Did you know that the Ford Ranger now accounts for more than 50 per cent of the Blue Oval brand’s total sales in Australia?
In other words, Ford’s days of being reliant on the Australia-made Falcon are long gone, but the Australian-developed Ranger has simply stepped into the breach.
In fact, this workhorse is now Australia’s second most popular new vehicle of any type, behind only the Toyota HiLux yet ahead of the Corolla. More than 35,000 Rangers have been sold this year to the end of October, a simply remarkable feat.
Indeed, the money-spinning Ranger 4x4 line-up has actually outsold the mighty HiLux 4x4 family this year, with the Toyota only the overall number one because its 4x2 entry models continue to dominate at the sub-$25,000 pricing point.
Within this massively successful Ranger 4x4 family, it’s the higher-end versions with big profit margins (before invariable discounting) that are doing particularly well. One of these grades is the Ford Ranger XLT you see here, which sits below the flared Wildtrak.
Our test model features the six-speed automatic gearbox option that the majority of buyers want, taking the RRP to $57,690 before on-road costs, $1300 more than the HiLux SR5.
Only the Volkswagen Amarok Highline is more expensive among rival utes, but clearly tradies don’t care – VW Australia sells as many as it can source from the Argentinian factory that makes them.
Yet we’d add that Ford is always happy to do deals on the Ranger, such is its need to shift stock now that supply is good. We’ve seen Ranger XLT autos going for $55,490 drive-away on ads featured on our site, for example – a saving of thousands.
Why else is the Ranger so popular? Bargain hunters would be better off looking at a Mitsubishi Triton, Holden Colorado or an Isuzu D-Max, but luckily for Ford (and Toyota) it’s not bargain hunters that dominate the ute market.
Looks certainly play a part. The post-update Ranger has the kind of macho American styling that people want. Solid marketing helps, as does the simple fact the Ranger is a damned good new ute that’s ridiculously easy to drive.
It’s won its fair share of comparison tests we’ve run before this review.
There may also be some level of patriotism involved, since it was Ford Australia’s engineers and designers in Victoria that created the Ranger for more than 100 markets worldwide.
It’s now the most ‘Aussie’ car we have left, even though ours are made in Thailand where factory workers get paid way less than those here.
Reliability? Well, frankly we hear mixed feedback from the commercial vehicle community on how a number of pick-ups handle heavy-duty work a few years down the track, Ranger included.
Some people have done 200,000km-plus without too much fuss, while others have not. It’s a tricky thing for us to address, because every case is different. Tell us your story below.
Perhaps the best thing about the Ranger beyond the US tough-truck styling is how easy it is to live with. We often talk about how utes are increasingly becoming second family cars, and nothing embodies this better than the Ranger.
The only indication that the cabin belongs to a truck rather than an SUV is the copious use of low-grade plastics pretty much everywhere – easy to clean but about as luxurious as a kitchen with linoleum floors, and well below the quality feel of those in the Nissan Navara, for one example – and the lack of telescopic steering column adjustment.
Standard fare includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen running SYNC 3 software that has conversational voice control to understand ocker accents better, plus digital radio, satellite navigation with traffic management, Bluetooth/USB and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
You also get climate control that is more than sufficient to handle an Australian summer (we’ve tried it, trust us), a rear-view camera, parking sensors at both ends, and automatic headlights. Our tester also came with the optional leather seats that cost $1600 more.
The other main options are an $800 Tech Pack – which bundles adaptive cruise control in place of regular standard cruise control offered otherwise, forward collision alert, driver impairment monitor, auto high-beams, and two stages of lane assist – premium paint for $550 more than base white, and a factory steel bull bar for $1800.
The suite of safety tech in the package is a must in our view, and it’s good to see workhorses now getting the sort of protection that passenger cars and SUVs do. People using them as tools of trade spend more time at the wheel than most other road users.
For context, the Ranger gets six airbags including some that cover both rows of seats along the side (unlike the Amarok), and scored a near-perfect 36.72 out of 37 in its 2015 ANCAP crash test.
Of course, five-star scores for utes are the norm now – even the Chinese LDV T60 managed the feat a few weeks ago. We’ve come a long way.
The rear seats in this dual-cab are very useable, with good under-thigh support, excellent headroom and legroom for even tall blokes, and seat bases that fold up to reveal in-floor plastic storage bins. There’s also a 230V inverter (power point) behind the console and a 12V socket for a phone adaptor, though we’d like to see air vents.
The one side point is that while the Ranger is wider than a Triton, the VW is wider still to offer more shoulder room – something its lack of side airbags undoes. The Ford also has fold-up grab handles that don’t hit your forehead like the fixed ones in a HiLux do.
Child-seat attachments, including ones that meet ISOFIX standards, are fitted for those people using the Ranger to kart the kids around – something we’re very comfortable recommending given the ANCAP score and presence of rear-side airbags.
One of the great things about the Ranger in this current-generation form is how simple it is to drive around town.
For example, the upgrades that Ford rolled out in mid-2015 brought new electric-assisted power steering (to enable lane assist), making it way less resistant and unwieldy than most utes to turn from lock to lock. The Colorado is similarly good.
Okay, some people may enjoy a truck-like feel, but why should you need Popeye arms to drive a pick-up around if there’s technology to improve it?
The Ranger also proves the efficacy of Ford Australia’s local chassis development, because it irons out patchy road surfaces or corrugated gravel roads better than any rival (the Amarok goes close), while the body control is far more sophisticated than many other vehicles of this type.
On top of this, there’s some pretty extensive noise insulation in the firewall and floorpan, because the lack of diesel rattle and clatter, and tyre/wind roar, is right at the pointy end of the class. It’s quiet, refined and easy to drive like an SUV, this Ranger...
From an off-roading perspective, there’s a switch-operated system whereby you can change from standard 2H rear-wheel drive to 4H or 4L (low range) on the fly. The wading depth is 800mm and there’s 237mm of clearance, plus a hill-descent control system.
The Ranger may have load-bearing leaf springs at the rear rather than coils, but even unladen it settles down extremely quickly and rarely shows the sort of unsettled nature that some rivals do – looking at you, Navara.
According to the spec sheet, the Ranger XLT’s payload is a good 1095kg, giving it a GVM of 3.2 tonnes. It also has a 3.5-tonne braked trailer tow rating to match other class leaders, though the GCM is six tonnes.
Our car’s plastic bed liner with 12V socket and tie-downs is standard fit in this spec. The tub measures 1549mm long at base, 511mm high at the sides, 1139mm between the arches and 1330mm wide at the tailgate.
The engine should be familiar to any ute buyer by now, since it’s not changed for a while. It’s a 3.2-litre five-pot turbo-diesel, though it doesn’t feel particularly unbalanced by its odd cylinder count, matched with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode.
It makes 147kW of power at 3000rpm and 470Nm of torque (30Nm less than a Colorado) between 1750 and 2500rpm, and uses a claimed 8.7L/100km that, with the 80L tank, gives you a theoretical range of about 900km. We averaged 10.5L/100km on our loops.
It remains a refined and potent drivetrain that pulls like a train down low, though the throttle calibration can be a little 'touchy' in some instances until you adjust. The Colorado's VM Motori engine may be more potent and the D-Max's truck unit more relaxed, but both are way more clattery. The 3.5t tow-rating is par.
From an ownership perspective, the Ranger comes with a three-year 100,000km warranty, though you can extend it to six years/200,000km for a fee (or free if you’re a good haggler). Roadside assist is standard.
Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km against a HiLux’s six-month intervals, capped at $400, $560 and $500 for the first three visits.
It has been a while since this writer has spent time with a Ranger, and it didn’t take long to remind me of why it’s so enduringly popular.
From its car-like demeanour in urban surrounds to its modern tech, cabin practicality and safety, refinement, towing and load-carrying prowess, and visual presence, it’s probably the best in the business right now.
Click on the gallery tab for more images by Jayden Ostwald.