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Ford Ranger 2023 review: Wildtrak V6 - pre-release prototype drive

The changes made to the new Ford Ranger Wildtrak V6 diesel are transformative on- and off-road.
EXPERT RATING
8.1
Our first drive around Ford's proving ground on both a high-speed ride/handling circuit and off-road course has revealed the magnitude of progress the new Ranger V6 makes. The prototype highlighted the stirring speed and performance on offer, while the new 4WD system and re-engineered three-piece chassis handled the rough stuff with impressive ease. The signs are looking very promising indeed.

The weight of this historic moment is not lost on us.

This is the first drive of what may be the final-ever Australian-designed and engineered mainstream production vehicle, the T6.2 Ranger, before development of the next-generation model due later this decade switches to the USA.

It's also our first taste of one of Australia's favourite vehicles overall (never mind utes), as well as the most hotly anticipated new-model release of 2022. And it's our first tryout of the long-awaited V6 turbo-diesel Ranger.

No pressure then.

Ford has spent six years bringing this vehicle range to market, and while it's not all-new, the amount of change that's happened means it's probably the next best thing.

Which is why we're about to drive a late-stage prototype of the new Ranger Wildtrak V6 turbo-diesel. And by about we really mean six months ago. Because, ominously, this actually happened back on November 11, 2021, at Ford's You Yangs proving ground near Melbourne. Which explains the cloak-and-dagger camo.

There's also a link to the video in this review, as well as to the CarsGuide YouTube channel, so you can see and hear the new-gen Ford Ranger V6 in all its glory.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

The late-stage Ranger Dual Cab prototype we're in more-or-less equates to the Wildtrak V6 that's sure to be one of the bestsellers.

Ranger prices are up across the board, starting from $35,930 (before on-road costs) for the base XL Single Cab Chassis four-cylinder turbo-diesel auto, to $70,190 for the Wildtrak Dual Cab pick-up V6 auto equivalent you see here.

Of course, there's also the $85,490 Ranger Raptor V6 twin-turbo petrol flagship, but that really is quite a different proposition compared to these workhorse trucks.

The WIldtrak V6 features boulder Grey 18-inch alloy wheels. The WIldtrak V6 features boulder Grey 18-inch alloy wheels.

For your $70,190, the Wildtrak V6 offers a unique grille with a mesh insert, stylised sports bar, a roller tonneau cover, embroidered 'Wildtrak' logos on front seat backrests, Cyber Orange stitching, Satin Aluminium trim, Boulder Grey accents, LED headlights (including daytime driving lights), LED tail-lights, a rear box step, a power outlet in the tub, a tailgate-integrated one-metre ruler and Boulder Grey 18-inch alloy wheels.

These come on top of a 12.0-inch touchscreen, SYNC 4A with embedded voice assist multimedia system, 360-degree camera including off-road views, a full digital instrument cluster, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, USB-A and -C ports, a wireless smartphone charger, embedded modem, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satellite navigation, remote starting, power folding mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, electric park brake, stop-start tech, powered and heated front seats, leather upholstery and leather-trimmed steering wheel.

Full specifications will be revealed closer to the T6.2's launch, so keep an eye out for that coming very soon.

It’s very obvious that the Ford F-Series is the design inspiration for the new Ford Ranger. It’s very obvious that the Ford F-Series is the design inspiration for the new Ford Ranger.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

It's very obvious that the Ford F-Series is the design inspiration for the new Ford Ranger. And that's very noticeable in the C-shape headlights and the new grille treatment, amongst other areas.

It also seems likely that fitting a big V6 engine helped determine the extra front-end bulk and resulting improved road stance compared to before. The newcomer looks quite a bit more different in the flesh than it does in photos, especially when compared to the preceding PX III series side-by-side.

It also seems likely that fitting a big V6 engine helped determine the extra front-end bulk and resulting improved road stance compared to before. It also seems likely that fitting a big V6 engine helped determine the extra front-end bulk and resulting improved road stance compared to before.

The new Ranger features 50mm more track width and 50mm more length in the wheelbase, and what this does is fundamentally change the proportions of the truck compared to the previous model. The bonnet sits higher, the sheetmetal is all new, and the rear cargo bed has changed completely.

Overall, then, it looks a whole lot wider, tougher and – yes – more modern. Job well done.

The changes made to the new Ford Ranger Wildtrak V6 diesel are transformative on- and off-road. The changes made to the new Ford Ranger Wildtrak V6 diesel are transformative on- and off-road.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

Since this is a prototype of the Wildtrak Dual Cab, and not everything is quite in its final production-spec form, we can't tell you much about the interior other than it is both extremely familiar as well as a dramatic departure from the old Ranger.

The familiarity comes from the same basic dimensions, even though Ford says that the redesign has brought minor gains in cabin space.

But current owners will instantly appreciate the reach-as well as tilt-adjustable steering column, completely different dashboard with its huge portrait touchscreen, electronic instrumentation display and nicer-quality cabin materials. And the removal of the manual handbrake for an electronic one frees up space in the centre console.

The late-stage Ranger Dual Cab prototype we’re in more-or-less equates to the Wildtrak V6 that’s sure to be one of the bestsellers. The late-stage Ranger Dual Cab prototype we’re in more-or-less equates to the Wildtrak V6 that’s sure to be one of the bestsellers.

What they make of the new-fangled electronic automatic gear lever remains to be seen. It's a bit fiddly at first, but maybe we'd get used to it after a while.

Never mind. The seats are snug and comfy, the driving position is A1 and there is absolutely no shortage of storage. And in our all-too-brief time inside, the ventilation system helped us keep our cool over the demanding 4x4 track.

We'll wait for the launch versions before we can comment on how well the new Ranger is built, how much better the new multimedia system is and if it's more refined to ride in compared to before.

But, for now, so far, so good.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Everyone wants to know what the new Power Stroke 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel is like.

Delivering 184kW of power and 600Nm of torque, it is paired solely to a 10-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. No manual alternative is available.

Being a Wildtrak, it sends drive through to a new electronic on-demand four-wheel-drive system, with full-time 4WD that varies drive to the front or rear wheels as required.

The sound of that 3.0L V6 just amplifies as well as elevates the experience even further. The sound of that 3.0L V6 just amplifies as well as elevates the experience even further.

There are now six driving modes: Normal, Eco, Tow/Haul and Slippery for on-road driving, and Mud/Ruts and Sand for use off-road. Each alter engine throttle, transmission, braking, traction and stability controls.

There's also an electronic rear differential lock which can be activated via the new SYNC 4 multimedia screen, for improved off-road traction.

Cheaper versions will stick with the standard part-time 4x4 set-up that offers 4x2 (rear-drive), 4x4 Low range and 4x4 High range.

Still on going off the beaten track, there are now dual recovery hooks incorporated up front, and more prominently placed, for easier use.

More information about the powertrain will be revealed closer to the Ranger's launch.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

At the time of publication, Ford had not yet revealed the official consumption figures for the new Ranger V6 turbo-diesel.

But it does include stop/start technology, as well as a heavily revised version of the 10-speed automatic transmission that is claimed to have improved operating efficiency, so fingers remain crossed that the fuel economy won't be too bad.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

It's too early for the new Ranger to have an ANCAP crash-test rating, but Ford fully expects another five-star result.

That's because there has been progress in the areas of passive safety, with the addition of a front-centre airbag, taking the total airbag count to nine.

It’s too early for the new Ranger to have an ANCAP crash-test rating, but Ford fully expects another five-star result. It’s too early for the new Ranger to have an ANCAP crash-test rating, but Ford fully expects another five-star result.

Active safety is expected to include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), reverse AEB, post-impact braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, driver alert, parking sensors all round, blind spot alert, cross traffic alert with trailer coverage, reverse camera and auto on/off headlights with auto high-beam functionality. These come on top of anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution, anti-roll stability control and hill-start assist.

Other safety details, will be available on the CarsGuide website closer to the new model's launch.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Ford offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with five-years roadside assistance.

Currently, the Ranger is also available with what Ford calls a Service Price Calculator, which is an online resource showing what the capped-price scheduled service costs will be over a 12-year/180,000km period. The same or something similar is expected for the new Ranger soon.

Other details, including other ownership and servicing info, will be revealed closer to the new model's launch, so stay tuned.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

Months out from launch, we're here at the famous Durability Circuit deep within Ford's You Yangs Proving Ground, to try out the Ranger V6 for the first time.

For all you students of Australian motoring history, this is the same course that helped make generations of the Falcon the so-called "Great Australian Road Car" from the early Sixties to the end of Ford's local production in 2016.

Keep in mind, though, that it's only three fast laps in the new Ranger V6, sadly, it's supervised at all times by nervous Ford personnel as we're in an extremely expensive pre-production prototype, and we're not forgetting that driving a Ford at the You Yangs gives the new truck a home-ground advantage, since it's literally been designed and developed to be its best right here.

First impressions suggest that few other midsized trucks anywhere in the world can offer the sort of bandwidth that the new-gen Ranger seems to have in spades. First impressions suggest that few other midsized trucks anywhere in the world can offer the sort of bandwidth that the new-gen Ranger seems to have in spades.

But this quick spin is still more than enough for us to give you an initial taste of the changes made between old and new Ranger.

And to refresh our memories, we've also had a run in the old Ranger – a PX III series Wildtrak BiTurbo with the 2.0-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel powertrain ¬– that highlights the many advances of the latest version.

Anyway, we're strapped in and finally ready to go!

The biggest takeaway here is just how easy it is to drive the new model off-road. The biggest takeaway here is just how easy it is to drive the new model off-road.

Accompanied by the deep baritone exhaust note that can only be from a V6 turbo-diesel, initial acceleration is strong, with a decent amount of forward thrust on hand – or, rather, underfoot – even if you just tickle the throttle.

While the old 2.0-litre BiTurbo Ranger reacted fairly quickly when asked to simulate an overtaking manoeuvre at speed, the V6 lunged ahead, to power along much more briskly and with not much provocation from the pedal, highlighting the next level of performance that paying the extra $3000 brings to the Ford.

And even for this late-stage prototype, there's a sophisticated level of tuning going on here, as revealed by how progressively the truck responds to the driver's commands. The brakes pull up cleanly; the steering is light yet has a good deal of feel as well as feedback; and through the really fast corners, there's impressive composure and control, that elevates an already class-leading pick-up to what we believe will be new heights for this sort of vehicle.

One section of the Durability Circuit includes bumps and cobblestones that are designed to disrupt the suspension’s ability to soak up or ride over them at speed. One section of the Durability Circuit includes bumps and cobblestones that are designed to disrupt the suspension’s ability to soak up or ride over them at speed.

One section of the Durability Circuit includes bumps and cobblestones that are designed to disrupt the suspension's ability to soak up or ride over them at speed; in our unladen Wildtrak, and with the newly redesigned independent wishbone coil-sprung front and leaf-sprung rear suspension set-up fitted, the Ford sailed over these, with little of the lateral 'crabbing' that was evident in the PX III Wildtrak we sampled straight after.

So, after three quick laps in the new Ranger V6 that ended all-too-soon, we're quietly confident that Ford might have upped the ante in terms of engine performance, handling capability and ride comfort.

And the sound of that 3.0L V6 just amplifies as well as elevates the experience even further.

Months out from launch, we’re here at the famous Durability Circuit deep within Ford’s You Yangs Proving Ground. Months out from launch, we’re here at the famous Durability Circuit deep within Ford’s You Yangs Proving Ground.

Clearly, we need to drive a Ranger away from its home base before we know definitively, but all the signs are extremely promising indeed.

And it was also telling to see just how good the old version still feels behind the wheel.

Ford also gave us an opportunity to try out the new Ranger V6's capabilities off-road. Again, back-to-back with an old Wildtrak to see how far it's come. Being a Wildtrak, it had the new electronic 4WD system.

The V6 has the torque to really power up very steep inclines without struggling at all. The V6 has the torque to really power up very steep inclines without struggling at all.

And the biggest takeaway here is just how easy it is to drive the new model off-road, by selecting one of the drive modes on screen and letting the vehicle do the rest. That screen displays driveline and diff lock status, steering angle and vehicle pitch and roll angles.

It's also quite surprising how much more planted and surefooted the new Ranger feels.

Ford's claims about it having more wheel travel and articulation are realised driving the new Ranger over the deep ruts and potholes that make up the You Yang's off-road course, with the suspension doing a great job soaking up or traversing the bumps and thumps.

The sound of that 3.0L V6 just amplifies as well as elevates the experience even further. The sound of that 3.0L V6 just amplifies as well as elevates the experience even further.

Plus, the V6 has the torque to really power up very steep inclines without struggling at all, while the new hill descent tech takes care of going down again, without the driver having to break a sweat.

In fact, it's how composed and in control the vehicle now feels off-road that separates the new from old Ranger, backed up by an engine that offers ample performance to do it.

Like we said, we'll need to take the new Ford ute out in the real world to make sure it's as good as it feels around the You Yangs, but first impressions suggest that few other midsized trucks anywhere in the world can offer the sort of bandwidth that the new-gen Ranger seems to have in spades.

We can't wait for that.

It is a huge step forward for the truck. It is a huge step forward for the truck.

Verdict

After more than six years of blood, sweat and tears, millions of kilometres of testing and heaps of customer feedback that helped shape the 2023 Ford Ranger to what we see today, what can we say?

It is a huge step forward for the truck. In fact, we'd go as far as saying that it might be one small step for the Ranger, but it's one giant step for pick-up kind.

Anyway, this is at Ford's proving ground, so we'll have to wait until we get it out in the real world, to see exactly how good the new-gen Ranger is.

But, as first tastes go, this is extremely promising indeed. The designers and engineers at Ford Australia have plenty to be proud about.

EXPERT RATING
8.1
Price and features8
Design8
Practicality8
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption8
Safety8
Ownership8
Driving9
Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$70,190

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data
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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.