Car reviews - Ford - Ranger - XLT dual-cab ute
Size, performance, ride, comfort, steering, handling, brakes, cabin refinement
Room for improvement
Gruff five-cylinder diesel, auto can feel jerky at times, no digital speed readout
20 Jan 2012
IS THIS the last ever new-from-the-ground-up Australian vehicle?
Even though the PX-series T6 Ranger is built in Thailand (among other places), it was developed and engineered as well as tuned, tested and validated, in Victoria, much like the Falcon and Territory, as well as the Holden Commodore and Caprice.
By definition, then, this is the only Australian pick-up truck you can buy. So forget the Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton, Holden Colorado or Volkswagen Amarok if it’s a dinky-di one-tonner you’re after. It’s Ranger or it’s nothing.
The local breeding is obvious the moment you approach the big, handsome Ford.
Being a high-riding 4x4 ute, there’s a sizeable step up inside, but at least the doors open wide, while an A-pillar-mounted grab handle is there to help out. Not all tradies are trim, taut or terrific, after all.
Lots of current Ford thinking permeates the Ranger’s interior, with the result being a truck that looks, feels, smells and operates like a typical modern passenger car – particularly noticeable if you’re jumping out of an older one-tonner.
Vast and bulky, the dashboard is a symmetrical item consisting of buttons galore in the centre for the audio and entertainment system, flanked by a large pair of vertical air vents, an info screen above and a trio of heater/vent knobs below. Only a few moments are needed for complete familiarity.
If you didn’t know you were sitting in a pick-up truck, the four-spoke steering wheel (that tilts but does not telescope) and analogue instrumentation wouldn’t give the game away, either.
The instrumentation features fat, clear markings as well as a large digital screen with big blue numerals for the odometer and trip computer data – but, unlike in an FG Falcon, there’s no auxiliary speed readout.
Another showroom draw is class-leading cabin accommodation, eclipsing the opposition as far as leg, head and shoulder space is concerned.
The front seats feel like they’re designed for big Aussie bods, with the driver’s offering lumbar support adjustment as well as the usual height options (a necessary inclusion as that imposing dash and bonnet ahead needs to be peered over).
An optimal driving position for a wide range of shapes and sizes underlines the company’s global aspirations with this vehicle.
This is a working environment and Ford has obviously sweated the smaller details, from the easy-to-fathom Bluetooth connectivity and plethora of storage place to the nooks and crannies created for pens, phones, papers, glasses, cups, cans, bottles and road books.
Among the amenities are a glovebox capable of swallowing a 16-inch laptop.
On the OH&S front, Ranger rates highly for safety, including ESC with ‘rollover mitigation’, trailer sway control and six airbags, resulting in a five-star result – the same as Amarok.
The rear section of the cabin, meanwhile, is one of the best we’ve ever encountered in this style of truck, thanks in no small part to a not-too-upright backrest that feels like it was actually designed to transport adult humans beyond the confines of a quarry.
Booted feet can easily tuck in underneath the front seats, more grab handles are fitted, and there’s a power outlet for charging mobiles.
Besides the usual folding rear backrest, the cushion folds upwards to provide extra load-carrying solutions, while also featuring a couple of lidded floor cubbies for out-of-sight storage when the seat is back down in position.
Speaking of the floor, Ford claims to have successfully reduced tyre and road noise permeating through, thanks to unique fluid-filled cab-mounts fitted to the Ranger’s frame. Quelling vibrations that would otherwise find their way inside, the result is one of the quietest-riding one-tonners we have experienced.
Moving further back, the tray features a 12-volt power outlet and several fixed tie-down points, while moveable tie-down points, tonneau covers, hard covers and a sliding tonneau are also available. Our XLT included a chrome bar for added visual and load-tying appeal.
This Ranger leads the segment for towing capacity (3350kg) and its payload capacity is 1500kg, but while the tray measures 1549mm long and 1560mm wide it is 94mm narrower than the Amarok, so a pallet can’t fit between the wheelarches.
Whatever your hauling requirements, though, the thrummy 3.2-litre inline five-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel is a strong and solid performer – if a little too loud.
Delivering 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque, it is nowhere near as quiet or smooth as the refinement benchmark, the 2.0-litre TDI found in the Amarok.
But, after a moment’s hesitation launching off the mark, a torrent of thrust means the I5 feels more than sufficient for lugging or towing, making it an ideal workhorse. Be careful, though – on wet roads the traction control light will be working overtime as the electronic driving aids try to contain wheelspin at the rear.
Mid-range acceleration is a forceful (and again vocal) affair, with the engine finally settling down to a more hushed 1750rpm at a 100km/h cruising speed in top gear.
Drive it sedately and you can expect to see the average diesel consumption readout fall below 10L/100km, though during our week with the Ranger – with plenty of inner-urban commuting – we struggled to see that dip below 10.7.
We sampled both transmission variations – an XL 3.2 with the sticky and cumbersome six-speed manual and the far-preferable six-speed automatic with a grade-logic algorithm that adapts its shift points according to the driving characteristics of the operator.
This did result in a couple of clunky downshifts, but overall this gearbox is an ideal pairing to the muscular diesel – particularly if the more enthusiastic driver slots the lever across to ‘Drive Sport’, which holds onto ratios a little longer and locks out sixth.
Whether on bitumen or gravel, the Ford’s brakes are well up to the task, with short stopping distances on a range of surfaces and little to no skittishness on the really slippery stuff. That local honing sure shows here.
If the hoary 3.2’s prodigious power is all too much, the new 2.2-litre four-pot turbo-diesel might be a quieter and more economical solution. We look forward to getting behind the wheel of that Ranger.
The big Ford shines dynamically, transcending its separate-chassis truck DNA to offer car-like steering for safe, agile and surefooted handling and roadholding. The steering is light enough around town for effortless manoeuvrability yet not too sharp for it to feel nervous on the open road.
Only the sizeable turning circle betrayed its truck architecture – yet even here it’s no bad thing considering how long and large it is.
More brownie points are awarded to the Ranger’s ride quality, which feels firm and controlled but never too hard. Again, Ford’s local engineers seem to have hit the sweet spot between driver appeal and comfort.
Beyond the bitumen, the ride continues to impress with exemplary absorption qualities, combined with the aforementioned straight-line stability under both acceleration and hard braking.
We did not venture off-road beyond some rutted country tracks, but GoAuto’s launch-drive experience over some very demanding 4WD passages suggests the Ranger is as rugged and capable as any of its competitors.
For the record, ground clearance varies up from 232mm depending on the model, while wading depth is 800mm. Ford offers a snorkel intake as an accessory.
4WD selection is on the fly (except for low range) and a locking rear differential is standard on the XLT to aid with traction in severe conditions, as is hill-descent control, which automatically maintains 7km/h on downhill sections.
Not quite as quiet and refined as the Amarok 2.0TDI, the Ranger XLT 3.2 is nevertheless a big-hearted beast that feels equally at home in the ’burbs as it does in the bush. This makes the Ford our pick of the one-tonner trucks out there right now.
And there’s no denying this Ford’s uniquely Australian heritage either, further setting it apart. What a tragedy it would be, then, if the Ranger turns out to be this country’s automotive industry swansong.
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