Ranger Duty

What better way to validate the “Best Ute of the Year” than to drive 8000 km over Australia? Technical Editor, Delivery, hit the road in Ford’s new Ranger.

The realities of publishing normally restrict us to week-long road tests, but there’s no substitute for living with a vehicle for an extended period.

What better way to validate an award-winning vehicle than to pack up and head north? In this case, for an 8000 km trip from Moss Vale in NSW to Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

The test vehicle was one of Ford’s model release vehicles that had clocked up nearly 20,000 km, and so, was nicely run-in. It was an XLT crew cab model, with manual transmission. We’ve already covered the new Ranger in detail and awarded it our Ute of the Year accolade, so a brief recap of specs should suffice.

All 2012 Ranger models are longer, wider and higher than before, with few carry-over components from the previous range.

A new box-section ladder frame that’s taller, wider and thicker than before mounts a double-wishbone, coil-sprung front end with rack and pinion steering. An underslung rear axle design with bias-mounted shock absorbers continues, but with longer springs and stronger brackets and shackles. A brand-new, five-cylinder, turbo-intercooled diesel has been developed and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are offered.

The 3.2-litre five-cylinder produces claimed maximum power of 147 kW at 3000 rpm, with peak torque of 470 Nm in the 1750-2500 rpm band.Ford-Ranger-NPF_5

The new chassis provides a longer, 3220 mm, wheelbase and wider track of 1560 mm. Measuring 1549 mm long, 511 mm high and with a maximum cargo width of 1560 mm, the cargo box of the double cab is more than 100 mm wider than the previous model’s. Width between the wheel arches is 1139 mm on all ute models, and there are ‘mezzanine-floor’ support pockets in the cargo box sides that allow plywood or plaster board to be laid in flat sheets on a false floor.

Standard kit includes ABS with disc/drum EBD brakes; traction control; dynamic stability control; emergency brake assist and hill start assist; shift-on-the-fly 4WD selection; dial-selectable low range gearing; and hill descent control.

The dynamic stability control system incorporates roll stability control, trailer sway control and adapts to suit different payloads. Drum rear brakes are retained because they provide a more powerful parking brake than the tiny drum-in-disc units fitted to 4WD wagons. Flashing hazard lights automatically alert following vehicles when an ABS stop is triggered.

Ford’s Electronic Stability Program (ESP) system includes four-wheel traction control, yaw control and roll-over mitigation. With Trailer Sway Mitigation the vehicle brakes are selectively applied to slow down and stabilise a ute/trailer combination.

The part-time 4WD system has an electronically controlled, two-speed transfer case.

Three equipment levels are offered and Ford has received an NCAP rating of five stars for all variants.

The Ranger XL is far from being a ‘poverty pack’, with front and curtain airbags; aircon; power windows and mirrors; remote central locking; Bluetooth; steering wheel cruise control and audio controls; trip computer; auto lights function; USB input; and six speakers in all but Single Cabs.

XLTs score carpet; front fog lamps; dual-zone aircon; chromed side steps and rear step bumper; ambient temperature gauge; rain-sensing wipers; leather wrapped knob and steering wheel; locking rear diff; height and lumbar adjustable driver’s seat; and tubular sports bar with high-mount stop light.

The Wildtrak is a Double Cab Ute model with XLT features, plus leather seat trim; sports bars; satnav; and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.Ford-Ranger-NPF_6

More grunt, improved chassis dynamics and car-level electronic aids ensured that the new Ranger easily outperformed and out-handled its predecessor in our short-term testing, but how would it handle a major bush trek, we wondered….

We loaded our 75-litre Autofridge onto the XLT crew cab’s back seat, filled the ute tub with camping gear, coupled up a Cub Daintree camper trailer that weighed in, loaded with tucker, fuel and tools, at 900 kg, with 140 kg ball load, and headed north. En route, we fitted a set of Bridgestone’s new Dueler D697 light truck tyres, and monitored their pressures and those of the camper tyres, with a Doran tyre pressure monitoring system.

We appreciated the Ranger’s generous 12-volt auxiliary socket situation – two outlets in the dash console and one at the back of the centre console. We plugged in our fridge, Hema Navigator GPS satnav unit, the tyre pressure monitor’s display and two phone and iPad chargers, via a three-outlet power board. The 12-volt outlet in the cargo tub powered our 75 amp-hour, standby Thumper power pack. Bluetooth connection to iPhone and Samsung was also easy.

Getting comfortable wasn’t a problem, thanks to the XLT’s height, rake and lumbar adjustable driver’s seat and tilting steering column.

A light clutch with vague friction point took a little getting used to, but we soon found the manual gearbox very easy to use. It’s weighted in the third-fourth plane, and those are the ratios most commonly needed for roundabouts and right-angle bends.

The new engine has automatic ‘idle-up’ response at low revs, so it’s very difficult to stall in on and off-road situations. We loved the hill-hold function that coped with the additional weight of the trailer and allowed leisurely steep-hill starts, without any roll-back.

On bitumen and smooth gravel surfaces, the Ranger, with trailer, rode and handled superbly, emitting noise levels that were almost car-like at cruising speeds. Rough surfaces stirred some leaf-spring reaction at the rear end, but the ride wasn’t harsh, and dynamic stability and traction control preserved direction over slippery stuff. We checked out gentle and emergency stopping power and were impressed with the Ranger’s pedal feel and stability under panic braking.

Steep, stony and dusty grades, which were too steep to stand on, proved to be no problem for the new Ranger that made a tidy job of conquering these quite demanding conditions. The 3.2-litre lugged happily down below 1000 rpm, with no protest from engine or driveline.

The traction control system worked unobtrusively to control wheelspin, and hill descent control was powerful, yet speed-variable, by using the cruise control buttons.

Fuel consumption displayed on the Ranger’s trip computer looked too good to be true, so we checked it by the time-honoured method of measuring consumption between brim-full tanks. Sure enough, we found that the trip computer was 10-percent optimistic. Our real towing fuel consumption varied from a best of 10.5 l/100 km, with tailwind and on good bitumen surfaces, to a worst of 12.3 l/100 km on gravel, pushing into a 30-knot headwind.

There are plenty of loaded, solo vehicles that can’t achieve these figures, let alone while dragging a non-streamlined trailer.

We completed the 8000-kilometre trek, cleaned the ute and it looked as good as new. It let in almost no dust, used no oil and hadn’t missed a beat. As a working ute, and bush mile-eater, it would be hard to go past the new Ford Ranger.

Ford-Ranger-NPF_1 Bridgestone’s new Dueler

The new D697LT 265/65R17 tyres we fitted for this test proved to be as tough as the ute. We ran them over widely differing surfaces, from smooth freeways to stony bush tracks, and put hardly a mark on them. Bridgestone claims great cut and chip resistance for the new tyres, and we can vouch for that.

While driving on the stony roads in Arnhem Land, we were accompanied by three other vehicles, which all suffered sharp-stone punctures. With pressures lowered to 35 psi from highway pressures of 42 psi, the Dueler treads and sidewalls remained unhurt by stone impacts.

We’ve kept hold of these tyres and will check them on one of our long-term test vehicles over the next few months.

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