If ruggedness and off-road ability were top of the list of priorities for pick-up trucks, the market would be flooded with open back versions of the Land Rover Defender.
Quite clearly, it isn’t, and the trick is to balance a number of important factors, including ability, safety, cost and carrying capacity.
In recent years it seems to have been the preserve of Japanese manufacturers, but a fight-back is under way. Volkswagen launched the very capable Amarok double-cab in 2011, and now Ford’s new Ranger has arrived on the scene.
Larger than the previous Ranger and the first commercial vehicle launched under the ‘One Ford’ global strategy, the new model will be almost identical in all markets where it’s sold. It means the versions we have in the UK will be just as tough as those found in more remote areas of the world.
All change ahead
Ford commercial vehicles director, Steve Clary, said: “Ranger has always been tough and capable but conceded share to Nissan, Mitsubishi and Toyota because it did not have the right end user appeal. It’s all about to change.”
While the range flagship is a brawny 200bhp 3.2-litre version, Ford believes its knock-out blow will be delivered by the 150bhp 2.2 TDCi.
There will also be a 125bhp workhorse version, but Ford thinks this mid-range 150bhp version with the long equipment list of one of the mid-grades of trim will provide the best balance as a site vehicle and capable private-miler.
But it certainly isn’t all about private mileage. The Ranger will come in three cab body-styles – double, super and regular – and 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains. A chassis-cab based on the regular body style will also be available.
Four equipment grades
The Ranger will be available in four equipment grades, with XL as the entry-level model, and XLT, Limited and Wildtrak making up the rest of the variants.
It has already achieved a five-star Euro NCAP rating (the only pick-up truck to do so to date), and all versions come with front, side and curtain airbags with a knee airbag for the driver.
Electronic stability control is standard on all versions as well as hill launch assist (where the brakes are held for a second while shuffling between the brake pedal and accelerator – useful when towing), trailer sway control, roll-over mitigation, emergency brake assist, load adaptive control and emergency brake light (where the rear lights flash rapidly to indicate an emergency stop), while four-wheel drive variants also come with traction control assist and hill descent control.
Stepping up to an XLT model adds a Quickclear heated windscreen, Bluetooth and voice control plus steering wheel controls for the audio system and other functions.
At the top end of the range, there is a premium pack option on Wildtrak models, which includes integrated satellite navigation and some styling enhancements.
Ford is claiming a number of best-in-class features at the business end of the Ranger, with the longest and largest loadbox for the single cab and a payload of up to 1,340kg, while the double-cab version also achieves a best-in-class 1,152kg payload.
And 4x4 versions have a maximum towing capacity of 3,350kg, which is also higher than key rivals, and its 800mm maximum wading depth leaves no doubt that the Ranger was designed to work hard.
Ford also points to competitive equipment lists compared with rival products as well as strong residual values helping achieve lower overall running costs.
Behind the wheel
Rangers were available for road and off-road routes, with 3.2-litre and 2.2-litre variants. The 3.2-litre five-cylinder is perhaps more retail focused.
Our test vehicle was fitted with optional six-speed automatic transmission (also offered on the 2.2 TDCi 150 at £1,000 excluding VAT), and the five-cylinder diesel sounds pretty gutsy, if lacking the outright pulling power of the Nissan Navara V6.
Interior materials feel more car-like than those usually found in commercial vehicles and anyone whose fleet also includes the latest Ford cars will also recognise a few components.
The driving position (in the double-cab, at least) is a world apart from the pick-up trucks of a decade ago, with all kinds of adjustment for the seat and intuitive instruments and controls.
It’s always going to be the case that these vehicles don’t drive at their best without some weight in the back, and on-road the Ranger does feel a little nose heavy on undulating surfaces. However,
its steering is responsive for a pick-up truck and engine refinement is excellent.
Few people will realise but this engine, which is also found in the Transit, is a development of a unit that used to be in the Jaguar X-type.
The Ranger is fitted with a range of clever electronics making it more capable off road than before. The first thing you notice at low speed is an anti-stall facility which allows the vehicle to continue smoothly without any danger of the engine cutting out. It will always keep the revs just high enough to prevent stalling.
The driver can switch between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive and low range with a simple selector behind the gearstick. Off-road settings automatically disengage the electronic stability control as braking individual wheels to cut power would be more hindrance at low speeds off the beaten track.
Hill descent control helps the Ranger maintain a low speed down steep slopes.
The Amarok was always going to be a tough act to follow, given its ability and the Japanese rivals’ age. But the Ranger is up to the job, with a range of body-styles, impressive safety kit and strong performance and refinement.