You can still buy a no-nonsense, rear-wheel-drive single-cab Ranger, but it’s the spacious and smartly appointed double-cab that Ford reckons will hold the most appeal to lifestyle buyers. Weighing in at a tad over two tonnes, measuring well over five metres long, and towering above most other road users, the Ranger is guaranteed to get you noticed. And, that’s before you even consider the imposing bull bar-inspired grille, bulbous wheelarches and chunky alloys.
Despite the obvious niceties, there are plenty of tough, durable surfaces
Ford’s latest ‘Sync 2’ 8.0-inch touch-screen infotainment system, along with smart instruments that feature dual information screens either side of the central dials, help give the Ranger’s cabin a sophisticated bent more akin to a luxurious SUV than a utilitarian pick-up truck. And, with plush interior materials and deep-pile carpeting throughout, it feels a bit sacrilegious to be clambering in and out with muddy boots. Despite the obvious niceties, though, there are plenty of tough, durable surfaces to resist the abuse that an outdoorsy crew will throw at it.
The double-cab layout provides four wide-opening doors and loads of space for five; and, because there’s so much glass to the front, sides and rear, it feels bright and airy, no matter where you’re perched. There’s also a handy 240-volt power socket that accepts a domestic three-pin plug, letting you fast-charge your laptop or boil up a cuppa. The Ranger’s drop-down tailgate and load bay area are pretty much on par with the rest of the pick-up pack, easily swallowing a standard-sized single pallet between the wheelarches; but, as in the rest of the class, your loads are there for all the world to see. That won’t be lost on the light-fingered fraternity when the vehicle is left unattended. Of course, because of the height of the flatbed from the ground, you’ll need a willing assistant, or a substantial ramp, to help load your dirt bike. If you’re into your jet-skiing or hot-air ballooning and need to travel with the tailgate lowered, there are plenty of tie-down points to help strap your load down securely.
Ride and handling
Although Ford offers a basic rear-wheel drive Ranger, you’ll need the 4×4 version if you’re considering venturing off-road. This version lets you switch from two- to four-wheel drive on the move, or engage low-range mode. It feels in its element when mud-plugging: with a wading depth of 800mm, hill descent control and an optional locking rear differential, it’s a properly competent off-road tool. Ford claims the Ranger’s suspension is tuned to favour on-road comfort, but we’re still talking relative terms here. Anyone who has ever driven a pick-up knows that the only time the rear end of the vehicle comes anywhere close to being settled is when it is loaded up with ballast. Driven unladen, the stiff, load-bearing leaf springs attached to the rear axle cause the rear wheels to skip manically over less-than-perfect surfaces, like a stone skimming across a mill pond. In this respect, the Ranger is probably better than most, making a reasonable fist of rutted surfaces and also feeling fairly stable when squirting around slippery roundabouts. That said, heavier impacts cause the cabin to shake with serious intensity. Certainly, the Ranger is no match for the Nissan Navara, which can be specified with more forgiving rear coil springs. The Ranger’s steering is an altogether more pleasurable experience. Lightly weighted to take the strain out of awkward manoeuvres, it also has a decent amount of feel, as well as quite a strong self-centring action, which means you can relax on faster routes and plot a steady course simply by applying a steadying thumb and index finger on the tiller.
Unfortunately, both diesel engines that are available in the Ranger sound and feel pretty antiquated. Both the four-cylinder 2.2-litre unit and the five-cylinder 3.2-litre unit are as coarse as they are loud. Obviously, the 3.2 produces significantly better performance, but used as a daily driver, both powerplants are hampered by an extremely low first gear and a mouse trap-like clutch release, which is guaranteed to irritate the life out of you when driving in stop-start traffic conditions. Equally, both engines have a very narrow torque/power band, and as a consequence, they respond best to a short blast of the throttle and a quick shift up through the six-speed manual gearbox. At least the shift is nicely weighted and precise. We had a quick spin of the six-speed automatic, which for obvious reasons, takes the strain out of town driving, but it feels extremely old-school. With a very sloppy take-up away from the mark and defined shift points, it’s not a patch on the silky eight-speed automatic that’s used in Volkswagen’s Amarok.
There are tax breaks to be had, because you pay a flat rate of BIK on pick-up trucks
If you’re simply a fan of the Ranger’s aggressive looks and no-nonsense image, and you’re not too concerned about creature comforts, then it’s possible to buy a basic truck for not a lot of money. This is especially true if you’re running your Ranger through the company’s books, as you can sweeten the deal even further by claiming back the 20% VAT. There are more tax breaks to be had, too, because you pay a flat rate of BIK on pick-up trucks; it’s likely you’ll pay less than on most conventional cars despite having lofty CO2 emissions. Ford claims that even the top-spec 3.2-litre Wildtrak six-speed automatic Ranger is capable of mpg in the region of 30-plus, but get it loaded up with kit or start dragging around a horsebox, and you’ll soon wave goodbye to that kind of economy. At least you get a whopping 80-litre fuel tank so you won’t have to keep stopping at every other service station to fill up.
If you can’t rely on a vehicle built to survive the rigours of the building industry, not to mention the dust clouds and searing temperatures of the outback (the Ranger was designed in Australia and is built in Asia), then it’s difficult to imagine what you can rely on. Built on a sturdy, box-section frame and driven by hardy, well-proven mechanicals, the Ranger is designed to endure a life sentence of hard labour. That said, the Ranger only comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is nothing special in this day and age, especially when you compare it to the 100,000-mile/five-year guarantee that Nissan provides for the Navara. At least the Ranger has a 12-year anti-perforation warranty and a year of Ford Assistance breakdown cover thrown in, and additional reassurance comes from the fact that Ford currently sits near the top of Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings.
All Rangers get a decent amount of safety kit, regardless of trim level. Driver, passenger, thorax and driver’s knee airbags are fitted as standard, as is a collapsible steering column. Meanwhile, you also get an advanced stability control system that includes Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, Load Adaptive Control, Roll-over Mitigation and Trailer Sway Control to help keep everything shiny-side-up. Additionally, the optional Driver’s Assistance Pack adds advanced technologies like Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Aid, Automatic High Beam headlights, Traffic Sign Recognition and Collision Mitigation. This Ranger achieved a full five-star Euro NCAP rating when originally tested, and now that the facelift has added an arsenal of extra electronic driver aids, it can only improve matters.
Even basic Rangers get Ford’s Easy-Fuel system that guards against misfueling, along with heated electric mirrors, a DAB radio, 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers. Things take a significant step up with the Limited model, which gives you leather trim and the SYNC2 touch-screen system in place of the SYNC1 system in the base car. The bigger screen and clearer menu system are infinitely preferable. At the top of the Ranger line-up is the Wildtrak, with its 18-inch wheels and smoked Titanium-effect exterior trim. You also get Wildtrak logos splashed all over the place, satellite-navigation, a rear-view camera and ambient lighting for the interior.
In terms of ride and powertrain refinement, it feels quite antiquated
The overriding impression of the Ranger is one of a tough, honest, utilitarian vehicle with some additional posh-car features thrown in to up the feeling of quality. But in terms of ride and powertrain refinement, it feels quite antiquated compared with more sophisticated rivals like the Nissan Navara and Volkswagen Amarok. As a result, we’d be inclined to point you in the direction of one of those. In essence, they offer all the Ranger’s strengths, but in an infinitely more refined and comfortable vehicle.