Ford Ranger Wildtrak lights path leading to premium pick-ups
PRIVATE buyers are the biggest beneficiaries of Ford's mid-life update to the Ranger pick-up, as the company looks to "future-proof" its most important model.
The Ranger is already second outright on the sales charts this year. The model year changes, nominally covering the entire line-up, are most evident - and impressive - on the XLT and Wildtrak versions.
Those top-spec versions account for about 65 per cent of Ranger four-wheel drive sales and tend to be bought by tradies and families looking for a little more luxury than a plastic tub liner.
Accordingly, the Wildtrak becomes the first pick-up with standard traffic sign recognition and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Semi-automated parallel parking, also standard on the Wildtrak, joins the lane-keep assist, blind-spot warning and adaptive cruise control tech introduced in 2015.
Those features can also be bundled in the XLT as part of a $1700 "tech pack".
There's also a new hero engine, courtesy of the Ranger Raptor. The 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel can now be optioned with a 10-speed auto for $1200 on the XLT and Wildtrak.
Despite yielding capacity to the standard 3.2-litre five-cylinder, it cranks out more power and torque and saves about 1.5L/100km in claimed fuel use.
Ford concedes Australia's fixation on capacity means those who regularly tow long distances will probably stick with the 3.2, though both engines are rated to haul 3500kg. Even so, about half the early orders have been for the hi-tech 2.0.
The twin-turbo is also cheaper to maintain than the 3.2, though only to the tune of about $100 over the first three years.
Suspension tweaks across the line-up are said to reduce roll when towing or under heavy loads and the effort of closing the tailgate has been substantially reduced.
Prices have risen between $300 and $1000 and now start at $41,890 for the four-wheel drive XL single cab with a six-speed manual, climbing to $63,990 for the Wildtrak with the 2.0-litre. Premium paint adds $600.
ON THE ROAD
The "bi-turbo" badges on the side are the easiest way to spot the 2.0-litre variants.
Hit the start button and there's no doubt the 2.0 sounds and feels smoother from idle across the rev range.
The flicker of the stability control light on a greasy Victorian road shows there's definitely no shortage of torque; though vehicles with 400kg of sand in the tray were more settled on the same set of curves.
Suspension changes have improved the ride, which has long been among the best in the pick-up class. It'll take a tow test to satisfy serious caravaners but the ride doesn't feel any more plush at the front when tackling corrugated roads.
The lane-keep assist does what is says but it lightens the steering dramatically as it redirects the Ranger back between the lines.
We didn't - thankfully - test the autonomous emergency braking, which includes pedestrian detection at up to 60km/h.
Steering feedback is up there with the Volkswagen Amarok. The Ranger generally feels far more civilised than a workhorse has any right to be.
Off-road progress is limited only by the dual-purpose tyres. Fit a decent set of all-terrain rubber with a more aggressive tread pattern and the Ranger will be hugely capable on dirt, clay and rock, aided by its 237mm ride height and (conservative) 800mm wading ability.
New colours, materials and stitching improve the cabin ambience, though this is among the few areas where the Ranger still shows its utilitarian heritage, a trait common to most utes.
Expect to see soft-touch plastics roll out on new models in the coming years as the pick-up segment aligns with SUVs in terms of comfort and convenience.
Ford's playing safe with the Ranger updates but the changes highlight the push towards premium pick-ups. Expect to see the opposition try to counter that move.
PRICE The base models have risen by about $300, the XLT versions are up by about $500 and the Wildtrak's $60,590 price is a $1000 rise.
TECHNOLOGY More parking sensors adorn the XL and XLS; the XLT adds keyless start and entry and LED daytime running lights, while the Wildtrak adds standard active safety kit.
PERFORMANCE Spend an extra $1200 and the XLT and Wildtrak can be fitted with the
2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel from the Raptor, adding 10kW/30Nm over the 3.2-litre diesel.
DRIVING Revised suspension is intended to counter roll when fully laden or towing but the unladen Ranger still drives with conviction on tarmac or dirt.
DESIGN The grille, front bumper and interior trim have been revised, the tailgate now takes far less effort to close and the Wildtrak adds new front seats.
FORD RANGER WILDTRAK
PRICE $63,890 plus on-roads (expensive)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km; $1385 for 3 years (reasonable)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl twin-turbo diesel, 157kW/500Nm (enough)
SAFETY 5 stars, AEB, lane-keep assist, blind-spot alert, adaptive cruise (excellent)
THIRST 7.4L/100km (good)
SPARE Full-size (good)
CARGO 950kg (average)