Personality Plus | UTE REVIEW – TICKFORD RANGER

The Tickford Ranger has all the trimmings – Chris Mullett reports on the personalisation process

The rise in popularity of the humble tradie’s ute has turned into a fashion contest at the top of the ute spectrum, as different manufacturers add upgrades more commonly found on their prestige passenger models in a bid to satisfy the new breed of ute buyer at the top end of the segment.

At the bottom of the scale is the single-cab tray back, able to carry a load without much fuss, adding a ladder rack if necessary and perhaps a water tank underslung at the rear. The interior is basic with plastic floor covering and not much by the way of infotainment inclusions. This is perhaps the most honest ute of all models, being priced competitively around a $20,000 start.

It’s at the top of the dual-cab options list where the changes in buyer preferences have been focused, and that same humble tradie ute now transforms itself into a sought after dual-purpose crew-cab family vehicle that doubles up as load carrier through the week and off-road explorer at weekends, or for the annual family holiday trek. The pricing structure rises accordingly, with most contenders in this category hovering around the mid $50,000 price structure but capable of elevating their cost to hit the $70,000 mark for those keen on ticking every box on the order form.

But what if the pinnacle of a manufacturer’s achievement still doesn’t provide the ultimate level of personalisation desired by some buyers? There are options still available as the price heads skywards towards the $100,000 mark, with Toyota discussing the return of the TRD HiLux, Ford adding the Thai-built Ranger Raptor into the fray and Holden Special Vehicles producing the Colorado SportCat.

All of the above alternative options basically come as a complete package, but, if you want to really personalise your ute and pick and choose from the options list, you need to seek higher ground and look at what Tickford can offer you, provided of course you want to stay with the Ford Ranger as your vehicle of choice.

The Tickford brand has a highly credible heritage, starting in Australia as a joint venture with Tickford Vehicle Engineering of the United Kingdom back in 1991, when it provided full background support services to Glen Seaton Racing. Under the influence of Howard Marsden as product planning manager in 1992, Ford launched Tickford versions of the then current Falcon, establishing the Tickford name before it changed to Ford Performance Vehicles, whereupon Howard Marsden took on the role of general manager of Ford Racing in 1999. A change of ownership to Pro-Drive saw the group continue its involvement in motorsport, while Ford absorbed the Ford Performance Vehicle division back to an in-house operation.

Fast forward now to 2016 and Bathurst, where the Tickford brand relaunched as a performance-focused organisation that on one hand prepares race cars for the Supercar Championship, while offering a one-stop customising centre for those wishing to personalise either the latest Ford Mustang or Ford Ranger. Both sides of the business are run separately but benefit from being able to share joint engineering resources.

The Tickford brand has grown substantially over the past two years as Ashley Miniken, Tickford’s marketing co-ordinator explained to Delivery Magazine:

“We noticed the new market was primarily 4×4, and there was not much by way of offering an alternative to previous FPV owners. The ethos was to create a performance-based ute, and we do that on the four main pillars of development of performance, ride and handling, interior and exterior. We look at those four pillars to bring something new to the marketplace.

“We provide our Tickford vehicle owners with something new and different to enhance their vehicles. We aim for an improved on-road experience rather than the off-road focus, as there are already plenty of companies specialising in extreme off road aspects,” Ashley added.

Using the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder Ford Ranger engine, Tickford reprogrammes the engine management system to increase power output by 15 percent from 147 kW to 169 kW and increase the peak torque rating by 20 percent from 470 Nm out to 564 Nm.

The turbocharger remains the same, but there is a lift in boost pressures, assisted by an increase in intercooler capacity with the addition of hard piping, to improve the driveability and smoothness of power delivery. Tickford did evaluate the advantages of further changes to the exhaust manifold system and exhaust itself, but found little by way of overall performance gains to make the exercise worthwhile. There are, however, changes to the exhaust pipework downstream from the catalytic converter, with the exhaust system now increased to 2.5-inch diameter and exiting on the driver’s side, behind the rear wheels.

The performance and driveability gains of the Tickford Power Pack are aimed at improving towing smoothness and performance when carrying heavy loads. This upgrade also benefits driveability in the mid-range and is suitable for either manual or automatic transmissions. Rear axle ratios remain standard.

When it comes to fitting improved ride and handling packages, Tickford engineers have developed three key packages that suit the Ranger XLT, FX4 and Wildtrak models.

The Adventure Pack includes special Tickford designed sports bar and tonneau cover, all-terrain tyres, door sill plates, side exit exhaust, tailgate badge and light surrounds, together with a unique Tickford grille assembly. Customers can choose to incorporate 20-inch alloy rims shod with 265/50R20 tyres from Nitto or Goodyear, Bilstein dampers, King tapered wire coil springs and a 2.0-inch lift kit, to which is added greaseable bushing on the rear suspension and an additional coupling to compensate for the increased driveline angle.

The Tourer pack maintains the standard ride height but includes sports suspension for an improved on-road driving experience through reducing body roll for a more car-like feel and performance. Other items include door sill plates, 20-inch “Urban” sports rims and tyres, Tickford grille insert and tailgate badge. Further tyre and rim packages are currently under consideration in the area of larger 275 and 285 options.

Opportunities also exist to personalise the external appearance with a matt black signature look through adding black-out styling cues around doors, windows and lights, etc.

“Everything we do is about personalisation. We have a lot of Wildtrak owners that tow caravans. They want a little more power and comfort with a full Powerpack and full leather interior. We retrim the original seats also, changing the foam in the seat base for the rear passengers to reduce fatigue and improve comfort,” said Ashley.

“We also cater for the tradie that wants to upgrade all the visual aspects, such as the Adventure pack that provides both an engine tune and visual kit – wheels, flares, sidesteps and more power. It’s all about supplying varying levels of different personalisation of their vehicles. We can also offer a completely different range of seating colours, retrim door trims and the centre console to match upgrades,” commented Ashley.

Annual sales in the first year of the Tickford Ranger availability have come in at 400 units, which the company sees as a promising start to the programme. This sales performance and general interest is expected to increase steadily through 2018, prior to the next major model upgrade scheduled for the 2019 model year.

Although recognising there is potential in the powertrain for the recently released Ranger Raptor, any development will be the subject of a full engineering and marketing analysis before the likelihood of it becoming an additional model in the Tickford portfolio.

A brief driving evaluation of the Tickford Ranger underscored the additional smoothness of the power delivery, which is undoubtedly superior. The increased power and torque output matches the automatic transmission extremely well, and the driving experience is again enhanced by the improvement in ride and handling for on-road work. The final result is a much smoother ride on-road, without the harshness associated with the standard model.

Adding interior trim upgrades are subjective to the owner, but the opportunity of being able to personalise a vehicle to a unique standard is guaranteed to appeal to a select audience. The Tickford catchphrase of Performance Driven by Passion, ably sums up the experience.

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