What stands out?

One of Australia’s biggest selling vehicles, the Ford Ranger is a rugged ute with light steering and good safety credentials – which include a reversing camera on all Ranger pick-ups. The more expensive Rangers have nicely trimmed double cabs that can comfortably take a family touring, and are available with automatic emergency braking. All 4WD Rangers have lockable rear differentials and go very well off road.

The Ranger XLT came second in the 2019 Dual Cab Ute Test, held by 4x4 and Wheels magazines, behind the Volkswagen Amarok V6 but ahead of Toyota HiLux SR+, Holden Colorado LTZ and Mercedes-Benz X250d.

What might bug me?

Manoeuvring in city carparks – this is a big vehicle.

The bouncy ride when unladen. But all truck-based utes are like that – they are sprung stiffly at the rear so that they can handle big loads.

What body styles are there?

Single cab chassis and pickup; super cab chassis and pickup; double cab chassis and pickup.

All are available in rear-wheel drive, and in four-wheel drive with dual-range gearing. The 4WD system is part-time, which means you must select rear-wheel drive for sealed roads but may switch to 4WD on loose surfaces. Dual-range gearing gives you a second set of gears, with low ratios that allow to drive comfortably at very slow speeds when tackling difficult terrain off road.

The Ranger is classed as a commercial light pick-up.

The Ford Everest is a seven-seat SUV version of the Ranger.

What features do all Rangers have?

Ford’s SYNC3 infotainment with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto viewed on an 8.0-inch touchscreen. Bluetooth audio connectivity with voice control. An AM/FM radio with single CD player, USB input and iPod integration.

Cruise control, operated from buttons on the steering wheel.

Air-conditioning, power windows, power-adjusted external mirrors, and headlamps that switch on automatically when it’s getting dark.

On all Ranger pick-ups, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, and an ‘easy-lift’ tailgate.

Adjustable lumbar support on the driver’s seat, which can help keep your lower back comfortable.

Hill launch assist, which operates the brakes automatically to help you start from rest on a slope.

Electronic stability control, which can help control a slide and avoid a crash.

Trailer sway control, which helps when towing to prevent the load oscillating from side to side.

All 4WD and High-Rider Rangers come with a locking rear differential, which helps them go further in difficult off-road conditions (by maintaining drive to the wheel with most grip).

A 230-volt inverter, which allows you to run household electrical equipment, is available in all models but the XL Single Cab.

Every Ranger comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel available in less costly Rangers uses least fuel, consuming as little as 6.6 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined) when driving a basic 2WD cab-chassis version through a manual gearbox.

This engine makes modest power but is quite flexible. However, it can take a while for the turbo to kick in, resulting in some initial sluggishness. And when you work it hard it gets noisy.

In the bigger dual-cab Ranger versions, the new and very powerful 2.0-litre Bi Turbo engine is more economical, with an official combined fuel economy of 7.4 litres/100km, while the 2.2-litre engine manages 7.8 litres/100km with the automatic gearbox.

The main reason you would not choose the 2.2-litre engine is that you want the easier towing, quieter and more relaxed highway cruising, and swifter overtaking, available from the other engines, the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel, which consumes a still respectable 8.7 litres/100km and is available across the range, or the 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel that is optional in the well-equipped Ranger XLT and Wildtrak.

A second reason is you want a more upmarket 4x4 Ranger, which only come with the 3.2-litre or 2.0-litre engines. The 2.2-litre is only available with rear-wheel-drive models, and lesser equipped XL 4x4 Double Cabs.

A reason why you wouldn’t choose a dual cab Ranger with the 2.0 Bi Turbo is you want to pay less for your Ranger. It’s only available in the upper-spec XLT and Wildtrak versions as a $1200 option.

Rangers with the 2.2- and 3.2-litre engines offer the option of six-speed automatic or manual gearboxes. The manual gearbox shifts quite well, with Ford having improved its formerly vague action with the bigger diesel. However, the auto remains more user friendly.

The 2.0-litre Bi Turbo engine, which is shared with the Ford Ranger Raptor, is only available with a 10-speed automatic transmission. It is the most powerful engine of the three, producing 157kW, and 500Nm of torque.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

Entry to the Ranger line-up is with the XL single cab. It’s basic motoring, with only vinyl floor coverings. Wheels are 16-inches in diameter, and made of steel.

From there it’s a leap to the XL Hi-Rider, which is a cleverly marketed two-wheel drive model that gets a taller four-wheel drive stance, but without the expense and weight of 4x4 hardware. Hi-Rider variants are also legally cleared to tow more: up from 2500kg to 3500kg. And they come with lockable rear differentials, which give them extra drive on slippery off-road surfaces.

The XL Hi-Rider is also the least costly Ranger to offer an automatic gearbox option.

XL Rangers can be fitted with an optional factory-fitted Heavy Duty Suspension (HDS) system that loads improves the bump-stop clearance when carrying heavy loads, which improves departure angles on steep inclines.

A Ranger XL Plus gets you the bigger diesel as standard and comes only as a 4x4 automatic. Uniquely among Rangers it has a second battery, so that you can run lighting and other equipment without fear of flattening your main battery, and an extended wiring harness and switch panel. It has wheels an inch bigger at 17 inches, shod with all-terrain tyres, and a towbar. The XL Plus will be deleted from the Ranger line-up when the updated model arrives in September 2018.

If you want carpet on the floor and fancier looking 16-inch aluminium alloy wheels, your least costly option is a Ranger XLS. It is available only in 4x4, and with the bigger 3.2-litre diesel.

The XLS gets front fog-lamps, and front parking sensors as well as the standard rear sensors. Dual-zone air-conditioning allows the driver and front passenger independent control of air temperature, and there is a cooler in the centre console.

The volume selling Ranger XLT gains smart keyless entry with push-button start, LED daytime running lights (DRLs), brighter Bi-LED headlights, windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains, a sports/rollover bar, and sensors that alert you if a tyre has lost pressure. A 12V power outlet in the tray is ideal for a small fridge or camping light. And you get a towbar.

The volume selling Ranger XLT gets the SYNC3 infotainment and other XLS options as standard. It also has smart keyless entry with push-button start, LED daytime running lights (DRLs), windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains, a sports/rollover bar, and sensors that alert you if a tyre has lost pressure. A 12V power outlet in the tray is ideal for a small fridge or camping light. And you get a towbar.

From September 2018, optional extras for the XLT include the 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine with 10-speed automatic transmission for about $1200, and a Tech Pack ($1700) which, from September 2018 will add active safety features including autonomous emergency braking, semi-automatic park assist, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and auto-high beam.

Other XLT options include part-leather seats for Double Cab versions, and the bigger 18-inch alloy wheels.

Sitting at the top of the range, the adventurously named Wildtrak gains the Tech Pack’s active safety features as standard, LED front fog-lamps and a power-lock tailgate.

You also get a remote-controlled roller shutter for the load area, a mirror-mounted USB socket to plug in a dash-cam, heated front seats with leather accents, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. It also has bigger and fancier 18-inch wheels, puddle lamps, and other styling tweaks that make it stand out visually.

The 2.0-litre bi-turbo/10-speed auto powertrain will also optional with the Wildtrak from September 2018.

From time to time Ford offers limited-run variations on the above themes. For example, the Ranger FX4 Special Edition, which was a Ranger XLT with leather on the seats, 18-inch wheels, roof rails, and cosmetic adjustments.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The better trimmed interiors will be harder to look after in working or off-road environments.

The 18-inch tyres on the Wildtrak will be less useful off-road than the tyres on other Rangers, and more prone to punctures on trails.

There is only one no-cost colour option, Frozen White – the rest will add about $600 to the cost of your Ranger.

How comfortable is the Ranger?

Inside, XL Rangers feel basic and in some parts cheap, but the main controls fall easily to hand, the seats are comfortable, and head and leg room is generous for front passengers. For the steering column there is only height adjustment, and no reach adjustment.

Buttons on the steering wheel make accessing major functions easier on the run. The colour central screen is small, but with Ford’s SYNC1 connectivity it is much more useful than those on previous Rangers.

The XLS and XLT are much more welcoming, with carpeted floor, and multi-faceted SYNC3 connectivity system with 8.0-inch touchscreen (optional in XLS). The Wildtrak ramps it up another notch with leather accented trim and a quieter cabin (there is more insulation keeping engine and road noise out). And the standard 3.2-litre diesel in these versions is quieter than the smaller diesel (thanks to a range of improvements introduced for the 2016 model year).

Underneath, the Ranger has a truck-like ladder frame chassis and stiff leaf-springs at the rear, to handle the one-tonne-plus load it’s designed to carry. It’s a good, rugged combination, that has been designed to suit Australian conditions, but when unladen the Ranger will shudder and buck on rough roads. With a load on board it settles but the steering still lacks the precision of a passenger car’s steering.

Steering on the Ranger feels very light at parking speeds but firms up nicely on the open road.

What about safety in a Ford Ranger?

Standard stability control adds security and can help recover the ute from a skid. Ford fits six airbags to all but the most basic version, and the Ranger is a leader in safety among utes. All Rangers have auto-on headlamps, which make it more likely you’ll be seen in low light. And all Ranger pick-ups have a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.

Almost every Ranger has six airbags, including two immediately in front of the driver and front passenger. Front-side airbags – which protect the bodies of the front occupants in side impacts - and side curtain airbags – which protect the heads of front and rear-seat occupants in side impacts – are also standard on all but one version. The exception is the basic XL single cab-chassis work truck, on which the extra four airbags are optional.

Standard on the Wildtrak (and optional on the XLT) is an active safety suite that adds significantly to your security on the road – mainly by acting as a backstop for driver attention.

They begin with low and high-speed autonomous emergency braking with vehicle and pedestrian detection (from September 2018). Adaptive cruise control, which will slow you to the speed of a car in front when you have cruise engaged. A radar-based Forward collision alert sounds a warning if it concludes you are at risk of crashing into something in front. A Lane keeping aid and warning monitors your lane position on the highway, attempting gently to steer you straight if you drift wide, and vibrating the steering wheel if you continue to drift wide. An impairment alert monitors your driving and sounds a warning if it thinks you are falling asleep. And Automatic high beam control assumes the task of switching to low-beam if you are at risk of dazzling an oncoming car.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded the Ranger its maximum safety score of five stars.

I like driving - will I enjoy the Ranger?

Among vehicles of its type, the Ranger is towards the top of the tree when it comes to the way it steers and corners. These are light trucks, however, and there is nothing sporty about them.

When fitted with the more powerful five-cylinder turbo-diesel, or optional 2.0-litre Bi Turbo diesel, the Ranger makes light work of hills and loads.

The Bi Turbo in particular feels sprightly and provides instant response even from a standing start.

Off-road, the 4WD Ranger is a solid performer with good traction. There is dual-range gearing and a part-time four-wheel-drive system (which means you can use 4WD only off-road). The standard diff-lock on all 4WD models is a very helpful feature in very rough or slippery going, and an 800mm wading depth is about as good as you will get in a ute.

How is life in the rear seats?

The Super Cab gets a pair of upright rear seats with minimal leg room. Best, though, to treat it as an area for pets – or for great in-cabin storage behind the front seats.

More impressive are the rear-hinged doors, which open at 90 degrees and combine with the fronts to create a cavernous aperture.

In the Double Cab, the bench rear seat will fit three at a pinch and brings decent head and leg room. But you won’t be as comfortable as you could be in most 4x4 wagons or passenger station wagons. And there are no rear air-conditioning vents.

How is it for carrying stuff, and for towing?

Excellent, of course – that's the point of a ute. And the Ranger is also very good at towing.

How much you can carry depends on which Ranger you get. Fewer seats in the cab means more length in the tray – and the longer trays accept more weight (because there’s less weight in the cab).

Legally, a Ranger can carry about as much as any other ute and more than most. Even the Ranger with the least capacity – the Wildtrak – can carry 800kg in the tray (40 bags of cement) and a driver and passenger, and still be legal.

In practice, the Ranger feels stable with an 800kg load on board, the robust chassis handling the weight quite easily. And there is no shortage of urge from the five–cylinder diesel.

Most Rangers have a legal towing capacity of 3500kg – even those with the smaller, four-cylinder, diesel. That is as much as any similar ute.

In practice a Ranger with the more powerful diesels will tow a 3500kg braked trailer quite easily. That’s like hauling a robust 20-foot tandem-axle off-road caravan, or a three-horse float with the horses on board.

Rangers with the smaller 2.2-litre diesel won’t tow anywhere near as strongly, even though their chassis are just as robust. The smaller diesel is better matched to loads around 2500kg. (For some two-wheel drive diesels, that is also the legal limit.)

In any ute, extreme care should be taken when carrying or towing big loads.

Where does Ford make the Ranger?

The Ranger is built in Thailand, sharing engines, suspension and platform with the Mazda BT-50 ute made in the same factory.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Possibly some extra performance, for more urgent overtaking and easier towing. While the Ranger is one of the quicker utes, it is no match for the six-cylinder power of an Volkswagen Amarok V6 or Mercedes-Benz X-Class 350d. The Ranger’s optional 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine should go some way to addressing this.

Sub $30,000 pricing as available with budget utes including the Foton Tunland, Great Wall Steed and Mahindra Pik-Up.

Some utes offer full-time 4WD, which means you can drive all four wheels on normal roads. This can aid stability in wet conditions, and it’s one less thing to think about. Examples include automatic Amaroks and more expensive versions of the Mitsubishi Triton.

The Nissan Navara has a more complex, coil-sprung rear suspension system that helps it steer better on corrugated roads (but it’s no more comfortable).

The Mazda BT50 is a near-twin under the skin, sharing major mechanical and many other features with the Ranger. However, several changes to the Ranger from September 2015 that enhanced performance, refinement and off-road ability were not passed on to the BT-50.

You might also consider a Toyota HiLux, Holden Colorado, or an Isuzu D-Max.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

Our reviewers see value in the XLT Double Cab. Features include better looking alloy wheels, a tow kit, dual-zone air-con, and the excellent SYNC3 connectivity suite with sat-nav and smartphone mirroring. You also get the option of adding the driver aids that come in the Technology Pack, and the zippier 2.0-litre bi-turbo powertrain.

Are there plans to update the Ranger soon?

The current Ranger went on sale in 2011. A refresh in September 2015 included electric variable-assistance steering, a more responsive turbocharger, revised chassis electronics, measures to make the 3.2 engine quieter, a new bonnet, bigger touchscreens and better connectivity systems.

About July 2016 Ford extended a reversing camera and rear parking sensors to all Ranger pick-ups, upgraded XLT and Wildtrak connectivity to SYNC3, and made its previously optional active safety suite standard on the Wildtrak (it remained optional on the XLT).

In May 2018 Ford announced an mid-life update for the Ranger, giving the XLT and Wildtrak versions a slight facelift in the form of a redesigned grille. The XL Plus variant will be dropped, and the Tech Pack active safety system was upgraded to include autonomous emergency braking and traffic sign recognition.

The features to be included in the upgrade are included in the body of this review in case you're considering buying a Ranger in the next few months. The cars covered at the top of the page, below the main image, reflect the current range.

A new engine was also added to the range, a 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel with 10-speed automatic available as an option with the XLT and Wildtrak.

In August 2019 Ford revealed minor changes for the 2020 model year, including the addition of an 8.0-inch touchscreen and Sync3 infotainment in the more affordable XL and XLS versions, and brighter Bi-LED headlights for the XLT and Wildtrak.

Ten-year model cycles are common for commercial vehicles, so while there may be more upgrades, an all-new Ranger is not expected before late 2020.