Double-cab, one-tonne 4x4 utes continue to grow in popularity as family vehicles.
With a swag of new and upgraded models hitting showrooms in the second half of 2015, the numbers of them on suburban streets, worksites and bush tracks will only increase.
Ford has counter-punched the all-new models launched by Mitsubishi (Triton) and Nissan (Navara), and taken a pre-emptive strike on the soon-to-be released 2016 Toyota Hilux, with a major makeover of its Ranger truck introducing first-in-class technologies, improved refinement and refreshed styling.
A key part of the PXII Ranger line-up is a ‘Tech Pack’ that is optional on the upper-spec XLT and Wildtrak variants. The pack includes adaptive cruise control with collision alert; lane departure warning with lane keep assist; a driver impairment monitor that keeps tabs on the driver’s actions and gives a warning if the car thinks the driver is tiring; and a reversing camera which is standard on Wildtrak but only optional on the XLT.
While it’s good news that these features are filtering through from passenger cars to light trucks. Not so good here is that the reversing camera is only optional on XLT and not available at all for the lower grades.
Rear park assist is standard on XLT and Wildtrak, which also receives front parking sensors. Adaptive cruise and collision warnings and lane assist are first-in-class technologies in the Ranger. But it is believed that some of these features will be included in the new Toyota Hilux to be introduced in October, making this style of vehicle more appealing to family buyers.
Like most of the modern one-tonners, the Ranger has a five-star ANCAP safety rating. Putting aside the tech stuff, the Ranger retains its solid, body-on-frame chassis and suspension with a revised calibration to improve ride. The 4x4 system remains part-time with a rear locker fitted across the range of 4x4 and even some of the 4x2 models.
The two diesel engines are carried over; both the 118kW/385Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder and more popular 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-pot. Both of these turbocharged engines offer adequate performance when the trucks are unladen. But if you want to test the one-tonne payload or 3.5-tonne towing capacity, you really want to opt for the bigger and more powerful mill.
Neither engine makes the Ranger a rocketship, but the 3.2 is the stronger performer. The 3.2 also benefits from improvements to the fuel-injection system for 2016, which have made the engine quieter. The 2.2 remains a bit noisy and harsh when on the throttle and will only find favour with fleet buyers and fuel misers.
A choice of six-speed manual or auto transmission is offered and, notably, the manual-gear shift behind the five-cylinder engine has been vastly improved by adapting the cable-linked shift mechanism that was previously only used behind the four-cylinder engine.
Regardless of this, buyers shouldn’t expect sports car-like gear shifting. These are light trucks and there’s nothing sporty about them. The Ranger feels more at home on open roads and bush tracks – visibility from behind the wheel is good and the seating position is okay despite there being no reach adjustment on the steering column.
The new electrically-assisted power steering is super light at parking speeds but firms up out on the road, while the suspension soaks up bumps and potholes well.
Ford claims the suspension is the same across the range, however we felt that the Wildtrak has a softer, more compliant and passenger-friendly calibration.
The Wildtrak also benefits from the most sound insulation and, disappointingly, this drops off down the range. We would expect that at least the XLT models would get the top level of insulation for buyers who don’t want the flashy features of the Wildtrak but still expect a high level of refinement for their $60K truck.
The heated and power-adjustable (driver only) leather front seats of the Wildtrak might also be expected in the XLT. The seats, along with the lockable cargo area roller shutter, front parking sensors, reversing camera, improved sound deadening and rear bumper would be useful features on the XLT. They make the extra $4K spend for the Wildtrak tempting, even if the latter’s wild styling isn’t to your taste.
The exterior styling upgrades are limited to the metal forward of the A-pillar, with new guards, bonnet and a more contemporary front fascia.
The interior cops a more comprehensive makeover. The piddly little dash screen of the previous generation has been replaced in the XLT and Wildtrak models with an eight-inch touch screen featuring Ford’s SYNC2 interface.
The XL and XLS variants get a smaller 4.2-inch screen with SYNC1, which is still way better than the old one. XLT and Wildtrak also get a new gauge cluster featuring dual customisable screens either side of the digital speedometer, while the lesser grades feature a more basic dash.
The Ranger 4x4 remains a competent performer off-road with a full complement of electronic driver aids to help its cause. It also has low-range gearing in the transfer case, a lockable rear differential, and adjustable electronic hill descent control all included as standard features. Its 800mm wading depth is another class-leading feature.
With more buyers in the market for utes, and more utes coming to market, this segment will continue to boom through the rest of 2015 and in to 2016. Ford hopes to spearhead the charge with its extensive Ranger line-up.
Ford Ranger Wildtrak PXII
|Max power||147kW @ 3200rpm|
|Max torque||470Nm @ 1750rpm|
More new and upgraded 4x4s coming to Australia soon: