Buyers of four-wheel drives and utes love to parley the contents of each other's engine bay. But which is of these Ranger powerplants is best?
No replacement for displacement. Aside from the Summernats burnout pad, no motoring subculture seems so wedded to the idea of 'bigger equals better' than four-wheel drivers. And once upon a time, they were well served by big, mechanical lumps of iron that lacked outright power and refinement, but packed plenty of low-down torque and simplicity.
These days, displacement is being replaced by technology. Multiple turbochargers, advanced fuel injection and efficient engine designs mean you can get more power, torque and efficiency from a smaller power plant. Plus, emissions are much better, which is a good thing.
Currently, Ford is offering three engine choices for its well-regarded 2020 Ranger ute. There's an entry-level 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that's the first choice among fleet operators and powers lower grades of the Ranger, but we're going to side-step that one for now.
Standard across most of the range is the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder turbo diesel engine, which has been in service since the T6 platform lobbed back in 2011.
Standard for the flagship Ranger Raptor, and optional on high-grade models like the Wildtrak and XLT, is Ford's newer 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel engine. This choice brings more power and torque, along with a 10-speed automatic gearbox, for a $1500 premium.
Using one turbocharger across five cylinders, the 3.2-litre engine makes 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm at 1750–2500rpm. Solid numbers, which have stood the test of time reasonably well.
With less capacity, and a lower cylinder count, but an extra turbo and a boatload more technology, Ford’s new ‘EcoBlue’ or ‘BiTurbo’ 2.0-litre diesel engine develops 157kW at 3750rpm and 500Nm at 1750–2000rpm.
There are a few extra specification differences between these two that are worth pointing out. The black Ranger is another addition to Ford's burgeoning range called Wildtrak X. Costing $2000 extra, the package adds in unique black 18-inch alloy wheels with 20mm of additional negative offset (now +35mm). There are also fender flares, a snorkel, nudge bar and light bar.
So, while the 3.2-litre automatic Ranger Wildtrak X costs $66,290 (before on-roads) with its extras, the 2.0-litre Ranger Wildtrak goes for $65,790 before on-roads.
With more power, more torque, more gear ratios, what’s not to like about the smaller engine? While the 3.2-litre engine still has its fan base, and has developed a mostly good reputation over the years, take-up of the 2.0-litre seems successful amongst new Ranger buyers.
In order to improve its power and torque density, the newer engine has plenty of additional tech tricks up its sleeve. Along with two variable-geometry turbochargers, the engine has an integrated intake manifold, and camshaft timing is handled by a low-friction belt-in-oil design. Instead of a timing chain or belt on the front of the engine, a special glass cord belt, designed to last the life of the engine, turns inside partially submerged in sump oil.
While both engines provide adequate propulsion for a 4x4 ute, the more powerful engine (unsurprisingly) gives better overall performance. The 3.2-litre engine is initially slightly more willing off the line, but the smaller donk is more flexible and responsive once rolling. It uses noticeably more of the tachometer also, rising and falling as the gearbox shuffles through all those ratios.
Both gearboxes are smooth and well mannered, but the 10-speed is naturally much busier with so many choices. It's worth noting here, the smaller engine has a slightly narrower peak torque band, which the gearbox does a good job of chasing. Interestingly, both gearboxes give off an odd, random thud from time to time.
The 3.2-litre engine makes more noise, with a somewhat unique thrum coming from its five cylinders. You can see this as being a bit raw and uncouth, or just adding a bit of character. Kind of like that uncle at Christmas after too many drinks. The bigger engine doesn’t rev as much, with a lower redline and noticeably less willingness to rev.
What’s certain, however, is that the 2.0-litre engine makes less noise in operation. Only when working hard does it start to make some noise – most of the time it's impressively quiet. A lot of this noise reduction comes from the advanced overall design, and things like internal timing belts. The 3.2-litre engine, like most others, uses a timing chain mounted on the front of the engine. With only a thin pressed metal case over the top, it isn’t so well insulated from making noise.
|Engine size (cc)||1996||3198|
|Power||157kw @ 3750rpm||147kW @ 3000rpm|
|Torque||500Nm @ 1750-2000rpm|
470Nm @ 1750-2500rpm
|1st gear ratio||4.7:1||4.17:1|
|low range ratio||2.72:1||2.72:1|
|final drive ratio||3.31:1||3.73:1|
|fuel tank size||80 litres||80 litres|
Both engines have a cast-iron block and aluminium cylinder heads, and both use diesel particulate filters and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems to keep emissions in check. Neither uses an AdBlue-type urea injection through the exhaust, although the related Everest SUV does.
Both also use piezoelectric fuel injectors, but the newer engine can fire up to six injections per combustion cycle, compared to only five for the Duratorq. It also shoots a finer mist of fuel, injecting as little as a grain of sugar each time, through eight holes that are no wider than a human hair. This helps with power, but also means the smaller engine will likely be more finicky with the cleanliness and quality of it's fuel.
Another interesting point is that the 2.0-litre engine also has a crankshaft that is offset to the side by 10mm. This reduces side loads on the pistons as they travel up and down in the cylinder, which in turn reduces friction losses.
All of these engineering tricks for better efficiency yield better efficiency overall; however, it’s not a huge difference. Ford quotes 7.4 litres per 100km on the combined cycle for the BiTurbo compared to 8.9L/100km for the 3.2.
We didn’t meet either of these claims in our testing. Both sat around the 10.0L/100km mark for general town and highway usage, but the smaller engine netted better economy in sustained highway usage. We reckon it’s probably more from the extra gearbox ratios, rather than the smaller engine.
While time restraints stopped us (COVID slows everything) from towing with these two examples, we can draw upon previous experiences of towing to give you a good idea. Like what we found with our previous Everest comparison, having more power, torque and gear ratios makes for a better tow vehicle.
It flies in the face of traditional thinking, I know. And many bearded men are likely guffawing into their 4.2-litre schooners as they read this, but it's inescapable. Although the 3.2-litre engine has a bit more chubbiness in the peak torque curve, 30 extra newton-metres and ten more kilowatts don't go unnoticed. And with much narrower ratio spreads between each gear ratio, it's a done deal.
With different gearing through the transmission and differentials, both Rangers have an almost exact first gear ratio in high (and low) range. Top gear is effectively taller for the 10-speed, helping keep revs and fuel consumption down. And, of course, there are much shorter jumps between each gear when you’ve got four extra up your sleeve.
If you want to get into the finer details, 32kg worth of kerb weight (2246kg for the BiTurbo, 2278kg for the 3.2) yields a commensurate bump in payload (954kg v 922kg respectively), with both utes sharing a 3200kg GVM, 3500kg braked towing capacity and 6000kg gross combined mass.
Servicing costs sit very close between the two, with only slight variations on some visits. While the 2.0-litre Ranger costs $2616 after seven years or 105,000km, the 3.2 costs $2631 for the same period of time. Both have service intervals every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
Both are also covered by the same five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Wondering which of the two will be more reliable over the years is similar to asking how long that piece of string is. It depends on a lot of variables, although the older unit does have a bit more real-world experience.
We can gather some additional insights from looking at recall information.
Ford recalled the Ranger (and Everest) in June 2020 for problems with the 10-speed automatic transmission stemming from failing fluid pumps. Ford also enacted a stop-sale on vehicles with the 2.0-litre engine in 2019, because of a faulty batch of fuel injectors. However, the Ford Ranger has more broadly been the subject of 14 product recalls since the T6-platform Ranger was released back in 2011, including some Takata recalls. So, neither has a perfect track record.
Both engines are sound choices in a ute that has otherwise shirked its years impressively well. For many, choosing will be based on personal preference. Some take solace in an older design with more capacity at the ready, and that same buyer might enjoy the extra noise that comes with the experience.
Those same people will prefer the relative simplicity of a single turbocharger and more accessible front timing chain. And although there is one less piezoelectric fuel injector to worry about, it’s not as advanced a design as the other engine. I also like to see the higher-mounted alternator for a 4WD.
The newer, smaller and more expensive option delivers more of those things we like to see: power, torque, performance refinement and efficiency. And for those reasons of such core importance for a driveline, it's my pick of the two.
But wait! We're not finished just yet. They say that variety is the spice of life, and two heads are often better than one. With that in mind, we've conjured up the opinion of Joshua Dowling on this subject, who has spent more seat time in 4X4 utes than many would care to admit. Take it away...
Co-tester points: Joshua Dowling
Back when the borders were open – at the start of the coronavirus crisis – I drove from Sydney to Melbourne to avoid air travel.
The thought of sitting in a metal tube for an hour or so with or without a mask didn’t appeal to me. I was a germaphobe even before COVID-19, and was socially distant long before it became a thing.
Plus, I love driving, even if it is the monotonous Hume Highway. I used to do that run on a monthly basis back in the day.
It’s a much easier drive now; there’s not a single set of lights from the freeway in the heart of Sydney to the outskirts of Melbourne’s CBD. The only reasons to stop now are for food and fuel – and in our case, photography.
The mission: drive a 3.2-litre Ford Ranger Wildtrak from Sydney to Melbourne and bring back a twin-turbo 2.0-litre.
It suited me: I can’t get enough of driving the Ford Ranger. Although it’s not perfect, it has held up incredibly well despite its age and is still the benchmark in many areas, thanks to continual improvements over the years.
Plus, the Ford Ranger is Australia’s second-best selling vehicle (after the Toyota HiLux), so it was good to get reacquainted, especially as there was a bunch of new or updated utes around the corner, such as the Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50. And the facelifted Toyota HiLux.
One of the most common questions we get asked when someone is looking to buy a Ford Ranger is which engine to choose. Even the team in the office is divided on the answer.
But there is no debate. The 2.0-litre is the way to go (sorry boss).
The 3.2-litre five-cylinder sounds the business, but it is heavier, thirstier and less powerful than the new-generation twin-turbo 2.0-litre.
The stark contrast was evident to me during last year’s ute mega test. The 2.0-litre Ford Ranger – backed by a 10-speed auto – was faster and more fuel efficient than the 3.2 backed by a 6-speed auto in the Mazda BT-50 (which at the time was a Ford Ranger in a Mazda body).
We did 0 to 100kmh tests empty, with a 650kg load in the tray, and when towing a 2200kg caravan. In every instance, the 2.0-litre Ford Ranger aced the 3.2.
To save you searching the internet, the 0-100km/h times (when the vehicles weren’t carrying a load or towing) were as follows: Ford Ranger 2.0 (9.5 seconds), Mazda BT-50 (12.2 seconds).
With 650kg in the tray, the 0-100km/h times were 11.2 seconds (2.0-litre) 13.5 seconds (3.2-litre), and when towing a 2200kg caravan the 0-100km/h times were 19.8 seconds (2.0-litre) and 25.4 seconds (3.2-litre).
To build some suspense into the Sydney-Melbourne return trip, I tried to drive each way on one tank.
The 3.2 needed a fuel stop because I had done some suburban driving before setting off. But the 2.0-litre made it one way with ease. And when I refuelled it, the distance-to-empty read 1070km.
In the end, the 2.0-litre returned 8.0 litres per 100km of diesel whereas the 3.2-litre returned 10L/100km (after resetting the trip at the start of the freeway, to compare like-for-like).
So unless you love the noise of the 3.2 (and that’s a valid reason in my book), or are concerned about the longevity of a small engine doing a lot of heavy lifting over, say, 10 years, the 2.0-litre is better. At least on paper.
Downsides? The shift in the 2.0-litre’s 10-speed auto is not as smooth as the 3.2-litre’s six-speed auto, as it can jolt unexpectedly between gears when it gets confused.
And we had a fuel-injector failure on the 2.0-litre some time after we did this run. It was one of the newer, updated injectors for this model (an earlier ‘stop sale’ notice was issued to replace a bad batch of injectors), but it seems we got one of the bad ones. There was no additional damage: the faulty injector was replaced, and the Ranger was back on the road after a quick visit to the service centre.
Even with that hiccup, I would still prefer to live with the 2.0-litre over the 3.2. It feels lighter over the nose, is responsive and fuel efficient, and makes light work of the daily grind or when heading off-road.
Ford says the front shocks and springs are unique to each model, and in 2018 Ford changed the front anti-roll bar and lowered the recommended tyre pressures to soften the ride.
Both are extremely comfortable to live with day-to-day, and on the open road. But the 2.0-litre would be my personal preference.