IN THIS post Australian-vehicle manufacturing world, the significance of the Ranger’s massive success – both critically and commercially – is more profound than ever, seeing as it is now the only new vehicle left in production anywhere on earth designed and engineered here. Think about that for a moment.
And therein lies the reason the Ford has performed so strongly and consistently in this Megatest. Bred, if not born, locally, the Thai-made Ranger feels and behaves like it’s made expressly for our tastes and environment on a number of fronts, starting with the rugged design that still conveys a broad, muscular aesthetic nearly eight years on – in much the way Holden’s VE Commodore did.
Read next: 2018 Ford Ranger Range Review
Completely overhauled three years ago, the XLT’s big, brawny interior is another highlight, with an appealing layout and focus on functionality that owners of, say, the late and lamented Territory (our only indigenous SUV) could relate to.
Points are allotted for an excellent voice-control system in SYNC3, attractive instrumentation, huge central screen, brilliant seats, an excellent driving position (despite a non-telescopic wheel), big storage solutions and intuitive, well-weighted controls up front, as well as an airy, wide and accommodating second row that offers up most of the amenities tradies or teenagers could wish for.
Sure, there’s a cheap sheen to some of the plastics, but the build quality and durability aren’t in question. While the absence of passenger-seat height adjustment and rear air vents are obvious oversights at the pointy end of this segment, massive air outlets up front provide effective cooling and ventilation throughout. Basically, Broadmeadows has nailed it.
Fire up the hoary old in-line five-cylinder and there are further plaudits in store, not least because Ford’s NVH engineers have ensured that there’s little to hear or feel other than a distant thrum, at idle at least.
Read next: 2018 Ford Ranger Raptor review
Aussies have long preferred instant throttle responses, and the Ranger obliges thanks to an abundance of low-rev torque and intelligently calibrated gearing that results in strong acceleration and seamless, intuitive transmission action. The 3.2 pulls heartily and revs freely, though against the stopwatch and at the fuel pump the Ford isn’t so impressive, languishing in the bottom half of the field. There isn’t much between the Ranger and its rivals if you take the powerhouse Amarok V6 out of the picture … though you shouldn’t, as it turns out.
But we’re ahead of ourselves because while the Ranger’s numbers temporarily mire it in mediocrity, things pick up dramatically in its dynamics. Thanks to superbly linear steering that still sets the pace for feel and feedback, body control that seems as planted as the chassis feels alert, and appreciable suspension compliance, the Ford glides quietly over surfaces that agitate most others here. In these disciplines, on our roads, Ford’s Aussie-bred ute is peerless.
As a sweetener, since May, the Blue Oval has shown warranty innovation in this class by boosting coverage to five years/unlimited kilometres.
On the flipside, the Ranger has become a victim of its own success. Though just $110 shy of the Mercedes, the XLT is brow-raisingly expensive, yet lacks rear discs, keyless entry/start and AEB availability (though the latter two are set for the MY19 Series III revamp).
Ultimately, pricing, spec and performance/efficiency issues compared with the enterprising Amarok’s TDI V6 keep the outgoing Ranger from the top spot. That said, we expect the Ford to wreak its revenge on the Volkswagen in a rematch of the MY19s.
Still, given the sales figures, it’s heartening to see Australians still supporting a locally engineered product that’s so clearly right for our conditions.
Engine 3198cc 5cyl, dohc, 20v, TD
Power 147kW @ 3000rpm
Torque 470Nm @ 1750-2500rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 5426/1860/1821/3220mm
Tray capacity 952kg
Braked towing capacity 3500kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Ground clearance 237mm
Tyres Dunlop Grandtrek AT22 265/65R17 112T
Test fuel average 10.9L/100km
Need more info?
# 9 Isuzu D-Max LS-T
Rough ’n’ ready appeal pales when polished rivals are better at going bush too
#8 Nissan Navara ST-X
Tough and reliable aren’t enough as Navara wilts on price, spec and comfort
#7 Toyota Hilux SR+
Unbreakable? Possibly. Unloveable? Sadly, yes, as mediocrity is allowed to prevail
#6 Mazda BT-50 GT
Still in the fight, but ultimately overshadowed by its high-flying fraternal twin
#5 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed
A strong and likeable mid-fielder where consistency and value are king
#4 Holden Colorado LTZ
Colorado raises its game right when Holden needs a hero
#3 Mercedes-Benz X250d
Arrives carrying great expectations; delivers only a modest load
#2 Ford Ranger XLT
Continuous improvements make the only truly Australian-conceived ute world class
#1 Volkswagen Amarok V6 Sportline
Quiet achiever doesn’t have youth on its side, but still shows how it should be done