Ford launches the Ranger, with Australia the first recipient in a global programme
“It’s the largest vehicle research and development programme ever undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere”.
That’s the message coming loud and strong from the Ford Ranger development team as Delivery Magazine joined the company engineers and Ford chairman, Bob Graziano, for a two-day introduction to the first member of the Ranger fleet, a 3.2-litre, five-cylinder, diesel-engined crew-cab.
While Bob Graziano refused to be drawn on the overall cost of investment, industry sources suggest that a development of this scale puts the bottom line well over the one billion dollar mark. Such is the significance of the project to Ford in Australia and, indeed, the Ford family worldwide.
In what is an obvious first for ute buyers, the new Ranger was developed by Ford with its research and development team based in Melbourne. While Australian ute buyers have become used to buying Japanese designed and engineered utes that are built in Thailand, in the case of the Ranger, the only common denominator is that it too is built in Thailand. So, in case you were wondering, this is certainly not yet another Japanese designed ute that’s built for the Asian market.
The advantages that result from the Australian development of the Ranger become more obvious the longer you spend with the vehicle. It shows in the overall design and specification, you feel it in the seats and interior spaciousness, and you enjoy it when behind the wheel for the performance, ride and handling. Is it good? You bet!
Let’s start with an overview of the range before getting into the inner details of its development.
Australia is the first market to receive the Ranger as it goes on sale to a total of 180 markets throughout the world.
With Single Cab, Super Cab and Dual Cab versions there are three engine options, two diesels and one petrol. The first models available for sale will be powered by the largest capacity diesel, a Ford Duratorq TDCi 3.2-litre, and the first body style to be rolled out will be the Double Cab 4×4 XL and XLT.
As the factory in Thailand, which is a 50/50 joint venture with Mazda, ramps up production, we’ll be seeing the remaining models coming on line from early 2012 and complete by mid 2012.
When running at full capacity, the Thailand factory will be capable of producing 275,000 units per year, with product output jointly split between the Ford Ranger and the Mazda BT-50, but with an undoubted bias in favour of Ford when it comes to total numbers. This is an increase over previous production capabilities that had peaked at 175,000 units. The factory additionally produces the Ford Fiesta, also exported to Australia.
In time, Ford will add additional production capability as it brings on line its factories in Pretoria, South Africa, to supply that continent’s requirements, and also its factory in Argentina to supply the South American market. The manual gearboxes are manufactured in China, a joint venture between Ford and Getrag, with the automatic transmissions being Ford’s in-house SR6R80 unit, manufactured in Livonia, Michigan.
The Ranger launch plays a major role in Ford’s comeback from the general financial malaise that afflicted all US car manufacturers and using Ford’s design team in Melbourne is a classic example of how vehicle development, these days, is truly a global business. The team of engineers and designers, based in Melbourne, are part of a total group of 500 engineers involved, and are about as global as the intended market for the vehicle, with Americans, English, Australians, Germans and Irish technicians working together and linking the computer power in Australia with that of the main research division in Dearborn, Michigan.
“Ranger is a complete clean sheet development. The total creation is based on Australian involvement with testing on six continents to provide the perfect chassis tune for different markets,” said Jim Baumbick, Director of Engineering of Ford Asia Pacific.
“With a clean sheet of paper you don’t have to compromise,” Jim added.
The chassis frame is a totally new development that is longer and wider than the previous model and twice as strong. Dependent on the model selected, the maximum payload can be up to 1,500 kg, and the maximum towing limit is set at 3,350 kg, all class leading when compared to the current competition.
Also class leading are the in-built active and passive safety features – the result of 110 full vehicle crash tests and over 9,000 simulated crash tests. Included in the final design are electronic stability programmes, hill descent control, hill start assist, emergency brake assist, anti-lock braking and all the expected SRS airbags inclusions that should enable this product to achieve five-star ANCAP and EuroNCAP crash rating.
The Ranger feels strong, and much of this impression results from the doubling of chassis strength and the use of high tensile steel in areas such as the “A” and “B” pillars. Doors are also 40 percent stiffer, and the attention to design detail has substantially reduced gaps and closure dimensions to reduce wind noise.
“We looked very closely at ensuring the lack of wind whistle noise, through management of the gap between the cabin and the tub box, and general wind noise generation,” said Jim Baumbick. “Detailed attention to airflow also resulted in a special design feature on the tailgate to smooth air passage. In overall terms, the airflow coefficient is a low 0.399 factor. That’s a 10 percent improvement over the previous model.
“Our aim was to produce a vehicle that looked like a truck, but with the comfort, convenience and inclusions of a passenger car. What you see is what you feel,” said Jim.
The Ranger specification certainly leans to the side of being fully loaded with the inclusion of features from the car divisions such as voice actuated controls for functions such as the heater, radio and phone and with Bluetooth connections. There’s also auto-dipping mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, vehicle alarms with motion sensors, reverse camera with a display in the rear vision mirror and reverse park assist, plus exterior perimeter and follow you home lighting. The existing CAN Bus electrical system is also future-proofed with feature compatibility for the next generation of additional electrical options, such as daytime running lamps and other items.
The “B” pillar positioning is 100 mm further forwards than the previous Ranger, and there’s a difference in the door size of the Single Cab and the Dual Cab versions that allows for better driver and passenger access. The Super Cab version will again feature a rear hinged smaller secondary side door without any “B” pillar.
The designers and engineers working on this project have also developed a process using expanding polystyrene foam inserts that fill the void within the “B” pillar and adjoining chassis formation to reduce noise generation and transmission. The result of this attention to detail is sufficient to produce a reduction of interior noise transmission levels, by comparison with the previous model, by 40 percent. Additional work has also taken place with tyre design in order to reduce road noise transmission and to maximise the ride and handling benefits. Further design work with hydraulic engine mounts has reduced noise and vibration transmission through the powertrain.
Bearing in mind many Rangers will, at some time in their life, indulge in deep water wading, the design team has worked to an average water wade depth of 800 mm for the Hi-Rider versions, repositioning vulnerable components above this level and waterproofing other components that lie under this line. In the event that water does find its way into the aircleaner housing, there is a water evacuation trap, complete with one-way valve, which should protect the engine from water intrusion.
The high payload and high towing weight ratings bring in a GCM (Gross Combined Mass) level for a Ranger that can reach 6,550 kg, and while many owners might express concern of operating at that weight limit, the Ranger does have, as standard, a trailer anti-sway electronic management system. This will reduce the opportunity for a trailer to develop trailer swing that could affect the vehicle and trailer overall stability.
The two diesel engines on offer are both Duratorq engines and share similar design architecture. The top option is the 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi five-cylinder diesel engine, which produces maximum power of 147 kW with peak torque of 470 Nm. This engine is used overseas in the Ford Transit, and it achieves 90 percent of its torque output all the way through from 1,700-3,500 rpm.
Coming in under the 3.2-litre is a new 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi four-cylinder diesel engine that produces maximum power of 110 kW and a peak torque rating of 375 Nm.
For those looking at covering a lower annual distance and aiming for the lower priced entry-level model, the petrol alternative is a 2.5-litre Duratec four-cylinder engine that produces maximum power of 122 kW at 6,000 rpm and peak torque of 226 Nm.
Fuel economy for light commercials is now becoming a very competitive factor, and, with the Ranger, the most frugal offering is the 2.2-litre, four-cylinder Duratorq TDCi, which returns a combined figure of 7.6 l/100 km on the 4×2 version. Move up to the 3.2-litre five-cylinder, and you’ll see a combined figure ranging from 8.9 l/100 km on a 4×2 variant to 9.6 l/100 km on the flagship Wildtrak 4×4. The 2.5-litre Duratec four-cylinder petrol engine, in 2WD form, returns 9.8 l/100 km. The fuel tank capacity is 80 litres, providing a realistic expectation of more than 1000 km from a single tank of diesel.
Delivery Magazine drove the first release versions of the Double Cab powered by the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder diesel engine in both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic versions. Firstly we experienced standard country bitumen roads around the outskirts of Adelaide and then headed off to the Arkapena Homestead area of Rawnsley Park Station in the Flinders Rangers.
Rawnsley Park Station is owned and managed by fourth generation Flinders Ranges’ residents, Tony and Julieanne Smith. Dating back to 1851, the station has been in the Smith family since 1953, and was originally owned by Tony’s father, Clem Smith. Initially devoted to sheep shearing, the station first ventured into tourism in 1968, when the first cabins were opened and sheep shearing demonstrations began. Tony and Julieanne assumed ownership of Rawnsley Park in 1985 and, since then, have transformed a small, struggling sheep station into an award-winning tourism facility that attracts 20,000 visitors each year. Though tourism is the main industry on the property, the Station still runs 2000 sheep.
The area around Rawnsley Park provided exceptional opportunities for evaluating power, performance and off-road ability, and, in all these areas, the new Ranger showed off the highest of credentials. Selection of 4WD High on the move is accomplished by a simple dashboard knob, with the same knob also providing a switch to 4WD Low, achieved when stationary.
The standard gearing of the 4WD Low selection is ideal, even for the steepest of descents, but for those who like a system that thinks for itself, there’s push-button selection of Hill Descent Control that takes the decision-making away from novice drivers. The final great off-road benefit is provided by push button operation of a rear differential lock, which is, in our view, the best single aid to off-road traction and safety any vehicle could feature.
The Single Cab and the Super Cab have the biggest box volume in their class, at 1.82 cubic metres and 1.45 cubic metres respectively, while the Double Cab is among the top with 1.21 cubic metres. In vehicle terms, the overall dimensions are 5,359 millimetres long and 1,850 millimetres wide. Steering is by a power assisted rack and pinion design and has 3.5 turns of the wheel lock-to-lock.
We mentioned earlier the attention to design, and much of this really comes down to making the best use of interior space. The lockable glove box is large enough to take a standard 16-inch laptop computer, the centre console can hold six drink cans and has a cooling feature linked to the aircon, and there’s a big swing out box from the dash on the driver’s side. Door pockets can absorb large drink bottles, and there are two concealed storage bins under the rear seat squab. The squab itself also folds upright to clip to the backrest, and the backrest can fold forwards to lie against the seat squab.
What impressed most, with the on-road and off-road ability of the Ranger, was the precision of the steering and the high quality of the ride and handling. The interior spaciousness will certainly impress any potential owner, and so too will the ease of access into both the front and rear passenger compartments. The low noise levels and the exceptional power and performance levels of the 3.2-litre diesel are also worthy of mention.
For those looking at whole-of-life costs, the Ranger fits into Ford’s category of fixed-price service and maintenance costs, and has oil drain intervals of 15,000 km. It’s backed by a standard 100,000 km/three-year warranty.
When released, the cab-chassis variants will be available with two sizes of tray, these being the Single Cab Low Series – 2,405 mm x 1,790 mm; the Single Cab High Series – 2,550 mm x 1,790 mm; the
Super Cab Low Series – 1,950 mm x 1,790 mm; and the Super Cab High Series – 1,950 mm x 1,790 mm
Although we’ve yet to see the rest of the range released over the next six months, if they perform in the same manner as the first newcomer, then Ford has a formidable addition to its vehicle arsenal. Volkswagen also has a very strong competitor for the Amarok.