Revisiting the Ranger

Revisiting the Ranger

While Ford’s best-selling Ranger double cab bakkie faces stiff competition from Toyota’s Hilux and Nissan’s Navara, it is also likely to come under threat soon from Mercedes-Benz’s X Class, which is due for launch in South Africa early next year. Wynter Murdoch revisits the Ranger to determine how well it has stood the test of time…

When Ford’s Ranger bakkie was upgraded about a year ago, I said the model had the ability to meet family requirements just as easily as it could meet the needs of commercial users.

From the lifestyle perspective it was the vehicle’s refined ride attributes and plush cabin that I found attractive – characteristics that I highlighted as elevating the model above competitors such as Toyota’s Hilux and Nissan’s Navara.

Since then both Toyota and Nissan have introduced to market improved versions of their bakkies, each of which I’ve had the pleasure of driving. Like the Ranger they are comfortable, cultivated, capable and competent.

However, with Mercedes-Benz’s X Class poised to enter the fray early next year – the model was officially unveiled recently in Europe at the Frankfurt Motor Show – all three of the brands are likely to face stiff sales competition from what is already being regarded by many motoring observers as an enviable upstart.

While we’ll have to wait a while to see whether the Merc is capable of eclipsing the proficiency of its rivals, I decided to revisit the Ranger – according to Ford still the dominant bakkie in double cab and extended cab sales charts, accounting for 2 566 units in August alone – to determine how well the model has stood the test of time.

First thing to note is that, despite its premium qualities, the Ford remains a bakkie at heart – big, high-riding, long and wide with a 12,6-metre turning circle. That said, its dynamic behaviour tends to belie its commercial roots – and its interior styling and features match standards set by upmarket SUVs, a pertinent factor in terms of demands made in the family market.

Comfortable but purposeful, the extensive Ranger line-up features a choice of just two engines – each diesel powered and turbocharged and displacing 2,2 litres in four-cylinder form and 3,2 litres in five-cylinder configuration. It’s a 2,2-litre version of the vehicle that I’ll concentrate on here – the auto transmission equipped XLS derivative with a 4x4 drivetrain.

The engine produces 118kW at 3 700 revs/min and a hefty 385Nm between the 1 500 and 2 500 rpm marks. The unit’s strong torque band serves the vehicle well, enabling it to maintain momentum easily whether on the open road or when negotiating off-road tracks.

Though quiet and smooth at cruising speeds, the engine tends to become vocal at the top end of the rev range. It’s also a little noisy on start-up, with clatter apparent until it warms. The newly introduced six-speed auto ’box swops cogs smoothly and downshifts readily when the accelerator is prodded hard. It incorporates a sport function for faster gear changes, and a manual shift facility as well – useful when bundu bashing.

Off-road, when low range is selected, the torquey powertrain allows the Ranger to treat with contempt challenging obstacles such as mud and thick sand, while its high ground clearance keeps the underbody clear of the majority of protrusions and outcrops. Wheel articulation in cross axle situations is good, too.

On tar, handling is commendable, the steering well balanced – electrically assisted and weighted for lightness at low speeds but firming in feel as velocity rises. In this sense, there’s an element of confident capability in the way the nose of the vehicle reacts to driver inputs.

Over bumps or depressions at cruising speed the chassis remains composed, the vehicle’s suspension system – double wishbones with coil springs at the front, leaf springs at the rear – well-tuned to maintain good balance.

Inside, there is a light and airy feel to the cabin. Dashboard lines are clean, dominated by a big touchscreen and extending to a wide centre console with cup-holders, controls for the four-wheel-drive system and a lidded bin. Ford’s SYNC infotainment system is rated one of the best in its category and trounces many similar systems installed in some passenger cars.

Cushy, tastefully upholstered seats and a steering wheel wrapped in leather add an upmarket feel, while instrumentation is easy to read and clearly visible. Though the view from the front of the cabin is commanding, the vehicle’s A-pillars are wide and can prove obstructive at angled intersections.

Rear seat accommodation is good, if functional. The slim front seats have been scalloped to allow more space for the knees of back seat passengers, while the centre tunnel isn’t overly high or intrusive. Storage space is acceptable.

Comfort features include power-operated front and rear windows, remote central locking, audio controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth with voice control, USB and auxiliary inputs for the infotainment system and auto-on windscreen wipers and lights.

Safety items incorporate airbags, anti-lock brakes with EBD, ESP with traction control and hill launch assist, plus hill descent control.

Though Ford rates economy at 7,5 litres per 100km, I was hard-pressed to achieve that figure in day-to-day driving, the vehicle’s average fuel consumption over the test period settling at the 10,6-litre mark. However, since it is fitted with an 80-litre fuel tank, a range of more than 750km is possible.

If you don’t need the extra power and torque offered by 3,2-litre Ranger models, then the 2,2 TDCi automatic derivative strikes a good balance between performance and economy –0 whether for lifestyle or commercial use. The load bay will take 750kg of cargo, and the vehicle will pull a braked trailer carrying a load of 3 500kg.

All in all, the derivative tends to reinforce perceptions that the Ranger has retained much of the allure that has made it so popular in the sales charts over the past three years – despite concerted challenges by rivals to usurp its position.