The Supercab remains a slightly curious vehicle, what with its stretched two-seater cabin with dual cargo boxes behind the seats and truncated loadbed compared to traditional single cabs. But this will add appeal for those looking for a vehicle that combines practicality and ruggedness
Ford’s pay-off line for its new Ranger bakkies is “100 per cent truck”, and no model personifies this more than the Supercab. It goes beyond being a mere “bakkie”, and while few would deny that it is primarily a workhorse, it manages to combine blue collar and white collar attributes with whatever leisure kit you happen to wear in pursuit of pleasure and excitement when the weekend swings around.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
It’s more evolutionary than revolutionary, truth be told, so there is, to paraphrase an old English wedding custom; “something old, something new, something borrowed, something, er, blue…”
What’s old? Well, the entire chassis is essentially a carry-over, which means the Ranger still uses ball-and-nut power steering and wears torsion bar front suspension.
While it is partly a fashion consideration, changing to more car-like underpinnings does have ride and handling benefits, but it looks as though South Africans are going to have to wait another generation to enjoy them in a Ford one-tonner.
What’s new? A brilliant new engine/gearbox combo. And we mean brilliant.
What’s borrowed? The latest in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression techniques, it seems, and the recent upgrade was extensive, resulting in a quieter, smoother ride as well as better safety, thanks largely to the ladder frame chassis being made stronger and more rigid.
What’s blue? The Blue Oval, of course. It’s displayed proudly and larger than before, both front and rear.
The Ranger also boasts a boldly updated look. The grille is near vertical, with two horizontal chromed bars. Large headlights flank the grille, which extends – almost mimicking Audi’s single-frame grille – down below the front bumper where an intake feeds air to the intercooler.
The higher loadbed sides add to the Ranger’s beefy profile, while 16-inch alloys manage to fill the wheelarches – despite the high-riding stance. The rear is neatly executed with the car-like taillight clusters looking perfectly at home on a bakkie. The bumper/tow bar unit is of a double tube construction and has an integrated step. Its matte black tubular treatment is continued through to the roll bar and the side steps.
★ ★ ★ ★
The doors open wide to reveal a refreshed and updated interior which looks welcoming, despite slightly drab velour/cloth upholstery mix and cheap-looking carpeting, neither of which appear especially hard-wearing.
Open the stubby rear doors – they hinge backwards – and it is easy to get to both lockable luggage boxes via the pillarless aperture. Their lids open past the vertical so they stay open for easy loading, and there’s also the option of removing one or both if more storage space is needed.
The small back windows flip outwards for improved ventilation and there’s also a sliding back light, which tall occupants can reach from the seats.
The Ranger has an excellent driving position, combining a good view of the road with a decently intimate relationship with the vehicle’s controls. The steering wheel is height adjustable, providing for a clear view of the instruments, which have sporty aluminiumlook rims and unusual green needles.
The instrument panel works better than the slightly after-market effect created by metal-look plastics for the hang-down centre stack, with the main blemish being a rectangular blank panel below the single CD sound system. Still, it works well enough and a pair of large, knurled wheels and finger-friendly buttons make for easy operation.
The controls for the air-conditioning/ventilation are similarly convenient, though changing between fresh air and recirculate functions is achieved with an old-fashioned slider despite “buttons” that at first suggest otherwise!
The cabin has plenty of storage space, extending to a slide-out tray above the glove-box and cup-holders in the rear – remove the circular ashtray and there are five cup-holders in total. There are also map pockets in the back of both seats and even small compartments in the leading edge of the seat cushions.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In our opinion, the new 3,0-litre Duratorq turbo-diesel moves the Ranger straight to the front of the pack. It is everything you could want in a turbo-diesel pick-up: it responds enthusiastically from around 1500 r/min, revs freely all the way to nearly 5000 r/min, and is very smooth and quiet for a big four-cylinder oil-burner.
While its 115 kW and 380 Nm do not make it the most powerful or most torquey bakkie powerplant, it seems to offer the best combination of attributes. And it is an automatic choice for best-in-class – after all, the Supercab’s closest rival is the aged Nissan Kingcab, with 105 kW and 314 Nm.
Whatever gear is selected there’s immediate urge and as we said, that powerband seems to be pumped up almost as soon as the tacho needle starts to move.
At the 120km/h freeway limit, the needle is sitting at 2600 in top gear – slap bang in the middle of the powerband – with the result that it picks up readily without a downshift even when traffic dictates slowing right down. High gear overtaking ability is excellent.
A gearbox with a surprisingly light and deft action adds to the pleasure of the driving experience. Other controls are equally well weighted, and jumping in and driving smoothly from the outset is intuitive.
The Ranger managed an impressive 170km/h top speed, having sprinted to 120km/h in less than 19 seconds. But saving the best for last, at the freeway maximum it used just over 10 litres per 100km, making it comfortably the most economical oil-burner bakkie we’ve tested. We’d expect it to use around 10,5 per 100 as an overall average, so with a class-competitive 80-litre fuel tank, refuels are going to be few and far between.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★ ★
Ford says shock absorbers and springs, both front and rear, have been revised and the first thing you notice about the Ranger Supercab is how plush the ride is. The front, in particular, absorbs bumps and potholes with assurance and the leaf-sprung rear has a decent degree of compliance, too.
On larger undulations tackled at higher speeds a slow, low-frequency bobbing of the nose becomes apparent and, as with any vehicle with a leaf-sprung rear, it can get a little bouncy on heavily acned surfaces when unladen, but it is better than most in this regard.
Compared to a rack and pinion, the steering is also a little short of accuracy and immediacy, though its slight vagueness can be as much the influence of tyres as anything else. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to position it where one wants it on the tarmac.
With a three-metre wheelbase, the Ranger isn’t particularly nimble and can feel a little unwieldy in suburban parking lots because of the 2,6m turning circle.
A standard differential lock stands it in good stead off-road, and the Ranger makes a decent fist of things when the tarmac ends. While the approach angle is competitive, the departure angle is compromised by the integrated towbar. We also felt that the diff lock was sometimes needed sooner than expected to maintain drive to the rear wheels.
★ ★ ★ ★
If you demand a bakkie with lockable storage to hide your worldly goods from view and don’t necessarily need a full length load box, then there are options from Nissan and Mitsubishi. But Ford’s Ranger Supercab is so good in terms of performance, economy, driveability and comfort that shopping around hardly seems necessary.