WHEN IT COMES TO 4X4 UTES, LIKE THE 2016 FORD RANGER, THEY DON’T MAKE ‘EM LIKE THEY USED TO. And for that, buyers can be eternally grateful.
Formerly all about hard graft and minimal comfort, the humble ladder-frame workhorse has evolved to include most of the creature comforts of passenger cars.
Comfort, safety, and technology included in the Ranger, particularly in upscale XLT trim, mimics some of the best available in Ford’s passenger range, and leads the 4x4 ute pack when it comes to safety.
Vehicle Style: 4x4 dual cab ute
Price: $56,590 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/470Nm 3.2 5cyl turbo diesel | 6-spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.0 l/100km | tested: 10.2 l/100km
Australia hasn’t fallen out of love with large cars, they’ve simply swapped their big sedans and wagons for an array of big SUVs, and big 4x4 utes.
Dual cab utes in particular, with their ability to function as a workhorse during the week and a family freighter on the weekend, are the pick of the crop. Toyota’s Hilux has topped the sales charts numerous times, but Ford’s Ranger is nipping at its heels.
It isn’t hard to see why either. Although the Ranger XLT 4x4 costs more than any Falcon in the range, it also packs more equipment when optioned with the XLT Tech Pack - things like radar cruise control, collision alert, fatigue detection, lane departure warning - all essential safety items that money can’t buy in a Falcon.
The two are also hardly comparable in terms of dynamics - one is built for a life on the road, the other for a life off it.
But the gap is narrowing, so we put the Ranger XLT to the test both on and off the road, to see how the new family car Aussie icon stacks up.
- Standard equipment: Cloth seat trim, dual zone climate control, radar cruise control, speed limiter, MyKey parental lock-out system, power windows, leather steering wheel and gear knob, self-dimming interior mirror, auto lights and wipers, dual reconfigurable 4.2-inch instrument cluster, colled centre console
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch Sync 2 touchscreen with voice control, AM/FM/DAB radio, six-speaker audio, Aux and USB input, mobile WiFi hotspot, single CD player, satellite navigation.
- Cargo volume: Minimum and maximum (seats up and seats down)
The XLT sits just one rung from the top - there’s a few extra trinkets if you spring for the Wildtrack, and its interior ditches the old workhorse aesthetic for a more modern and comfortable setting.
There’s still plenty of hard plastics in use, but comfortable cloth seats, dual zone climate control, and Ford’s Sync 2 touchscreen infotainment are all in place.
Few will complain about the accommodation up front; there’s a broad range of seat travel and adjustment, and generously proportioned seats ready to fit all comers. Forward visibility suffers at the hands of chunky A-pillars, but that’s about the only gripe.
In the rear there’s enough head, legroom, and width to fit either three co-workers, or worse still, three fidgeting discontented teenagers. The rear seat backrest is angled enough for comfort on long hauls.
Though the dash and door trims are mostly fashioned from hard plastics, they look well-finished, and after a dusty weekend away are simple enough to wipe clean without worrying about doing any damage.
Navara and Colorado have the Ranger licked for front cupholders, if that’s your thing, but there’s still two front and two rear cup holders, a bottle holder in each door, and a roomy glovebox and chilled centre console.
Out back the tray has length of 1485mm (at the top of the tray box) and a width of 1560mm with 1139 between the wheel arches; the tailgate provides a 1330mm loading width. The XLT model also comes equipped with an alloy sports bar, including centre stop-light and handy LED tray lights.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre five-cylinder turbo diesel
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, dual-range 4x4
- Suspension: double wishbone front, leaf spring rear
- Brakes: type, front and rear:
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, turning circle: 12.7m
- Towing capacity: 3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Despite a front-end restyle earlier this rear, and changes to the interior, the Ranger continues with an unchanged 3.2 litre in-line five-cylinder turbo diesel, and we’d argue that nothing much there needs to change.
Ranger has the biggest engine in its class (shared with the BT-50), and the only one with more than four-cylinders. It grunts out 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm between 1750 and 2500rpm.
A six-speed auto is available (tested here), linked to a dual-range transfer case with shift-on-the-fly 4x4 high-range selection and electronic low-range engagement.
For starters the engine sounds different - it’s still very much a diesel, but the clatter has been dulled, and once rolling the distinct five-cylinder soundtrack is unlike any other diesel ute on the market.
Bury the right foot and the Ranger will respond with urgency - it isn’t stupidly quick, but it will move with authority, and the 470Nm on tap gives it plenty of shove.
We didn't load it up to the max, but a tub filled with garden sleepers in the rear was shrugged off with barely a second thought.
As for ride, either with or without a load on the tub the Ranger sits on the road well. There’s a fairly smooth ride when unladen, but add some weight to the back and it feels even more settled.
Off the road we couldn’t fault the Ranger’s ability either. It’s sure footed, and for the dry-weather scrambling we did the factory-fitted Dunlop all-terrain tyres were up to the task - dedicated mud-pluggers might be in order if you plan on anything more sodden though.
It still can’t defy the laws of physics, so of course there’s roll in corners and dive under heavy braking, but in most situations the Ranger is the dynamic equal, if not better than, some large SUVs.
Wind and road noise are well managed, and long-range comfort is superb with decent ride-control over smaller imperfections, and spring and damper settings brilliantly set up for corrugated gravel roads; ditto the stability and ABS tuning.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.72 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: The optional XLT Tech Pack features forward collision alert, driver impairment monitor (fatigue detection), lane departure warning with lane keep assist, rear park sensors, reversing camera, and tyre pressure monitoring.
Other standard features include stability control including trailer sway control, rollover mitigation, hill descent control, hill start assist, six airbags, and emergency assistance, which dials emergency services in the event of an accident.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The new Hilux has arrived and it’s a bloody good thing - so too the NP 300 Navara, although refinement falls a little short.
If price is a primary concern, the new Triton is more budget friendly, while the D-Max has a rock-solid reputation for bulletproof reliability.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If we’re being honest, the Ranger isn’t exactly the most affordable 4x4 dual cab available; it even outprices the perennial favourite, Toyota's Hilux SR5.
The thing is, no other dual cab on the market comes close to matching the Ranger XLT’s comprehensive, though optional, safety suite.
For families considering a dual-purpose dual cab, that can operate as a builder's labourer during the week, has a comfortable family-friendly cabin, and can haul a pair of dirt bikes and a tray full of camping gear into out-of-the-way places on the weekend, the Ranger XLT stands ahead of the pack.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that it's quiet and comfortable on-road with refinement that betters the likes of Nissan’s new Navara, and an interior that puts the Colorado and D-Max twins to shame.
There’s never been a better range of comfortable and capable dual cab 4x4s on offer in Australia. Buyers have so many choices, and all by margins different - but this one, Ford's Ranger, despite the price premium it carries, warrants a closer look.