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Car reviews - Ford - Ranger - utility range

Our Opinion

We like
Engine smoothness and performance
Room for improvement
No lap-sash centre rear seatbelt, lack of rear seat room, umbrella handbrake

12 May 2009

THE PK Ranger is a light facelift of its predecessor, the PJ series, and while it brings new models, there is nothing new to say about the mechanicals or suspension or body layout.

The new nose treatment is not quite as successful as the PJ series. While the PJ looked a bit blocky, it didn’t need to apologise for it – it suited its role as a blokey commercial ute.

But the PK’s ovoid headlights – similar to those of the Mazda BT-50 – are not consistent with the new squared off grille. Did Ford have to delve into the Mazda parts bin for headlights? Admittedly, while the grille looks somehow digitally superimposed on the front in pictures, in the metal the PK Ranger doesn’t look too bad – it’s just not as cohesive as it could be.

In one way, the Ranger is one of the oldest one-tonners on the market. It uses an amended version of the old Courier body, and elements from the Courier, such as the umbrella handbrake and the high floor position, continue as trace elements of a model of years gone by.

Yet look at the engine and transmission, and you’ll see the latest design in common rail diesels and in the case of the automatic, the Ranger has one of just two five-speed autos offered with a diesel engine in the one-tonne segment.

The new Wildtrak model also has some smart new features, such as the roller shutter load cover, and the Ranger’s interior is as comfortable as ever, although rear seat room is not as good as more recent designs in the ute segment.

Like all the one-tonners, the latest in safety features would not be your primary reason to buy a Ranger, even though more people are buying dual cabs as family vehicles.

There is no traction control or stability control, and while side airbags are available, there are no side curtain airbags. There is no lap-sash centre rear seat belt for the Crew Cab either, it’s lap-only. It’s well documented that these one-tonne utes generally do not fare so well in crash tests.

We only had the opportunity to sample the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel double cab, and were impressed by just how strong and refined this engine is. Sure, it’s not the hushed experience you get in some of the premium diesel sedans, but jump into its key competition (and by co-incidence, I had the opportunity to do just that in the same week as I drove the new PK series) and you notice the difference.

While other manufacturers (such as Nissan with its Navara) can claim better engine output figures, the reality is that Ranger has the most responsive engine in its class, and the five-speed transmission is a smooth unit, with well-chosen ratios.

The four-wheel-drive system, a part-time arrangement with electronically-engaged front hubs and a manually-selected transfer case on manual models, is a bit of a clunky system, in that you have to remember to engage the front hubs with the dash button before selecting 4WD. Better than having to get out and engage them manually, I suppose, but it will be nice when the electronic 4WD engagement (already fitted to automatic models) is also on the manual, or better still, when full-time 4WD is fitted.

The Ford has a stable, composed ride that is unexceptional in this segment, and the light, vague steering doesn’t separate it from most of the other utes with their remote-feeling steering.

However, where the Ranger excels is in its dynamics. This is one of the few utes that you could say were enjoyable to drive on a twisting country road. The Ranger is in fact the most entertaining drive in its class, maintaining a safe and progressive transition in corners with a relatively flat cornering stance and quite grippy original-equipment tyres.

So, a sports car ute, then? No, nowhere near it, but compared with some other utes in the market, which resort to tyre squeal and understeer at walking pace at suburban roundabouts, the Ranger is a revelation.

Off-road, the Ranger is marked by good proportions, plenty of clearance and acceptable low-range gearing.

Thankfully, the PK series update does not take away any of the mechanical assets of its predecessor, so despite being built over an older chassis, the Ranger continues to be one of the best one-tonners in the market, thanks to its relatively sophisticated engine, driveline and chassis development.

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