There’s no doubt that between the XLT, Wildtrak, FX4 and Raptor, Ford has covered off the high end of the ute market quite comprehensively. Australians aren’t afraid of spending a buck or two on commercial vehicles these days, after all.
But, what about those amongst us who might consider themselves a more astute buyer, who is looking for a strong value proposition without missing out on a few nice bits? For that imaginary buyer, the new XLS Sport specification might be just the ticket.
It’s an enticing proposition priced at $52,490 with a six-speed manual gearbox. We have the six-speed automatic option, which pushes the price up to $55,140. Even the desirable Ranger isn’t immune from sharp drive-away pricing, with Ford’s local website showing $48,990 as a drive-away price for the new Sport automatic, like we have on test.
This sits the 2019 Ford Ranger Sport between the XLS and XLT specifications, which are both listed at $51,460 and $58,540. So, what do you get, and what do you miss out on?
Compared to the Ranger XLS, the big inclusion on the interior is Ford’s impressive 8.0-inch infotainment unit called SYNC 3. Normally, it’s a $1950 option. As part of this upgrade, the Ranger Sport also gets keyless entry, push-button start and dual-zone climate control – something you miss out on with the XLS.
So, what do you miss out on while saving around three large? Exterior LED running lamps, chrome exterior bits, HID headlights, cooled (not refrigerated) centre console and a tow bar are standard fitment on the XLT. I’m sure many won’t mind missing out on the chrome action, as black wheels and exterior details seem to be all the rage these days.
Perhaps the biggest misses are the options you can’t have on XLS specification, but can on XLT: leather interior trimming ($1650), tech pack ( $1700) or the 2.0-litre ‘BiTurbo’ donk and 10-speed gearbox ($1200).
The XLS Sport benefits from the Ranger’s improved safety credentials across the range: AEB with pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, automatic high beam and lane-keep assist.
You can’t deny the 3.2-litre diesel under the bonnet, combined with the six-speed automatic gearbox, is getting a little old in the tooth. Compared to its peers, the numbers are still respectable: 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm at 1750–2500rpm. It’s less refined and less powerful than the new 2.0-litre BiTurbo, however, which isn’t an option in this spec level.
There’s a familiar and unique warble to the engine, owing mostly to the five-cylinder configuration. Torque comes on quickly, with an almost harsh delivery off idle and off the mark. The engine is at its strongest here, while starting to feel a little raspy and breathless higher up the digital tacho. There’s enough power and responsiveness on tap for your typical highway driving, as well.
After a few hundred kilometres of highway driving, getting stuck in traffic and about a half day of off-roading, my fuel economy was sitting on 9.8L/100km. Not too shabby, but also not the most efficient option of the 4x4 ute scene. The listed economy (on the combined cycle) is 8.9L/100km.
The gearbox feels smooth and smart in its operation, not really putting a foot wrong aside from a rare, slight lurching feeling on gear change. Low-range (2.717) is decent, and matches well with the engine’s low-revving character. Having a locking rear differential in this specification is nice, too.
One good thing about this Ranger, which is shared across the whole range, is that the locking rear differential works in concert with the off-road traction-control system. Sometimes, the locker turns off traction control completely, which means your front diff is now 100 per cent open without any mechanical or electronic help. Not the case with the Ranger, however. The electronic smarts stay switched on, so you can proverbially eat it, too.
The traction control is a good operator, as well. It requires a bit more wheel speed and slippage to keep progress going in deep ruts than you might like to give sometimes, but overall it’s good. Clearance is also good, and not let down by a silly side step or poor underbody design.
As always, the Ranger is a great base for 4WDing off the showroom floor. Add some tyres for when things get a little more serious, and you can chase all of the additional clearance and protection your heart desires through the aftermarket scene.
The biggest indication this Ranger is sitting towards the bottom end of the market is the interior. It’s not a bad interior, but does have that lack of contrasting surfaces and finishes compared to the XLT (and higher). Cloth, manually adjustable seats are comfy and supportive enough, and surrounded by a nice layout and decent-feeling switchgear.
The best thing about the XLS Sport is the SYNC 3 infotainment system, which is a big step up over the smaller, more primitive XLS's display. It’s 8.0 inches in size, and has mountains of connectivity and functionality included. Important notes to tick off include: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, native navigation and voice commands. There are also a couple of 4.2-inch displays that flank the analogue speedometer. With these you can flick through a sizeable amount of displays and information depending on what you’re looking for.
Second-row comfort is reasonably good, and one of the better in this regard amongst its compatriots. This is mostly thanks to the Ranger being a bit bigger and longer than others. Extra points for the handy storage space underneath the stadium-folding seat base, as well as the 12V and 230V power plugs. There are no air vents, however.
On-road driving is still a classic Ranger experience: composed, well sorted and comfortable. Even when unladen, the Ranger is a good on-road performer. There is a little bit of the usual rear-end jiggle over rough surfaces, but that's par-for-the-course stuff in my opinion.
The factory fitment of Dunlop Grantrek rubber wasn't the most inspiring stuff I have driven before, which felt a bit tail-happy and twitchy. It wasn't helped by the fact we had stacks of rain over the weekend we tested it (and took photos). If it were me doing the buying, I'd be budgeting in some quality aftermarket all-terrain tyres, which will likely look and perform better, as well as being more durable.
Par for the course because you are accessing a great payload in the Ranger Sport: 991kg, or 1009kg with the manual gearbox. Towing remains unchanged: 3500kg is good, but will be potentially curtailed in the real world by a limited Gross Combination Mass of 6000kg. There’s 2.8 tonnes of towing left over at maximum payload, but your payload plummets to 291kg when towing at the maximum 3500kg (for the automatic).
The Ranger's tub is almost square measuring in at 1549mm long and 1560mm wide. If you're wanting bigger, you'll need to be shopping around for a single-cab or dual-cab.
A five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty from Ford is one of the better offerings around, and beaten only by the ongoing 'special offer' seven years/unlimited offered on the Mitsubishi Triton or the Isuzu D-Max with six years/120,000km coverage.
In terms of servicing, Ford has a capped-price servicing program that doesn’t exactly include the whole box-and-dice. So while quoted maximums of $405, $575, $515, $575 and $405 per 15,000km or 12 months are listed (totalling $2475 for five years/75,000km), some additional items like tyre rotations and brake fluid changes aren’t included. So you’ll likely fork out a little more than the listed prices.
Edit: Being a 2019.75MY model, the Ranger Sport comes under Ford's $299 capped price servicing programme for the first four years or 60,000 kilometres, whichever comes first, and only through participating dealers. The same caveat around potential cost increases over additional service items remains, however.
I came away from my time with the Ranger XLS Sport with a bit of a nod and a grin on my face. It makes sense giving you the handy tech and gear you’ll use on a day-to-day basis, but leaving off the other gear that could be seen as extraneous.
Having a drive-away offer of under 50 grand while keeping the SYNC 3 infotainment system is indeed compelling, and puts the Ranger into a bit more of a fighting position lower down the specification range.