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Ford’s XLT Ranger Super Cab sets a new standard in utes

As the winner of the 2015 Delivery Magazine Ute of the Year award, we’ve been looking very closely at what extras the latest Ford Ranger PX MkII range offers buyers in the Australian market.

When compared to other models from different manufacturers, our judges for the annual awards were unanimous in their appreciation of the way that Ford has lifted safety levels, bringing into line an expectation of passenger car safety and moving away from the more industrial light commercial performance standards.Ford_Ranger_P1

A week behind the wheel of the latest PX Ranger in Super Cab 4×4 format has simply reinforced our appreciation of the ability of the Ford and shown just how much more the buyer gets in the form of technology.

The focus for Delivery Magazine has always been to evaluate how a vehicle performs its intended function. The 4×4 aspect of a vehicle in our assessment programme relates to enabling a tradie to access difficult worksites, or travel more safely on snow, gravel or slippery surfaces. We are not focused on climbing the highest rocky outcrop.

That said, we have put the Ranger through its paces on various off-road terrain and found that the onboard electronic control systems that monitor traction control, minimise wheel slip and enhance safety, such as when descending steep hills, are clearly market leading, rivalled perhaps only by Volkswagen with the Amarok.

When traversing steep ascents or descents the electronic management control systems work in harmony to keep the driver and passengers safe. And they perform their function, in our view, better than the general competition. Hill descent control, plus a lockable rear differential, are very capable of getting the vehicle to the safety of the bottom of a steep hill, without driver intervention.

It’s when travelling on the highway that the Ranger PX moves up a notch in safety that the competition simply cannot match at this stage. Adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert, driver impairment monitor, lane departure and lane keep assist are all options that have previously been available only on luxury cars or high-end European prime movers.

For those that have not driven with an adaptive cruise control system it becomes an enlightening option that can prevent the likelihood of running up the back of a slower moving vehicle when cruise control has been engaged.

Ford_Ranger_P2The onboard radar system measures the safe distance between the front of your vehicle and the vehicle ahead, reducing the speed of your vehicle automatically to match that of the vehicle in front. In a perfect world, the driver should be alert and maintain the correct safe following distance, but, in the real world, there are moments of inattention that can induce a rear-end collision.

Adaptive cruise control safeguards against this sort of collision but can be over-ridden by the driver operating an indicator to move out of position into a clear lane, at which point the system will return the vehicle to the previously selected cruise speed.

Although the dynamics of handling a vehicle that was designed to be a load carrier can be a little daunting to a novice driver, the inclusion of adaptive load control, which adjusts the dynamic stability control system based on vehicle load, and the emergency brake assistance are a great failsafe benefit. These systems provide additional pressure to the brake system to increase braking force when the brakes are applied quickly in an emergency situation, but prevent the vehicle getting out of control. There’s also a trailer anti-sway control system to prevent things that are hanging off the tow bar getting out of line and becoming unstable.

The Ranger actually features some other valuable safety initiatives such as the “Sync2” system for voice actuation of functions, including dictating telephone numbers. It’s a system that does need some familiarisation on the part of the driver, as without any instruction it does seem to have an annoying mind of its own. When you get used to how the system “thinks” and use the correct verbal commands, rather than ones you make up yourself, it means hands-free control, less distraction and higher safety levels.

Another impressive feature is the sat/nav system that collects data from traffic reports and gives advice on traffic congestion up ahead. The system provides updates and makes suggestions of alternative routing to avoid the congested area.

The reverse camera displays on the large central touchscreen on the dashboard and has a clarity level that rivals a television monitor. The camera also shows the position of the tow ball, making reversing onto a trailer hitch very easy, preventing the alternative of listening for the thump from the rear end that usually means you have a new dent.

The Space Cab XLT under our test programme offers usable space behind the front seats that can accommodate children easily, albeit not particularly comfortably. It’s more for getting kids or adults from A to B if it’s a short distance, but it’s also fine for dogs over longer distances, or somewhere to put the shopping. The narrow-width rear doors give excellent access and there are full three-point seatbelts for two rear passengers.Ford_Ranger_6

The recent crop of new ute models coming onto our market has introduced a general downsizing of engine capacity as vehicle manufacturers aim for lower emissions levels. By staying with the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder diesel engine, Ranger has the benefit of plenty of power and torque, aligned with usable engine braking to control descent speeds when on highway and travelling downhill.

The smaller capacity engines just can’t match the engine braking potential of a larger displacement engine. The better the engine braking, the less the required use of the service brakes. In statistical terms, the 3.2-litre produces 147 kW of power at 3,000 rpm and peak torque of 470 Nm rated at 1,750-2,500 rpm, delivered through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

The purchase of a ute has, in the past, always required the buyer accepting a basic compromise between rugged load-carrying ability and ride comfort and sophistication. What is most noticeable with the new Ranger is that, especially with the higher optioned models in the range such as the XLT and Wildtrak, the requirement to compromise is greatly reduced.

Once the driver has become accustomed to the added size and bulk of the Ranger, it shows itself to be comfortable, easy to position on the road and pleasant to drive. With a general fuel economy figure of 9.7 l/100 km during our evaluation period, it is also surprisingly efficient.

The XLT Super Cab pick-up with its 3.2-litre diesel and six-speed automatic transmission boasts a GVM of 3200 kg, a maximum towing limit of 3500 kg and a payload of 1082 kg, all in a package with a kerbweight of 2118 kg.

Remember that if you intend to tow and carry a load in the tub, the GCM (Gross Combined Mass) cannot exceed 6000 kg – meaning the more you put in the tub and the interior, the greater the requirement to reduce the load carried on the braked trailer.

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