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Driving impression: Ford Ranger

19 October 2015

With the introduction of the new Ranger, Ford has kicked off the most important year for double-cab bakkies in the last decade. Does it have the goods to be a solid competitor?

 This is the new Ford Ranger and I’m not going to beat about the bush, because the only thing you want to know is whether it is the best bakkie on sale in SA.

The answer is yes. There’s no doubt in my mind that this should be your choice, for the time being, if you are in the market for a double-cab or extended-cab bakkie.

The main reason is that the Ranger is the first of the next-generation bakkies to reach our shores, and it shows. And Ford probably planned it that way.

In every single department, the Ranger is better than every other bakkie out there. It’s so good, in fact, that it even trumps my personal favourite, the VW Amarok.

The VW used to be my pick because it set the benchmark in terms of quality and comfort – two attributes that matter more than off-road prowess if your bakkie also happens to be your daily transport. Give me an Amarok eight-speed automatic 4×4 any day of the week, thank you very much. And just so I don’t get any hate mail, the Hilux still tops my list of vehicles I’d want to drive to Egypt and back.

But this new Ranger had me seriously scratching my head. I say “new”, because calling it a facelift feels slightly unfair. Most of the mechanicals were carried over from the pre-facelift model, but the changes are so significant that it almost feels like a new car.

Yes, from the rear it looks exactly the same, but that new front-end is stunning. I’m not particularly fond of the orange colour you can order in Wildtrak specification, but in blue or white it looks epic. It looks American, and that’s not a bad thing. The US manufacturers aren’t celebrated for building dynamic vehicles, but no one can accuse them of producing boring cars.

Mechanically, the Ranger is almost the same vehicle as before, but since it was already class leading in that regard there really was no reason to mess with the formula too much. I’m also happy to report that the clunky gearshift problem in the previous 3,2-litre model has been solved and it now shifts nearly as smoothly as the eight-speed Amarok.

The biggest improvement, however, is the interior. That touch-screen infotainment system makes a big difference to the overall ambience and, thanks to the uprated Sync 2 system, it’s a joy to use. The colour-coded segments are fairly easy to understand and you are never more than two touches away from where you want to be.

The overall quality is good, noise levels are impressively low and the Ranger glides along nicely in town and on the highway. That’s 90% of the dynamic abilities sorted out for most future customers, and there’s good news for those who will venture off-road as well.

The Ranger, even though it can brag about its 230mm ground clearance, 800mm wading depth and impressive approach and departure angles, has never been a very good trail vehicle. We entered the Bridgestone off-road driving event in one last year and it was too bulky for obstacle-based precision off-roading. A Hilux — or an Isuzu KB for that matter — was a lot more nimble.

The updated Ranger has a new electrically assisted steering module and this makes a massive difference when manoeuvring it through tight obstacles, or on a rocky mountain pass. The inclusion of hill descent control on top-spec models also makes it much easier to come down the mountain. It firms up nicely at speed, which gives you a fair amount of confidence on a gravel road.

The updated suspension is equally impressive and the Ranger felt secure and composed on every surface we drove on. You still get that traditional bakkie bounce on a really bad tar surface, but that’s par for the course with every double-cab.

As mentioned previously, the engines remain unchanged and Ford gave us the opportunity to drive the 2,2-litre and 3,2-litre turbocharged diesel engines, the latter in automatic guise.

The updated 2,2-litre four-cylinder diesel, now developing 118kW and 385Nm of torque, is all the engine you’ll ever need. It picks up speed nicely and is more than happy to cruise along at 130km/h. But the 3,2-litre five-cylinder unit remains the best bakkie engine in the business. It’s a tower of power and I don’t think any reasonable person would be able to walk away from it after experiencing its 470Nm first hand.

Ford has done a lot to ensure that the Ranger stays on top for the foreseeable future, at least in the leisure segment. With so many changes, it feels unfair to call it a facelift. Sure, for the most part it’s the same vehicle as before, but the things that have been changed make a massive difference.

So, that’s the new Ranger in a nutshell. It’s the current class leader, but we all know what’s coming in 2016…