By JAMES STANFORD
FORD Australia is confident it has built the safest workhorse ute in the world and quietly expects it will achieve a five-star crash-test rating for the Ranger.
The company will not openly discuss whether the Ranger will become the first full-size one-tonne ute with a global five-star safety rating, but GoAuto understands the company’s internal modelling points to the top rating when the vehicle is officially crash-tested within the next two months.
Ford Australia will start selling the Ranger here next month after leading the development of the all-important ute, which will be sold in 180 countries, giving it the broadest global reach of any vehicle in the Ford family.
The Ranger development cost has not been disclosed, but the scale of the project is illuminated by the fact Ford Australia said it would earn $700 million in design and technical fees when announcing the program in 2006.
Ranger will be produced in South Africa, Brazil and Thailand, which will make the Australia-bound vehicles.
Ford initially predicted annual global sales of 400,000 when announcing the plan but has since gone mute on projected volumes.
Ford Australia president Bob Graziano would not even comment on whether the new Ranger could outsell the current ageing model, let alone take on the market-dominating Toyota HiLux.
Safety is likely to be a key plank of the Ranger’s promotional push.
Ford Australia’s Falcon ute has already scored a five-star ANCAP rating, along with the Holden Commodore-based ute, but safety levels are traditionally not as high for larger ladder-frame utes such as the Ranger.
ANCAP currently rates the Volkswagen Amarok as the safest large ute available in Australia with a five-star rating, but it is rated four stars in other markets such as New Zealand and Europe – and Ford is confident of beating it.
“I can’t talk about NCAP scores, but there is no question we will be the clear leader in safety in the class,” said Ford Asia Pacific director of engineering Jim Baumbick.
Ranger will come standard with a high level of safety equipment, including electronic stability control, additional ‘rollover mitigation’ sensors, trailer sway control and six airbags in all models but the entry-level cab-chassis single-cab model, which has two.
Ford claims it has achieved high safety levels as a result of starting with a clean sheet of paper, with very few parts carried over from the previous model.
“The carryover parts from the last Ranger fit in one of my pockets,” said Mr Baumbick.
“There are a few bolts and nuts, and even these have been enhanced with a new form of corrosion protection.”
Mr Baumbick said the clean-sheet start and access to global Ford know-how meant the team was able to meet all the development targets, making Ranger the best vehicle in the class.
The fact that the Ranger project was led by Ford Australia has resulted in a better vehicle for Australian conditions, he said.
“We are the only manufacturer that has designed, developed, tuned, tested and validated a truck here in Australia.”
Some elements of the Ranger, including suspension tune, are unique for Australia.
Work on the Ranger project began as far back as 2004 when local engineers began drawing up packaging plans for the new vehicle, but really got going in 2006. While Ford led the project, Mazda was also involved with the development of the sister BT-50, which will be launched here next month.
Ford’s team said it took on some design features of the HiLux, including the single-piece rear window, location of the b-pillar and ‘hidey holes’ below the rear seats, while the Nissan Navara’s wide-opening rear doors and space behind the rear seats were also built into the Ranger design.
Initially, the Ranger will be available as a double-cab with a five-cylinder diesel, while a single-cab and super-cab (smaller than the double cab, with short-use seats) will follow later this year, along with a petrol engine and another diesel option.
There will ultimately be 20 models all up, counting cab-chassis models as well as two- and four-wheel drive variants.
Ranger’s payload capacity runs up to 1500kg, while the towing capacity is a class-leading 3350kg for the diesel variants and 2200kg for the petrol models.
The double-cab tray measures 1549mm long (at bottom of the tub) and 1560mm wide, while the single-cab tray is 1847mm long and the same width.
Compared with the Amarok, Ranger’s double-cab tub is deeper but 94mm narrower, so it cannot fit a pallet between the rear wheelarches like its VW rival.
Ford said it was unable to make the Ranger much wider because it will be sold in Asia, where width can be a problem on congested roads.
Nevertheless, it says the double-cab is the most spacious in its class.
Ground clearance varies from 232mm depending on the model, while the wading depth is an impressive 800mm for the 4x4 and 4x2 high-rider, and 600mm for the 4x2. A snorkel intake will be made available as an accessory.
Ranger sits on a new ladder frame that Ford says is twice as stiff as the outgoing model and 10 per cent stiffer than HiLux. Ford did not have the reference data for the Amarok.
Suspension is by double A-arms with upper and lower balljoints at the front, while leaf springs are used at the rear. A rack-and-pinion steering system replaces the previous recirculating ball system and the power assistance is hydraulic.
Ford used its global resources to source engines and transmissions, and none of them are new.
The base petrol is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder with variable intake (but not exhaust) camshaft timing from the Ford Escape and Fusion sedan, generating 122kW of power and 226Nm of torque. It consumes an average of between 9.8 and 10.4 litres per 100km, depending on the model.
The petrol Ranger is only available as a two-wheel-drive low-rider model.
The entry-level diesel will be a 2.2-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbo that was used in the Mondeo and is currently available in the Ford Transit. It produces 110kW and 375Nm while fuel consumption varies from 7.6L/100km to 8.9L/100km.
The engine that will be available from launch is the 3.2-litre inline five-cylinder turbo-diesel from the Transit, also using a common-rail fuel injection system, producing 147kW/470Nm and returning 8.9L/100km to 9.6L/100km.
Both turbo-diesel engines come with a six-speed manual or a traditional torque-convertor six-speed automatic that can adapt to the driving style of the user and has grade logic, which detects hilly terrain and controls the shifts accordingly.
All models come with an 80-litre fuel tank.
Drivers of 4x4 models can switch between two- and four-wheel drive on the run, but the vehicle needs to stop for low range to be selected.
A locking rear differential is standard on some models and an option on others to aid with traction in severe conditions.
Ranger has hill-descent control, which maintains 7km/h on downhill sections by default, although this speed can be altered using the cruise control buttons. It also has a hill-hold function that holds a manual model on a slope for up to two seconds until the clutch is engaged.
Ford developed the ESC and ABS systems to detect low-adhesion surfaces like gravel roads and adapt accordingly, so the ESC threshold is higher, while the anti-skid feature kicks in later when travelling on gravel and snow.
The Ranger development team also worked hard on reducing road and tyre noise, fitting special fluid-filled cab-mounts to the frame. These rubber mounts, which are more compact versions of units used in the Ford US F-Series truck, have metal-lined innards filled with ethylene glycol and are designed to dampen vibrations that would otherwise pass from the chassis into the cabin.
Designers were determined to make the interior as useable as possible and created more than 20 storage spaces, including under the rear seats and under the floor mats below the rear passenger footwell.
The 8.5-litre centre console container is claimed to be the largest in its class, the glovebox can store a 16-inch laptop computer and there are eight places to store drinks.
The chunky and masculine interior has a protruding centre section housing the climate controls, audio controls and 4.2-inch colour information screen.
Steering wheel-mounted controls operate the cruise control system and audio, while bluetooth phone connectivity allows the driver to dial or receive calls using buttons on the steering wheel. Voice control for many functions is also available.
A digital display located between the speedo and tacho shows information such as fuel consumption data and the external temperature, but not speed, as in the Falcon ute.
The rear seat backs can be folded down or the seat bottoms folded up depending on the stowage requirements of the operator.
There is a front bench seat option, although the gear shifter and handbrake are left in place.
A rear-view camera, with the footage shown on the rear vision mirror, is available, along with rear parking sensors.
The tray is fitted with a 12-volt power outlet and several fixed tie-down points. Moveable tie-down points, tonneau covers, hard covers and a sliding tonneau are either standard on the range-topping Wildtrak model or available as options.
A bull bar is available as an accessory and was extensively tested to ensure it would not affect the Ranger’s energy-absorbing capabilities in the event of a crash.
Ford is offering three model grades, including the entry-level XL, the mid-spec XLT and the range-topping Wildtrak, which is only available in dual-cab body style.
The price list is long and complex, but the Ranger line-up kicks off with the single-cab cab-chassis petrol manual at $19,740 and runs through all the way to the double-cab Wildtrak 3.2-litre diesel automatic at $59,390.
Did you know?
Ford says the Ranger will be its most global-reaching model, sold in over 180 markets worldwide