Today’s popular 4x4 dual-cabs make big claims when it comes to tow ratings and payloads, but are they really up to serious yakka?
The Ranger comes into the contest on the back of a 2015 mid-generation refresh that brought several significant mechanical changes, all of which made it a better vehicle. What hasn’t changed is that, along with the Mazda BT50, it has the biggest engine, the most cylinders, the longest wheelbase and the highest GVM and GCM.
The Ranger has six decent-sized tie-down hooks in the tub, which made it easy to secure our 800kg pallet. All the others, bar the Mazda, have four tie-down eyes, with some not as accommodating as others for larger strap hooks.
With that load on the Ranger’s rear, ride height dropped 60mm – the equal best result among the seven utes.
Taking into account the weight of driver, observer and towbar (170kg in total), the 970kg payload is just 30kg shy of the top-spec Wildtrak’s max and around 160kg short of the XL, the lightest of the Ranger 4x4 dual cabs.
The Ranger’s engine deals with the 800kg in the tub as well, if not better, than anything else. It was hardly troubled up the hill, not needing to hold on excessively to the lower gears, nor revving too high to get the job done.
The fact that, along with the Mazda, it has the largest capacity engine and the most cylinders gave it a head start. But it also felt stronger than the Mazda, thanks to the 2015 update that incorporated a new low-inertia turbo and changes to the diesel-injection system – each refinement aimed at improving the engine’s low-rpm response. Unfortunately Mazda didn’t instigate these changes (or anything similar) to its otherwise mechanically similar BT-50.
Those same changes also brought a quieter engine, another area where the Ranger generally stands out in this company. The fact that the Ranger doesn’t need to rev as hard as some rivals when load carrying also helps in making it quieter and more relaxed. For its part the six-speed automatic is also unfussed by the extra weight, although on the hill descent is was reluctant to automatically downshift, even with brake prompting, and it required manual intervention via the tip-shift.
The Ranger’s chassis also coped as well, if not better, than any of its rivals on test. As mentioned, there was minimum droop at the rear so the ride attitude wasn’t noticeably nose-up. At no stage over the bumps did the rear suspension feel like it bottomed out.
Notable is the Ranger’s electric power steering, which is part of the 2015 update and, again, something not adopted by Mazda with the BT-50. With the extra weight on board the next-to-no steering effort at parking speeds is a definite bonus.
Almost single-handedly the Ranger ignited the tow-capacity arms race. The current platform lobbed with big tow numbers, big power and big torque, backing up its good looks.
The Ranger feels like a big truck even when empty. This inspires some confidence when it comes to putting a big load on its hitch. Our test trailer dropped the Ranger’s bum, but by no measure was the dip startling.
The 3.2-litre five-cylinder surprised us with a burly note as we idled onto our hill-climb circuit. It was the first time we really heard a hairy-chested burble from the diesel donk.
Planting the foot saw the Ranger really hunker down to haul our 3500kg trailer. As mentioned, the most recent update added a new turbo and plumbed a new injection system into the engine bay. With its 470Nm on tap early, the Ford did an excellent job of getting the power to the ground in good time.
The leaf-spring rear end of the Ranger holds up well without too much shimmy and shake; it feels planted and stable on the road. While I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of the Ford’s electric power steering in the bush, but it certainly makes the business of holding steady with a heavy trailer a hell of a lot easier.
The six-speed auto needs to be prompted to downshift on the descents, but the extra cubes of the big oiler come in handy for additional engine-braking effect.
SPECS: FORD RANGER*
Engine 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel
Max power/torque 147kW/470Nm
Gearbox six-speed automatic
4X4 System dual-range part-time
Kerb Weight 2068kg to 2200kg
Payload 1000kg to 1132kg
Towing capacity 3500kg
Towball download 350kg
Fuel tank capacity 80L
ADR fuel claim 9.2L/100km
*4x4 dual-cab pick-up automatics only
FORD RANGER PRICES*
XL Plus (auto) $52,960
*3.2-litre 4x4 dual-cab pick-up manuals only, unless noted