Auto Trader verdict:
The latest Ranger face-lift brings significant improvements over the previous-generation model, adding style, substance and a welcome upgrade in everyday usability. However, there remains the sense that the improvements are simply papering over too many cracks, especially in terms of ride quality and powertrain refinement.
We know that Ford will soon address the power side of the equation with a new line up of engines, but the antiquated suspension - and the associated lack of comfort - remains the elephant in the room. That’s why the Nissan Navara remains our favourite pick-up.
What is it?
If you’re in the market for a Ford Ranger, there’s a good chance you also have a penchant for checked shirts, hard hats and tool belts. Joking aside, although the Ranger’s brickyard toughness, 3.5 tonne load-lugging capability and go-anywhere four-wheel-drive layout surely won’t be lost on the commercial sector, pick-up trucks are increasingly winning plaudits from outdoor pursuits and extreme sports enthusiasts.
Hardly surprising, then, that the major revisions to the latest Ranger prioritise creature comforts and tech upgrades.
Alongside better-quality interior materials, Ford’s latest 'Sync 2' eight-inch touchscreen, featuring new infotainment systems, and a smart new instrument design (with dual information screens either side of the central dials) help give the Ranger’s cabin a more sophisticated bent.
Posh-car safety assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, front and rear park assist, forward alert and hill-descent control, are also available as part of a driver assistance package. There’s even a handy 240-volt power socket that accepts a domestic three pin plug to let you fast charge your laptop or boil up a cuppa.
There’s also a new snub-nose grille, supposedly to bring the Ranger into line with Ford’s latest design language. That’s one way of describing it, but when it's blown up to such gargantuan proportions, it strikes us that there’s a definite resemblance to old-school bull bars, which ramps up the aggressive ‘don’t mess with me’ look.
Other changes include increased soundproofing and some retuning of the suspension in an effort to boost comfort and civility, while electric power steering, stop-start and longer gearing help increase fuel-efficiency. There are two power units to choose from - both diesel-fuelled - including a 2.2-litre unit that produces 158bhp and a top-of-the-range 3.2-litre 198bhp five-cylinder engine. Both can be specified with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
What's it like?
Ford reckons it has retuned the Ranger’s suspension to improve comfort, but we’re still talking relative terms here.
Anyone who has ever driven a pick-up knows that the only time the rear end of the vehicle comes anywhere close to being settled is when it is loaded up with ballast. Driven unladen, the stiff, load-bearing leaf springs attached to the rear axle cause the rear wheels to skip manically over less-than-perfect surfaces like a stone skimming across a mill pond.
In this respect, the Ranger is probably better than most, making a reasonable fist of rutted surfaces and also feeling fairly stable when squirting around slippery roundabouts. However, heavier impacts cause the cabin to shake with the same levels of intensity as a 1980s Saab 900 convertible. Certainly, the Ranger is no match for the recently launched Nissan Navara, which can be specified with more sophisticated rear coil springs.
The engines in the Ranger also sound and feel pretty antiquated, so it comes as no surprise that Ford has plans to change them in the near future. To give you some idea of how coarse and how loud the diesel combustion racket produced by the existing engines is, when driven back-to-back, we struggled to tell the four-cylinder 2.2 from the five-cylinder 3.2 unit, although obviously the 3.2 produces significantly better performance.
Used as a daily driver, both powerplants are hampered by an extremely low first gear and a mousetrap-like clutch release, which is guaranteed to irritate the life out of you when driving in stop-start traffic. Equally, both engines have a very narrow torque/power band and, as a consequence, they respond best to a short, meaningful blast of the throttle and a quick shift through the six-speed manual gearbox. At least the shift is nicely weighted and precise.
We also had a quick spin with the six-speed automatic, which for obvious reasons takes the strain out of town driving, but it too feels extremely old-school. With a very sloppy take-up away from the mark and defined shift points, it's not a patch on the silky eight-speed automatic that’s used in Volkswagen’s Amarok.
The steering is an altogether more pleasurable affair. Lightly weighted to take the strain out of awkward manoeuvres, it also has a decent amount of feel, as well as having quite a strong self-centring action, which means you can relax on faster routes and plot a steady course simply by keeping a steadying thumb and index finger on the tiller.
Although Ford offers a basic rear-wheel-drive Ranger, if you’re considering venturing off-road, then the full 4x4 version (which lets you switch from two- to four-wheel-drive on the move or engage low-range 4x4 mode) is the only real choice. It feels in its element when mud plugging and, with a class-leading wading depth of 800mm, hill descent control and an optional locking rear differential, it’s a properly competent off-road tool.
Admittedly, with a dash and interior materials more in keeping with those found in SUVs these days, it feels a bit sacrilegious to be clambering in and out of the Ranger’s cabin with muddy boots; but, despite the obvious niceties, there’s plenty of tough durable surfaces to resist the abuse an outdoorsy crew will dish out.
The double cab layout means there’s plenty of space for five, and it’s bright and airy no matter where you’re perched. There’s also plenty of useful cubbies to hold numerous Ginster’s products, discarded coffee cups and the latest copy of 'Extreme-nutters Weekly'.
Further back, the tailgate and load area are pretty much on par with the rest of the pick-up class, easily swallowing an industry-standard single pallet - although there’s no mention of a vegan alternative.
Of course, because of the height of the flat bed from the ground, you’ll need a willing assistant - or a substantial ramp - to help load your dirt bike. If you’re into your jet skiing or hot air ballooning and need to travel with the tailgate lowered, there are plenty of tie-down points to help strap your load down securely.
Should I get one?
Although the mid-life facelift has added a flash new interior, enhanced the safety tech and brought some additional exterior bright-work, we’d still be inclined to wait a while until Ford introduces its new engines to the Ranger line-up. Of course, this still won’t address the inherent comfort issues, so instead, we’d be inclined to point you in the direction of the new Nissan Navara. In essence, it offers all the Ranger’s strengths and is an infinitely more refined and comfortable vehicle.
The Navara retains all the traditional strengths you’d expect of a robust pick-up and brings previously unimagined comfort and sophistication to the classToyota Hilux
Feels like it’s built to last for ever and a day, but it also feels underpowered and is too much of a chore to driveVolkswagen Amarok
A tough cookie that’s well made and capable of hauling and towing significant loads. It’s also a first-rate recreational vehicle thanks to decent refinement and comfort