FORDS Ranger pick up has long been a popular choice, although recent years have seen it being overtaking in some areas by more advanced rivals.
Thats all about to change with the arrival of the Blue Ovals latest Ranger variant. Product cycles in the commercial sector might not evolve with the same lightning pace of most cars, but when theres a new pick up in town the improvements are usually significant.
And so it proves with the new Ranger. Ford is touting this Ranger as a global vehicle developed in Australia, tested around the world, built in a wide variety of production facilities and it unashamedly adopts the front end styling of its larger American cousins.
This F150-like approach hasnt continued with the choice of engines, however. Diesel is the order of the day, with the likely best-selling 2.2-litre 150 horsepower unit joined by a beefy 3.2-litre, 200 horsepower six-cylinder unit. For those with a need to save some serious cash, theres also a 125 horsepower version of the four-cylinder unit.
Whichever one you choose, theres now a six-speed manual transmission for all Rangers plus a six-speed auto for selected variants. And as youd expect, theres also a choice between rear and four-wheel drive. The latter boasts a simple rotary control allowing you to switch between two and four-wheel drive on the move, plus a stop-to-change from high to low and visa versa.
Being a clean sheet design, this Ranger has clearly been influenced by the performance of its rivals. In popular Double Cab form, the pick up boasts a significant improvement in rear occupant legroom, making it more suitable if its going to be the only vehicle on your drive.
Theres also plenty of room up front in what is a noticeably more car-like cabin. The various materials used are of a much higher quality than before, while the Rangers controls and displays could have been lifted straight out of a Focus. The same can be said for the wider choice of standard and optional equipment on offer, which runs to car-like kit such as MP3 compatible audio units, climate control, parking sensors and a reversing camera.
While these premium elements will help make the time spent behind the wheel more enjoyable remember, for many the Rangers cabin will double as a mobile office it will always be judged on its performance on and off the road.
In this area theres no question that the latest Ranger is streets ahead of its predecessor. Ford has aimed for a balance of refinement and ability, with the resulting performance on Tarmac akin to that of a mid-size SUV. Fords engineers have done an excellent job of minimising pitch and roll despite the Rangers lofty stance.
The Rangers steering is now more accurate and delivers far less kickback than your average off-roader, which is good for refinement and reducing driver fatigue on long journeys on and off road.
Engine performance is another area thats taken a considerable leap forward. As with all forms of transport, economy, refinement and emissions have been important aspects of the development process. On a usability front, both the 2.2 and 3.2-litre units lack the stereotypical rattle and grumble of diesel units from the past, with the 2.2 unit displaying an above average smoothness and willingness that belies its modest 150 horsepower output.
Off road the Ranger continues to impress, helped by a class leading wading depth and the ability to switch between two and four-wheel drive on the fly. The pick ups compliant suspension soaks up even the largest bumps and depressions with ease, and the electronic hill descent feature allows for stress-free running up and down steep and potentially slippery slopes. Factor in the the generous helping of traction and stability aids and even novice off-roaders should feel at ease on a wet and windy construction site.
Available in single, double and super cab configurations depending on how you want to vary the cabin to load bay space ratio, the flexible nature of the Ranger should make it an easy pick up to live with. Its also been configured to be a class leading tow vehicle (up to 3,340kg) and can carry a maximum payload of 1,340kg.
Its no exaggeration to say that this latest Ranger is leagues ahead of its predecessor in terms of outright performance and general user friendliness. Its more refined, easer to live with and considerably more capable. That it presents a bolder, more distinctive face to the world is the icing on the cake.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Ford Ranger 2.2 TDCi 150 4x4 XLT Double Cab, from £20,123 on the road including VAT.
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel unit developing 150bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels through user switchable drive system.
Performance: Maximum speed 109mph, 0-62mph 12.3 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 224g/km.