THE most eagerly anticipated bakkie of 2011 was without a doubt Ford’s new Ranger. With significant players such as the extremely talented Toyota Hilux and Volkswagen Amarok competing for honours in a hotly contested segment where brand loyalty is at its fiercest, Ford had its work cut out from the start.
After our first assessment of the Ranger, the flagship 3,2-litre TDCi XLT 4×4 auto (January 2012), we walked away very impressed and said the Ranger “has pulled ahead of the Hilux”. These words proved controversial among our readers, especially considering the Toyota’s stellar reputation that saw it earn the title of best double cab/bakkie in the annual CAR Top 12 Best Buys for 11 years running.
But that was the most expensive Ranger and we were left wondering if its brilliance trickled down to the rest of the range. To see if Ford had done such a thorough development job on other models, we put a 2,2-litre, rear-wheel-drive doublecab model with a manual gearbox through its paces.
From the onset of the test, the almost-new 2,2-litre TDCi engine (see box) proved to be one of this model’s most impressive features. We were initially surprised by its healthy power delivery; some testers remarked that it felt as fast as the 3,2-litre. This proved true when we headed out to our test strip, on which the zero-to-100 km/h sprint was despatched in 12,73 seconds, just 0,3 seconds slower than the 3,2-litre auto.
The 2,2-litre’s vigour during in-gear acceleration was equally noteworthy; it was less than a second slower than the larger powerplant in each increment. Dollops of low-down torque see it pulling lustily from low revs in each of the six gears. Admittedly, our 2,2 4×2 test unit weighed a significant 262 kg less than the 3,2-litre 4×4 auto, but the smaller engine’s nippiness – both in city and high-way driving – still caught us off guard and makes us wonder if the extra outlay for the 3,2 makes sense.
The cabin remains a Ranger strong suit and in most ways is ergonomically on the same level as the Amarok and ahead of the Hilux. Except, in the case of the latter, for one small niggle … And we do mean small. CAR’s test team wasn’t impressed with the tiny infotainment screen – in appearance and limited functionality similar to the one found in the Ford Focus. Toyota’s vastly superior touchscreen system offers USB and Bluetooth as part of the standard equipment, things the Ranger lack.
From there onward it’s all excellent news. Perceived quality is good, while the cloth-covered seats are comfortable and supportive. And unlike most older bakkies – most notably the Isuzu KB – adults should be able to avoid numb-bum syndrome after being seated on the rear bench for a good few hours.
As we found in our previous Ranger test, Ford has done a commendable job in surpressing road and engine noise in the cabin, especially because the 2,2-litre sounds rather agricultural.
However, we feel more development time could have been spent on improving the recalcitrant shift action of the six-speed ‘box. At times, engaging first or reverse gear would see the transmission baulk, while shunting was noticeable if changes were rushed or the driver depressed the throttle too abruptly. That said, we found that, with a gentler approach, the shift action proved quite pleasant thanks to short throws.
Although most of the roads in the Western Cape where CAR is based are in a respectable condition, the Ranger proved supple and controlled (well, for a bakkie) on the occasional rough patches and gravel stretches. In fact, it runs the Amarok very close in this regard and gives the Hilux a bloody nose, and would make for a fairly painfree everyday vehicle.
Not only has Ford made major strides with the new Ranger compared with its already competent predecessor, but it has done enough for it to confidently stand its ground on the top of the leisure-bakkie podium. Sure, there are aspects that could be improved, such as a slicker gearchange and reach adjustment on the steering column, but, taking into account that it costs between R16 000 and R30 000 less than its two main competitors, no one considering a double-cab bakkie should ignore the Ranger.
As you would have seen on page 63, the Ranger has dethroned the Hilux as CAR’s favourite leisure bakkie and, for the foreseeable future, we don’t see this scenario changing. The ball is now in Toyota, VW, Isuzu, Mazda Mitsubishi and Nissan’s courts.
View our special report of the Ford Ranger here.