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Ford Ranger 2021 review: XLT long-term

The Thai-built PX Ranger has become Ford Australia’s greatest success story.

Mark Oastler is spending six months with his family aboard the Ford Ranger, to see how well a dual cab ute can be set up for family life.

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✅ Part 1: November 2020

It’s remarkable to think that more than a decade has passed since the PX Ford Ranger, codenamed T6, made its debut at the Sydney International Motor Show in October 2010.

I can still vividly remember the sense of expectation the following year, not long after the Ranger arrived in showrooms, when I borrowed one from Ford’s press fleet for a solid week of testing. It certainly met my expectations and, in most areas, exceeded them. In fact, I was astonished at how good it was and, I must say, also chest-pumping proud that it had been designed and developed in Australia.

Since then the Thai-built PX Ranger has become Ford Australia’s greatest success story, which was timely given the demise of the all-Aussie Falcon in 2016 which had been the blue oval’s mainstay for decades. During the past 10 years the PX Ranger has evolved through PX, PXII and PXIII upgrades and greatly expanded its choice of models, from the most basic 4x2 XL single cab-chassis workhorse to the top-shelf 4x4 Wildtrak and Raptor lifestyle machines.

Along the way it has won countless industry and media awards and presented a formidable challenge to the long-entrenched sales dominance of the 4x4 Toyota HiLux. In fact, according to the latest VFACTS figures for October, the Ranger holds a sizeable lead over its Toyota nemesis in 2020, commanding 24.9 per cent of the 4x4 ute market compared to the HiLux’s 21.6 per cent share.

It’s remarkable to think that more than a decade has passed since the PX Ford Ranger made its debut. It’s remarkable to think that more than a decade has passed since the PX Ford Ranger made its debut.

Ford recently offered CarsGuide the keys to a fresh-off-the-ship Ranger XLT dual cab, with the latest FordPass connectivity and optional leather-accented trim, for an extended six-month review. Naturally, I was keen to get reacquainted after the Ranger’s first decade on sale and see how the latest version performed in the dual roles of weekday workhorse/weekend fun machine, but over a much longer time frame than the usual seven days.

So, why is the Ranger such an enduring hit with Aussie buyers? Let’s start with price which although positioned at the high end of the pay scale is obviously not a deterrent.

For example, our 4x4 XLT dual-cab ute with 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel and 10-speed torque converter automatic has a list price of $60,940, which exceeds similar sub-premium model grade rivals like the Toyota HiLux SR5 ($59,920), the new Isuzu D-Max LS-U ($56,900), Nissan Navara ST-X ($55,750) and the always bargain-priced Mitsubishi Triton GLS ($47,940).

Our test vehicle also came equipped with the XLT’s optional leather-accented seats ($1500), XLT Tech Pack comprising adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert/semi-auto active park assist ($800) and prestige paint ($650), which bumps the list price up to $63,890.

The Ranger's good looks are more than skin-deep. The Ranger's good looks are more than skin-deep.

Good looks are a strong selling point here, as the PX Ranger has always been a handsome beast. There have been numerous facelifts during the past decade to freshen up the styling but the overall proportions were spot-on from the start, so Ford hasn’t had to work too hard in keeping the Ranger looking its best.

Those good looks are more than skin-deep, as the Ranger offers one of the more spacious dual-cab ute cabins, even for my two long-legged teenagers in the back seat. It's also a competent hauler of heavy loads and an excellent towing platform, which when combined with its competent off-road performance makes it one of the best all-rounders. Backing it with a five year/unlimited km warranty and capped-price servicing adds to buyer peace-of-mind.

It not only looks good but the Ranger dual cab ute is big too, with its hefty 2197kg kerb weight, expansive 3220mm wheelbase and imposing 5446mm length. It’s 1977mm wide with the mirrors folded and stands 1821mm tall.

Even so, it tends to shrink around the driver the more time you spend behind the wheel. And with its sizeable door mirrors, reversing camera and parking sensors, combined with speed-sensitive electric power steering (that’s feather-light at parking speeds) and 12.7-metre turning circle, the XLT is easy to manoeuvre into most parking spots.

The Ranger offers one of the more spacious dual-cab ute cabins, even in the back seat. The Ranger offers one of the more spacious dual-cab ute cabins, even in the back seat.

I know this because my petite wife can operate this jigger with total confidence, with the sidestep and A-pillar grab handle making for easy entry. With the driver’s seat further forward than my setting and cranked as high as it can go, she’s definitely a Ranger fan, which might explain why I see so many other suburban mums comfortably running urban chores in Ranger dual cabs each day.

It features a traditional body-on-frame design with rugged fully-boxed ladder-frame steel chassis. Front suspension is independent with coil springs while the live rear axle relies on traditional leaf springs. Ford engineers have done a masterful job in finding the right compromise between load-carrying ability and unladen ride quality, which has always been a PX Ranger hallmark. There’s also a one-tonne-plus payload rating, 3500kg braked towing capacity and five-star ANCAP safety rating that ticks every box. 

XLT buyers have a choice of 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo with 157kW/500Nm like our test vehicle or the venerable 3.2-litre five-cylinder single turbo with 147kW/470Nm. Both are backed by a refined 10-speed torque converter automatic transmissions and part-time, dual-range 4x4 transmission with rear diff lock.

Unique to the XLT is the most generous serving of chrome you can get in a Ranger, including the grille, exterior door handles, tailgate handle, door mirrors, rear bumper and tubular rear sports bar. It doesn’t extend to the wheels (thankfully) which are chunky, good-looking 17-inch alloys with 265/65 R17 road-biased tyres and a full-size spare.

XLT buyers have a choice of 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo with 157kW/500Nm like our test vehicle or the venerable 3.2-litre five-cylinder single turbo with 147kW/470Nm. XLT buyers have a choice of 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo with 157kW/500Nm like our test vehicle or the venerable 3.2-litre five-cylinder single turbo with 147kW/470Nm.

And being third in line to the throne behind Raptor and Wildtrak, the XLT comes with plenty of standard kit including front fog lights, privacy glass, side steps, rear sports bar with load tub light, tow bar, full bed-liner with 12-volt accessory socket and more.

Inside there’s a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, six-way manual adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, smart keyless entry/push button start, two 12-volt outlets and 230-volt inverter plus plenty of storage options.

Plus there’s the six-speaker multimeda system featuring SYNC 3 voice-activated controls and sat-nav, Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Bluetooth and DAB+ digital radio. The big 8.0-inch colour touchscreen and its highly intuitive software sets an industry benchmark for ease of use.

This now includes new FordPass Connect which when paired with the FordPass app on your smartphone opens a new dimension in connectivity, including remote vehicle monitoring and health alerts, remote start/stop, remote lock/unlock, vehicle locator and live traffic updates. I look forward to putting these features to the test during the coming months.

The XLT comes with chunky, good-looking 17-inch alloys and 265/65 R17 road-biased tyres. The XLT comes with chunky, good-looking 17-inch alloys and 265/65 R17 road-biased tyres.

The XLT only had 211km on the odometer when I collected it from Ford in mid-November and the good wife and I have since added 1193km for the first month, which has been solely suburban driving attending to the usual domestic chores like the daily school run, weekly grocery shop etc.

The first tank refill occurred after 583km with the dash readout showing an average consumption of 11.3, which was close to our own figure of 11.5 calculated from fuel bowser and tripmeter readings. The second refill stretched to 610km, with the ‘low fuel’ light flickering and 60km driving range remaining. The dash showed a slight improvement to 11.2 which was lineball with our own figure.

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These figures are well north of Ford’s official combined average of only 7.4L/100km but in our experience all 4x4 dual cab utes regardless of brand tend to have real-world consumption figures that are generally 2.0L-3.0L/100km higher than their official figures. Even so, we expect these initial numbers to drop as the drivetrain starts to loosen up and we do some highway running as opposed to the stop-start nature of urban traffic.

Beyond the usual challenges we subject our long-term test vehicles to, Ford and CarsGuide also plan to add some bling to the XLT in 2021 with some hand-picked hardware from Ford’s genuine accessories range. So, keep an eye out for the next chapter in early January and have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year break.

Acquired: November 2020

Distance travelled this month: 1193km

Odometer: 1404km

Average fuel consumption (at pump): 11.35L/100km  

✅ Part 1: December 2020

Fuel consumption

Since my first report last month we've clocked up another 1132km which has been mostly urban travel with a bit of open highway driving here and there. With 2536km on the odometer, the Ranger's fuel consumption to this point has been pretty consistent, albeit with small discrepancies at times between the XLT's computer and our own figures.

For example, we drove 526km on the first tank of fuel for the month with the dash display claiming average consumption of 11.2L/100km. This aligned with our own figure, calculated from fuel bowser and tripmeter readings, which was an identical 11.2.

We comfortably extracted 606km from the next tank and, although when we stopped to refuel the dash was showing a neat 11.0L/100km, ours was an even lower 10.4 figure. That was the best economy we've achieved so far, no doubt helped by some highway driving.

So, as expected, fuel economy is gradually improving. More highway travel is planned for the months ahead which should contribute to lower average figures. However, trying to plan any trips that require the crossing of state borders these days is not something we're keen to attempt, when they can be closed with scant warning and leave you stranded.

GVM test

Our Ranger XLT test vehicle has a 2197kg kerb weight and 3200kg GVM which, if you deduct the first figure from the last, leaves a payload capacity of just over one tonne (1003kg to be exact).

So, to see how well it coped at close-to-maximum GVM, we increased the tyre pressures to those recommended on the vehicle's tyre placard (38psi front/44psi rear) and forklifted 770kg into the load tub. With a full tank of diesel and crew of two aboard, the total payload of 950kg was only 50kg under the legal limit. The nose rose 10mm in response to the rear springs compressing 60mm under this weight, leaving about 25mm of static bump-stop clearance.

  • Our Ranger XLT test vehicle has a 2197kg kerb weight and 3200kg GVM. (image: Mark Oastler) Our Ranger XLT test vehicle has a 2197kg kerb weight and 3200kg GVM. (image: Mark Oastler)
  • We increased the tyre pressures to those recommended on the vehicle’s tyre placard (38psi front/44psi rear) and forklifted 770kg into the load tub. (image: Mark Oastler) We increased the tyre pressures to those recommended on the vehicle’s tyre placard (38psi front/44psi rear) and forklifted 770kg into the load tub. (image: Mark Oastler)
  • The nose rose 10mm in response to the rear springs compressing 60mm under this weight, leaving about 25mm of static bump-stop clearance. (image: Mark Oastler) The nose rose 10mm in response to the rear springs compressing 60mm under this weight, leaving about 25mm of static bump-stop clearance. (image: Mark Oastler)

The Ranger was a competent load-hauler at or near its maximum payload. It floated over bumps and dips with admirable smoothness and no adverse effect on steering, braking or lateral stability on both sealed and unsealed roads. If it was using up all of its rear suspension travel over the larger bumps, we certainly  couldn't feel it bottoming-out.

It also proved to be a consummate hillclimber, even with close to a tonne on its back. The 2.0 litre four-cylinder diesel with twin turbochargers made light work of our 2.0km long, 13 per cent gradient set climb at the posted 60km/h limit. The 10-speed automatic made good use of the ample 500Nm of torque on tap, easily powering to the top of the hill in fourth gear at 2500rpm, which is north of its torque peak between 1750-2000rpm.

It did that so easily, in fact, we decided to have two more attempts, firstly in a manually-selected fifth and finally in sixth gear. Revs dropped as low as 1500rpm, but that was a long way from full throttle and it never felt like it was close to running out of steam. Engine-braking on the way down wasn't as robust (the XLT's optional 3.2 litre five-cylinder is stronger in this regard).

The Ranger was a competent load-hauler at or near its maximum payload. (image: Mark Oastler) The Ranger was a competent load-hauler at or near its maximum payload. (image: Mark Oastler)

Even so, it still managed to restrain such a heavy load for a good portion of the descent, until we had to push the brake pedal as revs and road speed started to run away from us on overrun. So, typical of small displacement turbo-diesels, it's great at climbing and not so great at descending, but given the near one tonne payload, impressive all the same.

This test also involved some highway driving, in which the Ranger proved to be a comfortable cruiser. At full lock-up in top gear the engine only required 1600rpm to maintain 100km/h on cruise control and barely 1800rpm at 110km/h. Engine and wind noise at these speeds was low with the most noticeable noise coming from the tyres. Even so, it was hardly intrusive given conversations could take place between front and rear occupants without raised voices.

Shopping trolley

One of the great ironies of dual cab ute ownership is that although these vehicles are primarily designed for carrying things and have enormous load tubs for doing just that (also great for carting the family dog), all of that cargo space is not well suited to the weekly grocery shop.

There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, if the load tub is not fitted with a hard canopy, hinged cover or tonneau cover, it's exposed to the elements. So, it's a no-brainer that your shopping can get soaked on wet days and is at the mercy of direct sun (terrible for freezer/refrigerator items) on fine days. And buffeting winds can dislodge - and at worst flick out - any light items sitting at the top of any open bags.

We’ve always found the best solution when shopping in a dual cab ute is to use the rear seat, which can be easily loaded provided you can get trolley access to at least one side of the vehicle. (image: Mark Oastler) We’ve always found the best solution when shopping in a dual cab ute is to use the rear seat, which can be easily loaded provided you can get trolley access to at least one side of the vehicle. (image: Mark Oastler)

The other problem is trying to secure a row of shopping bags at the rear of the tray, where they are easiest to load and unload via the open tailgate. Under braking, they will slide or tumble forward with disastrous results. The best solution is either a cargo net spanning the width of the tub, which depending on design and quality can be fiddly to use and not always effective. The other is to install a hard barrier across the load tub, at a distance from the tailgate that allows a snug fit for a row of shopping bags between barrier and tailgate.

Either way, it's obviously not as convenient as loading a seven-seat SUV, which with the rear hatch raised can be quickly configured to suit either small shopping loads (which usually fit behind the erected third row of seats) or larger loads with the third row folded flat - and all protected from the elements in air-conditioned comfort.

These vehicles are primarily designed for carrying things and have enormous load tubs for doing just that (also great for carting the family dog). (image: Mark Oastler) These vehicles are primarily designed for carrying things and have enormous load tubs for doing just that (also great for carting the family dog). (image: Mark Oastler)

We've always found the best solution when shopping in a dual cab ute is to use the rear seat, which can be easily loaded provided you can get trolley access to at least one side of the vehicle. This isn't always possible but you soon learn to choose your shopping centre parking spots based on this requirement. And don't forget that the rear seat base cushion in most dual cab utes, including the Ranger, can swing up through 90 degrees and be stored vertically if more carrying space is required.

Changing the spare

Fortunately, flat tyres are becoming increasingly rare but there are still situations where a nail, screw or other sharp object can drill through the tread and puncture it, leaving you with no choice but to replace it with the spare.

In an adventurous vehicle like the Ranger, you could be a long way from help when this happens, so it's handy to familiarise yourself with this process in the relative comfort and convenience of your driveway, in case you need to do it on a dark and rainy night under torch light.

With any long-term test car, I still take the time to indulge in a spare tyre change, using only the jack and tools provided by the manufacturer like the (not so) good old days. (image: Mark Oastler) With any long-term test car, I still take the time to indulge in a spare tyre change, using only the jack and tools provided by the manufacturer like the (not so) good old days. (image: Mark Oastler)

I can still remember a time when tyre technology was nowhere near that of today; flat tyres were common and most Aussie motorists knew how to remove them and replace them. So, with any long-term test car, I still take the time to indulge in a spare tyre change, using only the jack and tools provided by the manufacturer like the (not so) good old days.

I'm happy to report the Ranger's system works well, with the most fiddly part of the process being trying to locate the small drive-wheel on the winch which when turned lowers and raises the spare from its storage position under the rear floor. This wheel, which engages with lugs on the end of a long steel rod in the tool kit, can only be accessed by poking that rod through a small hole below the tailgate and finding the drive-wheel by feel. Again, becoming familiar with these tasks at home makes them much easier to do if you're a long way from home.

Constructive criticisms

It's a credit to Ford designers that the Ranger leaves little to criticise, particularly when subjected to long-term testing like this. However, they are worth noting as they appear.

As highlighted last month, the T6 has been in production for more than a decade. And although it's been continually upgraded and modernised throughout that 10-year period, some features you would expect to find at XLT grade these days are missing - specifically a height-and-reach adjustable steering wheel and a/c vents for rear passengers.

The latest Toyota HiLux offers height-and-reach adjustable steering across the range and rear a/c vents from SR5 upwards. The new Isuzu D-Max is even better, offering both of these features in every model. So, both are conspicuously absent here, but given that there's an all-new Ranger due in 2022, we're sure these age-related shortcomings will be addressed.

We've also noticed that the standard-issue tyres provide acceptable dry weather performance but don't feel very grippy on wet roads. Typically, OEM tyres (for most utes, not just Rangers) are designed to provide reasonable all-round durability and performance while meeting strict unit-pricing required for profitable mass production. As a result, some owners will probably opt for alternative rubber soon after purchase, to better suit their individual requirements.

Next month...

So, after two months of 'ownership' the Ranger XLT is proving to be a practical, versatile and above all popular member of a busy household. Next month we plan to install the first of several Ford genuine accessories, to show what's on offer for owners that want to personalise their Rangers while keeping them 100 per cent Ford.

 

Acquired: November 2020

Distance travelled this month: 1132km

Odometer: 2536km

Average fuel consumption for December: 10.8L/100 (measured at the pump)


The Wrap

Likes

Design
Cabin space
All-round performance

Dislikes

Payload limit when towing 3500kg
No steering column reach adjustment

Scores

Mark:

The Kids:

$58,940

Based on new car retail price

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