Horses for Courses

Fords Ranger can be equally at home on the bitumen without the need for all-wheel-drive

It might all sound a little like a saga about Noah, but after floods, pestilence and problems with its supply chain, Ford is now bringing its Ranger to market after the rains subsided and the floods receded around the company factory in Thailand.

When it comes to using a ute for local deliveries, as with the courier market or for a tradie that doesn’t want a huntin’, shootin’ or fishin’ option at weekends, there’s no reason to head for the hills and order an all-wheel-drive version. For starters, the 4×2, with its rear-wheel-drive only approach, is going to be cheaper to buy, less expensive to repair and maintain, and, in theory, it’s going to return lower fuel consumption than a 4×4 version.

With less weight and significantly less technological and mechanical complexity, there’s a lot to be said for just buying a work related 4×2 model and picking exactly which version suits the business expectation.

Ford is offering four different simple standard Ranger cab-chassis designs built to an XL spec level. First is the XL Single Cab 4×2 with a choice of two drivelines. The engine choice is either a 2.5-litre petrol with a five-speed manual gearbox or a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, diesel engine, this time with a six-speed manual gearbox.

It’s with a cab-chassis version that you choose your own bodywork. Whether you decide on a simple dropside tray, a box body or a design that enables you to be more efficient with your work, it’s your choice. You can add a crane, lockers or a fixed cover or toolbox, but it’s all to your own choice and specification.

If you are comfortable with a factory supplied metal tub, the choice continues to a 4×2 XL Single Cab Pick-Up powered by a 2.2-litre diesel engine and matched to a six-speed manual gearbox. Also available is an XL Dual Cab Pick-Up where this time the engine and transmission options come in with a 2.5-litre petrol engine, matched to a five-speed manual gearbox. CARS_UTES_Ford-Ranger_P1

Our choice would always be for a separate tray as it dramatically increases the versatility of the vehicle. You can load things into the tray and, if necessary, shovel things out of the tray without any risk of damaging the sheet metal of a tub body.

Before we delve deeper into the model line-up we need to clarify that all the four models so far mentioned are built to a standard ride height. The height of the cab roof from the ground is 1,703 mm and the height of the cargo floor of the Pick-Up is set at 723 mm. If you choose to have your own tray built, the floor height will be slightly higher than with the Pick-Up, but you can access the deck more easily thanks to the drop-side panels.

The next group of 4×2 Ranger models has the added designation of Hi-Rider. This means the whole ute sits higher off the ground, supposedly looking more purposeful and a closer relation to the go-almost-anywhere appearance of the 4×4 versions.

In Hi-Rider format, there are a further six versions. The first three range from an XL Single Cab, an XL Super Cab, or an XL Double Cab, each powered by the 2.2-litre diesel with six-speed manual or six-speed auto transmissions, for the Single Cab Hi-Rider version, and just a six-speed auto for the Space Cab Hi-Rider and Dual Cab Hi-Rider. These are both cab-chassis designs, so again you choose your own bodywork.

The final three versions are all Pick-Up based, with an XL Double Cab Pick-Up Hi-Rider powered by the same 2.2-litre diesel matched to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission being the lead-in to this segment. The remaining two are the top of the range selection. In comes the five-cylinder, 3.2-litre diesel available with six-speed automatic transmission for the XLT Super Cab Pick-Up Hi-Rider, but providing the choice of six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmissions for the XLT Double Cab Pick-Up Hi-Rider.

The Hi-Rider, as its name suggests, sits higher off the ground with an increase of ground clearance. The cargo floor height of the Pick-Up Hi-Rider increases by almost 120 mm, to 840 mm, and the roof height of the cabin rises by almost 110 mm.

Right now, we need to ask ourselves why a 4×2 needs a Hi-Rider suspension modification when it’s not designed to go off-road or traverse anything other than a muddy paddock or the bitumen? Without all-wheel-drive, there’s little point in even thinking that you’ve got all-terrain ability as the vehicle will get stuck. Yes, you can choose the XL Hi-Rider Single or Double cab powered by the 2.2-litre diesel and option up with a locking rear differential that’s standard on the XLT models. All well and good, but you should have bought the 4×4 version if your intention is to head off-road.

So, back to the original question: why configure a Hi-Rider suspension set-up for a 4×2 vehicle? The answer, unfortunately, comes from the belief of marketing people that a high ground clearance means an added impression of ruggedness. Unfortunately, it also means that it’s harder to access the interior of the tub area for tools and equipment, and, for those that are height disadvantaged, it’s a higher step up to climb into and out of the cabin.

CARS_UTES_Ford-Ranger_2The other point worth considering, if you are looking for a 4×2 Ranger, is your thoughts on safety. The base model XL Single Cab-chassis version comes without air conditioning, has a bench seat and no SRS side curtain airbags. These inclusions are available optionally, together with the choice of bucket seats, and it’s more than likely that dealers will order up these extras rather than take the cheapest model.

Our 4×2 Ranger under test was actually the top of the range XLT Super Pick-Up, and this, in our view, is possibly the jewel in the crown of the range. You get the largest engine, in the 3.2-litre, and with it comes the highly desirable six-speed auto transmission. Seat side and side curtain airbags are standard, as is the locking rear differential. Dual-zone air conditioning is an added luxury, and so too are Bluetooth audio and phone links, plus a voice control system through which you issue instructions to the car for compliance.

Hit the speech button, say, “Radio, AM, 702”, and the station selection occurs on its own. The driver can also demand a switch to a CD, MP3 player or vary content of whichever track happens to be playing at the time. Want to make a telephone call? Hit the speech button again and relay your instructions.

This might all sound a bit Star Wars, but you actually soon get used to talking to your car, something I’ve been doing for years, without, up until now, ever getting a tangible reaction.

Apart from our way of thinking that an ultra high ground clearance is unnecessary in a 4×2, the Ranger is actually a very good package. The 3.2-litre diesel is the engine that Volkswagen no doubt wishes it could offer on the Amarok. Its 147 kW produced at 3,000 rpm is well supported by the peak torque rating of 470 Nm at 1,500 rpm through to 2,750 rpm.

Like its 2.2-litre, four-cylinder stablemate, the 3.2-litre is a turbocharged and direct injected, common-rail design that responds well and provides its power smoothly through to the six-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy for this model is also excellent, considering its size. Expect a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.9 l/100 km for the auto or 8.4 l/100 km for the manual six-speed. Either way it’s a big improvement on many of its competitors.

Ride comfort is good and the directional stability of the car on the highway is impressive. With these top-of-the-line models, spec inclusions such as Dynamic Stability Control, ABS, Hill Launch Assist, Load Adaptive Control, Electronic Brake Assist, Roll-over Mitigation, Trailer Sway Control, Emergency Brake Light operation, driver and passenger airbags, front seat airbags, side curtain airbags and rear park sensors are all standard.

At this level, paying top dollar brings you five-star crash safety in a ute or pick up that is as pleasant to drive as any other on the market. The interior use of space is clever, and the Super Cab offers short-term seating in the space behind the front seats that will cope with two adults or probably up to four dogs.

Access through the front doors is easy to the cabin, and by opening up the back rear-hinged doors you gain total access to the compact rear section. It’s a great overall combination for those looking to maximise load carrying and yet retain somewhere to put the shopping, the dog, your mother-in-law, or a combination of all three.

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