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Tim O'Brien | Sep 23, 2009 | 5 Comments

2009 Ford PK Ranger XLT SuperCab Road Test Review

PUT ANYBODY in a modern 4X4 ute, drive them around for a bit, and before long they’ll come out with something like, “Goes alright this, doesn’t it?”

And they’d be right. The days of the ‘tradie-fourby-ute’ being a loose conglomeration of tin and cheap vinyl, with an agricultural diesel or coarse underpowered four up front, are long gone.

They’re now almost car-like… almost. With potent V6s and new-gen turbo diesels under the bonnet, and slick interior appointments, you can drive them at highway speeds without going deaf and getting numb in the pants region.

Take Ford’s PK Ranger. Released at the Melbourne International Motor Show in February, it is very easy to live with, competent enough off-road (if not best-in-class), and well-up to some serious hard graft as a working ute.

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It comes in 2WD and 4WD, with three specification levels for the 4x4 variants: XL, XLT and the well decked-out ‘Wildtrak’ (ignore the dumb name) with bigger wheels and other ‘US-truck style’ dress-up bits.

We had the XLT Supercab with RX8-style suicide rear doors, TDCi 3.0 litre diesel mated to the five-speed auto and class-leading towing capacity (3000kg braked).

In deep serpentine green metallic, sitting on neat alloys and nicely-trimmed inside, it looked the part.

The Ranger is the Goldilocks-buy in the segment: not too rough, not too soft; powerful enough but no torque monster, and comfortable and refined enough for the weekend run with the tail bikes and family in tow.

 

Styling

Despite the ‘dress-up’ features and revised front and rear, the Ranger’s age is starting to show. It looks narrower and is somewhat more slab-sided and tippy-toed than others in the segment. It also feels smaller at the wheel.

Put someone bulky in the passenger seat (and we’ve got a couple of them here at TMR), and you’re aware that the internal dimensions are narrower than, say, the Navara. It feels about as wide inside as a Corolla for instance.

That said, there is nothing wrong with the Ranger’s style. Designed by Ford Australia (though built at Rayong, Thailand), its lines and personality grow on you. When released, a comment on this site was critical of its “Tweety Bird eyes”, but most photos don’t do the front a lot of justice.

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The wrap-around lights are not as prominent as the lens seems to capture and the car overall looks better in the metal.

It doesn’t have the stylish swooping lines of the Triton, but it doesn’t look ponderous like the Navara and HiLux and has a better overall styling balance than the Colorado/D-Max.

More than one of the neighbours was moved to comment positively (“Looks alright that one, what’s it like…?”).

There are enlarged side mirrors (that can be folded into the body if negotiating a tight laneway or bush track), chrome door handles and rear step bumper, 16-inch alloys (standard on the XLT, 18-inch for the Wildtrak), clear tail-lights (that don’t do much for me) and over-fender arches with integrated mud-flaps.

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Importantly, at 1753mm x 1456mm, the rear tub of the Supercab is a good size if the Ranger is pressed into work duties or for carrying the trail-bikes up the highway. Even the crew cab offers a quite reasonable1530mm x 1456mm.

The larger Navara King Cab offers only slightly more capacity at 1855mm x 1560mm (1511mm x 1560mm for the crew cab).

One of the interesting design features of the Ranger is the large lower-grille opening for the turbo intercooler.

Mounted forward of the radiator, rather than above the engine as some in the sector do, Ford claims it improves intercooler performance by sitting in a more consistent flow of cooler air. (But you may need to watch it if sloshing all day through muddy bogs.)

 

Interior

Things work pretty well inside. The Ranger, to these eyes, like the Mazda BT-50 on which it is based, offers one of the best interiors in the sector.

The materials are good, controls are logical and well-placed for easy use, and there are no crashing angles and gargoyle-style vents hanging off things – it’s just neat, logical and understated. Which is what most of us want in an interior.

The seats are a bit shapeless, but comfortable enough with appealing hard-wearing fabrics and reasonable under-thigh support.

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We’re talking about the front seats here; in the XLT Supercab, the rear seats are little more than corn-pads… ok if you are just heading to the next building site, but too small and cramped for adults if travelling any distance.

That said, when not deployed moving bodies about, the large space back there is ideal for carrying camping clobber or the leathers, kit and helmets for the trailbikes. It is also easy to access thanks to those backwards-hinged rear doors.

It is easy to get ‘set’ behind the wheel, which adjusts for rake but not reach, and vision all round (and for being able to see the extremities) is good.

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The handbrake, an under-dash umbrella-type, is a little out of place and not ideal for use off road with the manual. (It’s not such an issue with the auto we were driving.)

The XLT (and Wildtrack) comes with side airbags as standard in addition to driver and passenger airbags; cruise control is also standard. The audio system, with CD and radio, also comes with an aux-in plug for iPod/MP3 players across the range.

 

Mechanical Package

Ford’s TDCi 3.0 litre DOHC in-line four-cylinder Duratorq diesel in the XLT is a beauty. With four valves per cylinder, common-rail electronic injection, and turbo with intercooler, it’s strong, spins freely, and, when warm, is the smoothest in the business.

Cold, it sounds like any other diesel workhouse. But once warmed, it is the pick of the bunch and clear leader for smooth clatter-free operation.

At the wheel it goes about things with a nice diesel ‘humm’ – there is a particular appealing character about the sound of an efficient and well-balanced modern diesel that grows on you.

The further you drive the Ranger, the more you’ll enjoy that smooth free-spinning diesel.

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Both the 3.0 litre and 2.5 litre turbo TDCi Duratorq diesels (the smaller unit in the 4x2 part of the range) come with variable-geometry turbo technology. The 3.0 litre, with 380Nm at a very accessible 1800rpm, is particularly lively.

(The smaller 2.5 litre unit produces 330Nm, and, though we are yet to drive it, also promises reasonable performance.)

Dulling the output a little for the test car was Ford’s five-speed auto transmission. I prefer a manual in a working car (although the auto has distinct advantages off road), but the transmission in the Ranger is easy enough to live with.

Thanks to the responsive 3.0 litre diesel, good sound-deadening and class-leading smoothness, it doesn’t groan like the CVT-equipped Navara and is well-mapped for highway driving.

An auto with a good torquey diesel can also be less of a handful in the rough than a manual. Off road, the Ranger has ample torque underfoot for picking a path up a steep pinch.


All 4x4 Rangers come with a Borg Warner transfer case – electronic engagement in the auto, lever engagement for the manual. The five-speed auto also comes with ‘shift-on-the-fly’ capability between 2WD and 4WD-high at any speed.

Helping things off-road is a torque-sensing limited slip differential in the rear axle. It is an effective 4WD set-up, and comparable to most others in the sector. It is however well shaded in the rough by the Triton’s advanced Super Select system with locking centre differential.

Keeping things pinned to terra firma are independent double wishbones up front, with torsion-bar, 32mm gas shocks and stabiliser bar. At the rear is a semi-floating axle with multi-leaf springs, 32mm gas shocks and stabiliser bar.

Brakes for 4x4 models are disc front and drum rear: 289mm discs with dual opposed piston calipers, and 295mm rear drums. XLT and Wildtrak models come with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) as standard – but an option on XL models.

 

The drive

We like our ‘fourby-utes’ at TMR, and gave the Ranger a busy duty roster of highway kilometers, gravel roads, some off-road trails, and a day of load shifting (a fridge, an enormous TV and a double-bed – we tipped the occupants out first). We even took it to a funeral.

Thanks to its good road manners, surprising diesel, and good ergonomics, it is a very easy ute to like.

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It is certainly one of the more refined working utes for NVH and for keeping road roar and wind-noise at bay. At the wheel, except for the firm-ish ride, it’s almost car-like.

There is ample power for safe overtaking, the steering doesn’t ‘track’ and tug at the wheel on secondary roads the way some dual-purpose commercial 4x4s are inclined, and, though firm, only the poorer of road surfaces will have you bouncing about.

So you can punt it along at a fair lick without your heart finding its way into your mouth should you unexpectedly hit a mid-corner hollow. It is reasonably effortless on the black-top, easily capable of cruising well above the legal limit, and you can get good use out of the willing diesel.

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Designed for both highway and off-road, the Ranger’s double wishbone and torsion bar suspension set-up makes a reasonable fist of both environments. When the path ahead gets really rough though, things can get ‘found out’.

The suspension lacks a little travel and articulation for dealing with deep ruts and wash-outs. It will hang a wheel up when the track starts to get seriously out of shape.

As we also discovered pretty quickly, the standard-issue dual-purpose tyres are not up to a wet bush track. The tight tread pattern fills almost immediately with mud and will leave you spinning helplessly despite the standard limited-slip diff.

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For serious off-roading, some wider-lugged tyres would be first on the list.

That said, the Ranger’s immensely strong overlapped cross-braced ladder frame means that there is no twisting or flexing whatever angles the wheels are at. The low gearing reduction (2.48:1, auto, and 2.02:1, manual) will see the Ranger climb a wall – provided the tyres can get traction.

It feels robust, has good clearance and approach and departure angles (34 and 33 degrees) and, while not best in the class, it can tackle a challenging track without bottoming, burying its nose, or dragging its tail.

(And, for those times when the path becomes a jagged goat-track, there’s steel plating down below protecting the fuel tank, transfer case, engine and transmission.)

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For shifting a fridge, a cubit of household effects, or even a coven of mother-in-laws, the deep bed of the Ranger with convenient tie-down hooks and tub-liner, is ideal.

With a load like this in the back, the diesel engine hardly notices, but the suspension and ride is transformed.

Lastly, in our care, with a combination of highway work, off-road and some suburban haulage, we achieved bang-on Ford’s claimed 9.2 l/100km for the combined cycle. And that’s not half bad.

The verdict

Let’s cut to the chase – Ford’s Ranger is not the best buy in the 4WD segment if you’re looking for a dual-purpose ute. That mantle falls to the versatile and competent Triton.

But it is the all-round competence of the Ranger that is perhaps its ace – and why it makes good buying.

It is neither best off-road, nor best on the highway, neither does it have the largest cargo area. But it is among the best across all environments. And it leads the pack for braked towing capacity.

The Triton, brilliant in the bush and compliant on road, is the better drive, but it’s hampered by a smallish tub in the twin-cab (though the new model will address that shortcoming).

So, for those who need a ‘fourby ute’ that is nicely balanced between ‘work and play’, the Ranger deserves a close look.

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It is not such a handful on secondary roads as the D-Max, which is more work ute than highway cruiser; has greater load capacity than the Triton; is easier to live with in auto than the CVT-equipped Navara; and has a classier feel to the interior than the HiLux.

And its civilised and tractable turbodiesel is the benchmark for the sector. Even if you struggle with diesels, you won’t struggle with this one. You wouldn’t describe it as “creamy”, but it’s close.

At $45,990 (plus on-roads) for the 4x4 3.0 litre diesel XLT Supercab, it is competitive buying for its level of specification.

The Ranger cab-chassis XL 4x4 with 3.0 litre diesel and manual transmission starts at $31,990 (plus on-roads).

It is certainly worth having a close look at Ford’s robust and appealing Ranger.

 

Likes

  • Refined, torquey 3.0 litre turbo-diesel
  • Class leading towing-capacity
  • Useful behind-seats space (and extra seating) in Spacecab
  • Nicely designed interior, appealing trims
  • Best in class for NVH
  • Stiff, robust chassis
 

Dislikes

  • Styling a tad dated
  • Could do with better suspension articulation off-road
  • Could do with a little more initial compliance on-road
  • Standard-issue tyres hopeless on a wet track (not the car’s fault)
 

Pricing (4x4 models):

Note: all 4X4 models feature 3.0 litre TDCi engine.

Model Cabstyle Bodystyle Trans RRP
XL Single Cab Chassis 5-spd man $31,990
XL Single Cab Chassis 5-spd auto $33,990
XL Super Cab Chassis 5-spd man $35,990
XL Super Pick-up 5-spd man $36,990
XL Crew Cab Chassis 5-spd man $37,990
XL Crew Pick-up 5-spd man $38,990
XL Crew Pick-up 5-spd auto $40,990
XLT Super Pick-up 5-spd man $43,990
XLT Super Pick-up 5-spd auto $45,990
XLT Crew Cab Chassis 5-spd auto $39,990
XLT Crew Pick-up 5-spd man $45,990
XLT Crew Pick-up 5-spd auto $47,990
Wildtrak Crew Pick-up 5-spd man $48,990
Wildtrak Crew Pick-up 5-spd auto $50,990

Get the best deal on this car!
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