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The automotive equivalent of multi-tasking - which could be why most cars are assigned the female gender - has invaded the light-commercial market. The phenomenon of dual-cab utes serving as a tradie truck Monday to Friday and as family truckster - towing toys and carting kids - on the weekend is upon us, and Ford's new Ranger looks set to shake up the segment.
Ford is hell-bent on a tough-not-rough message for its Australian-developed "world" truck, which will be built in Thailand (those bound for our market at least) and sold in more than 180 markets globally.
The Ranger line-up will be broad when the full 4x2 and 4x4 range is available by early next year - single, super-cab (with two full and two rear-opening doors) and a dual cab, with pick-up and cab-chassis variants and two diesels and a petrol powerplant on offer.
The diesel range kicks off with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder 110kW/375Nm turbodiesel - which Ford expects to be the most-popular powerplant - and the top-spec diesels get the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel engine from the Transit van, producing 147kW and 470Nm.
The petrol side - only on offer in a 4x2 spec - of the pricelist has a 122kW/226Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that only bolts onto a five-speed manual.
The bulk of the Ranger line-up is offered with six-speed manual or automatic, the latter a $2000 ask but first drive impressions suggest a worthwhile addition. The rear-wheel drive brigade will also have the option of a higher-clearance 4x2 "Hi-Rider" model.
Standard fare range-wide includes stability control (including rollover protection), an alarm, Bluetooth, iPod and USB connectivity, cruise control, power windows, automatic headlights, dual airbags and anti-lock brakes - air conditioning is standard fare on all bar the single-cab XL petrol model.
Front seat side airbags and curtain airbags will be standard on all models except the XL single cab chassis, which will be on the options list for vehicles with front bucket seats. Top-end XLT and Wildtrak models get rain-sensing wipers, a chilled centre console, rear parking sensors, side steps, dual-zone climate control and carpet flooring among the extras.
The 4x2 range starts from $19,740 for the XL 2.5-litre petrol five-speed manual, the diesel starts from $23,740.
The 4WD range starts at $38,390 for the single cab-chassis XL 2.2-litre turbodiesel six-speed manual, up from a previous 4WD entry-level $31,990. Lower-spec 4x4 and some 4x2 models can be optioned up with a rear diff lock (standard on $53,390 XLT and $57,390 Wildtrak) for $500.
Top of the pops for its customers is how quiet and solid a vehicle feels, says Ford. Anyone who read Carsguide recently will have seen the sneak-peak on Ranger's development program - a tortuous test to make sure it can handle the heat of a growing LCV market.
While it still sits on a ladder-frame chassis (albeit one that's twice as stiff), there are engine and cabin mounts that have been designed to isolate the occupants from the vibrations and noise that were once the norm for the segment - the Ranger's engineering team have made great strides in giving its LCV customers a quieter and smoother cabin.
The team also went to such lengths as inserting sound-sealing foam within plastic components that allowed rust-proof coatings in before sealing gaps in body, such was the attention to noise, vibration and harshness detail.
The Ranger also features a battery charge system that makes the most of deceleration, engaging the alternator on over-run to charge the battery rather than charging when the engine is under load.
The exterior needed to look like a truck still, according to Ford's feedback from its customers, so the blunt snout and broad shoulders had to remain, but the demands of fuel economy meant aerodynamic issues still need to be considered. Ford's truck heritage in the US has been drawn upon - even though the Ranger won't be sold there as it's too close (and probably much better) than the F-Series.
The ute's designers paid attention to the gap between cab and body and the big exterior mirrors, as well as features like the top of the tailgate and integrated (not bolt-on) wheelarch flares, to improve aerodynamic performance for better fuel economy and reduced wind noise.
Overall height has increased (on the 4x4 models driven at launch) from 1762mm to 1821mm. It's also wider by 62mm, with as much as 80 extra millimetres in track depending on model. The overall length has grown - in the case of the dual-cab XLT - from 5179 to 5351mm - with an increase in wheelbase to 3220mm, an extra 220mm. The ground clearance and wading depth have both grown to 237mm (up from 214mm) and 800mm (a 50mm increase) respectively.
The cabin has been designed for a car-like feel, with the centre-stack and display laid out in a manner similar to the passenger car range. Ford says it also paid attention to the rear bench, giving the rear seat back rest a better "torso angle" and cutting the front seat backrests to maximise rear space - the interior designers have also aimed for better storage space, including rear underfloor storage beneath the bench.
The passive safety features list will make OH&S have a look for fleets in particular - stability control is standard across the range, with rollover control, as well as dual front airbags - only XL 4x2 models with the bench-seat miss out on side and curtain airbags. Hill descent and hill-start assistance is also in the Ranger's safety arsenal, as is
The safety engineering team weren't keen to talk on behalf of the NCAP program as to how many stars the Ranger would receive for a crash test rating, but much was made of the load-path technology through the body and the ladder-frame and the company's aim to be class leading, the result of more than 9000 crash simulations and 110 vehicle crash tests.
The engineers also showed off its under-bonnet protection for pedestrian impact - designed to minimise the damage to the head - as well as the Trailer Sway control system, a safety feature not yet commonplace in Australia.
Cross winds, quick changes of direction or unstable loading can cause the "snaking" motion, which is counteracted by the system braking individual wheels and reducing engine torque (as it does when stability control corrects the vehicle's attitude) to reduce the speed of the truck-and-trailer combination. There is also a rear camera on offer but it's only on the top-spec Wildtrak.
Ford's engineers made much of its efforts to toughen up the chassis and isolate the cabin - their efforts were worthwhile. There's much lower levels of noise than you would expect from an LCV, although you're still in no doubt there's as diesel doing duty under the blunt snout.
The only engine on offer at the launch drive was the five-cylinder diesel - donated by the Transit van - within dual-cab XL and XLT vehicles (in manual and automatic guises) and its generous outputs of 147kW and 470Nm are accompanied by a unique soundtrack.
It's not overly intrusive or harsh, but there's little doubt which pump you need to use when it comes to topping up the 80-litre tank. Fuel consumption for the in-line five-cylinder - the only powerplant available at launch - is claimed to dwell withing the 8 to mid-9 litres per 100km; we saw 10s and 11s from the 3.2, but those numbers could be easily improved with a more leisurely pace.
The XLT six-speed manual was first dual-cab off the rank and it quickly endeared itself with a decent ride quality and good body control - only severe bumps would unsettle the unladen rear end and send a judder through the frame. The twisting hills roads would normally be best traversed in something from performance passenger car realm but the new Ford ute did the job.
The steering - now rack and pinion - is light and is one of the better set-ups for press-ahead driving. The six-speed manual gearbox was a little rubbery in action and suffered from a few missed gearshifts, which would probably become less of an issue with familiarity. Time in the six-speed automatic quickly showed the manual up and put the auto in as the preferred driveline - the poor cousin to the ZF six-speed has a manual shift option but it was rarely required as the Sports mode acquitted itself well.
A short hop in the Ranger with 750kg of cement bags on board failed to dampen the car's good points, merely pinning the rump down and improving on the already-reasonable ride quality. The absence of reach adjustment for the steering is an oversight - while the range of seat adjustment is reasonably good, it's not enough to offset this omission. Off-road, the scrabbly tracks of the Flinders Ranges were traversed without any issue, even before the rear-diff-lock had been employed.
The low-range gearing and torque delivery (90 per cent of its 470Nm of torque is on offer from 1700 through to 3500 rpm) allows it to easily idle up steep ascents and the hill descent control (with speed adjustment) is a good back up, but old-school first gear low range downhill trips are easily completed. The electronic throttle map changes when low range is selected and that further improved the off-road work.
While we've not been privvy to the the full range of body types and drivetrains, the taste of Ford's new Ranger suggests the HiLux has some genuine competition from the Blue Oval, who now have an LCV with Australian DNA.
Passenger car levels of safety and connectivity, as well as genuine off-road ability and muscular towing capacities will give buyers - both private and fleet - some tough decisions to make.
|Wildtrak (4x4)||3.0L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN||$14,900 – 21,010||2011 Ford Ranger 2011 Wildtrak (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|Wildtrak 3.2 (4x4)||3.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$22,500 – 30,580||2011 Ford Ranger 2011 Wildtrak 3.2 (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|XL (4X2)||2.5L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN||$6,500 – 10,120||2011 Ford Ranger 2011 XL (4X2) Pricing and Specs|
|XL (4X4)||3.0L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN||$10,700 – 15,730||2011 Ford Ranger 2011 XL (4X4) Pricing and Specs|