It’s not often that a bakkie turns out being the most-discussed new vehicle on the road, but the arrival of Ford’s new Ranger has certainly been accompanied by truck loads of hype and anticipation. With its bold, muscular looks and aggressive pricing, it appears as if the Blue Oval is finally back in the game. But does the new Ranger live up to the hype or fall short of expectations. We tested what is likely to be one of the top sellers in the line-up, the high-specification 2,2-litre XLS model, in 4x2 guise to find out.
But first, those looks…As vehicles in the double-cab bakkie market become increasingly leisure oriented and more expensive, design appeal grows in importance. After all, these vehicles are now regarded as status symbols, too, and not mere workhorses. Indeed, it is in the area of design where the Ranger offers arguably an almost irresistible appeal. Ford has tried hard to endow its new product with the aesthetic toughness of its full-size F-Series pick-ups that do so well in America. Take one look at that squared-off grille, muscular wheelarches and sheer size, and you’ll have to agree that the Ranger certainly has presence. It makes a vehicle such as Isuzu’s KB appear positively dainty… The measurements tell the full story – its wheelbase of 3 220 mm is unrivalled in this segment, and it stretches the tape to a full 5 274 mm. Plus, it stands 1 821 mm high, too…
Hoist yourself into the cabin (it’s very high), and you’ll find an interior that usually stuns first-time passengers dead silent at first glance. The facia design is very modern and wouldn’t look out of place in an upmarket SUV. Note particularly the deep-set dials and beautifully integrated audio system. Even the cool backlighting for the instrumentation plays a part in making the Ranger’s cabin environment appear more “expensive”. But there are a few niggles. For one, given the high specification level and modernity of this model, a steering wheel that offers only rake adjustment is a disappointment. Furthermore, the lack of remote audio controls comes as a surprise and we believe the seats could’ve done with some leather upholstery.
Otherwise, there aren’t really any reasons for complaint. There is lots of space, with the Ranger arguably boasting best-in-class legroom for rear occupants. The seats, too, are nicely padded and proved very comfortable on longer trips. The safety package is comprehensive, including six airbags and ABS with EBD.
Strong engineWith 110 kW and 375 Nm of torque on tap, the 2,2-litre turbodiesel engine certainly appears up to the task on paper. Then again, the Ranger is a big, heavy bakkie, so it needs all the power it can get to move around at a decent pace. Thankfully, the torque is available low-down, and the gear ratios are well chosen, so this Ranger actually feels even more powerful than expected. In fact, subjectively speaking it doesn’t feel a lot slower than range-topping 3,2-litre, and the power remains impressive, even in the mid-range and when loaded. If there is a problem it concerns the refinement of the transmission, which can be recalcitrant at times, requiring a firmer hand and more concentration than necessary. Given the vehicle’s size and performance, the fuel economy is good, with a consumption figure of less than 9 L/100 km being realistic.
Start driving and the Ranger is initially quite intimidating to pilot. You sit very high, and are constantly aware of the vehicle’s width and, especially, its length (when parking). At first the ride also appears to be typically bakkie firm, but as speeds ride you’ll soon discover the type of suppleness that a Hilux driver will hardly ever get to experience. And the cabin refinement is impressive, too, with little of the diesel engine’s clatter reaching occupants’ eardrums. Wind and road noise are also beautifully suppressed.
With prolonged exposure the Ranger’s size becomes less of a problem. The steering is nice and light and the good low-down torque means that town driving becomes pretty much a second- and third-gear affair – just as well, given the clunky gearshift. Out on the open road the Ranger’s impressive showing continues. Fully loaded with some holiday gear and five occupants, the ride is nicely controlled and the big Ford comes across as a powerful, long-legged cruiser with a superbly comfortable cabin. By the way, it can still carry 965 kg on the back, too…
Ford Ranger - VerdictThe new Ford Ranger is a serious challenger for class-best honours, and makes a lot of sense with this impressive 2,2-litre engine. Not only is this Ranger bakkie significantly cheaper than its main competitors, it offers superior design, a more spacious, car-like cabin and impressive refinement. And yet, it’s not perfect. Given the XLS moniker, it needs a few extra features and the transmission can do with some extra refinement, but that’s pretty much the entirety of its failings. Sold as standard with a five-years/90 000 km service plan, the Ranger is a seriously tempting proposition.
- Handsome design
- Cabin space and finish
- Engine power
- Ride quality
- Lacks some features at this price
- Gearbox refinement
Fast factsEngine: 2,2-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel Power: 110 kW @ 3 700 rpm Torque: 375 Nm @ 1 500 rpm Transmission: Six-speed manual Wheels: 16-inch alloy Top speed: n/a km/h 0-100 km/h: n/a seconds Fuel economy: 8,4 L/100 km
- Volkswagen Amarok 2,0 TDI Trendline 4x2: The twin-turbo Amarok is too expensive to compete with this Ranger, but the 90 kW model remains a strong rival with excellent refinement and a superb cabin. Very economical, too.
- Toyota Hilux 2,5 D-4D Raised Body Raider: Can match neither the Ford’s power, nor its ride refinement, but the Hilux remains popular due to its legendary reliability. Surprisingly, offers a few more gadgets than the Ford, too, including Bluetooth.
- Isuzu KB250 KB72: This special edition of the KB offers a few extras as standard but can’t hide the fact that the KB is nearing the end of its life cycle. The engine lacks the grunt of the Ford, and the cabin is now aged and cramped (in the rear).