Ford Ranger: Capability meets comfort at the top of the Ranger
The latest Ford Ranger is another example of just how good pick-ups have become, says William Scholes
IT dawned on me the other day that in the years I've been doing these pages in the Irish News, no single style of vehicle has improved more than the pick-up truck, writes William Scholes.
Pick-up trucks used to be crude and nasty. I can remember driving one which, as I gently coasted through a roundabout after a light shower of rain, decided to allow its automatic gearbox to change gear; it was enough to cause the rear wheels to lose traction and to cause the truck to slowly pirouette like an out of control elephant on roller skates.
Furious arm twirling at the oh-so-slow to react steering eventually brought things back under control. This all happened at no more than 20mph in a sort of slow-motion blur, but was no less terrifying for that.
As well as the dozy gearbox and greasy surface, the fact that the loadbed was empty at the time was undoubtedly a contributory factor to the slide.
The pick-up trucks we see in the European market are generally designed to be able to carry a payload of around a tonne on their load beds and comfortably pull a 2.5 tonne-plus trailer, though some will now tow 3.5 tonnes.
There was a sense in which older models never really felt happy to drive unless they had a heavy load in the back or a trailer on the tow bar - thus my unladen wagon's roundabout slide.
Even away from corners, the old-school pick-ups were unpleasant, disconcerting things.
I remember another whose bonnet started to flex like a violently shaken sheet of cardboard at speeds of around 50mph, creating the distinct impression it was about to fly off.
Vague steering generally meant the vehicle would wander around on the motorway. Poor brakes, noisy engines, suspension so stiff that only a chiropractor wouldn't complain and poorly equipped interiors were all par for the course in your average pick-up of a decade or so ago.
They were, then, highly effective at performing a narrow range of tasks - carrying, pulling, going off-road - but pretty useless beyond that.
Pick-ups have manifestly improved, becoming more civilised and easier to drive in a relatively short time. None more so, perhaps, than the Ford Ranger
Farmers, builders and tradesmen appreciated the fit-for-purpose approach, but everyone else just bought a van or something like a Land Rover or Toyota Land Cruiser.
That was then; this is now. Pick-ups have manifestly improved, becoming more civilised and easier to drive in a relatively short time.
None more so, perhaps, than the Ford Ranger on these pages.
The most intimidating thing about it is its size. Every dimension - height, width and length - is of a different order to one of the company's passenger cars.
In practice, the step-ladder height is an asset, giving you and your passengers a peerless view. Straight sides and a blunt nose also mean the 2.16 metre width isn't as big a problem as you might imagine if you've driven nothing larger than a Fiesta or Focus.
The Ranger's length - just shy of 5.4m in double-cab guise, as tested - isn't an issue once you're up and running.
However, it does make the Ford a nightmare to park at the supermarket or, in fact, anywhere that has sized-for-a-hatchback parking spaces. Be prepared to park at the far corner of the Sprucefield car park and walk if you end up using one of these for your weekly grocery shopping.
'My' Ranger came in Wildtrak trim, which means it sits at the top of the model line-up below only the shouty look-at-me Raptor model.
A Wildtrak is what you buy, I imagine, if you're going to use your pick-up as both family transport of some description as well as a proper work-horse.
It has chunky 18-inch alloy wheels and lots of contrasting grey trim, including the on-trend pick-up must-have of a 'sports bar' behind the cab, to give a convincingly sporty look.
Inside is as well specified as a nice Focus or Mondeo. That means Ford's excellent 'Sync 3' infotainment system, DAB radio, sat-nav, Bluetooth and so on.
The seats are leather trimmed, heated and electrically adjustable. There's a rear-parking camera - handy on something this long - and a battery of safety kit, such as lane-keep assistance.
It is as fully loaded with the same sort of gadgets and refinements as any SUV, in other words. The off-road hardware is rather more serious though, with a locking rear axle and the ability to switch from rear- to four-wheel-drive 'on the fly' with the flick of a switch.
That all creates a strong positive impression, but that would be rather meaningless if the Ranger didn't drive as nicely as it looks.
The Ranger Wildtrak is as fully loaded with the same sort of gadgets and refinements as any SUV. The off-road hardware is rather more serious though, with a locking rear axle and the ability to switch from rear- to four-wheel-drive 'on the fly' with the flick of a switch
My test car came with a 2.0-litre diesel engine and a 10-speed - yes, 10... - automatic gearbox.
You can also have the Wildtrak with a 3.2-litre diesel, but the 2.0-litre is both more powerful (210bhp v 197bhp) and makes more torque (369lb.ft v 347lb.ft).
It is also remarkably frugal for something which weighs 2.2 tonnes and is capable of carrying more than a tonne in its load bed and pulling up to 3.5 tonnes.
Without trying too hard, I saw more than 35mpg. To put that in context, that easily bettered a Hyundai Tucson I had around the same time and which couldn’t better 30mpg...
The diesel-auto combination seemed perfect for the Ranger. It lent it genuine refinement on the motorway, a sensation aided by the vehicle's height and the general feeling of being 'above it all'.
For a pick-up at least, the steering, brakes and ride were first-class too. The Ranger is as easy and as comfortable to drive as many SUVs.
Ford isn't alone in making its pick-up offering a liveable, viable daily-driver. The Isuzu D-Max and Mitsubishi L200, for example, tread the same sort of ground.
What is remarkable, it seems to me, is just how quickly the industry has managed to make pick-ups so car-like and blurred the lines between workhorse and recreational vehicle.
The Ranger is comfortably among the best of this rapidly improved and highly competent breed.
AT A GLANCE
Ford Ranger Wildtrack 2.0 diesel automatic
Price: £38,344.64 OTR including VAT (£31,195 ex-VAT)
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, 10-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 210bhp, 369lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 112mph, 0-60mph in 9 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 36.2mpg-36.7mpg (official combined); 35.2mpg (real world); 201g/km
Car tax: £260 annually (commercial vehicle up to 3,500kg)
Benefit in kind for commercial users: Monthly £57.17 (20 per cent tax payer)/£114.33 (40 per cent tax payer)
Benefit in kind for private users: 37 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Not yet tested