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Ford Ranger XLS 3.2L 4x4 auto 2018 off-road review

Marcus Craft
Editor - Adventure

15 Jun 2018 • 17 min read

The Ford Ranger has set the bar high for utes. It's in a month-to-month tussle with Toyota's HiLux for the top-selling-vehicle title, and the proof of its popularity is easy to see - just count the ones you see on city streets, country roads, at campsites or driving on beaches and pretty soon you'll run out of fingers, toes and calculators on which to do your sums. The bloody things are everywhere.

But are they actually that good? And is the entire range impressive, or only the upper-spec models like XLT and Wildtrak? We drove a mid-spec XLS dual-cab to see what your cash gets you when you can't afford – or don't want to fork out for – the more expensive Rangers.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The XLS is available only as a dual-cab ute, with a 3.2-litre engine and manual or automatic transmission. It sits above the XL and XL Plus, and under the XLT and Wildtrak in the Ranger line-up.

Our 3.2-litre auto test car has a price-as-tested of $55,590. That pricing could stand to have a few grand chopped off it to better reflect what buyers can expect to pay for similar-spec rival dual-cab utes.

As standard, it has the SYNC multimedia system (with a 4.2-inch colour screen, emergency assistance, USB/iPod connectivity and more), radio/CD with six speakers, power windows, 230-volt power inverter and 12-volt power outlet, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted buttons, electronic locking differential, inner and outer tie-down points, tray illumination, rear view camera, rear parking sensors and more.

Inside, the XLS has the SYNC multimedia system with a 4.2-inch colour screen. (image credit: Marcus Craft) Inside, the XLS has the SYNC multimedia system with a 4.2-inch colour screen. (image credit: Marcus Craft)

The XLS also has body-coloured bumpers, front fog lights, 16-inch alloy wheels (plus full-size steel spare) on off-road-friendly 16-inch tyres, carpet floor with floor mats (front and rear), a high-mounted rear stop light and more.

The XLS comes with 16-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Marcus Craft) The XLS comes with 16-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Marcus Craft)

XLT and Wildtrak models have tyre-pressure monitoring as standard, but no Rangers yet have auto emergency braking.

The 2019 XLS models, set to arrive later this year, will get front parking sensors, chrome grille and door handles, dual-zone climate control, and keyless entry with push-button start. XLS buyers will also have the option to get a $1950 'Sync 3' package, which includes an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

This Ranger has a 3.2-litre turbo-diesel engine (producing 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm at 1750rpm). It has a manual or six-speed automatic transmission - ours had the auto, a unit that's nicely matched to that engine.

The 3.2-litre turbo-diesel engine produces 147kW/470Nm. (image credit: Marcus Craft) The 3.2-litre turbo-diesel engine produces 147kW/470Nm. (image credit: Marcus Craft)

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Nothing much has changed in the Ranger's appearance inside or out, and likely won't until the next iteration is due to land here later this year. But that's not a problem because all Rangers are pretty easy on the eye. They have a distinctive, blocky front end with that signature Ford grille and the chunky shoulders of a wannabe Yank tank.

How practical is the space inside?

The XLS has a tough, durable interior – all cloth upholstery and easy-to-clean plastic surfaces – and it's pretty close to perfect for those people coming straight off a job site, or back from a muddy MTB trip; the carpet flooring and rubber mats are work- and play-ready.

The cabin is a roomy space with plenty of storage. (image credit: Marcus Craft) The cabin is a roomy space with plenty of storage. (image credit: Marcus Craft)

And the cabin is a roomy space, too. There is plenty of storage with glovebox, storage tray, centre console with recessed tray, cupholders and storage box up front, hard-plastic door pockets, and, for back-seat passengers, there are two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, hard plastic pockets on the doors, and soft storage pockets on the back of each front seat as well. 

What's it like as a daily driver?

The Ranger line-up, from base spec through to top spec, is nice to drive, and the XLS is no different; it’s as solid, stable and comfortable as the rest.

The XLS is 5359mm long (with a 3220mm wheelbase), 2163mm wide (mirrors extended), 1977mm (mirrors in), and 1815mm high. Kerb weight is listed at 2111kg. It has a turning circle of 12.7m.

From the moment you climb into it – the XLS has no side-steps - through to driving it, this Ranger is a very easy thing to spend a lot of time in.

Nothing much has changed in the Ranger's appearance. (image credit: Marcus Craft) Nothing much has changed in the Ranger's appearance. (image credit: Marcus Craft)

As mentioned, that engine-and-auto combination is a proven one, having shown itself to be a good pairing of gutsy off-the-mark acceleration and seamless shifting up and down, depending on the situation, through preceding Ranger iterations.

The electrically power-assisted steering, right up there with the best – if not the best – in the dual-cab ute mob, remains nicely weighted at very low speeds or at overtaking-on-the-highway speeds.

In motion, the ute itself sits nicely on the road and off it; the steel ladder-frame chassis, 1560mm track and chunky exterior give it a balanced feel even when being throttled through fast, tight bends.

Ride quality is generally fine overall, with the XLS revealing consistently steady and assured on-road characteristics, even unladen, compared to its like-for-like rivals. There was a bit of rear-end skipping on harsher bumps but, as anyone who has ever driven an unladen ute knows, that's always the case in a ute without much onboard. We never burdened it anywhere near its GVM this time – only throwing in camping gear, a 20-litre Esky, a surfboard and some other stuff – but with that load on-board, the ride settled even further still.

On a stretch of country road, travelling at 90km/h, we did two emergency-braking scenarios – one during a brief but strong downpour of rain – and on both occasions, the Ranger’s brakes (discs at the front, drums at the rear) pulled us up to a firm and controlled stop. No worries there.

In fact, no major issues presented themselves over a week of driving, although one thing did become abundantly clear from the get-go: the XLS’s multimedia screen is far too small. The 4.2-inch screen is difficult to read or refer to (the XLT and Wildtrak get the 8.0-inch colour touchscreen). A minor niggle, but a niggle nonetheless.

What's it like for touring?

The XLS is bush ready, with 232mm of ground clearance, 800mm wading depth, 29 degrees approach angle, 28 degrees departure angle and 25 degrees ramp break-over angle. Yep, that’s a stack of numbers to get your head around, so here’s the upshot in a nutshell: this Ranger goes well off-road.

We tackled a series of shallow water crossings (topping out at about 400mm), steep, shale climbs and downhill winding bush tracks, as well as a few short runs on coastal bush sand.

Its air intakes are up high between the inner and outer guards on the driver’s side; the alternator is high in the engine bay.

The Ranger’s terrain management system is a part-time 4WD system with low-range transfer case: high range is 1.000:1 ratio; low range is 2.717:1. Torque is available from low down in the rev range, handy for soft boggy patches of sand.

The driver is able to shift from 4x2 to 4x4 high on the fly, using a dial on the centre console. The vehicle must be stationary for shifts from 4x2 high to 4x4 low. There are buttons to engage the electronic rear diff lock and hill descent control, which works below 40km/h and down to 2km/h.

One of the few chinks in the XLS' off-road armoury was its bitumen-friendly Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts, but that’s easily fixed with a set of bush-going ATs.

Also, at times the XLS feels bigger and bulkier than it actually is, especially when driving along those narrow and twisting tracks in the bush, but you soon get used to that and adjust your off-road driving style to suit.

Through deep ruts, the Ranger’s wheels don’t flex down for grip as far as some rivals, namely the HiLux, but this lack of full articulation droop is not a deal-breaking issue.

The tray has rear-window guards to protect the glass from sharp edges and shifting loads. The load area has six tie-down points, three each on the inside of the tray.

The load area has six tie-down points, three each on the inside of the tray. (image credit: Marcus Craft) The load area has six tie-down points, three each on the inside of the tray. (image credit: Marcus Craft)

Towing capacity is 3500kg (braked) and 750kg (unbraked). The 2111kg XLS has a payload of 1085kg and a GVM of 3200kg. GCM is 6000kg.

How much fuel does it consume?

This Ranger is claimed to use 8.7L/100km. Our figure for daily driving was 10.3L/100km. Our off-road touring figure was 12.5L/100km, but that included a fair chunk of very low-speed 4WDing.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

All Ranger variants since September 2015 have a five-star ANCAP rating, based on Euro NCAP crash tests conducted in 2011. Safety gear includes dual front, side-chest and side-head airbags, dynamic stability control, emergency assist, hill-descent control, hill holder, trailer-stability control and more.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

From May 1, 2018, all new Fords are covered by a five-year/unlimited-km warranty. Service intervals for the Ranger XLS are recommended every 12 months/15,000km and service prices start from $400.

The XLS is a good choice of Ranger if you want more than the base-spec XL offers, but you don't want the add-on extras of the higher-spec models. It's a no-nonsense ute, with just a few trimmings, and it can be used as a work truck or a tackle-anything weekend tourer.

It could be cheaper though, especially in such a competitive ute market. The entire Ranger lineup is a solid one, offering pretty much something for everyone, no matter a buyer's preferences. But the next spec up, the XLT - a great balance of safety tech and standard features, comfort and smooth driving - remains the pick of the bunch, I reckon.

What do you think of the XLS? Tell us in the comments below.

$48,090

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5

Adventure score

4/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$48,090 - $48,090

Based on new car retail price