Thunder's truck: Ford Ranger ready to rumble with Thunder special edition
Ford likes to give its excellent Ranger pick-up the special edition treatment. William Scholes dodges the rain by climbing aboard the mighty Ranger Thunder
WILLIAM Cowper, the 18th century English poet, was a fascinating character who, almost inexplicably, features in almost no motoring reviews, writes William Scholes.
Cowper's colourful life included time in an asylum, where he was dispatched for insanity, a deep Christian faith punctuated with periods of doubt about his salvation and, through his friendship with John Newton, involvement with the campaign against slavery.
Martin Luther King Jr would routinely quote Cowper's poetry on the subject as he led the civil rights movement.
Cowper's other gifts to language included the phrase "God moves in a mysterious way/ His wonders to perform" but his best-known lines of poetry, obviously informed by his own experiences, must surely be: "Variety's the very spice of life/ That gives it all its flavour."
Variety is indeed the spice of life, and it's perhaps what I most enjoy about compiling the Drive section of the Irish News.
One moment you're driving something like a Suzuki Ignis, which looks like a Lego car and isn't much larger, and the next something like the truck on this page turns up on the driveway.
It's a Ford Ranger pick-up, but not just any Ford Ranger - it's a Ranger Thunder.
We immediately christened it the Thunderstruck, in homage to AC/DC. If you squint and use a bit of imagination, it looks like the sort of thing a hard-working rock band would drive (or maybe not... frontman Brian Johnson is a proper car nut).
The Thunder is a special edition of the Ranger. It's based on the high specification Wildtrak model but trades its trademark shade of Donald Trump orange paint for a dark 'sea grey' finish.
We immediately christened it the Thunderstruck, in homage to AC/DC. If you squint and use a bit of imagination, it looks like the sort of thing a hard-working rock band would drive
Most people who commented on the truck's colour assumed this was in fact a sort of light metallic black finish, calling to mind Lego Batman's insistence that, "I only work in black... and sometimes very, very dark grey."
You also get most-definitely black alloy wheels, grille, bumpers, skid plates and just about every other piece of trim.
The only exceptions are the flashes of red seen on the grille and the so-called sports hoop over the load bed.
There are also red 'Thunder' badges on the front doors and tailgate - these aren't cheap stickers, either, but big 3D effect logos.
The Thunder badge is also embroidered in red thread on the seats - trimmed in leather and complete with heating - and even the sill plates glow red.
This, then, isn't what one would call a subtle vehicle. Big pick-ups tend not to be; better to embrace the you-can't-miss-it aesthetic and roll with it.
As I've observed on these pages before, there's probably no other style of vehicle that has improved more in recent years than the pick-up.
These used to be, frankly, horrible to drive and borderline dangerous without a tonne of building materials or fertiliser in the back to stop the rear axle from acting like a pendulum and swinging the tail out on a greasy or damp corner.
The latest generation of pick-ups are remarkable devices. The best of the breed can do all the hard graft expected of a working vehicle designed for farm yards and building sites - tow 3.5 tonnes, carry a tonne on its load bed and have genuine 4x4 off-road ability - but also offer a driving experience that is far closer to a car than you could reasonably expect.
The Ranger is an incongruously relaxing cruising or motorway vehicle; you're high above the throng, coasting along on the quiet engine's generous torque
The Ford Ranger is definitely in the 'best of breed' category. The Thunder version gets a 2.0-litre diesel engine bolstered by a pair of turbochargers to give an ample 210bhp and, of more relevance for a pick-up, a strong 369lb ft.
This is teamed with a 10-speed - count 'em - automatic gearbox, of the same type that Ford also deploys in the Mustang sports car and its stateside F-150 pick-up.
The Ranger is rear-wheel-drive by default but a simple twist of switch accesses four-wheel-drive and, for sticky situations, a low-ratio set-up.
It feels like a luxury drivetrain for a pick-up; this is a compliment.
The engine doesn't hide itself when you start it for the first time on a cold morning - it's Brian Johnson clearing his throat after waking up after a long night on stage - but once warmed through it is distinctly quiet and refined.
The gearbox is unobtrusive and must have some smart software - with so many ratios to choose from, auto' 'boxes with lots of ratios can sometimes feel indecisive, but the Ranger never feels wrong-footed.
If you're used to riding in a car, the height of a pick-up like the Ranger takes a bit of getting used to. You're level with the grandest of SUVs, meaning Transit and Range Rover drivers are in your eye-line.
The Ranger Thunder isn't what one would call a subtle vehicle. Big pick-ups tend not to be; better to embrace the you-can't-miss-it aesthetic and roll with it
The ride height makes the Ranger an incongruously relaxing cruising or motorway vehicle; you're high above the throng, coasting along on the quiet engine's generous torque.
It isn't even that thirsty for such a big truck - average consumption in the low 30s is realistic, making it more efficient than some smaller, regular passenger cars.
That's not to say you should buy a Ranger, or any pick-up for that matter, instead of your next Hyundai Tucson or Volkswagen Golf.
It is massive, for a start - it measures 5.4 metres long, 2.2m wide, is more than 1.8m tall and weighs over 2.2 tonnes.
The turning circle is huge, the steering slow at parking speeds and unlike the best large cars, the Ranger never shrugs off its size when it's on the move.
It's also vastly over-engineered if your main driving is the school run or a trip to Sprucefield.
But if you are someone who regularly tows very heavy trailers, has to cross muddy fields and still wants a vehicle that's tough but comfortable enough for daily use, then the Ranger is hard to beat.
It's far more accomplished at performing car duties than something with its utilitarian capabilities has any right to.
The Thunder version was a limited-run special at the top of the range, and priced accordingly, with a sticker of £32,965 before VAT. Only the Raptor, which gets trick suspension but the same engine and gearbox is more expensive, at £42,276 ex-VAT.
But the same goodness can be had for less, should you be happy to forsake the Thunder's cosmetic enhancements.
That's the sort of variety that would gain William Cowper's approval - and leave AC/DC Thunderstruck.