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