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Saturday 25 March 2017

Ford Ranger 2016 - Test Drive Review

Ford Ranger 2016If you are looking for a new 4x4 pick-up at present, you'll be hard-pressed to know which way to turn. Mitsubishi has recently relaunched the L200, Nissan has introduced the next generation NP300 Navara, Toyota is about to reveal a new Hilux, revised VW Amarok is later this year and an updated Isuzu D-Max will hit UK shores early in 2017. If that wasn't enough, Fiat and Renault are about to enter the fray respectively with the Fullback (rebadged L200) and Alaskan (rebadged Navara). Mercedes-Benz is even joining the fun in late 2017 with a re-bodied, Navara-based offering.

But it is the blue oval which has launched the latest muscle truck in the form of the revised Ranger and it is making some pretty big waves. It is already the best-selling 4x4 in Europe and in the UK, after trailing behind the L200 and Hilux last year, January and February 2016 sales have seen it taking pole position in its sector.

Ford Ranger 2016We reckon 2016 is going to be a very interesting year indeed, as all these contenders are cracking vehicles loaded down with new technology and better engines. To be honest, there isn't so much as a fag paper between the lot of them, although we can’t comment on the new Hilux as we haven’t even sat in it yet. They all drive superbly, handle well on- and off-road and will take more punishment than most drivers dare give them. So buying choices may well come down in the end to price alone.

As before, there are three body variants of Ranger on offer — single cab, super cab (extended) and double cab — together with four spec levels; XL, XLT, Limited and Wildtrack. Prices go from £18,871 to £31,494 (excl VAT)

Basic versions have as standard steel wheels, silver grille, body-coloured bumpers, ESP with traction control and emergency brake assist, a DAB radio, heated windscreen, electric mirrors and windows and front, side and knee airbags. XLT adds alloy wheels, fog lights, side steps, air-conditioning, voice control for connected media, cruise control and a tyre pressure warning system.

Limited models add bigger alloy wheels, tinted windows, sports bars, heated leather seats and rear parking sensors while Wildtrack has even larger alloys, titanium effect front grille, special seat trim and floor mats and a reversing camera.

Drivetrains
Ford Ranger 2016Ford offers two diesel engine choices; a 2.2-litre four-cylinder unit pumping out maximum power of 160hp and peak torque of 385Nm, and a 3.2-litre five-pot unit capable of 200hp and 470Nm. Both are Euro 5 compliant at present, but as every LCV built after 1 September 2016 has to be fitted with a Euro 6-compliant engine, Ford will be upgrading these powerplants as the year progresses.

There are a few downsides to the cleaner technology for operators. Firstly, the updated Rangers will have AdBlue tanks, which will have to be filled up every 5,000 miles or so. Secondly there will inevitably be a price hike, although Ford isn't yet revealing how much it will be.

The good news for the current Euro 5 engines, however, is that they offer up to 17 per cent better fuel economy that the ones in the previous model, with fuel economy figures on the combined cycle ranging from 31.7mpg to 43.5mpg.

Electronically selectable dual-range four-wheel drive is standard on almost all new Rangers.The exception is the sole two (rear)-wheel drive offering, an XL-spec super cab. A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard, with an auto six-speeder available as an option on Limited and Wildtrak double cab variants.

Load Area
Ford Ranger 2016While buyers will be able to add any number of hard tops to their vehicles (for a price), the basic Ranger comes with an empty cargo area, albeit with macho bars on the upper spec models. All but the basic models have plastic wipe-clean load liners which we reckon are an essential item to stop the rear end from gouges and other general damage.

There are more tie-downs points than you can shake a stick at and a good solid fold-down tailgate at the rear. Cargo beds are all 1,560mm wide, while lengths go from 1,549mm on the double cabs to 2,317mm on the single cab versions. Payloads go from 1,033kg to 1,269kg, while towing weights go from 1,800kg to 3,500kg. Bear in mind that if you tow anything which bumps up the combined weight of the vehicle and trailer over 3.5 tonnes, you'll need a tachograph fitted if using the Ranger for business.

In-Cab Comfort
Ford Ranger 2016Anyone over a certain age (like us!) will well remember how excruciatingly uncomfortable the old 4x4 pick-ups were to drive. Some of them could shake your fillings loose even on reasonable A roads.

Ride and handling have come on in leaps and bounds since then and modern pick-ups like the Ranger are just as comfortable as big cars. We tried a variety of models on our test drive and all featured wide, comfortable seats with lots of side support; either in cloth or leather.

Even the single cab version offers plenty of legroom and while all five seats in the double-cab are generous, we wouldn't really recommend the super cab’s ‘occasional’ foldaway twin rear seats for long journeys. There are plenty of essential items such as coffee cup holders and grab handles, plus a little sunglasses case in the roof, which we thought was a rather nice touch. All Rangers now have DAB radios plus a USB port.

Safety
Technology abounds in the new Ranger, although to be fair much of it will have to be paid for. There's a lane-keeping alarm system and a forward alert and collision mitigation system which will help avoid shunts by applying the brakes if the vehicle feels itself in an emergency situation. There's also front and rear parking assist, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition which will alert drivers when they are entering a speed restriction zone.

All light commercial vehicles now have to have ESP and the Ranger's system comes with added traction control and emergency brake assist too. There's also a host of electronic gubbins for helping the vehicle off-road; we'll come to them in a minute.

Behind the Wheel
Ford offered us a variety of models for testing on the UK launch, so we started off in the bottom spec 2.2TDCi XL single cab version and worked our way up. We weren't expecting a great deal here to be honest, but were pleasantly surprised on climbing aboard; it didn't feel like we were being fobbed off with a downmarket vehicle only fit for mucking out pigs.

Ford Ranger 2016This ‘cooking’ version features wide, comfortable seats with plenty of side support, two 12-volt take-off points on the dash, electric windows and a USB port. There are also proper carpets on the floor in place of the usual rubber mats and even cloth inserts in the side panels. It featured a plastic cargo liner but this turned out to be a £250 option.

On the road, the long-throw gearstick offered nice slick ’changes, corners were handled with aplomb and all in all, we were pretty impressed.

Moving up to a double cab 3.2 auto felt like stepping out of a Wimpy Bar and into the Ritz, with sumptuous leather seats, a much more upmarket interior and any number of bits of bling (which of course all have to be paid for, as can be seen from the price list). The five-pot unit emits a meaty growl and with a stonking 470Nm of torque on offer there's not much that will stop it in its tracks.

Ford Ranger 2016On a pukka off-road route in Buckinghamshire we switched to the double cab 2.2-litre and found this variant well capable of handling the various steep hill climbs, hairy descents and deep water crossings.

The Ranger has a best in class wading depth of 800mm (compared to the Land Rover Defender's 500mm) and with both Hill Descent Control and Hill Hold Control as standard, we simply took both feet off the controls during the scary bits and let the Ranger do its thing. One surprising feature of Hill Descent Control is that it works even with neutral selected! All of this does rather take the fun out of driving for us practiced off-roaders, but then again if it helps the less experienced make safe progress in the rough stuff it's all worthwhile in our book.

Verdict
These latest revisions to Ranger couldn’t have been better timed for Ford. There is mounting competition from a raft of all-new models from Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota, but Ranger can still more than hold its own. It may not be able to quite match the on-road finesse of Nissan’s NP300 Navara double cab and its independent rear suspension, but it remains a mighty beast off-road. It’s also the butchest of the bunch, resembling as it does, a down-scaled F150.

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