Off-road Test: Time warp to 2000 with Ford Ranger XLT
This, of course, has made the whole team very nostalgic about past issues. As a tribute, we’ll be posting road tests and driving impressions for the good, the bad and the ugly vehicles of the past 15 years. Many of these are relics – and some are missed more than others.
Feel free to comment with memories of our own – if you’ve owned one of these or had a memorable experience with them. You can also post pictures on our Facebook page, and interact with the team there.
Time Warp 04
The year: 2000, Leisure Wheels issue 12
The car: Ford Ranger XLT
The scenario: Whereas the Mazda Drifter is the luxury version in the Silverton , Pretoria home of Ford and Mazda , the Ford Ranger is more of the workhorse-albeit a reasonably luxurious one. We put spur to the Ranger to see if it’s Built Ford Tough
Ford Ranger XLT: Setting new standards
The face of South Africa’s once humble double cab is changed forever as each successive newcomer ups the stakes with levels of luxury, convenience and safety that were once the exclusive domain of the leading recreational 4×4 station wagons. Ownership of a top-of-the-range double cab now costs a cool R200 000 or more, and for that you get a comfy carlike experience with seating for five , and levels of refinement and on- and off-road ability undreamed of in the class more than a couple of years ago.
With the recently introduced Ford Ranger and Mazda Drifter sibling, we have more proof, if we ever needed it, that you can have your motoring cake and eat it. The flagship Ranger XLT effectively marries the comforts of a good sedan with the versatility of a pickup. The message Ford would like to convey is that their vehicle is “Built Ford Tough”, an idea that is reinforced by bold and contemporary styling that draws heavily on Ford’s North American pickup heritage, and particularly the F-Series, that is the world’s best seller.
That means the unashamed use of chrome for the front grille, and styling cues that are destined to become international rather than purely North American.
FEATURES & EQUIPMENT ****
These days we have unusually high expectations for the double cab class, the latest Toyota Hilux Raider having pioneered ABS brakes, twin airbags, cup-holders and a front-loading CD player, while the Mitsubishi Colt Rodeo has added an automatic transmission option and shift-on- the-fly convenience. Not to be outdone , the Ford Ranger 2500 TD XLT weighs in with a formidable equipment list that runs to such luxuries as power steering, central locking , electric windows and a four-speaker sound system incorporating a radio and front-loading CD. Full leather is optional.
But the talking point is the RFW button on the dash, which stands for remote freewheeling. What that means is that when conditions get sticky you don’t have to jump out and muddy your boots while manually locking the front hubs. The act of using the second shift lever to engage 4WD while at rest automatically locks the front hubs, with the button used to disengage then when you are stationary again. There is also the convenience of being able to shift between 2WD and 4WD on the move at up to 100 km/h, but only after the RFW facility is operational. So you have to select 4WD before driving off to allow yourself the choice of additional drive to the front, if you need it.
A decade-and-half ago we celebrated the arrival of the first local double cab with rare enthusiasm, heaping praise on the transformation from single cab workhorse to four-door, five-seat recreational vehicle. Today that same vehicle is woefully inadequate in terms of both comfort and rear seat roominess, with the previous Ford Courier among the vehicles that demonstrated how it should be done. The Ranger sees a natural progression with the atmosphere of the cab made even more inviting by maximising comfort and space, while insulating the Ford’s passengers, from unwanted noise, vibration and harshness.
So the luxury of the Ranger isn’t only the revised furniture that offers generous head and legroom front and rear, or the car-like driving position, or high quality materials, but the splendid way in which the driver and fellow travellers are cocooned. It is quieter and more refined than its leading rivals, creating an aura of hushed wellbeing that is unsurpassed in the bakkie world. Reinforcing the illusion of being in a plush passenger vehicle is the appealing interior styling and well-considered ergonomics. Everything is where you expect it to be, the instruments proving a model of clarity and the controls, a demonstration of Japanese efficiency.
We like the look of the interior and choice of materials, the flecks of colour in the dark grey cloth upholstery being especially tasteful. The cup holders and generous stash space oddments earn more bonus points, with the lidded box between seats swallowing CD boxes, sunglasses and keys without protest. Missing are the airbags found in the rival Hilux Raider, but that’s reflected in the price, with Ford watching to see if the market really feels the need for features like airbags and ABS. Our verdict? Fit them. If they make sense in a luxury station wagon, why shouldn’t they be sported by a 200 –grand double cab?
Gone is the long-serving but inefficient Essex V6 , with the Ranger XLT offered in any configuration you like as long as it’s the Mazda-derived 2.5 litre turbo diesel. And this is no bad thing. The direct injection 12-valve four-cylinder unit is powerful and unusually unobtrusive in the Ford, careful attention to insulation making it an enjoyable companion, even when running flat out on the highway.
The power and torque plateaux are impressive, although the bigger-engined Colt Rodeo remains the performance yardstick, always feeling more muscular. Still the Ford’s credentials remain impressive. A full 80 kW is on call at 3 500 r/min, while 257 Nm is mustered at just 2 000 r/min. This enables the Ranger to flatten most hills on the open road in fifth gear, while still idling over boulders and banks with a light touch on the throttle.
It is a measure of the vehicle that is makes light of most challenges, revealing an undemanding easy-going, side to its personality that is reassuring when difficulty levels rise. If you are really in a hurry it will cruise faster than the mainstream traffic, and when the roads end it is no less capable, challenging the best that the class can muster for all-round competence.
Where it does disappoint slightly is in having hang-on cosmetic bits like the front nudge bar and side steps that are fashioned from piping that dents and bends easily. A more robust construction would ensure that the vehicle looks good for longer, with the possibility to improve the approach angle by having a nudge bar that juts out a little less.
RIDE AND HANDLING ****
Our test route includes a cycle of around 800 km, mixing punishing off-road terrain with highway and secondary country roads, simulating the sort of conditions that are likely to be encountered by owners. That we were able to listen to our favourite CD’s and forget the main purpose of the exercise speaks volumes for the ride quality and cabin insulation. Most double cabs have suspensions that constantly remind you of surface imperfections, but in the Ford it is easy to forget what is passing underfoot, so supple and absorbent are the ride characteristics.
Of course, the flipside of a suspension biased towards comfort is that it doesn’t feel quite as alert and sharp as its sportier rivals. Like the Isuzu KB it rides sublimely by bakkie standards, but doesn’t turn into corners as sharply as the Hilux, perhaps cornering slightly less tenacity as well. Under steer builds quickly, with the tendency to run wide in turns encouraging you to avoid the manic manoeuvres that road testers always feel obliged to try.
Hurrying along rutted trails failed to expose any flaws, although there was sometimes the feeling that more rebound stiffness might contain a slight tendency for the front to po-go. Still, you can’t have it both ways, and we feel the ride and handling compromise to be close to ideal for recreational use , and particularly when used as an unladen commuter.
Where the previous Courier was at best a mid-field runner, the new Ford Ranger XLT sets standards for comfort, quietness and refinement in an appealing all-rounder that is strong on style, performance and character. It is a worthy adversary for the established market leaders, deserving greater far success than its predecessor enjoyed. The three-year, 100 000 km warranty could be the final clincher.