information for the sat-nav. The right info screen allows you to adjust settings for the safety systems, if fitted, among other things. It’s neat, and moves the game forward in the ute class. (Correction: an earlier version of this story said there was no digital speedometer, however owners can access such a screen on the right digital screen).
The interior finishes are workmanlike – there’s not much in the way of soft, supple material except for the wrap on the steering wheel of the XLT – but that means it should be easy to wipe clean. And it still manages to look good – there’s more creative charm to the Ranger’s cabin than in, say, an Amarok, and the finishes are more upmarket than a Holden Colorado or Isuzu D-Max.
Storage is good – there are big door pockets to store notebooks, snacks and bottles, as well as a pair of central cupholders, a covered centre box and a couple of other small nooks for wallets, phones and the like.
In the second row, the Ranger remains one of the more comfortable dual-cab experiences available. There’s adequate head, knee and toe room, and three adults can slot in alongside one another more easily in the Ranger’s cabin than in, say, a Triton.
There are no rear-seat airvents, still, but Ford has added a 230-volt charging outlet in the rear that allows you to plug in your laptop or device while you’re on the road.
Speaking of which, we spent a good couple of hours negotiating country back roads in Victoria at the launch of the Ranger, and it showed that the brand’s hard work has reaped rewards.
The ride is better resolved than we remember in high-spec dual-cab guise – though it’s worth noting that all specification levels (with differing wheel/tyre packages) have different spring/leaf and damper rates. It will bounce a bit over bad patches of road, and while it’s hard to say without driving it back-to-back against the coil-sprung Nissan Navara and the excellent Amarok, we’d suggest the empty-tray ride may still be a little more jiggly in the Ranger.
The steering, though, is a highlight. The move to the EPAS unit makes the Ranger feel very different to drive, as around town it isn’t as cumbersome to push around tight corners or when parking, and at higher speeds it responds honestly and quickly to driver inputs.
The 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel engine remains a strong offering, with its 147kW and 470Nm proving more than enough, although we didn’t have any load on board.
There’s plenty of pulling power from about 1750-2500rpm, and the torque curve has been shortened as part of the update (it used to hit peak torque from 1500-2750rpm). That said, Ford claims it is a flatter curve, making for more linear power delivery through the rev range.
However, it remains one of the louder engines when it’s working hard or when it’s cold – and we mean both inside the cabin and out.
The six-speed automatic proved hard to fault on test, too, shifting quickly and smoothly.
Those optional safety systems were also fitted to our XLT. The radar cruise control worked very well, maintaining a reasonable gap to the car in front and holding speed down hills nicely, too.
The lane-keeping assistance function is a bit more hit and miss. It uses a camera to read the road markings and judge if the vehicle is about to wander from its lane, and it can then either buzz the wheel to warn the driver or apply steering torque to help pull the vehicle back into line. We tested its usability and it worked more often than it didn’t though it’s not this writer’s favourite safety technology.
We spent shorter amounts of time in some of the other models, such as the Super Cab XLT 4x4 model, which suffered from a far terser ride quality, particularly in terms of rear-end buck and wobble over poor road surfaces, though its payload is higher than the dual-cab, at up to 1020kg (dual-cab XLT: up to 970kg).The best payload of the Ranger line-up is the XL 2WD Hi-Rider single-cab, which claims up to 1450kg; the worst is the Wildtrak, at 925kg.
This model had a six-speed manual gearbox and at speed the shifts were easy to master. From a standstill, however, the clutch take-up point made for a few almost-stalls.
Another model we drove was the XL Super Cab manual 4x2 with the 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine. That powertrain has seen some power bumps, with 118kW (up 8kW) and 385Nm (up 10Nm).
Being a 4x2 there’s less mass to move, but it also felt firmer over bumpy sections of road. While there’s clearly a deficit when it comes to traction, even over loose surfaces the traction control system proved adequate in keeping the vehicle where it needed to be.
While Ford has made it clear that there’s less sound deadening in the lower-spec models, and that’s clearly evident in the XL model, which has a vinyl floor and cloth seats. There was plenty more engine noise, and some added wind noise, too.
In the models below the XLT there’s a less enticing media system, which is an evolution of the Sync 1 version used in the previous model. There are new buttons and a new colour screen, but it still doesn’t support a reverse-view camera, the screen is small and hard to read at times, there’s no navigation available and there are still too many buttons.
It’s worth noting – for potential dual-purpose ute buyers, at least – that the dual-cab models come with ISOFIX child anchor points, where the Super Cab models don't.
Further, the rear seat comfort in Super Cab models is lacking. The backrest is upright and lacks padding, and the seat base doesn’t feel well settled.
There is, however, airbag protection for all outboard occupants, which is better than we can say of the Volkswagen Amarok, which remains one of the only utes left in the segment with no rear airbag protection. Ranger has six airbags (dual front, front-side and side curtain) on all models, including single-cab versions.
As was the case with the previous Ranger, there’s a three-year, 100,000km warranty with servicing due every 12 months or 15,000km. Ford offers a capped-price service campaign for the life of the vehicle, too, and there’s a roadside assistance program for up to seven years.
We’ll be aiming to get a number of variants through the CarAdvice garages in Sydney and Melbourne in order to get a better idea of each in more detail – so stay tuned for that.
However, following our drive at the launch of the 2016 Ford Ranger PX Series II model, it seems clear that if you need a family-friendly workhorse the XLT 4x4 dual-cab – with the optional safety pack – stacks up as the pick of the bunch.
Click the Photos tab above for more images of the 2016 Ford Ranger.