I’m still amazed that a light commercial utility is the top selling vehicle in New Zealand.
I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised, it is the same scenario in many overseas countries, however, for many years mainstream cars were the dominant sellers here.
That has all changed recently, Ford’s Ranger has stolen the top spot and it dominates new vehicle sales. However, Ford can’t be complacent with Ranger, Toyota’s Hilux and Holden’s Colorado are lurking in its shadows and if you add in Mitsubishi’s Triton, Nissan’s Navara and a host of others from lower in the price range, the choice of ute in New Zealand is overwhelming. Add in, too, the new prestige X-Class ute from Mercedes-Benz and Ford will have to work hard to keep Ranger in a dominant position.
It’s fair to say that Ranger hasn’t changed a lot mechanically since it became popular four years ago, but it has been refreshed considerably all along its journey.
This evaluation focuses on the Wildtrak version. It’s an upmarket model with all the bells and whistles you are ever likely to find in a ute. Actually, it’s almost unfair to call the Ranger a ute, other than its length of over 5.3m, it is almost car-like to drive. I say that taking into consideration it is engineered for load carrying, but the Ranger is very sophisticated for what could be loosely termed a truck.
The Ranger is also a lot more comfortable than ever before, thanks to the continual process of refinement that has gone into its manufacturing process, it is quieter as a vehicle and there’s been a greater emphasis on eliminating road and wind noise.
The Ranger also has a controlled ride, I had to keep reminding myself that there was a deck area behind the rear seats; it is smooth in its delivery, yet it is the quintessential model for work and recreational use.
Up front sits a five-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine which harks back to Ford’s Transit programme. I’m a bit of a five-potter fan, and the 3.2-litre unit lives up to all expectation. It is strong and smooth and, other than a gruff growl under load, it is quiet and efficient.
Ford rates it at 147kW with 470Nm of torque, which are strong outputs capable of claiming an under 10sec time to make 100m/h from a standstill.
On the subject of figures, Ford also claims an 8.9-litre per 100km (32mpg) combined cycle fuel usage average. The trip computer was constantly listing around 10.3l/100km (27mpg) during my time with the evaluation car.
These figures are for an unladen vehicle, it must be taken into account the Ranger is classed with a 3500kg tow figure along with a payload weight of 835kg.
The Ranger comes with a six-speed automatic gearbox, it is characterised by smooth shifts and ratios which don’t load the engine, it is happy to work tirelessly low down and responds quickly to throttle request with strong turbo boost.
Underneath, the Ranger’s suspension is strictly working class. It’s a front-wishbone system with a live rear axle located by leaf springs. That’s the traditional load bearing design, yet it works well, the suspension isn’t firmed dramatically, instead the ride is comfortable and controlled with just a small jiggle or two transmitted in-cabin over the worst of our uneven road surfaces.
The Ranger gets an electronically controlled transfer system. In typical four-wheel-drive fashion there’s a high and low ratio drive system easily manipulated by a control console dial.
According to the terms of Ford’s loan agreement, I wasn’t able to take the test vehicle off-road, but I did descend a short incline into a into a new housing development to take photos. Between the hill descent control system and the seriously low ratio mechanism , serious off-road travel is a given. Take into account as well, Ford claims a 237mm ground clearance figure.
In terms of on-road handling, the Ranger steers with well-weighted steering and directional accuracy not always found in the traditional double-cab ute.
A work colleague purchased a new Ranger a year or two back, and while it is his quintessential family vehicle, it is frequently put through its paces off-road. He, like many other buyers, has discovered that the double cab format can used in many roles.
It’s that versatility that has made Ranger and most other utes in today’s market the vehicle of choice. I can’t see that scenario changing any time soon.
Price – Ford Ranger Wildtrak, $69,640
Dimensions – Length, 5351mm; width, 1860mm; height, 1848mm
Configuration – Five-cylinder, four-wheel-drive, 3198cc, 147kW, 470Nm, six-speed automatic.
Fuel usage – 8.9l/100km