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FORD RANGER

The highly anticipated double cab versions of the new Ford Ranger have at long last been introduced locally, with the rest of the 24-strong model range – including the workhorse Single Cab and Rap Cab (extended cab) models – scheduled for release soon. We attended the launch in the Western Cape.

“Rangers, lead the way!” The motto of the United States Army Rangers, coined on D-Day during the invasion of Normandy, rings true for Ford Motor Company and its new Ranger, as the model will have to lead from the front while the American giant gears up towards full electrification of its product line-up.

Besides the F150, Bronco and Maverick in the US, the company will rely heavily on the new one-tonne pickup range (in true ’Murica fashion Ford insists on calling it the Next-Gen Ranger) over this period to sustain sales and market share worldwide, while also leading the assault on Fortress Hilux and the highly contested local bakkie market.

So, after a nearly six-year-long gestation period and investments amounting to over R16 billion, does the second-generation Ranger T6.2 (the fourth generation worldwide and fifth generation in North America) possess the necessary firepower for this monumental task?

COMPREHENSIVE RANGE

Besides establishing new benchmarks in terms of versatility, capability, power delivery, and smart connectivity with the new Ranger, Ford is fielding a comprehensive 24-strong model range – in Base, XL, XLT and Wildtrak trim – further strengthened by special equipment packs, to plug any possible gaps in the line, according to Dale Reid, product marketing manager at Ford South Africa.

Also, the Blue Oval has managed to keep pricing for the extensive range reasonable – circumventing the psychological R1-million barrier by a small margin and keeping prices in line with current model offerings in the Toyota Hilux range.

Produced at the Silverton Plant in Pretoria, with engines sourced from the Struandale engine plant in Gqeberha, the new Ranger comes with a choice of updated versions of the 2.0-litre Single Turbo and Bi-Turbo in-line four-cylinder diesel engines, as well as the new 3.0-litre V6 diesel, exclusively offered in the (for now) range-topping Wildtrak specification.

The local double cab range consist of two base models using the 2.0-litre single turbo engine producing 125 kW and 405 Nm with the option of 4×2 or 4×4 – both featuring a newly developed six-speed manual gearbox. The XL series includes four derivatives, all powered by the 2.0-litre SiT engine, available in 4×2 or 4×4 guise and with the option of six-speed manual or auto transmissions.

The four models in the higher-specification XLT series are available with a choice of the 2.0-litre single turbo engine mated with the six-speed automatic transmission, or the 2.0-litre bi-turbo (delivering 154 kW and 500 Nm of torque) coupled with a ten-speed auto transmission – and both are available in 4×2 and 4×4 guise.

The two Wildtrak models are available with the 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine, ten-speed automatic, and the choice of two- or four-wheel drive, and at the pinnacle of the range is the new 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel (rated for a brawny 184 kW and 600 Nm of torque) exclusively equipped with a permanent all-wheel drive system and ten-speed auto transmission.

Global Design DNA

Visually, the new Ranger’s bold exterior lines have more than a hint of F150 in them and share Ford’s global truck design DNA, as seen in the signature C-clamp treatment for the front headlights. 

A subtle shoulder line down the sides incorporates bolder wheel arches, and at the rear, the taillight design is in harmony with the graphics on the front. However, it is the small design details that are intriguing, such as a repositioned light and power outlets in the load bay, the cleverly positioned step behind the rear-wheel arch for easier access to the load tray, and a tailgate that can double as a mobile workbench, complete with an integrated ruler and clamp pockets.

In the interior, Ford has now, at last, followed Toyota and Isuzu’s example by aligning the pop-out cupholders in the dash with the air vents to keep drinks chilled, and for accessories there’s a bank of roof-mounted aircraft-style auxiliary switches.

A portrait-orientated touchscreen infotainment system (10.1” in lower-spec models, 12” in the Wildtrak) and a fully digital instrument cluster, loaded with Ford’s latest Sync4A system, dominates the car-like, less cluttered cabin (with premium soft-touch materials in the Wildtrak). The interface is attractive and user-friendly, and many driving mode controls now have their own dedicated display on the Sync screen. 

Thankfully, some conventional dials and knobs make it easier to control basic onboard functions. The system also has an embedded modem, allowing connectivity on the go (linked with the FordPass App). In the Wildtrak, the screen is also linked to a 360-degree camera and the new exterior zone lighting system (Wildtrak V6).

Driving Dynamics

While not wholly re-engineered, the new Ranger features an upgraded chassis, a 50 mm longer wheelbase and 50 mm wider tracks, and an all-new suspension with rear dampers positioned outboard of the frame. This allows for more spring and damper articulation, improving ride and handling capabilities regardless of load, and better off-road capability due to greater wheel travel.

According to John Willems, chief platform engineer for Ranger, a hydroformed front-end structure creates more space in the engine bay for the new Power Stroke V6 engine, adapted from the F150 for use in the Ranger. 

Driving the bi-turbo XLT, we were immediately impressed by its stable and composed handling and enriched ride comfort on tar and rutted dirt roads. The nippy engine vigorously and briskly worked through the gears. However, although better matched in terms of ratios and engine speed, it still showed a tendency to hunt, particularly on inclines. 

However, on a moderate to difficult off-road route through the Breedekloof and Witdraai Nature Reserve, the engine and drivetrain combination (with a shift-on-the-fly part-time 4×4 system) worked particularly well, negotiating the rocky trail with aplomb, even with (optional) 18” Goodyear Wrangler tyres.

While the XLT model ably demonstrated the tangible step up in performance and capability of the new Ranger, the lavishly appointed top-of-the-range Wildtrak with its permanent four-wheel-drive system and dedicated drive modes drove the point home, proving to be a consummate open road cruiser, as well as a proficient all-rounder.

Yes, some will find the new V6 diesel’s (much hyped) power delivery underwhelming, but as Willems stated, the engine was developed to deliver smooth, progressive urge, not to set the drag strip alight (for this, wait for the Raptor). With its more relaxed disposition, the mill also combines flawlessly with the ten-speed transmission – making it highly adept off-road as well.

LAST WORD

The new Ford Ranger represents a definite step up over its predecessor and brings new levels of refinement and technology to the intensely contested one-ton leisure bakkie market. Given its versatility, capabilities and all-around competence, the newcomer has established new benchmarks for the segment, and its pricing seems competitive (although it excludes service plan costs).

From first impressions, it is clear the Blue Oval’s new challenger has the firepower to breach the perimeter. However, the question remains whether it will be robust and reliable enough, with the necessary aftermarket service and support, to keep leading the assault.

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © FORD SOUTHERN AFRICA

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