COMMON GROUND | UTE REVIEW -Ford’s Ranger XLT fits the purpose for the common load carrier and weekend warrior

Ford’s Ranger XLT fits the purpose for the common load carrier and weekend warrior – Words by Brenton O’Connor, images by Geoff Parrington

Had it been suggested even ten years ago that two out of every three of the best selling vehicles in Australia in 2017 were going to be dual-cab utes, the prophesy would have been dismissed as rubbish. But that is now the case – with the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux occupying the top two slots.

The dramatic shift in the market from traditional four-door family saloons from Ford and Holden has now resulted in three predominant vehicle types: small four-door cars, SUVs and dual-cab utes.

Buyers purchase dual-cab utes for a variety of reasons. As a workhorse satisfying the needs of tradie’s and farmers wanting to carry tools and other cargo during the week to the family aiming for recreational use on a weekend with the ability to carry five occupants in comfort and safety. Taking things a little further adds the options of towing boats and caravans or carrying motorcycles and pushbikes in the tray.

Another factor in the ute’s favour is that for business operators they are not subject to fringe benefits tax, providing a further incentive to buy a ute, if indeed a further incentive was needed.

Ford Australia has the Wildtrak version as the top of its model line, but not everyone can head straight for the most expensive model on their residential block. In this evaluation Delivery headed for mid-field and opted for the Ranger in XLT guise, providing a unique opportunity to gain an insight into what is behind the surge in sales for this ute.

Powering the XLT Ranger is a 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine producing 147 kW @ 3000 rpm and 470 Nm of toque between 1750 and 2500 rpm. The test vehicle was fitted with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, which also features a manual mode where the driver can take over the gear selection choice. The vehicle rode on 17″ alloy wheels with 265/65 R17 Dunlop rubber.

Some buyers have a problem getting their heads around the premise of five cylinders, rather than four, six or eight. In the case of this Ford diesel, and the puma family from which it owes its heritage, the choice runs in terms of both four and five-cylinder options. Buy the lowly versions with 2.2 litres and four cylinders live under the bonnet. Option up to 3.2 litres and Ford tucks another cylinder behind the front bumper.

Performance of the five-cylinder 3.2-litre that powers the XLT was excellent. Whilst it’s not going to set any land speed records, it made effortless work of keeping up with city traffic and handled itself well out on the freeways where it cruised at 110 km/hr with effortless ease. Fuel consumption over the test period averaged 9.6 l/100 km, over a distance of 631 km that encompassed mostly country driving with a bit of city traffic added in, slightly higher than the official Ford claim. The Ranger is standard with an 80-litre diesel fuel tank.

The Ranger’s electric steering was certainly car-like. Even when driven on rough bitumen it didn’t tend to develop a mind of its own in terms of stability and directional precision, as can be the case with some of its competitors. Cornering was equally car-like, which inspired the driver with greater confidence and increased the belief that it was capable of being driven quickly without suggesting an oncoming layer of discomfort. With its rear-end supported on multi-leaf springs, the ride quality errs on the side of firm, particularly when not carrying any form of additional payload. Adding even a couple of hundred kilos to occupy the tray, and to give the rear suspension something more to consider, and there’s no doubt it would ride much better.

Shifting from 2WD to 4WD can be done on the fly, via a switch mounted just near the main transmission lever. There’s also a rear differential lock for extra traction off-road fitted as standard equipment. Equally impressive is the 800 mm wading depth (albeit without a snorkel) making most creek crossings safely achievable.

The Ranger is a very smart looking vehicle, and a large one to boot! It can carry five passengers easily and still has a very decent sized tray to carry a tradie’s tools or a few bales of hay. On the weekend, there is more than adequate room for a motorbikes and camping gear.

Access in and out of the Ranger was great, the side running boards made entry a breeze and there were sufficient grab handles available to make getting in and out safe and easy. The seats are very comfortable, and it was pleasing to see there is plenty of room and adjustment in the seats to make even tall drivers comfortable. The steering column is adjustable for height but not reach, which was a little disappointing.

The test vehicle included the optional Technology pack that encompasses Adaptive Cruise Control with Forward Collision Alert, Automatic High Beam Control, Driver Impairment Monitor, Lane Keeping Aid and Lane Departure Warning system.

Unlike most automatic high-beam controls, the Ford system was excellent. In other vehicles I’ve driven recently I’ve found the high beam not necessarily dropping out automatically when approaching other vehicles, but prone to dropping out when sensing other objects such as road signs. In the time spent in the Ranger, I was unable to fault the system, which really is quite an achievement by Ford’s technical people.

Inside the vehicle it’s very modern, with a large eight-inch colour touchscreen that runs SYNC 3, which is the Ford setup for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In addition it provides navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity and digital radio as well as standard AM/FM Radio. Another neat feature is the Emergency Assistance function that can call emergency services and share your exact GPS location should something major go wrong when an event such as an accident results in the shutting off of the fuel pump or the activation of an airbag.

Connectivity options in the Ranger were brilliant. There are numerous USB ports and 12-volt adapters to charge your phones and tablet devices. There was even a 12-volt power socket in the tray, an ideal location for powering fridges or a spot light for night hunting activities. What stood out, however, was the inverter located in the rear seat that produces 240-volt AC power for electrical equipment when away from mains electricity.

Towing capacity of the Ranger is 3500 kg, which will provide ample towing capacity for those wanting to tow trailer boats, caravans and horse floats. Although the opportunity for towing in this evaluation didn’t eventuate, anecdotally it’s the tow ability of the Ranger that attracts many buyers to the 3.2-litre. It needs to be remembered that every kilo of load that’s placed in the tray or strapped to the roof means a kilo less in the trailer maximum weight.

It’s easy to see why the Ford Ranger has proved so popular in the Australian market. The technology fitted to the vehicle is outstanding, making it a truly versatile workhorse that doesn’t miss out on the creature comforts when needed.

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