Car reviews - Ford - Ranger - XLT
Tough image, spacious cabin, fantastic infotainment system, good feature list, strong payload and tow ratings
Room for improvement
Poor low-speed engine response, no reversing camera, noisy, rivals now better its ride comfort
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9 Nov 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
Years ago ute buyers were in the market for a workhorse. Now there’s a strong family influence holding sway over the sale.
Ford isn’t alone. All ute makers now have to appease Mum and Dad, the kids and expectations of future motoring needs.
The Ranger kicked a lot of goals in 2012 (it launched in late 2011) and the funny bit is while that is merely three years ago, a lot has changed. Buyers want more comfort, workers want more safety.
Ford, like its competitors, strings out the Ranger product line from four-cylinder cab-chassis models with hose-out cabins, right through to the luxurious and well-appointed car-like versions such as the Wildtrak.
Sitting just under the top-shelf model is the XLT. It misses out on a few niceties of the Wildtrak but at $56,590 plus on-road costs, will save you $3500.
It’s a solid blend of the family’s weekend needs and the ability to stand the rigours of work-day abuse.
But it has a lot of opposition, starting with the Mitsubishi Triton that launched in April at a bargain price. Up against the XLT, the equivalent Triton Exceed is $9100 cheaper.
The Nissan Navara ST-X is $2100 cheaper, while the biggest threat, the HiLux, arrives in fresh 2016 guise at $55,990 plus on-road costs for the equivalent variant.
Can Ford hold on? The biggest test will be the reaction from major buyers such as fleets, particularly mining companies, as the Ranger and HiLux present their attributes.
The Ranger XLT 4x4 Double-Cab Pick-Up comes well kitted out, with its new look moving the ute closer to the chrome-faced F-Trucks and the upgraded cabin making it feel more homely than the predecessor’s agricultural hard plastic trim.
Workers will note the Ranger’s 3500kg tow rating, 952kg payload and its 1549mm long bed on the dual-cab model. All are class leading.
Families will appreciate the car-like cabin with its clever MyFord infotainment and connectivity package, neat touchscreen commands and even the cooled bin for storing drinks. There’s heaps of bottle and cupholders, too.
Both buyers will give the thumbs up to the striking look of the ute, its 17-inch alloy wheels that appear more race car than commercial truck, and the bodykit that incorporates the alloy sports bar with side and rear steps to really sharpen up the vehicle.
But there are bits missing. The reversing camera – which is standard on the more expensive Wildtrak – doesn’t make an appearance on the XLT.
To get the camera and, indeed, a whole box of neat safety stuff, is to opt for the Tech Pack that costs $1100.
This includes the reversing camera, lane departure warning with passive steer, forward collision warning, cruise control with distance monitor, and driver attention detection.
As far as options go, that’s pretty much it. Even metallic paint is a no-cost option and the XLT gets a trailer hitch thrown in as well.
This is a commercial vehicle that has been jiggled slightly to the right, to a standard expected from SUVs. This is what the market – particularly families but increasingly people who use the vehicle as a work tool – demand.
The 2016 model Ranger is better than before in terms of aesthetics and ergonomics. It’s a big car inside and the ambience looks both attractive and purposeful.
There is a light and airy feel about the ute, mainly because of the spaciousness but also because of the high use of light-coloured materials.
That new dashboard is clean and simple, dominated by a big touchscreen and extending to a wide centre console with cupholders, personal storage, 4WD controls and the lidded bin that comes with its own cooling.
It really is a nice place to be. It’s also comfortable. The Ford seats feel wide and cushy, directly hitting their expected clientele where it really makes a difference.
The seating position for the driver is also very good, though there’s no telescopic steering wheel adjustment. Normally that would lose significant points but the standard setting is comfortable and – again – there’s lots of room for the driver’s legs and feet.
Visibility is generally excellent though the A-pillars are wide and can obstruct objects in the three-quarter view.
Rear seat accommodation is better this time around. Ford appears to have slimmed the front seats and used scalloping to given even more legroom for those in the back.
Passengers also have excellent headroom and the centre tunnel isn’t overly intrusive, so combined, there’s enough room for three large blokes on the rear seat.
This seat has a fold-down backrest that reveals the jack and modest tool kit.
But the seatback doesn’t fold flat. There are also three attachments for baby seats here.
Access to the cabin is good with wide front and rear doors. It’s a long way to the ground so the side steps are handy, though in some demanding off-road conditions they can be more of a hindrance.
Ford has the biggest load area of its main dual-cab rivals, with a bed length of 1549mm. The Triton and the HiLux, for example, each have 1520mm.
The Ranger’s bed width is also up on most, with its 1560mm (and 1139mm between the wheelarches) greater than the HiLux (1515mm) and Triton (1470mm) and equal to the Navara.
It also has the highest payload (952kg) compared with the HiLux (925kg), Triton (935kg) and Navara (930kg) and shares the 3500kg braked tow rating with the Navara and beats the Triton (3100kg) and HiLux (3200kg). However, tow ratings are dependent on the weight of the vehicle and its payload before the towed vehicle is added, so in some cases it may lose some relevance.
Engine and transmission
For 2016, the latest Ranger picks up relatively modest mechanical changes.
The engines remain as before – a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder for the less-expensive worker models and the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel fitted to variants including the XLT.
This five-pot oiler is shared with Mazda’s BT-50, as is many of the drivetrain and chassis-related components.
So the drivetrain and suspension are very similar to the outgoing model Ranger.
But there has been some tweaking. New is the electric-assist power steering that replaces the hydraulic power steering in the previous model.
Ford claims this inclusion reduces fuel use by four per cent, now down to 9.0 litres per 100 kilometres and – incidentally – the worst of the main dual-cab ute players.
The 3.2-litre engine delivers the same output as before – 147kW and 470Nm – but the torque arrives on a different schedule.
It now peaks at 1750rpm rather than the previous engine’s 1500rpm. It ends at the same 2500rpm but you’ll note that all the goodness in the engine is concentrated to a smaller window of 750rpm – at least for the peak torque.
There are major changes to the manual transmission’s linkages. This was a sore point with the first-generation Ranger and was one of the highest replacement items during its tenure. Fortunately, most buyers opted for the automatic.
The self-shifter is a six-speed unit that remains attached to a low-range transfer case. This is a part-time drive system with electric (solenoid) engagement from rear drive, through 4WD High and 4WD Low. That’s pretty standard in this class.
On the road the engine is generally a strong worker. It can run hard through the rev band and despite the peak torque arriving quite quickly, the delivery is seamless and suits the automatic transmission far more than the manual equivalent.
But the engine has faults. It feels weak off the mark and though that has a lot to do with the large turbocharger and its inherent hesitation before spooling up and delivering its punch, some blame can be leveled at the gearbox’s large torque convertor.
The result is lag that can be frustrating at best, really seat-soiling at worst when the ute hesitates too much as the driver prepares to cross a busy road, for example.
It is also a noisy engine. Much work has been done to reduce noise levels and Ford has generally ticked the boxes here. At cruising speed or whenever the engine isn’t under stress, it’s a quiet powerplant.
But pushed into duty, the engine is noisy and harsh. Lastly, it’s not particularly fuel-efficient.
Some of these annoyances are dissolved when the Ranger is taken into the bush and when low-range has been selected. This lower gear set – overall, a deep reduction of 2.717:1 – masks much of the laggard engine delivery and sharpens throttle response.
In the dirt the Ranger waits for no competitor. It’s efficient at how it treats – with contempt – sandy tracks and is stable and confident up and down gravel and clay trails.
It has to be stationary to engage low range but at the same time, the rear differential lock is activated.
The ground clearance is a tall 232mm, which gets it out of a lot of bothersome situations, but there is a lot of nose-heavy gear that can catch the ute out.
This was especially true when we spent a day in the sand and constantly dealt with the nose ploughing into dunes.
On the road it’s always been a capable ute. But it’s under threat. The supple ride and the ability to shrug off bumps remains but chassis smoothness is not as good now as, for example, the HiLux and the Navara.
Ride and handling
This is a critical area for every new dual-cab ute that will see duty as a family taxi.
Along with the upgrades and component tweaking for 2016, the Ranger’s suspension has therefore undergone some changes to damper and spring rates.
It’s a smoother ute than before, but only by degrees. It could be better and rivals such as the all-coil suspension of the Nissan Navara will start to take a bite out of the market.
Handling is very good and any perception that perhaps the leaf-sprung and live axle rear end has seen the end of its days may be a bit too judgmental.
Much of the handling competency is attributed to the new power steering that despite being electrically assisted, is nicely balanced and is weighted for lightness at low (parking) speeds and more firmness for the freeway.
Away from the bitumen, the Ranger is highly rated as a 4WD tourer or fun machine.
The suspension handles sandy bumps and berms with relative ease but the ute will buck on its bump stops if pushed too quickly. It fared better with some weight (200kg) in the rear and probably would have been even smoother with the maximum payload of 952kg.
Wheel articulation is very good but, again, more work may be necessary here as Toyota announced that the latest HiLux’s rear wheel travel has been increased by 20 per cent over its predecessor.
Safety and servicing
Ford has a three-year or 100,000km warranty attached to the Ranger and includes roadside assistance for one year.
It has a comprehensive capped-price service program that requires annual intervals, and there’s even bonuses like a loan car included. The program costs $1505 for three years, on par with the Mitsubishi Triton but more expensive than the Toyota Hilux at $1080.
Glass’s Guide estimates the Ranger XLT will retain 57 per cent of its purchase price after three years, equal to the Hilux and better than the Navara (46 per cent) and Triton (52 per cent).
The Ranger gets a reasonable safety package backed by its five-star ANCAP crash rating and six airbags.
It also has hill descent, tyre pressure sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, rear park sensors, heated mirrors and a full-size spare wheel.
Prospective buyers are urged to seriously consider the $1100 Tech Pack that includes extra safety items including a reverse camera, lane departure warning with passive steer, forward collision warning, cruise control with distance monitor, and driver attention detection.
Ford hit a home run with the Ranger back in 2012 and it’s still a damn good ute. It drives well, is comfortable and definitely roomy, has a large bed out back and is very competent in the dirt.
The infotainment is far and away the best in its category and trounces many passenger cars. But it’s still a ladder-framed ute and it’s not particularly cheap.
Its biggest problem is not itself – it’s fast-moving rivals such as the Nissan Navara and Toyota HiLux. Drive the competition before signing on the line.
Toyota HiLux SR5 from $55,990 plus on-road costs
There’s a new face for the vehicle that often topped the nation’s best-selling vehicle list. The Hilux gets new drivetrains – including the SR5’s 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre and a six-speed auto – and greater choice in body styles, more equipment, a smoother ride and more safety gear. Fuel economy is 8.5L/100km. The SR5 hits the XLT head on and while its connectivity and infotainment aren’t as comprehensive, the Hilux is a sweeter ride, there’s more standard safety equipment and it’s just as good in the performance stakes, save for the lower 3200kg tow rating and payoad of 925kg. It costs $1080 for three years of servicing but the intervals are six monthly and the capped-price program is for three years, not Ford’s six years.
Nissan Navara ST-X from $54,490 plus on-road costs
Another contender with an all-new drivetrain, this time with Nissan picking up the 140kW/450Nm 2.3-litre bi-turbo diesel from alliance partner Renault. It’s matched to a seven-speed automatic and two-speed transfer case. Fuel use is claimed at 7.0L/100km. The Navara has rear coil suspension – the only one of the big six ute makers – for a smoother ride. It works, too, and the ute retains a payload of 930kg and a tow rating of 3500kg. Standard gear is on par with rivals, through leather upholstery, a sunroof and a bedliner are attractive features. The warranty is three years or 100,000km, with roadside assistance. It has a capped-price service program costing $1775 for three years and intervals are annual.
Mitsubishi Triton Exceed from $47,490 plus on-road costs
The cheapest in its class also has some of the best features. Mitsubishi has also downsized, dropping to a 2.4-litre engine rated at 133kW/430Nm that is actually up on its 28-litre predecessor. It also has a two-speed transfer case and a claimed fuel average of 7.6L/100km, second best to the Navara. It tows 3100kg, has a payload of 935kg and has features including sat-nav and leather upholstery. The warranty is five years or 100,000km and one-year roadside assistance. Service intervals are annual and the capped-price service will cost $1510 for three years.
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