Tough “tradies utes” have become more civilised and are widely sought after. The Ford Ranger is a prime example. With improved comfort and greater versatility, its popularity for lifestyle and work activities has grown massively.
Ford replaced the mundane Courier line-up with the diesel powered PJ Ranger models in 2007. This was updated in 2009 with the PK models. The style and ability of these models steadily gained approval. It wasn’t until Ford introduced the much improved new generation PX models in the second half of 2011, however, that the Ranger really started to establish itself. Ford Ranger won the inaugural Best 4X4 Dual-Cab Ute category of Australia’s Best Cars awards in 2013 and again in 2014.
Designed for the world market with Ford’s Australian engineers playing a pivotal role, the vehicles sold here were built in Thailand and generally the quality has been good. There is a version to suit most needs with eight 2WD and 16 4WD versions. This includes higher riding variants and the flagship Wildtrak model. Within that you will also find two configurations – cab chassis and the normal tub-type ute configurations as well as three body styles – single cab, super cab and double cab.
The versatile double cab 4WD versions have proven to be the most popular. Ford’s 2.2L turbo diesel delivers a good mix of smooth, flexible performance and economy, but it is hard to go past the strong class-leading pulling power of the 3.2L, 5-cylinder turbo diesel version. A 2.5L petrol engine is also available in the 2WD cab-chassis XL model but there are not many around. Six-speed automatic transmission models dominate the market but you will still find plenty of six-speed manual versions.
Ranger’s body styling has a purposeful, tough, robust look, and in the XLT (which is the most common on the used market) there’s a long list of practical standard features that suit this type of vehicle such as a diff-lock, tray liner, tow bar and extra underbody protection. A 2014 update added satellite navigation as standard on the XLT. For a commercially based vehicle, the cabin is comfortable and roomy, while the presentation has a modern appearance and the controls are logically laid out. As well as having four doors and seating five people, the Ranger double cab XLT is a true “one tonner”. Models from October 2011 onwards with curtain airbags have an excellent 5-star ANCAP safety rating, while those without curtain airbags get four stars. Earlier PJ and PK models have a 3-star rating.
Ranger is one of the better handling utes on the market (both on and off road) and the ride, although firm, is not uncomfortable.
Designed primarily as a workhorse, the handling and ride often feels better with some load in the back, which is the case with most utes.
One of the appealing features of the Ranger, particularly for caravanners, is the towing capacity and the added advantage of electronic trailer sway control systems. It can pull up to 3500kg which is much higher than the average sedan and even the majority of SUV wagons, but it is important to be aware of the load and not exceed the gross combined vehicle mass. The excellent pulling power of the 3.2L turbo diesel is a big plus.
Mazda BT50 shares the same platform and running gear but has different suspension tuning, body styling and specification grades.