DESIGNED and developed in Australia as part of a global Ford effort and arriving in late 2011, the Ranger has gone on to do the near unthinkable and challenge Toyota’s iconic Hilux for Australia’s most popular ute.
In fact, last year it knocked off the Hilux as both Australia’s best-selling 4x4 ute and best-selling 4x4 overall, only falling to Hilux in overall ute sales thanks to the popularity of the Hilux 4x2.
Before year’s end the next upgrade to Ranger will be here, offering, among other things, the option of a more sophisticated and more powerful 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel engine that will also power Ford’s upcoming ‘hero’ Raptor ute.
WHAT YOU GET
ALL Ranger 4x4 dual-cabs have six cabin airbags, cruise control, auto headlights, rear locker and trailer-sway control as standard.
The XLT (tested here) has sat-nav, dual-zone climate, centre-console cooler, rear park sensors, auto wipers, tyre pressure sensors, a 230-Volt outlet in-cabin, 12-Volt outlet in-tub, a sportsbar, side-steps and a 3500kg-rated towbar as standard. Radar cruise control, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and a driver-impairment monitor are available as an optional ‘technology pack’ on XLT.
POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE
THAT’S in the future. Now we have the familiar 3.2-litre inline five-cylinder, with a performance and character that defines the very essence of what it’s like to drive a Ranger. This is a lazy, slow-revving engine, but one that’s bursting with torque right from the get-go and gets any job done with very little fuss.
Being a ‘five’ it can be a little lumpy at idle, but it quickly smooths out nicely and, along with its offbeat sound, is very different to the typically more revvy and buzzy fours that dominate this class. In this company only the V6 Amarok has a sweeter engine.
However, despite a significant improvement in refinement for the 2016 model year, it’s still somewhat gruff and noisy. Generally smooth and well-timed shifts from the gearbox, too, and final-drive gearing that’s tall enough to be relaxed out on the highway but not that tall that the engine is looking for a lower gear at the first hill. The only negative is that the Ranger’s ‘big’ five-cylinder is typically heavier on fuel than most here.
ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING
IN MANY ways the Ranger’s on-road steering and handling posture reflects the engine’s relaxed character in as much as it’s stable and steady rather than darty and agile. This is perhaps in part due to having the longest wheelbase here, along with the closely related – but not identical – Mazda BT-50.
One area where the Ranger varies notably from the BT-50 is with the electric power steering it gained in the MY16 updates. The main benefit here is incredibly light steering at parking speeds; although, Ford’s engineers have also done a fine job of dialling in plenty of feel and confidence at highway speeds.
By ute standards, there’s a nicely supple ride, too, and the front-to-rear suspension match, even unladen, is as good as it gets.
THE Ranger’s star continues to shine off-road, thanks in part to the generous suspension travel at both ends of the chassis. Only the Toyota Hilux has more travel at the rear and this, along with the similar Mazda and Volkswagen, sets the Ranger apart from the rest of the utes here.
The Ranger’s long-travel suspension means the wheels are on the ground longer and more often in gnarly going, which means less reliance on its rear locker and electronic traction control (ETC) to get you where you want. And in what is a major bonus in this company, if you engage the Ranger’s rear locker the ETC stays active on the front axle, all of which puts the Ranger on the top shelf in terms of off-road ability.
In tight situations, where manoeuvrability is paramount, you notice the Ranger’s length and size and the somewhat compromised vision from the driver’s seat; although, any back-and-fill wheel twirling you need to do is made easy by the lightness of the electric power steering.
4x4 Comparison: Hilux TRD v Ranger FX4
THE Ranger’s ‘working’ credentials, namely its Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 3200kg, its Gross Combined Mass (GCM) of 6000kg and its 3500kg tow capacity, are about as good as it gets in this class, and that promise is paid out when the Ranger is put to the test.
4x4 Explained: GCM, GVM and payload, what are they?
With a 900kg payload onboard, no ute bettered the stable and reassuring feel offered by the Ranger’s chassis. Sure, you could feel the extra weight onboard, but not to the detriment of driving confidence. No nose-up attitude or excessive swaying or pitching, and no bottoming out over the bumps.
The grunty five-cylinder engine also dispensed with the load without fuss; again, you could feel the extra weight, but the engine didn’t need to work that much harder to get the job done. In our previous Load and Tow test, the Ranger also proved to be a top towing ute.
The Ranger’s tub is also deeper than most and boasts six tie-down points (four of them mounted low in the tub, as they should be) and a 12-volt outlet.
CABIN AND SAFETY
THE Ranger’s cabin is among the most spacious here. None better it (and the BT-50) for combined front and legroom, and only the Amarok is wider though not as long. That means the driver and front seat passenger are treated to lots of room, comfortable seats and a generally well-appointed interior. Plus, there’s decent space for five adults.
Follow the 2018 Mega ute test
However, there’s no steering wheel reach adjustment or smart key entry and start – and, while the lack of road and wind noise is a bonus in the cabin, the engine’s noise doesn’t go unnoticed.
The Ranger offers five-star ANCAP safety across all dual-cab models, while XLT and WildTrak have some optional safety kit to build on that.
THE Ranger ticks all of the practicality boxes, starting with an 80-litre fuel tank to help offset its above-class-average thirst. The 17-inch wheel and tyre spec are the same as the Hilux, as is the good range of aftermarket support and dealer network, especially away from the major cities.
Ford Ranger XLT Specs
Engine: 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel
Power: 147kW at 3000rpm
Torque: 470Nm at 1500-2750rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed auto
4X4 system: Dual-range part-time
Crawl ratio: 42.3:1
Construction: Separate chassis
Front suspension: Independent/coil springs
Rear suspension: Live axle/leaf springs
Kerb weight: 2159kg
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Towball Download: 350kg
Fuel tank size: 80 litres
ADR fuel claim: 9.2L/100km
Test fuel use: 12L/100km
Touring range: 616km*
*Based on test fuel use, claimed fuel capacity and a 50km ‘safety’ margin
Acceleration and Braking
Departure angle: 20˚
Rampover angle: 25˚
Approach angle: 29˚
Wading depth: 800mm
Ground clearance: 237mm
Ford Ranger Prices**
XL Plus (auto): $53,290
**Prices do not include on-road costs