Rebuilding a reputation lost in the fiercely contested South African pick-up market is no easy task – just ask Ford. Once a trusted supplier of hardy machines for the working man, it has in the past two or three decades lost major ground to the likes of Toyota and Isuzu in what has become an even more lucrative corner of the market. But now, as part of an overall product revitalisation (Focus, Fiesta etc.) and in partnership with sister-company Mazda, the Blue Oval is confident that it finally has a product to once again stake a claim for best-in-class honours. Then, the Ford Ranger rolls into town...
Macho looks for Ford RangerThe new Ford Ranger is certainly a fine-looking bakkie. Even parked next to its Mazda BT-50 cousin, the Ford has a personality all of its own, and that has much to do with that big, square, grille. Taking design cues from some of Ford’s American F-series trucks, the new Ford Ranger looks chunky and macho. Top-spec XLE models also feature upmarket chrome trim here and there, as well as smart alloy wheels. The ground clearance is a claimed 200 mm.
Measuring 3 000 mm, the Ranger’s wheelbase is not significantly shorter than some of its rivals, but somehow Ford has not managed to achieve the same levels of progress in terms of rear door ingress/egress and rear legroom as some other modern competitors. Combine the narrow door aperture with significant height, and some occupants will struggle to easily get in. Once seated things are not much better – rear legroom is quite tight and the seating position upright.
The situation is much improved in front. The edgy design of the exterior is carried over inside, and the facia is resultantly quite blocky in appearance. Fit and finish, however, is good, as are the ergonomics. That bulging, silver-faced centre section of the facia brings the controls close to hand. There are some nice touches, too, such as a documents tray above the glove compartment and cupholders for front and rear occupants. But then again there are also some surprisingly “dated” design elements, such as an old-fashioned under-facia mounted pull/push-type handbrake and a secondary lever to operate the low-range transfer case.
In terms of its standard comfort and safety specification, however, the new Ford Ranger is certainly class competitive. It is equipped with dual front as well as side airbags, in addition to the expected ABS-backed braking. Air-conditioning, a radio/CD player, electric window and mirror adjustment, leather upholstery and remote central locking are also part of the package.
Powerful, refined engineWhile one can debate the necessity or not of some of the modern cabin trimmings, most pick-up buyers will agree that the engine under the bonnet needs to be up to scratch. In this regard the new Ford Ranger offers a rather persuasive argument. It’s new 3,0-litre turbodiesel engine packs a powerful 115 kW at 3 200 rpm and oodles of torque – 380 Nm from just under 2 000 rpm. But more impressive than the power, is the engine’s refinement. It feels strong from the get-go, yet spins easily up the rev range and never sounds or feels like it was designed for a purely utilitarian purpose. The only downside is that it seems to be rather thirsty compared with some rivals, negating one of the major benefits of turbodiesel power – economy.
The engine is matched to a five-speed manual transmission that offers well-spaced ratios, delivering excellent driveability not only in town and on the highway, but also off-road. A low-range transfer case is fitted, as well as a rear diff-lock, which further improves matters when the going gets really tough. The only real negative in an off-road situation is the very big turning circle (12,6 metres), which seriously hampers manoeuvrability.
On the road, the Ford Ranger is a mixed bag. The engine is very impressive, and front occupants are unlikely to complain about the comfort levels. And yet, considering its relative freshness, it is quite surprising that, in terms of ride quality and stability, the Ford Ranger appears to be lagging the class-best by some margin. The steering, though power assisted, is of the old-fashioned ball and nut set-up, so it is very vague in feel and rather lifeless. Another clue to the Ranger’s comparatively “aged” underpinnings is its narrowness. The track widths are significantly smaller than, for example, the Isuzu KB’s or Toyota Hilux’s, so the Ford Ranger can’t match them for directional stability. Another consequence of its high centre of gravity, narrowness and vague steering is that it feels comparatively top heavy. Combine all of this with a relatively firm suspension set-up, and the Ford Ranger is not terribly confidence inspiring when the road surface deteriorates.
Ford Ranger - VerdictThe new Ford Ranger is a significantly better product than the vehicle it replaces but compared with its direct rivals, it comes up short in a number of important areas. The new engine is superbly powerful and refined, but thirsty. The interior may be packed with goodies and boasts an attractive facia design, but rear-seat comfort is compromised. Most crucially, however, considering its targeted leisure role, Ford has not made the same strides in terms of ride comfort as some rivals. As a result of all of these, the Ford Ranger is a somewhat disjointed offering, impressive in some areas, but disappointing in others. Back to the drawing board, Ford.
- Macho looks
- Refined, powerful engine
- Off-road ability
- Standard specification
- Load-carrying ability
- Fuel thirst
- Cramped rear
- Top-heavy feel
- Dim-witted steering
Engine: 3,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 115 kW @ 3 200 rpm
Torque: 380 Nm @ 1 800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual + low-range transfer case
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: n/a km/h
0-100 km/h: n/a seconds
Fuel economy: 9,5 litres/100 km (est)
- Toyota Hilux Double-Cab 3,0 D-4D Raider 4x4: Still the vehicle to beat. Offers a more spacious cabin and easier rear access as well as a more modern facia overall. The engine isn’t as refined but is more powerful as well as more economical.
- Isuzu KB300 TDi Double-Cab 4x4 LX: Remains a popular choice, partly due to its attractive looks, and also partly due to a reputation for reliability. With “only” 96 kW and 280 Nm its engine is no longer competitive and the cabin is lacking some of the mod-cons of newer rivals.
- Nissan Navara 2,5 dCi 4x4: A next-generation pick-up with a strong leisure-market emphasis. The Navara’s engine delivers a strong 128 kW and more than 400 Nm of torque, so it’s got the grunt to back its butch looks. Can’t take as hefty a load as some of the others, but is a good tow vehicle.