HOMING IN ON THE RANGE

Significant upgrades for 2015 improves the breed for Ford with its new Ranger – Dave Whyte reports from Thailand.

The Ford Ranger has enjoyed great success in our local market, and many more markets around the world. The combination of strength, practicality and styling has proven popular among those looking for a work vehicle, a lifestyle vehicle, or a combination of both.

Last year, the Ranger was the second best selling ute in its category in Australia. So the question is what could Ford do to improve on an already popular product in order to push for the number one spot? The answer has come in the form of the updated Ranger, revealed to the world at the Bangkok Motor Show recently.

The current model Ranger was developed in conjunction with Mazda, forming the basis of both the Ranger and BT50 model ranges. While they are very similar underneath, both companies have been successful in developing their individual products, with differing engine options, transmissions and styling creating a demand for both vehicles. The new Ranger goes further to differentiate the two, with new features, new styling and a new interior accentuatiFord-Ranger_16ng the Ford-ness, and leaving no question as to which stable it has come from.

The new Ranger models still use the same basic body shape from the front doors back, but an updated front-end design brings with it a stronger appearance and a more distinctive Ford look. While the dimensions are the same, the new grille, bonnet and quarter panels give the impression that the Ranger is bigger than the previous model.

The grille makes a real statement about where the Ranger fits into the Ford model line-up, with the shape being reminiscent of both the Falcon sedan and the heavy-weight F series, while still being different enough to identify the Ranger as its own model range. A new headlight design, with the lights set high in line with the top of the grille, adds to the strong new look while providing better lighting and visibility. The bonnet has come in for some serious treatment, with the older, relatively flat, design being replaced with deep chiselled lines that look good from both outside the vehicle and behind the steering wheel.

The interior was designed to continue the feeling of strength without sacrificing comfort. The new lines give a feeling of space, with seating and ergonomics that give a car-like feel without losing any of the work vehicle practicality that buyers have come to expect. The instrument cluster incorporates two TFT screens, one either side of the large speedo, to keep the driver informed without overloading them with information. The information on these screens is changeable using controls mounted on the steering wheel – meaning you can choose to see the most relevant information for the driving conditions. A large 8” touchscreen in the top of the centre console operates the audio, phone, climate control and sat nav functions, as well as showing pictures from a reversing camera. With the introduction of Sync 2 technology, many functions including the air conditioning and phone operation can also be operated using voice control – meaning less time with your hands off the wheel.

The new Ranger also comes witFord-Ranger_5h a raft of driver assistance technology, including electronic stability control (ESC), lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control. Also helping to keep things safe are tyre pressure monitoring, forward collision warning, and an interesting feature that controls trailer sway by adjusting engine output and selectively braking to maintain stability. Front and rear parking sensors, along with the reversing camera are also on hand to help in those tricky situations, or the supermarket car park. The Ranger also features electric power steering assistance, making for lighter low-speed steering while still promising good road feel at higher speeds. The electric power steering pump is quieter than a traditional unit, and is claimed to provide a fuel saving of up to 3.0 percent.

Speaking of fuel economy, the Ranger will be available with a choice of three engines – two diesel and one petrol. The larger diesel, and the most powerful engine option, comes in the form of a 3.2-litre five-cylinder power plant that provides 147 kW and 470 Nm of torque. The smaller of the diesel engines is a 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine that delivers up to 118 kW and 385 Nm of torque. A 96 kW version of this engine is also available for those chasing fuel efficiency, with Ford claiming a fuel saving of up to 20% over the 118 kW version. Also available is the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that puts out 122 kW and 225 Nm of torque. These engines are matched to either manual or automatic six-speed transmissions, with the option of a taller final drive ratio available to increase efficiency for those who intend to do most of their driving on the highway.

The Ranger not only has a new look, but Ford were also spruiking its off-road capabilities. To make things easier off the bitumen, the Ranger has an electronically controlled transfer case that allows the change from 4×2 to 4×4 on the fly, an electronic locking rear diff, and the ability to drive through water up to 800 mm deep. Ground clearance of up to 230 mm, depending on the load, and approach and departure angles of 28 degrees and 25 degrees respectively also add to the Rangers off-road potential. For those who are looking more for a tow vehicle, the Ranger offers a towing capacity of up to 3,500 kg with the added safety of trailer sway control, a real bonus for tradies and caravanners alike.Ford-Ranger_9

While we haven’t yet driven the new Ranger, it would seem that Ford has gone a long way to improving what was already a very good product. The new look is one thing, but the introduction of various driver aids and the first-in-class fitment of electric power steering should stand the Ranger in good stead to withstand the threat from new model releases from its competitors. This is a big leap from the previous model, and will likely be the basis of Ranger models for a few years to come, so it would seem imperative that this model makes a good impression. Being the first in its class with most of this gadgetry will surely make the new Ranger popular after its initial release.

Judging by the popularity and strength of the previous model, and given the amount of new technology on offer, the new Ranger should not only appeal to traditional ute buyers, but also has the potential to attract new buyers who are chasing the tech but would normally not have bought a ute. Without having driven one or knowing the pricing it’s hard to be sure, but it would seem that the new Ranger has raised the bar for its peers, and could well take Ford to the top of the Aussie ute market.

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