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As the first major new entrant to the leisure-bakkie segment since the Amarok, does the Fullback have the chops to defeat our Top 12 Best Buys champ?

It's a big year for bakkies. We've experienced the new – and very good – Toyota Hilux; Volkswagen has shown its revised Amarok, replete with segment-leading V6 turbodiesel power; Nissan looks set to introduce the all-new Navara sooner rather than later ... and now an unlikely player has joined the market. Based on our impressions of the new Fiat Professional Fullback from the international launch in Italy, the newcomer possesses the raw talent to ask tough questions about the established participants. And it needs to assert itself; hot on the Italian bakkie's heels are the Renault Alaskan and Mercedes-Benz GLT, both based on the Navara that's been garnering rave reviews overseas. Bakkie buyers have never had it this good.

Of course, one of those established contenders is also the formidable Ford Ranger. A smash hit ever since its market introduction five years ago, the big bakkie from Silverton has perennially challenged the Hilux's status as sales leader in the segment. Regular CAR readers will know it's also been our Top 12 Best Buys choice as the best leisure double-cab for five consecutive years. We haven't exactly made it easy for the Italian bakkie by staging this comparative test…

Tested here is the Fullback's flagship LX derivative, which tops a simple three-model range that also features a cheaper, less-powerful double-cab, as well as a petrol-powered single-cab workhorse. Under the LX's bonnet beats the venerable Mitsubishi 2,5-litre turbodiesel, introduced a few years ago in the Pajero Sport and Triton ranges. Ah, the Triton… Those in the know will be aware the Fullback is a nuts-and-bolts copy of the latest-generation Triton that isn't yet available in South Africa.

Fiat can only win with this arrangement: it's saved valuable money and time versus what it would have spent on a bespoke vehicle; and because the brand isn't associated with this segment that draws some of the most doggedly brand-loyal buyers of any sector, the fact that it's a well-respected Triton underneath and is built on the same production line should allay concerns about ruggedness and resale.

Outside

"Handsome" was the most commonly used adjective when the CAR testers were asked to comment on the Fullback's appearance. Chrome-bejewelled front- and rear-ends are complemented with neat matte-silver trim along the fore and aft bumpers, stylish 17-inch wheels wrapped in generous rubber with an intricate tread pattern, and standard-fitment xenon headlamps that provide an excellent spread of light. A range of accessories is available from the Mopar catalogue, including a roof box, tonneau cover and side skirts. Ground clearance of 205 mm is sufficient, although hardly class-leading.

In mid-range XLS spec, the Ford Ranger appears somewhat bland by comparison. Dull grey accents in the grille do little to lift the frontal aspect, and the 16-inch alloys wheels look malnourished in the massive wheelarches. However, compared with the Fullback's fussy Triton-signature upsweep in the rear doors and generous use of silver accents, the Ranger's simpler appliqués should see it age better. It also has more generous ground clearance.

Inside

Owners of newer bakkies such as the Ranger, Hilux and Amarok are in for a slight jolt when jumping aboard the Fullback. Feeling distinctly old school in its use of material textures and the shallowness of the dashboard, Fiat's bakkie also has small instruments and a hardy supplementary shift lever for the low-range transfer case. That said, the interior feels rock-solid and the leather-trimmed seating is comfortable in the front. The driver's seat is electrically adjustable and the steering column has rake-and-reach adjustment. Hop into the back and the amount of space is surprising. Boasting more leg- and headroom than the already-accommodating Ranger, the Fullback's rear bench is slightly less upright and should prove more comfortable on those long drives to your holiday destination.

It's better specified than the Ford, too. The LX has a comprehensive (though fussy) infotainment system with USB and Bluetooth, cruise and climate control, and a reverse-view camera, the lens of which sits proud of the tailgate where it could be knocked when loading/offloading the vehicle (the Ranger's optional item is integrated into the Ford badge). The quality of the camera's feed is also poor.

We had mixed feelings about the interior of this Ranger. It lacks the more expensive versions' full infotainment system, instead employing a small screen with mediocre graphics quality. More concerning is the quality issues we detected on this vehicle. There were uneven gaps between the surrounds for the central air vents and the dash top, and the interior rattled. Granted, its mileage was higher than the Fullback's, and we didn't have a record of its use before arriving at the CAR office, but a rugged bakkie should feel better screwed together after just 10 000 km.

Beyond reproach, however, are the front seats, which are very comfortable, the quality of the cloth trim and the ease with which the various cabin functions can be controlled. At speed, the Ranger's interior is also better insulated. Wind noise is low, road noise even less of a bugbear and the engine fades into the background. In the Fiat, the 2,5-litre is always audible and wind noise is higher. In terms of load bays, the Ranger's is slightly wider, longer and deeper. Both have six sturdy hooks, while the Fullback has a protective moulding as standard.

Under the bonnets

Despite being a rowdy powerplant, the Fullback's 2,5-litre impressed all who piloted the vehicle. Developing 131 kW at 4 000 r/min and a class-competitive 400 N.m at 2 000 r/min, it's a free-revving unit that propels the relatively light bakkie with real gusto. Overtaking punch is a match for the 2,8-litre unit in the Hilux and shades the Ranger. A sixth gear, however, would have been welcome in order to drop engine revs at a cruising speed and stack the ratios closer together. On an excursion to the Atlantis sand dunes north of Cape Town (watch the video here), the Fullback's comparatively high first gear saw testers having to use more revs than desirable to get the vehicle off the line and prevent it bogging down.

The Ranger, meanwhile, elicited no such concerns. Its close-ratio transmission and availability of torque from 1 500 through to 2 500 r/min meant few revs were needed to get it moving. That's just as well, however, as it's a heavy bakkie that needs all the help it can get to tread lightly on soft sand. That weight penalty is immediately evident on-road, too, where performance is merely average compared with the Fullback and positively pedestrian above 100 km/h. Overtaking manoeuvres require more careful planning and longer stretches of clear road to execute.

On the open road

Here the Ranger starts cementing an advantage. From the light shifts of its slick six-speed gearbox, to the moderately weighted steering and comfortable ride, it firmly favours leisure pursuits. Except perhaps for the Amarok, no other bakkie is this refined and untaxing to drive. As long as you don't push it… Up the pace and body control deteriorates, the steering kicks back if bumps are encountered mid-corner and the heavy body heaves to and fro. A big concern in a bakkie, though? Not really.

Jump into the Fullback straight after the Ranger and it feels like a hot hatch by comparison (A hot double-cab? Now there's a novel idea). The steering is weightier and more direct, as is the transmission's action, and the bakkie feels more eager to change direction. Conversely, that means the ride errs towards the firmer, more fidgety side of the spectrum. It never quite settles and there's a slight but constant vertical disturbance at cruising speeds. That said, it's no worse than the new Hilux and an improvement on the previous-generation Triton that's still on sale in South Africa.

Bakkies tend to disappoint in our 10-stop emergency-braking test, but that wasn't the case here. Both vehicles stopped in commendably short distances and times. On our standardised 100 km fuel route, the Fullback recorded an excellent 8,9 L/100 km and the Ranger an even more parsimonious 8,0 L/100 km.

What's included

As mentioned, in terms of luxury and convenience features, the Fullback knocks the Ranger into touch. However, it's the Ford that's more generous in its offering of safety features, boasting six airbags to the Fiat's disappointing two (though the Italian has Isofix thrown in). Both vehicles use ABS with EBD and EBA, as well as ESC (switchable in the Ranger), while the Ford offers the convenience of shifting between drive modes with a knob on the facia versus the Fiat's stiff second gear lever. The Italian bakkie offers 10 000 km extra on its five-year service plan, while the Ranger counters with a more generous warranty and longer service intervals (every 20 000 km).
UPINGTON, Northern Cape – Does the average South African bakkie-buyer really need the ability to blast along off-road terrain at breakneck speeds? Or string together drift after dirt-flinging drift? Or, indeed, jump the vehicle off a gravel-road crest at 120+ km/h without fear of the underpinnings positively disintegrating upon landing?

Almost certainly not. Although many probably want that ability. And now they can have it.

Yes, the locally built Ford Ranger Raptor has finally hit the market in South Africa (read our pricing story here and our international driving impression here), with the Blue Oval brand billing its beefed-up bakkie as downright peerless when it comes to high-speed off-roading talent. And, after spending many hours subjecting the aggressively styled newcomer to numerous tests over various unpaved surfaces – from the soft sand of the dunes to the brittle surfaces of a salt pan – it’s safe to say that’s more than mere marketing talk.



Thanks to an army of bespoke under-the-skin items (check out our in-depth technical article to see exactly what it took to design and build this vehicle), including a strengthened chassis frame, uprated brakes, high-performance Fox dampers and a new coil-over rear suspension set-up featuring an integrated Watt’s linkage (the latter noticeably reducing body lean through fast bends), the Raptor-badged model boasts a level of off-road talent that is simply streets ahead of any other straight-from-the-factory bakkie currently offered in our market.

Add a comprehensive “terrain management system” – which offers six driving modes in the form of normal and sport (for on-road use) plus grass/gravel/snow, mud/sand, rock and Baja (for off-road use) – that allows powertrain characteristics and the level of electronic assistance to be varied, and you have something not too far from a fully fledged off-road racer.

Of course, what’s not so racy is the oil-burning four-banger Ford opted to drop over the front axle. The 2,0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbodiesel unit (offering 157 kW and 500 N.m) has been at the centre of heated discussion since the reveal of the Ranger Raptor back in February 2018, with many enthusiasts suggesting a couple more cylinders would have been more fitting for a vehicle developed under the Ford Performance banner.



Granted, on tarmac the Ranger Raptor doesn’t accelerate particularly quickly from standstill (in fact, Ford has made a point of not mentioning the Silverton-built Raptor’s claimed 0-100 km/h sprint time in its press material ... but it’s 10,5 seconds, if you were wondering), so those hoping it will keep up with the likes of the Volkswagen Amarok V6 and Mercedes-Benz X350d from light to light will be bitterly disappointed. And it’s also a little irksome this very engine can be ordered in the Ranger Wildtrak (and even the Everest), too.

But seldom during my time with the Ranger Raptor off-road did I find myself thinking more grunt would have been useful (and not once when rally ace Gareth Woolridge had me holding my breath and bracing for impact as he attacked obstacle after obstacle during a punishing hot lap across varied terrain). And that leaves me feeling the Struandale-assembled engine is at the very least sufficient for high-speed off-road action.

The 10-speed automatic transmission, too, does a fine job of selecting the appropriate cog for most driving situations (magnesium paddle-shifters ship standard, but seem superfluous here), with the final couple of ratios further settling what is already a pleasingly hushed diesel engine when on the long road.



The specially developed BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres (in 285/70 R17 size) under those menacingly flared arches, meanwhile, not only come to the party in the rough stuff, but also help deliver an almost plush ride quality on tarmac, despite an aggressive tread pattern. Ultimately, the generously specced Raptor is certainly usable as an everyday on-road vehicle, although its considerable width sees it spilling from the average parking bay.

While the bold exterior styling (only amplified by the lofty 283 mm ground clearance and 150 mm wider tracks) makes the Raptor easily distinguishable from lesser Ranger derivatives, inside the differences are not quite as marked. The most obvious upgrade to the cabin is the fitment of model-specific sports seats offering a handy mix of comfort and support, while more subtle changes include blue stitching, a freshened-up instrument cluster and a red top-centre marker on the leather-clad tiller. Frustrating, however, the steering column is still missing reach adjustment, which makes it difficult to lock in the perfect driving position.

The Ranger Raptor is a particularly interesting addition to a local off-road market that generally focuses on low-speed, technical jaunts off the beaten track. The newcomer, by contrast, offers high-speed thrills away from the asphalt, flattering drivers with even limited skill or experience. Still, I can’t help but feel the majority of Ranger Raptors sold in SA won’t ever see the sort of terrain for which this vehicle has been been expressly designed.



Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if a healthy chunk end up being bought on looks alone, with buyers perfectly content to sacrifice towing capacity (which drops to 2 500 kg) and payload (reduced to 607 kg) at the altar of a highly sophisticated suspension arrangment that will seldom see anything more rural than an immaculately graded gravel road.

Of course, there's an argument to be made that Ford could have simply slapped an aggressive body kit onto a standard Ranger (and perhaps thrown in a smidgen more under-bonnet oomph), with the result likely to sell in significant numbers while requiring far less-intensive development (and thus a mere fraction of the investment that went into the Raptor). But those who get the chance to experience this machine at maximum attack off the beaten track will be glad this isn’t the case.

So, back to that original question: does the typical bakkie-owner really need this level of off-road wherewithal? Well, does the average supercar driver need the ability to reach licence-losing speeds? The answer to both is “no”, but (in each case) that doesn’t mean they don’t want it...
UPINGTON, Northern Cape – Does the average South African bakkie-buyer really need the ability to blast along off-road terrain at breakneck speeds? Or string together drift after dirt-flinging drift? Or, indeed, jump the vehicle off a gravel-road crest at 120+ km/h without fear of the underpinnings positively disintegrating upon landing?

Almost certainly not. Although many probably want that ability. And now they can have it.

Yes, the locally built Ford Ranger Raptor has finally hit the market in South Africa (read our pricing story here and our international driving impression here), with the Blue Oval brand billing its beefed-up bakkie as downright peerless when it comes to high-speed off-roading talent. And, after spending many hours subjecting the aggressively styled newcomer to numerous tests over various unpaved surfaces – from the soft sand of the dunes to the brittle surfaces of a salt pan – it’s safe to say that’s more than mere marketing talk.



Thanks to an army of bespoke under-the-skin items (check out our in-depth technical article to see exactly what it took to design and build this vehicle), including a strengthened chassis frame, uprated brakes, high-performance Fox dampers and a new coil-over rear suspension set-up featuring an integrated Watt’s linkage (the latter noticeably reducing body lean through fast bends), the Raptor-badged model boasts a level of off-road talent that is simply streets ahead of any other straight-from-the-factory bakkie currently offered in our market.

Add a comprehensive “terrain management system” – which offers six driving modes in the form of normal and sport (for on-road use) plus grass/gravel/snow, mud/sand, rock and Baja (for off-road use) – that allows powertrain characteristics and the level of electronic assistance to be varied, and you have something not too far from a fully fledged off-road racer.

Of course, what’s not so racy is the oil-burning four-banger Ford opted to drop over the front axle. The 2,0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbodiesel unit (offering 157 kW and 500 N.m) has been at the centre of heated discussion since the reveal of the Ranger Raptor back in February 2018, with many enthusiasts suggesting a couple more cylinders would have been more fitting for a vehicle developed under the Ford Performance banner.



Granted, on tarmac the Ranger Raptor doesn’t accelerate particularly quickly from standstill (in fact, Ford has made a point of not mentioning the Silverton-built Raptor’s claimed 0-100 km/h sprint time in its press material ... but it’s 10,5 seconds, if you were wondering), so those hoping it will keep up with the likes of the Volkswagen Amarok V6 and Mercedes-Benz X350d from light to light will be bitterly disappointed. And it’s also a little irksome this very engine can be ordered in the Ranger Wildtrak (and even the Everest), too.

But seldom during my time with the Ranger Raptor off-road did I find myself thinking more grunt would have been useful (and not once when rally ace Gareth Woolridge had me holding my breath and bracing for impact as he attacked obstacle after obstacle during a punishing hot lap across varied terrain). And that leaves me feeling the Struandale-assembled engine is at the very least sufficient for high-speed off-road action.

The 10-speed automatic transmission, too, does a fine job of selecting the appropriate cog for most driving situations (magnesium paddle-shifters ship standard, but seem superfluous here), with the final couple of ratios further settling what is already a pleasingly hushed diesel engine when on the long road.



The specially developed BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres (in 285/70 R17 size) under those menacingly flared arches, meanwhile, not only come to the party in the rough stuff, but also help deliver an almost plush ride quality on tarmac, despite an aggressive tread pattern. Ultimately, the generously specced Raptor is certainly usable as an everyday on-road vehicle, although its considerable width sees it spilling from the average parking bay.

While the bold exterior styling (only amplified by the lofty 283 mm ground clearance and 150 mm wider tracks) makes the Raptor easily distinguishable from lesser Ranger derivatives, inside the differences are not quite as marked. The most obvious upgrade to the cabin is the fitment of model-specific sports seats offering a handy mix of comfort and support, while more subtle changes include blue stitching, a freshened-up instrument cluster and a red top-centre marker on the leather-clad tiller. Frustrating, however, the steering column is still missing reach adjustment, which makes it difficult to lock in the perfect driving position.

The Ranger Raptor is a particularly interesting addition to a local off-road market that generally focuses on low-speed, technical jaunts off the beaten track. The newcomer, by contrast, offers high-speed thrills away from the asphalt, flattering drivers with even limited skill or experience. Still, I can’t help but feel the majority of Ranger Raptors sold in SA won’t ever see the sort of terrain for which this vehicle has been been expressly designed.



Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if a healthy chunk end up being bought on looks alone, with buyers perfectly content to sacrifice towing capacity (which drops to 2 500 kg) and payload (reduced to 607 kg) at the altar of a highly sophisticated suspension arrangment that will seldom see anything more rural than an immaculately graded gravel road.

Of course, there's an argument to be made that Ford could have simply slapped an aggressive body kit onto a standard Ranger (and perhaps thrown in a smidgen more under-bonnet oomph), with the result likely to sell in significant numbers while requiring far less-intensive development (and thus a mere fraction of the investment that went into the Raptor). But those who get the chance to experience this machine at maximum attack off the beaten track will be glad this isn’t the case.

So, back to that original question: does the typical bakkie-owner really need this level of off-road wherewithal? Well, does the average supercar driver need the ability to reach licence-losing speeds? The answer to both is “no”, but (in each case) that doesn’t mean they don’t want it...

Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 5
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: front
  • Front armrests: Standard
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Traction control: Standard
  • Stability control: Standard
  • Hill descent control downhill brake control: Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 2
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • ISOFIX child seat mountings: outer rear
  • Hillstart assist hillholder: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Optional
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: front + rear
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Daytime driving running lights: Standard
  • Towbar trailer hitch: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: diesel
  • Fuel range average: 1111 km
  • Driven wheels: all
  • Driven wheels quantity: 4
  • All wheel drive: part-time
  • Gearratios quantity: 6
  • Lowrange: Standard
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Diff lock: rear
  • Front tyres: 255/70 R16
  • Reartyres: 255/70 R16
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 5354 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1860-2163 mm
  • Height: 1851 mm
  • Wheel base: 3220 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 237 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 12.7 m
  • Approach angle: 25.5
  • Break over ramp angle: 18.5
  • Departure angle: 21.8
  • Wading/fording (water crossing) depth: 800
  • Gross weight (GVM): 3200 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 750
  • Towing capacity - braked: 3500
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 80l
  • Fuel consumption average: 7.2 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 190g/km
  • Power maximum: 118 kW
  • Power maximum total: 118 kW
  • Power peak revs: 3700 r/min
  • Torque maximum: 385 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 1500-2500 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 385 Nm
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 2198 cc
  • Engine size: 2.2l
  • enginedetailshort: 2.2TD
  • Engine + detail: 2.2 turbo diesel
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Cam: dohc
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Turbocharger: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 4
  • Warranty distance (km): 120000 km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 6
  • Service plan time (distance): 90000 km
  • Roadside assistance time: 3
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Service interval (time): 1
  • Brand: Ford
  • Status: c
  • Segment: LCV
  • MMcode: 22032693
  • MMVariant: RANGER 2.2TDCi XL 4X4 P/U D/C
  • MMintrodat: 2019-03-18
  • Introdate: 2019-04-08
  • DuoportarecordID: FordRang3Fd74

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