CIVILISED WORK­HORSE

Pri­vate buy­ers are likely to jos­tle tradies for Ford’s bur­nished Ranger pick-up

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - MOTORING - CRAIG DUFF

P ri­vate buy­ers are the big­gest ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Ford’s mid-life up­date to the Ranger pick-up, as the com­pany looks to “fu­ture-proof” its most im­por­tant model. The Ranger is al­ready se­cond out­right on the sales charts this year. The model year changes, nom­i­nally cov­er­ing the en­tire line-up, are most ev­i­dent — and im­pres­sive — on the XLT and Wildtrak ver­sions.

Those top-spec ver­sions ac­count for about 65 per cent of Ranger four-wheel drive sales and tend to be bought by tradies and fam­i­lies look­ing for a lit­tle more lux­ury than a plas­tic tub liner.

Ac­cord­ingly, the Wildtrak be­comes the first pick-up with stan­dard traf­fic sign recog­ni­tion and au­ton­o­mous emergency brak­ing with pedes­trian de­tec­tion. Semi-au­to­mated par­al­lel park­ing, also stan­dard on the Wildtrak, joins the lane-keep as­sist, blind-spot warn­ing and adap­tive cruise con­trol tech in­tro­duced in 2015.

Those fea­tures can also be bun­dled in the XLT as part of a $1700 “tech pack”.

There’s also a new hero en­gine, cour­tesy of the Ranger Rap­tor. The 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel can now be op­tioned with a 10-speed auto for $1200 on the XLT and Wildtrak.

De­spite yield­ing ca­pac­ity to the stan­dard 3.2-litre five-cylin­der, it cranks out more power and torque and saves about 1.5L/100km in claimed fuel use.

Ford con­cedes Aus­tralia’s fix­a­tion on ca­pac­ity means those who reg­u­larly tow long dis­tances will prob­a­bly stick with the 3.2, though both en­gines are rated to haul 3500kg. Even so, about half the early or­ders have been for the hi-tech 2.0.

The twin-turbo is also cheaper to main­tain than the 3.2, though only to the tune of about $100 over the first three years.

Sus­pen­sion tweaks across the line-up are said to re­duce roll when tow­ing or un­der heavy loads and the ef­fort of clos­ing the tail­gate has been sub­stan­tially re­duced.

Prices have risen be­tween $300 and $1000 and now start at $41,890 for the four-wheel drive XL sin­gle cab with a six-speed man­ual, climb­ing to $63,990 for the Wildtrak with the 2.0-litre. Pre­mium paint adds $600.

ON THE ROAD

The “bi-turbo” badges on the side are the eas­i­est way to spot the 2.0-litre vari­ants. Hit the start but­ton and there’s no doubt the 2.0 sounds and feels smoother from idle across the rev range.

The flicker of the sta­bil­ity con­trol light on a greasy Vic­to­rian road shows there’s def­i­nitely no short­age of torque; though ve­hi­cles with 400kg of sand in the tray were more set­tled on the same set of curves.

Sus­pen­sion changes have im­proved the ride, which has long been among the best in the pick-up class. It’ll take a tow test to sat­isfy se­ri­ous car­a­van­ers but the ride doesn’t feel any more plush at the front when tack­ling cor­ru­gated roads.

The lane-keep as­sist does what is says but it light­ens the steer­ing dra­mat­i­cally as it redi­rects the Ranger back be­tween the lines. We didn’t — thank­fully — test the au­ton­o­mous emergency brak­ing, which in­cludes pedes­trian de­tec­tion at up to 60km/h.

Steer­ing feed­back is up there with the VW Amarok. The Ranger gen­er­ally feels far more civilised than a work­horse has any right to be.

Off-road progress is lim­ited only by the dual- pur­pose tyres. Fit a de­cent set of all-ter­rain rub­ber with a more ag­gres­sive tread pat­tern and the Ranger will be hugely ca­pa­ble on dirt, clay and rock, aided by its 237mm ride height and (con­ser­va­tive) 800mm wad­ing abil­ity.

New colours, ma­te­ri­als and stitch­ing im­prove the cabin am­bi­ence, though this is among the few ar­eas where the Ranger still shows its util­i­tar­ian her­itage, a trait com­mon to most utes.

Ex­pect to see soft-touch plas­tics roll out on new mod­els in the com­ing years as the pick-up seg­ment aligns with SUVs in terms of com­fort and con­ve­nience.

VERDICT

Ford’s play­ing safe with the Ranger up­dates but the changes high­light the push to­wards pre­mium pick-ups. Ex­pect to see the op­po­si­tion try to counter that move.

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