It’s a massive year for the dual-cab market with almost all brands receiving substantial overhauls. Long intended as purely Light Commercial Vehicles (LCV) the latest generation is being tailored to suit families and multi-use applications more than ever before. We’ve driven the vastly improved Mitsubishi Triton and spent three weeks in the Nissan Navara NP300 but this week Chris Bowen had an afternoon session in the Ford Ranger Series II. Here are his initial impressions.

IMG_1112The 10 Minute Test Drive

Avalon Beach situated on Sydney’s northern beaches was the starting point for a few hours behind the wheel of Ford’s latest and greatest light truck. With XLT and Wildtrak variants on offer this writer instantly made a beeline for the range topping Wildtrak model for a road trip through the Kuringai National Park.

Before even turning over the familiar 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel engine it was obvious the Wildtrak is now the most luxurious ute to date. The installation of Ford’s SYNC2 infotainment system has rid the centre console of a muddle of plastic buttons. The horizontal lines that now form the dash present a clean, functional and upmarket layout. It instantly reminded me of the larger F150 cabin I sat in during a recent trip to the States.

As with the competitors, great effort has gone into producing a car-like environment. The instrument cluster is probably the best case in point with dual-TFT screens showcasing reams of information, including a digital speedo. But Ford has also maintained that workhorse-feel rather than going down the track of the Nissan Navara and its wrap around SUV style cabin. There are still hard wearing plastics, but the overall design is sleek but still maintains a bit of brawn. The Wildtrak model scores orange stitching across the leather-clad dash and seats, along with an 8-inch high resolution touchscreen.

Ranger Day 5

The Ranger now features exceptionally light steering at lower speeds thanks to a new electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) system. It adds a totally different feel to how the Ranger manoeuvres at lower speeds, but in a good way. It leaves the dull, sluggish steering of the NP300 Navara for dead. At speed it cleverly tightens up based on speed, steering angle, cornering forces and accleratation levels.
On the road the new Ranger feels remarkably composed for such a substantial piece of metal. Even without a load it corners with competence and ease, you can drive this with almost the confidence of a large sedan. Suspension recoil over undulations is supressed well and in my view it maintains the flattest stance of any dual-cab.

The 3.2-litre diesel is by no means quiet, but I find the noise it does make far less offensive than some of the other offerings, for example Holden’s Colorado. It’s more of fizzing type clatter rather than a chorus of agricultural sounds. Plus when you plant the foot it also launches like no other dual-cab, it’s strong, robust and eager. Overall the cabin is a relaxed, subdued place to be on the tarmac.

Off Road

Our test loop took us to the H.A.R.T 4WD Park in St Ives, a moderately challenging track with decent washouts and water crossings due to recent downpours. The famed 800 mm water wading ability remains combined with 230 mm of ground clearance. The 4×4 system maintains the electronically controlled transfer case allowing for shift on the fly via a knob on the centre console. Low-range 4×4 and an electronic locking rear differential also help improve traction. The approach angle sits at 28 degrees while departure is 25, for those that tow the 3500kg limit is still in force.

Ranger Day 8

Modern day offerings such as the Ranger Series II just go to show how the vast array of driver-assist technologies make even the most inexperienced driver look capable despite difficult terrain. The Ranger climbed, descended and ploughed through probably more than what you’d expect on a typical weekend getaway with ridiculous ease. Hill decent control maintains a secure path down steep inclines far beyond even the best driver’s ability, there’s not one person on earth who can brake individual wheels as needed.

Ins and Outs.

The Ranger Series II is powered by a 3.2-litre TDCi engine producing 147 kW of power and 470 Nm of torque. I sampled the six-speed automatic on the XLT and Wildtrak model, although a six-speed self-shifter is available. The shifts are smooth and almost imperceptible at cruising speeds and under light acceleration.

Ranger Day 11

Exterior changes have been largely reserved for the front end with plenty of cues pointing to Ford’s global truck look. The signature trapezoidal grille and new bonnet exude a real chiselled, machined look. As far as workhorse utes go (I just can’t call them pick-ups sorry) this is as tough a look as you can get.

New high mounted headlamps are cleverly shaped to flow back into the front mudguard and bush guard on the lower part of the bumper. New wheel designs are on offer across the range and little niceties such as the inclusion of a cargo light within the rear sports bar (if fitted) are new for 2015.

You still get a choice of two powertrains; the 3.2-litre TDCi engine or the entry 2.2-litre TDCi engine that delivers 118 kW and 385 Nm. Both engines are available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

The Tech Inside

This is where the Ford Ranger II elevates itself further above the pack. The range-topping Ranger Wildtrak scores DAB radio, Reverse Camera, Adaptive Cruise Control with Forward Collision Alert, Driver Impairment Monitor, Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist. DAB radio will also be standard on XLT models. XLT customers will also be able to option the driver assistance features as part of an optional Tech Pack. Regrettably and what I consider to be almost unforgivable is the fact the reversing camera is only standard on Wildtrak and optional via a tech pack on XLT models.

The Hip Pocket.

Ranger Day 9

The 2015 series range includes XL, XL Plus, XLS, XLT and Wildtrak. Across the line up are a dizzying 37 variants, 11 of those 4×2 and 26 4×4. The absolute base model is the 4×2 XL Single Cab Chassis 2.2-litre TDCi manual with a Manufacturer’s List Price (MLP) of $27,390. The six-speed manual XLT kicks off at $54,390. While the jewel in the crown 4×4 Wildtrak six-speed automatic soars to $60,090. The higher end Rangers are certainly a hefty investment and traditionally the Mazda BT-50 is the better value proposition. Options include $2,200 for automatic transmission, $500 prestige paint and $1,100 for the tech pack. I will wait for a proper week-long drive before revealing any fuel consumption figures, although I’d expect nothing over 8 L / 100km.

The EFTM Rubber Stamp.

Ranger day 4

In my view the Ford Ranger Series II remains the benchmark for dual-cabs in this country. It offers refinement, ruggedness and levels of performance unmatched by its competitors with the exception of its direct cousin the Mazda BT-50 who will also receive an update soon. The Ford Ranger offers the ideal balance between work and play, it looks like a truck should but at the same time won’t alienate your better half with a bare bones interior and garbage truck on-road manners. Plus it’s safe and now tech savvy, unfortunately it also isn’t cheap. But sometimes you literally do get what you pay for, the Ford Ranger Series II is a case in point. I award it the EFTM Distinction Rubber Stamp of Approval.