Car reviews - Ford - Ranger - utility range
Bolder styling inside and out, low-down turbo grunt, slide-out passenger tray, rear-hinged back doors on Super Cab, extra towing capacity
Room for improvement
Manual mirrors, no cruise control, wind noise, under-dash handbrake, rear seat access in Crew Cab, engine noise with auto, vague steering
14 Feb 2007
LOOKING tough is just as important as actually being tough in the light commercial market, so Ford Australia needed to get rid of the capable but plain old Courier and come up with a new name.
With the introduction of a new model, they have been able to achieve both objectives, and with considerable effect.
Now called Ranger – the vehicle’s long-running international name that Ford had previously been prevented from using here by the Toyota-owned Hino truck company – the new ute brings with it a bolder look and new engines that are clearly superior to the previous offerings.
Ranger’s look is dominated by a huge truck-style grille with bold horizontal chrome bars sandwiching a large Ford badge. It is not quite as aggressive as the HiLux grille, but it makes a strong statement of intent.
The interior treatment is similarly bold and square, with strong use of materials and colours. It is a job well done, blending truck styling with the requisite car-like ergonomics.
Controls are logical and easy to use, and there are plenty of useful compartments, including a big bin behind the gear-lever and a tray on top of the dash. There’s even an innovative slide-out tray above the glovebox so you can comfortably eat your lunch from the passenger seat.
However, the hard surfaces of the armrests and the (split-level) centre compartment are certainly noticeable to the elbows when you start bouncing down a rough piece of road.
The workhorse XL models make do with manual mirrors – you know, the really old ones where you have to wind down the windows and adjust them by hand – and all Rangers have old-fashioned under-dash handbrake handles so that Ford can offer a bench-seat option (that is apparently quite popular with tradies and bushies).
Of more concern is the lack of cruise control, even on the high-end XLS models that are designed for the recreational market. Apparently it came down to economics and the fact that Australia would pretty much have to foot the development bill because we use cruise a lot and the rest of the world does not. Obviously they do not share our speed camera regime.
Comfort is good enough in the front, and a less upright rear seat in the Crew Cab (changed to 23-degrees from 20-degrees in the Courier) makes life more pleasant in the back, but it takes some flexibility to get in and you need the co-operation of the front occupants to have any sort of legroom.
In the case of the Super Cab, the back seat is really only suitable for cargo, pets or tolerant kids. But at least the access is good, thanks to the impressive engineering and design of Ford’s reverse-opening back doors.
Out on the road, the 2.5-litre turbo-diesel is quite responsive at medium revs, but there’s not much action below 1800rpm or over about 3500rpm, so there is little point changing down a gear to overtake unless you are labouring along in top.
In the relatively light base XL model, the 2.5 does a fine job, but the bigger 3.0-litre unit is recommended for the heavier models.
There is no petrol V6 available now. Last year it accounted for only 11 per cent of Courier sales and the new turbo-diesel is simply a better alternative, so Ford has no intention of adding it.
Engine noise is quite subdued in the XLT models, although it is notably more intrusive when combined with the new five-speed automatic transmission than with the five-speed manual.
In 4x4 models, high-range can be selected on the move.
Although the 2.5-litre XL cab-chassis model felt much lighter, more lively and less inclined to understeer heavily, it suffered from considerable wind noise from those big mirrors and the aluminium tray.
The XLT models we drove – Crew Cab and Super Cab, both with the 3.0-litre – had a much more pliable ride, which made them more comfortable both on the road and off but prone to understeer. We also found the steering to be rather vague in the straight-ahead and lacking turn-in precision.
Overall, though, the new Ranger is a highly competent and purposeful light commercial vehicle and deserves to give Ford the larger slice of the HiLux-dominated pie that it craves.
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