Meet the new Aussie car. It’s a four-door, four-wheel-drive ute that can be used as a workhorse during the week and as family transport on weekends and holidays.
The new Ford Ranger was designed and engineered from the ground up in Australia -- but it’s made in Thailand.
And, frankly, we can’t buy enough of them.
The Ranger is the top-selling Ford in Australia (and has been for the past two and a half years), selling at five times the rate of the locally made Falcon sedan and triple the rate of the Territory SUV.
Marketing experts reckon part of the reason behind the success of these new generation utes is that mums and dads got tired of kids bikes, boogie boards and the like ruining the interior and the roof-lining of their SUVs.
Now the gear gets stowed in the back: toolbox out, camping gear in.
That’s the promise in the TV ads, but it’s increasingly becoming the reality.
The new focus on families is one of the reasons the new Ford Ranger is the most technically advanced ute among its peers.
Technology that was recently only accessible on luxury cars is now available on the updated Ford Ranger, such as lane departure warning, lane-keeping assistance (it will correct the steering to stop you drifting from the lane), and radar cruise control that maintains a gap with the car ahead.
There is just one catch: the technology pack that gives the new Ford Ranger bragging rights is optional. Even on the two most expensive models, which range from $55,000 to $60,000, it costs between $600 and $1100 extra.
Incredibly, a rear camera is still only standard on one of the 37 variants of the new Ford Ranger, even though utes and SUVs are over-represented in drive-way deaths and cameras are now standard on $14,990 cars.
Ford is not alone with a lack of rear-view cameras across its ute range, but most rivals have them standard on more models.
When the first all-new Toyota HiLux in 10 years goes on sale in October a rear-view camera will be standard on every pick-up. Hopefully other brands will quickly follow.
Ford has joined the growing number of car makers moving to electric power steering
It’s difficult to argue that Ford hasn’t seen the swing to customers demanding more car-like features. Sadly, it appears Ford is using a basic safety item such as a rear-view camera as an opportunity to maximize profit.
And the new Ranger is not exactly cheap as it stands. Indeed, prices have risen across the board, up by between $700 and $3700 depending on the model.
When Ford recently did a TV ad promoting a special deal on the popular Ford Ranger XLT, the discounted drive-away price was still at least $5000 dearer than the competition.
But it will be interesting to see how long Ford can maintain its price premium amid a horde of newer models.
Unlike recent arrivals such as the Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara (both complete makeovers except for their chassis), the new Ford Ranger is only new from the windscreen forward.
It also gets a new dashboard, steering wheel, infotainment system and a few other mod cons, including automatic emergency 000 dialing if the airbags are deployed in a crash.
Although this generation of Ranger was released four years ago, in October 2011, and the vehicle is now at or just past the halfway mark in its lifecycle, there are some noteworthy changes under the skin.
On the road
The first thing you’ll notice if you’re updating from the current Ranger is the steering is much lighter.
Ford has joined the growing number of car makers moving to electric power steering (rather than hydraulic).
As with other electric systems, the Ford Ranger’s steering lacks a little feel. But the easy effort when parking is welcome.
The cabin of the dearer models looks great but the basic models are a step backwards. The pixilated central screen looks like something from the 1980s.
At least all models are functional, with three 12V sockets, two USB ports and a 230V household socket for household plugs.
We asked Ford and a sparky if 240V devices such as a laptop or portable fridge could be powered via the 230V point and they said yes. But don’t take our word for it, be sure to check with your Ford dealer that whatever you plug in there isn’t going to blow a fuse.
The driver’s window is auto up (as well as down) but everyone else must hold their switch for the duration of the window’s movement. I know, first world problem, but other premium-priced utes (such as the Volkswagen Amarok) have auto up windows on all four doors.
Both the 2.2-litre diesel four-cylinder and the 3.2-litre diesel five-cylinder engines have new, quieter injectors that minimise what the engineers described as a “light-sabre injector swirl sound”.
Both engines also have slightly smaller single turbo chargers (without sacrificing power or torque) to create less delay on power delivery from low revs.
The 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel is relatively perky -- until you add a decent load. The 3.2-litre diesel feels like it can tow a small village.
The top-line Wildtrak and XLT variants get extra insulation also fitted to their twin under the skin, the Everest SUV. But you still won’t mistake them for a passenger car.
On the road, the Ranger feels the same as before (subtle changes were made to the suspension). It is still one of the most sure-footed utes to drive, second only to the Volkswagen Amarok.
The suspension can feel a little firm on some surfaces, but that’s because the heavy duty springs in the rear won’t sag when you’re towing or carrying a heavy load.
Overall, these updates means the Ranger has gone to finishing school. But Ford has some homework: it needs to spruce up the base model interior and get a camera on all models.
Then it needs to sharpen the pencil on price.