AN AUSSIE BLOKE’S UTE

Ford’s Ranger is proof that Aus­tralia is the per­fect place to de­sign and de­velop a ute. Hope­fully there will be more of it!

Australian Transport News - - UTE MEGATEST -

De­signed and de­vel­oped here in Aus­tralia as part of a global Ford ef­fort and ar­riv­ing in late 2011, the Ranger has gone on to do the near un­think­able: chal­lenge Toy­ota’s iconic Hilux for Aus­tralia’s most pop­u­lar ute. In fact, last year, it knocked off the Hilux as both Aus­tralia’s best-sell­ing 4x4 ute and best-sell­ing 4x4 over­all, only fall­ing to Hilux in over­all ute sales thanks to the pop­u­lar­ity of Hilux 4x2.

What we are test­ing here is a Ranger near­ing the end of its life cy­cle, as, be­fore year’s end, the next-gen­er­a­tion Ranger will be here. Among other things, it will of­fer the op­tion of a far more so­phis­ti­cated and more pow­er­ful 157kW (211hp)/500Nm, but very much smaller two-litre four-cylin­der bi-turbo diesel that will also power Ford’s up­com­ing ‘hero’ ute, the Rap­tor.

POW­ER­TRAIN AND PER­FOR­MANCE

That’s in the fu­ture. Now we have the fa­mil­iar 3.2-litre in­line five-cylin­der whose per­for­mance and char­ac­ter de­fines the very essence of what it’s like to drive a Ranger. This is a lazy, slow-revving en­gine but one burst­ing with torque right from the get-go that gets any job done with very lit­tle fuss. Be­ing a ‘five’, it can be a lit­tle lumpy at idle but quickly smooths out nicely and, along with its off­beat sound, is very dif­fer­ent than the typ­i­cally more revvy and buzzy fours that dom­i­nate this class.

In this com­pany, only the Amarok has a sweeter en­gine. De­spite a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in re­fine­ment for the 2016 model year, it’s still some­what gruff and noisy. You get gen­er­ally smooth and well-timed shifts from the gear­box, though, and fi­nal-drive gear­ing that’s tall enough to be re­laxed out on the high­way but not so tall that the en­gine is look­ing for a lower gear at the first hill.

The only nega­tive here is that the Ranger’s ‘ big’ five-cylin­der is typ­i­cally heav­ier on fuel than most.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HAN­DLING

In many ways, the Ranger’s on-road steer­ing and han­dling pos­ture re­flects the en­gine’s re­laxed char­ac­ter in as much as it’s sta­ble and steady rather than be­ing ag­ile, per­haps in part due to hav­ing the long­est wheel­base here along with the closely re­lated but not iden­ti­cal Mazda BT-50.

One area where the Ranger varies notably from the BT-50 is the elec­tric power steer­ing it gained in the MY16. The main ben­e­fit here is incredibly light steer­ing ef­fort at park­ing speeds, although Ford’s engi­neers have also done a fine job of dialling in plenty of feel and con­fi­dence at high­way speeds. By ute stan­dards, it’s a nicely sup­ple ride too and the front-to-rear sus­pen­sion match, even un­laden, is as good as it gets.

LOAD CAR­RY­ING

The Ranger’s ‘work­ing’ cre­den­tials, namely its gross ve­hi­cle mass (GVM) of 3,200kg, gross com­bined mass (GCM) of 6,000kg and its 3,500kg tow ca­pac­ity is about as good as it gets in

this class, and that prom­ise is paid out when the Ranger is put to the test.

With our 900kg pay­load on board, no ute here bet­tered the sta­ble and re­as­sur­ing feel of­fered by the Ranger’s chas­sis. Sure, you could feel the ex­tra weight on board but not to the detri­ment of driv­ing con­fi­dence; no nose-up at­ti­tude, or ex­ces­sive sway­ing or pitch­ing, and no bot­tom­ing out over the bumps. The grunty five-cylin­der en­gine also dealt with the load with­out fuss; again, you could feel the ex­tra weight but the en­gine didn’t re­ally need to work that much harder to get the job done. In our pre­vi­ous Load and Tow test, the Ranger also proved to be a top tow­ing ute.

The Ranger’s tub is also deeper than most and boasts six tie-down points, four of them mounted low in the tub, as they should be, as well as a 12-volt out­let.

OFF ROAD

The Ranger’s star con­tin­ues to shine off road, thanks in part to the gen­er­ous sus­pen­sion travel at both ends of the chas­sis. Only the Hilux has more travel at the rear and, along with the sim­i­lar Mazda and the Amarok, this sets the Ranger apart from the rest of the utes here.

The Ranger’s long travel sus­pen­sion means wheels on the ground longer and for more of­ten in gnarly go­ing, which means less reliance on its rear locker and elec­tronic trac­tion con­trol (ETC) to get you where you want.

And, in what is a ma­jor bonus in this com­pany, if you en­gage the Ranger’s rear locker, the ETC stays ac­tive on the front axle – all of which puts the Ranger on the top shelf in terms of off-road abil­ity.

In tight sit­u­a­tions, where ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity is para­mount, you do no­tice the Ranger’s length and size and the some­what com­pro­mised vi­sion from the driver’s seat, although any back-and-fill wheel twirling you need to do is made easy by the light­ness of the elec­tric power steer­ing.

CABIN AND SAFETY

The Ranger’s cabin is amongst the most spa­cious here. None bet­ter it (and the BT-50) for com­bined front and legroom and only the

Amarok is wider, although not as long. That means de­cent space for five adults if you want. And even if you don’t, the driver and front seat pas­sen­ger are treated to lots of room, comfy seats and a gen­er­ally well-ap­pointed in­te­rior.

There’s no reach ad­just­ment for the steer­ing wheel, how­ever, nor smart-key en­try and start, and, while the lack of road and wind noise is a bonus in the cabin, the en­gine’s noise doesn’t go un­no­ticed.

The Ranger of­fers five-star ANCAP safety across all dual-cab mod­els, while XLT and Wild­Trak have some op­tional safety kit to build on that.

PRAC­TI­CAL­ITY

The Ranger ticks all of the prac­ti­cal­ity boxes, start­ing with an 80-litre fuel tank to help off­set its above-class-av­er­age thirst.

The 17-inch wheel and tyre spec – the same as Hilux – is an­other prac­ti­cal­ity bonus, as is the good range of af­ter­mar­ket sup­port and dealer net­work, es­pe­cially away from the ma­jor cities.

“THE RANGER’S ‘WORK­ING’ CRE­DEN­TIALS ARE ABOUT AS GOOD AS IT GETS.”

A twist of the dial shifts be­tween 2WD and 4WD High on the move

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