CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – The addition of yet another lifestyle-flavoured variant to the Ford Ranger’s already burgeoning line-up is always going to set the double-cab fraternity’s collective senses tingling; and with the wealth of Raptor-inspired bolt-on kits and aftermarket styling addenda capable of visually elevating your stock Ranger to Mad Max chase scene status, the provocatively-labelled Thunder simply had to take a tilt at the competition.
In essence, the Thunder adheres closely to a tried and tested formula. Take an already striking flanker model – in this case the Wildtrak – and apply a healthy dose of sports-inspired cosmetic bits; including LED headlamps featuring darkened bezels, darkened taillamps, red grille accents, gloss black finishes for the rear sports bar and alloy wheels, tinted side windows and plenty of Thunder labels.
Inside, the Thunder’s wealth of soft-touch trim elements, logical facia layout and spacious cabin give it an edge over some of its rivals. Of particularly interest here is the SYNC3 infotainment system, which offers a crisper display, excellent interface and a stable connection with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-enabled phones.
The Wildtrak’s “area management system” rear load compartment suite; comprising a drop-in loadbed liner, 12V power outlet and cargo tie-downs, has been carried over to the Thunder. The Ford also features a roller shutter for the rear loadbed and while it isn’t motorised like the Toyota Hilux RS’s, the black powder-coated item is a standard feature.
Mechanically the Thunder is all but identical to the Wildtrak, utilising the same 2,0-litre four-cylinder twinturbodiesel engine rated at 157 kW and 500 N.m and mated with a smooth 10-speed automatic transmission. 0-100 km/h acceleration is par for the course, and in terms of in-gear acceleration, it has a fluid and pleasing manner in the way it transfers power to the road.
The suspension setup is the best balanced of the three; proving yielding enough to absorb bumps with aplomb without succumbing to any uncomfortable bounce and rebound. The Ranger’s steering is also wonderfully responsive. Allied with a supple and communicative (by double-cab standards) chassis, the Ford can be highly entertaining to pilot on loose surfaces; providing just enough mid-corner slip to excite at speed but being effortlessly recoverable and reassuringly stable when driven sensibly.
On the open road, the Ranger’s composed manners shine through further still. Body roll is impressively reined in, even under hard cornering, and the suspension configuration is pretty much spot-on for long-distance travel.
In terms of value for money, the Thunder – although hardly a snip – gives you a lot of equipment for your outlay. As with the rest of the Ranger line-up, the Thunder models ship standard with a four-year/120 000 km warranty and a six-year/90 000 km service plan (with 15 000 km intervals) but the Thunder also throws in an impressive suite of safety features such as adaptive cruise control, rain/light sensors, head-up display, lane keeping assist, semi-automated emergency braking and parallel parking assist as standard fitment.
The Ford Ranger Thunder’s blend of value for money, balanced road manners and well-executed cosmetic package sees it narrowly shouldering past many rivals in terms of desirability. It’s one of those products with a hard-to-emulate balance of talents that culminates in a crushingly capable overall package with a broad appeal.
Price: R811 800
0-100 km/h: 10,22 seconds (tested)
Power: 157 kW @ 3 750 r/min
Torque: 500 N.m @ 1 500 r/min
CAR fuel index: 9,36 L/100 km
CO2: 215 g/km