LO­CAL TAL­ENT

With its ‘big’ 3.2 five-cylin­der the Ranger looks to have a head start when it comes to car­ry­ing and tow­ing.

4 x 4 Australia - - Driven -

LOAD TEST

THE Ranger comes into the con­test on the back of a 2015 mid-gen­er­a­tion re­fresh that brought sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant me­chan­i­cal changes, all of which made it a bet­ter ve­hi­cle. What hasn’t changed is that, along with the Mazda, it has the big­gest en­gine, the most cylin­ders, the long­est wheel­base and the high­est GVM and GCM.

The Ranger has six de­cent-sized tie-down hooks in the tub, which made it easy to se­cure our 800kg pal­let. All the oth­ers, bar the Mazda, have four tie-down eyes, with some not as ac­com­mo­dat­ing as oth­ers for larger strap hooks.

With that load on the Ranger’s rear, ride height dropped 60mm – the equal best re­sult among the seven utes.

Tak­ing into ac­count the weight of driver, ob­server and tow­bar (170kg in to­tal), the 970kg pay­load is just 30kg shy of the top-spec Wild­trak’s max and around 160kg short of the XL, the light­est of the Ranger 4x4 dual cabs.

The Ranger’s en­gine deals with the 800kg in the tub as well, if not bet­ter, than any­thing else. It was hardly trou­bled up the hill, not need­ing to hold on ex­ces­sively to the lower gears, nor revving too high to get the job done.

The fact that, along with the Mazda, it has the largest ca­pac­ity en­gine and the most cylin­ders gave it a head start. But it also felt stronger than the Mazda, thanks to the 2015 up­date that in­cor­po­rated a new low-in­er­tia turbo and changes to the diesel-in­jec­tion sys­tem – each re­fine­ment aimed at im­prov­ing the en­gine’s low-rpm re­sponse. Un­for­tu­nately Mazda didn’t in­sti­gate these changes (or any­thing sim­i­lar) to its oth­er­wise me­chan­i­cally sim­i­lar BT-50.

Those same changes also brought a qui­eter en­gine, an­other area where the Ranger gen­er­ally stands out in this com­pany. The fact that the Ranger doesn’t need to rev as hard as some ri­vals when load car­ry­ing also helps in mak­ing it qui­eter and more re­laxed. For its part

the six-speed au­to­matic is also un­fussed by the ex­tra weight, although on the hill de­scent is was re­luc­tant to au­to­mat­i­cally down­shift, even with brake prompt­ing, and it re­quired man­ual in­ter­ven­tion via the tip-shift.

The Ranger’s chas­sis also coped as well, if not bet­ter, than any of its ri­vals on test. As men­tioned, there was min­i­mum droop at the rear so the ride at­ti­tude wasn’t no­tice­ably nose-up. At no stage over the bumps did the rear sus­pen­sion feel like it bot­tomed out.

Notable is the Ranger’s elec­tric power steer­ing, which is part of the 2015 up­date and, again, some­thing not adopted by Mazda with the BT-50. With the ex­tra weight on board the next-to-no steer­ing ef­fort at park­ing speeds is a def­i­nite bonus.

TOW TEST

AL­MOST sin­gle-hand­edly the Ranger ig­nited the tow-ca­pac­ity arms race. The cur­rent plat­form lobbed with big tow num­bers, big power and big torque, back­ing up its good looks.

The Ranger feels like a big truck even when empty. This in­spires some con­fi­dence when it comes to putting a big load on its hitch. Our test trailer dropped the Ranger’s bum, but by no mea­sure was the dip star­tling.

The 3.2-litre five-cylin­der sur­prised us with a burly note as we idled onto our hill-climb cir­cuit. It was the first time we re­ally heard a hairychested bur­ble from the diesel donk.

Plant­ing the foot saw the Ranger re­ally hun­ker down to haul our 3500kg trailer. As men­tioned, the most re­cent up­date added a new turbo and plumbed a new in­jec­tion sys­tem into the en­gine bay. With its 470Nm on tap early, the Ford did an ex­cel­lent job of get­ting the power to the ground in good time.

The leaf-spring rear end of the Ranger holds up well with­out too much shimmy and shake; it feels planted and sta­ble on the road. While I’ll ad­mit I’m not a huge fan of the Ford’s elec­tric power steer­ing in the bush, but it cer­tainly makes the busi­ness of hold­ing steady with a heavy trailer a hell of a lot eas­ier.

The six-speed auto needs to be prompted to down­shift on the de­scents, but the ex­tra cubes of the big oiler come in handy for ad­di­tional en­gine-brak­ing ef­fect.

Ranger’s up­dated 3.2L five-cylin­der diesel shrugged off the tow test.

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