The rise and rise of the “Lifestyle Ute” continues with 2015 marking the biggest year for at least a decade. All players are embarking on a similar approach, turn usually rugged workhorses into livable, family friendly runabouts. But it is perhaps Ford who has taken the ute market to another level. Chris Bowen takes a look at the blokey and very techy Ford Ranger.
I’ve already established the 2015 Ford Ranger is the best all-round performer in a very competitive pack. While only a revised model forward of the front dash, it’s still the most powerful, drivable and aesthetically best looking light truck around.
The new electric steering makes navigating around the ‘burbs’ a much easier chore. It’s super light, probably too much so for keen drivers. However those not familiar with lugging kids around aboard a vehicle with truck-like underpinnings will rejoice.
Power from the diesel 3.2-litre 5-cylinder turbo-petrol engine is robust and noise levels are very well suppressed. This is about as close to emulating a SUV’s driving manners and comfort levels you can get currently.
But it’s the technology onboard that really is a marvel, even though large chunks of it do fall under an optional “Tech Pack”.
Tech – At a Price.
We got our hands of one of the 37 Ranger variants on offer, the $48,690 4×2 Super Cab Hi Rider XLT with the aforementioned Tech Pack – an $1100 option in this scenario. With rear suicide doors and smaller bench seat it’s a slightly cheaper way to get into a Ranger.
Up front is a dual TFT instrument cluster lit up with modern lighting and graphics. On the right you can see entertainment options, at a glance on the left multiple menus for settings. You can even display a digital speedo. Ford’s SYNC2 system is displayed via a new 8-inch touchscreen, not the most accomplished infotainment system around but admirably it does have one of the best voice recognition programs. For example it can accept whole sentences when reading out an address for the satellite navigation. I’ve seen a brief demonstration of SYNC3 in the U.S., the sooner that gets here the better.
Passengers can tap into the Wi-Fi hotspot while the driver can enjoy high-end conveniences such as automatic high beam, wipers and headlamps. But it’s the Tech Pack that introduces the real heavy duty stuff that almost seems out of place in a hulking, brawny piece of metal such as this.
Included is a reversing camera (nothing to rave about and outrageous it’s simply not standard), Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning.
These systems are far from ground breaking but for them to creep into a ute is.
The good news is that it all works rather seamlessly. The Adaptive Cruise Control works on par with that found in expensive European sedans. You can adjust the speed gap between you and the vehicle in front via the steering wheel, it detects those cutting in on you perfectly and adjusts accordingly. A minor annoyance is the fact you can’t come to a complete stop, it turns off as you close in on those last couple of metres behind someone at a set of lights. But after all it is more for highway driving rather than attempting semi-autonomous driving.
Lane Keep Assist is brilliant, it actually steers you back on course when drifting over detectable lane markings. Its sensitivity can be adjusted but on the highest setting I was quite surprised just how dramatic the evasive nature of the steering can be. However taking your hands off the wheel for too long will result in ‘’wake up to yourself’’ style warnings flashing across the instrument cluster.
The Forward Collison Warning system predicts imminent collisions and alerts a distracted driver via a strip of red lights projected onto the windscreen and an audible warning. It’s useful if you really are that bad a driver, but given the odd false alarm it’s something you do tend to turn off.
EFTM Rubber Stamp.
The sight of an array of sensors and cameras in the middle of the windscreen on a pick-up is pretty cool. It wasn’t that long ago that manufacturers struggled to even calibrate traction control systems for these type of vehicles, Ford has set a benchmark the others will have to follow. When it comes to pioneering technology in this segment I award the Ford Ranger the EFTM Distinction Rubber Stamp.