Ranger shows its abilities and gains a new addition just right for the mining industry (Words by Chris Mullett. Images by Cristian Brunelli).

Safety sells, particularly if you are a mining company that intends to place all your personnel in the safest possible vehicle as part of its duty of care responsibilities. Ford Australia is in a strong position to tap into this safety focus, with all the Ranger ute model range conforming to five-star crash safety ratings. With unrestricted supply, the company is hoping that 2014 will be the year of the Ranger.

Up until now, all the Ford Rangers sold into the Australian market have been sourced from the company factory in Thailand. That makes sense from a local supply perspective, but the floods of last year played havoc with maintaining high levels of production to satisfy demand. Something had to give, as the floods closed down the factory and the result was a distinct lack of anything to sell.

This year started with a totally different scenario. With the Thai floods well and truly dispersed, and a surprising reduction in Thai domestic sales demand in some cases by up to 39 percent, there’s plenty of supply for export. This has enabled Ford to really hammer home the advantages of the Ranger product to the private buyer in Australia, and at the same time the company has also taken steps to source a specific model targeted at a more serious work environment.Ford-Ranger_15

In the first quarter of this year, the Ranger 4×2 increased its market share to 13.1 percent, a rise in sales by 34 percent with sales of 1,855 vehicles. In the 4×4 category Ranger increased its sales performance by 21 percent, achieving sales of 6057 vehicles for a market share of 16 percent.

In terms of total sales, these 2014 first quarter sales figures slot Ranger into second place overall, behind Toyota and the HiLux. According to figures released by Ford, Ranger is winning over customers in the private sector with sales figures for the first quarter, showing a 158 percent increase in private buyers over the same period last year. Retail sales – a combination of private and small fleets – now make up 69 percent of total Ranger sales.

New to the market is the Ranger 4×4 XL Plus. This is Ford’s answer to finding the right specification for the mining industry, and also for the private buyer that doesn’t want all the bling and prefers something less likely to suffer from muddy boots and hard work.

This very specific model comes not from Thailand, but from the Ford Silverton assembly plant in Pretoria, South Africa, where Ford has been building vehicles since 1923.

The XT Plus shares all the same mechanical specifications as the vehicles arriving from Thailand, but it comes in a more basic form. There are no leather seat options or shiny metallic paint. For hard work the XT Plus features canvas seat covers, rubber floor covering, extensive protectFord-Ranger_9ion grilles across the rear window and work lights, flashing orange beacons and an altogether more serious approach to the business of shifting workers and their equipment.

Sitting on 17-inch steel rims, larger than their Thai-built siblings, the wheels are shod with equally big Continental Cross Contact AT M+S rubber in 265/65R17 12T sizing. The only engine and transmission option is the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder diesel matched to the six-speed automatic.

The full standard spec includes a locking rear differential, underbody shields, mud flaps, 3.5-tonne-rated tow bar, daytime running lights, side steps (double cabs only), an expanded wiring harness and switch bezel, moulded black bumpers and an optional steel bullbar. As well as the expanded wiring harness and switch bezel, the electrical system includes a dual battery set-up consisting of a front under-bonnet battery of 75-amp-hour rating and a second 80-amp-hour deep cycle discharge Gel battery that’s protected by a battery isolator.

The Ranger 4×4 XL Plus will be available in single and double-cab/chassis and double-cab pick-up models with an RRP of $46,280 for the single-cab/chassis, $51,760 for the double-cab/chassis and $52,760 for the double-cab pick-up. Service intervals are every 15,000 km (or 12 months), but the warranty is a little underdone at three years/100,000 km. The upside of Ford service is the advent of capped-price servicing, which cuts out any surprises for 105,000 km or six years, whichever comes first.

The arrival of the Ranger 4×4 XL Plus complements the recently improved Pick-up line-up for 2014, which includes the standardisation of airbags across the range, with the addition of the Ranger XLS in both 2.2-litre manual and automatic variants, and 3.2 automatic, and improved supply of the top-of-the-range Ranger Wildtrak.Ford-Ranger_16

As with all Rangers, the Ranger 4×4 XL Plus has Bluetooth®1, USB and iPod2 integration, and voice control over the radio, CD, iPod, USB, and mobile phone. Similarly, cruise control is standard across the entire range.

This latest model could be an important game changer for Ford as the company aims to increase its performance in the fleet business. As an indication of how seriously Ford is looking at incremental sales opportunities Delivery was joined by Ford CEO, Bob Graziano, as we evaluated the off-road performance and ability of various models in the Ranger line-up.

The Werribee 4×4 proving ground west of Melbourne provided the ideal location to put the Ranger through its paces, with steep climbs and descents together with a wide range of obstacles such as deeply rutted tracks and opposing humps and dips that really push suspension travel to the limit.

In negotiating every different form of obstacle the Ranger came through with flying colours. Regular off-roaders will already understand how some vehicles are capable of heading almost autonomously up a steep hill with the engine just operating above idle speed. The onboard engine management system takes a reading off the crankshaft sensor that determines the need for more revs when necessary. Without the need for any driver intervention, the ECM (Engine Computer Management) will keep the vehicle heading almost skywards without the driver pressing any pedal and without stalling the engine.

Electronic control systems also come into play when heading down steep declines. With the hill descent control button on the dashboard suitably switched on, the electronics control the descent speed of the vehicle, applying brakes to whichever wheels have the best traction at the time. The system works irrespective of whether the transmission is engaged or whether the driveline is effectively freewheeling out of gear.

Putting one’s trust in electronic control systems will be something that traditional drivers will find hard to accept, especially if brought up to always select low-ratio 1st gear for all steep descents and to tackle hill climbs in 2nd/low with a fair degree of acceleration. If faced with these new systems, and without first-hand experience, we suggest finding a safe, perhaps more gentle slope to start with that has a clear escape route, and experimenting until satisfied with the systems’ abilities.

The current crop of electronic management and control systems do make it obvious that it’s no longer possible to climb into any off-road vehicle and hope for the best without any instruction. All these systems need to be interacted with the driver, and if the driver is not familiar with what the system can achieve, a day out in the bush can still end in tears and tragedy.

The Ranger with its 3.2-litre diesel and six-speed automatic transmission is clever, technically, and offers a highly comfortable environment for work or play. Our advice at Delivery for any 4×4 owner is to invest in a proper training course to find out how your vehicle works and how to best achieve its potential. As well as making you safe in the bush, it will also enable you to appreciate just how technically sophisticated products such as the Ranger have become.

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