ABOUT 12 years ago I was given a Nissan Navara double cab ute to test, and told I'd be amazed by its car-like cabin and manners.
Was I? Er, no.
Yet as the years have gone by and after countless ute tests the claim that these commercial/family vehicles are genuinely car like have looked more and more convincing.
The current crop of utes for sale are generally superb - not least because most in the segment have been heavily revised for 2015 - and although they still drive and ride like trucks - because that's what they are - their cabins certainly rival many cars for comfort and features.
Take the updated Ford Ranger, the PX Series II. I had a quick test of one in 4x4 XLT Double Cab Pick-up guise, and was able to evaluate it as a family vehicle, complete with two kiddie seats on the rear bench.
After all, these high-spec double cabs are increasingly used for daily or at least weekend duty as opposed to getting down and dirty on work sites.
And for my family at least, if you want to see pure joy on a three-year-old boy's face, my son couldn't quite believe his luck when daddy brought home a shiny red truck to play with. His delight was understandable: the freshly designed Ranger is an attractive, imposing and desirable beast.
This updated model has revised suspension and new electronic steering over the old version, making it better riding and easier to live with around town.
The cabin is also a far cleaner and clearer space, with Ford's Sync 2 touchscreen system meaning doing away with that confusing abundance of buttons of old. The XLT's speedo has digital screens either side giving a premium feel and clear information.
Front seating is supportive and spacious, while decent room in the second row meant seating the children proved easier than in many smaller SUVs.
The Ranger has stuck with its five-cylinder 3.2-litre diesel, and it remains a gem. So much torque from next to no revs, and an appreciated Ford truck note that wasn't too obtrusive at highway speeds.
Cruising is a pleasure - the ride is noticeably better than the previous Ranger effort - but you of course can't ever expect car-like handling in these trucks, especially with no weight in the rear tray.
It's still a large truck so manoeuvring around town can be tricky due to its sheer size, but controls are light and with rear view camera parking and sensors, is a doddle to reverse into parking spaces.
The camera comes as part of the XLT's Tech Pack ($1100) with its array of driver aids, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, lane keep assist and lane departure warning. It's a good value package, with the lane keep assist particularly impressive.
For family use I'd need a cover for the tray, and beyond it being thirstier than an equivalent SUV, I'd happily live with a Ranger in XLT guise, which is one off the Wildtrak top spec model.
My test model was $60,990 drive away - a fair bit of coin - but for the comfort, equipment, serious off-road and towing ability (3500kg), it's a superb all-rounder ready for work and family duties.
Model: 2015 Ford Ranger 4x4 XLT Double Cab Pick-up 3.2-litre.
Details: Double-cab four-wheel-drive utility.
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel producing 147kW @ 3000rpm and 470Nm @ 1500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Towing capacity: 3500kg when fitted with Ford tow pack.
Bottom line: $60,990 drive away (dealer demonstrator price) from Pacific Ford Maroochydore, ww.pacificmotorgroup.com.au, 54589777.
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