In a bid to further diversify the already extensive range of locally produced Ranger bakkies flying off the assembly line at Silverton, Ford has now added a full nine automatics, all mated to the popular 2,2-litre turbodiesel engine.
With 70% of 3,2-litre double-cab owners choosing the automatic option, it seems likely nearly as many 2,2-litre purchasers will follow suit. The options include two single-cabs, three super-cabs and four double-cabs. With 118 kW of power and 385 N.m of torque, the 2,2 is no slouch and as we have often said, mating diesels to automatic transmissions tends to work superbly for smooth, flowing power delivery and taming the kick of high torque output at low revs.
Pleasant middle ground
The gearbox is a conventional epicyclic type that can be left in auto mode or switched to manual selection through the six forward ratios. Some ‘boxes can be jerky when shifting gears while others may be sluggish and full of torque converter slip. Ford has managed to find a compromise so that there is little lost time on take-off but gear changes are deliberate and noticeable. This is not annoying and there is little hunting around for suitable ratios for the occasion as happens with some autos.
Ford’s infotainment packages are somewhat fiddly to operate with buttons all over the place and a small 4,2-inch screen (on the XLS), but the quality looks and feels good and you do get used to it. While the top-level XLT has seven airbags and dual climate control, most may be happy to save some cash and choose this XLS with single-zone air-con and six airbags. XLs, meanwhile, have dual airbags.
Comfortable on- and off-road
We tested some 4×2 XLT and 4×4 XLS spec levels both on the tar and on soft sand dunes (4x4s only) near Vleesbaai south of Mossel Bay. Apart from the well-matched powertrain, the suspension also impresses. Even with leaf springs at the rear, the ride quality is excellent and is nearly as comfortable as a sedan to drive. We also traversed a fair deal of gravel roads with some poor surfaces without any issues.
Electronic stability control is standard and we had occasion to witness the benefit after a bump on a corner had the double-cab jumping sideways. One of the rear wheels was system-braked to help restore composure. This is a very important safety feature on gravel roads. Braked towing mass is 3 500 kg on most models with a payload of close to one ton. Ground clearance is a claimed 237 mm and this figure is fully loaded, too.
Towbar fitted as standard
The steering has electrical assistance, which would not be our choice as we prefer hydraulic assistance, especially on large vehicles, but it seems to be well weighted and positive enough. An important standard feature across the entire range is the fitment of Ford’s sturdy towbar. This is more often than not needed by owners who have to pay extra for fitment. The only driving negative is that the engine has a buzz below 1 500 r/min that smooths and quietens down immediately thereafter. This is a common trait of diesels at low revs.
Service intervals are 20 000 km as opposed to the norm of 10 000 to 15 000 km from other manufacturers. This works together with the five-year/100 000 km service plan on all but the entry-level models.
With auto ‘boxes becoming more and more prevalent and increased traffic volumes causing more and more congestion, we feel that car and bakkie buyers will accelerate the move from manual gearboxes to automatic for enhanced driving enjoyability. And it seems Ford feels the same way.