True Blue

Last year’s mid-gen­er­a­tion changes have re­fined and pol­ished the big, tough and blokey Ford Ranger.

4 x 4 Australia - - Driven -

THIS is the ute Ford Aus­tralia de­signed and de­vel­oped for the world. Well, most of the world any­way. The Ranger isn’t quite sold ev­ery­where, most no­tably in the USA and Canada, although this is set to change when Ranger pro­duc­tion starts up in Michi­gan, USA, in 2018.

Mean­while, our Ranger, like all of the pop­u­lar utes (bar the VW Amarok) sold here, is built in Thai­land. From its in­tro­duc­tion late in 2011 the PX Ranger was a win­ner, both in what it did and how it sold.

Fol­low­ing its 2015 re­fresh the Ranger drives and per­forms ever bet­ter and is sell­ing more strongly. Year-to-date (Septem­ber ’16) Ranger 4x4 sales are less than 100 units (22,438 ver­sus 22,524) be­hind the once com­pletely dom­i­nant Toy­ota Hilux.

The mid-gen­er­a­tional changes brought new fron­tend styling and a fresh dash­board, but hid­den un­der the bon­net was a smaller, more ef­fi­cient turbo, new fuel in­jec­tors, cylin­der head changes and var­i­ous mea­sures to im­prove en­gine NVH. The Ranger also gained elec­tric power steer­ing and en­hanced elec­tronic con­trol of the 4x4 sys­tem.

POW­ER­TRAIN AND PER­FOR­MANCE

WHAT hasn’t changed are the en­gine ba­sics. Aside from the me­chan­i­cally sim­i­lar Mazda BT-50, the rel­a­tively big 3.2-litre five-cylin­der en­gine is unique in this class. A lit­tle lumpy at idle, but smooth­ing out nicely with a few revs on board, the ‘big-five’ is lazy and re­laxed com­pared to the four-cylin­der en­gines

in com­peti­tor utes. It also uses less revs and gen­er­ally taller gears to go about its busi­ness.

Strange as it may sound, an in­line-five of­fers bet­ter dy­namic bal­ance than an in­line-four due to the in­line-four’s in­her­ent vi­bra­tion, which oc­curs at twice crank­shaft speed and is the source of a four’s of­ten ‘buzzy’ feel. This prob­lem is usu­ally ad­dressed through the use of crank­shaft-driven (and power-robbing) ro­tat­ing bal­ance shafts.

Pedal to the metal, the Ranger is an ef­fec­tive match for the Colorado, de­spite the Colorado’s higher peak torque (500Nm) and slightly trim­mer weight.

The 2015 changes have made Ford’s 3.2 more re­spon­sive at low revs and gen­er­ally much qui­eter over­all, although there’s still some gruff­ness about this en­gine. It is, af­ter all, a com­mer­cial-ve­hi­cle-de­rived diesel en­gine rather than a pas­sen­ger car diesel, com­ing as it did from the Euro­pean Tran­sit van. Still, in terms of re­fine­ment, it’s up there with the vastly im­proved Colorado.

As ever the Ford six-speed ZF auto is agree­able and works nicely with the grunty en­gine; although, on throt­tle-off de­scents it isn’t as proac­tive in back­shift­ing as the Colorado’s gen­er­ally more sportily-tuned GM six-speeder.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HAN­DLING

FORD hit the on-road ride, hand­ing and steer­ing sweet spot right from the Ranger’s de­but in 2011. The me­chan­i­cally near-iden­ti­cal Mazda BT-50, re­leased weeks later, had a slightly sharper sus­pen­sion and steer­ing tune than the Ranger, but it wasn’t as nice.

Fast for­ward to to­day and the Ranger is still to­wards the head of the ride-and-han­dling pack, but now has the ben­e­fit of much-re­duced steer­ing ef­fort at low speeds thanks to its elec­tric power steer­ing. This is more than wel­come given the Ranger, along with the BT-50, is the big­gest and heav­i­est ve­hi­cle in its class and has the long­est wheel­base.

At speed the Ranger’s elec­tric steer­ing weighs up nicely and, as ever, ride and han­dling bal­ance re­mains hard to crit­i­cise. Sure, un­laden there’s firm­ness at the rear, but over­all it’s com­posed, sta­ble and sur­pris­ingly com­pli­ant. Where it shines against the Colorado is not on good roads, but on bad roads.

OFF-ROAD

THE Ranger’s size can work against it off-road, but that’s about the only en­try in the neg­a­tive col­umn. Most im­por­tantly the Ranger’s chas­sis pro­vides gen­er­ous sus­pen­sion travel by ute stan­dards – cer­tainly more than the Colorado, which is crit­i­cal in this con­test.

If ex­tra wheel travel isn’t enough, the Ranger also comes stan­dard with a driver­switched rear diff lock, which is now far more ef­fec­tive than it was prior to the 2015 mid-gen­er­a­tion up­grade. Pre­vi­ously, when the driver en­gaged the rear locker, it can­celled the elec­tronic trac­tion con­trol across both axles. Now, when the rear locker is en­gaged, the ETC re­mains ac­tive on the front axle, which makes a huge dif­fer­ence and helps put the Ranger with the best when it comes to off-road per­for­mance. It’s cer­tainly a good step ahead of the Colorado.

CABIN AND AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

THE Ranger’s size mightn’t help when park­ing or off-road, but the up­side is a class-leader when it comes to cabin space. Along with the BT-50, the Ranger has the long­est cabin among the pop­u­lar utes and is only bet­tered in width by the Amarok. On both counts it’s ahead of the Colorado, ben­e­fit­ting rear-seat pas­sen­gers the most.

Up front the Ranger also feels big and spa­cious and, even if there’s no reach ad­just­ment for the steer­ing wheel, it’s a com­fort­able place to be. Nicer front seats than the Colorado, too.

PRAC­TI­CAL­I­TIES

OUR re­cent load and tow test (Novem­ber

2016) crowned the Ranger as the car­ry­ing and towing king. Hav­ing a 3500kg tow­bar, ugly as it is, as stan­dard on the XLT is a bonus, as is the fact that all Ranger du­al­cab pick-ups have six rather then four tie-downs in the tub. XLT and Wildtrak mod­els also get a 12-volt out­let in the tub.

Un­der the gas-strut­ted bon­net there’s room for a small sec­ond bat­tery, a high­mounted al­ter­na­tor and air in­take via the in­ner guard. The 265/65R17 tyre and wheel spec is also as prac­ti­cal as it comes.

1 2 3 1. PXII up­date adds a big­ger, more user-friendly touch­screen to the Ford’s dash. 2. Five-cylin­der en­gine: more

char­ac­ter, less at­ti­tude. 3. If red ones are faster, why do

they sell so many grey ones?

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