What's it about?
Ford bakkies could inadvertently be classed as the most important vehicles in the world. Really. The Ford F-Series bakkie range powers the United States economy - the world's largest, where it is the best-selling vehicle.
In South Africa we get the F-Series, but requiring Code 10 licensing to drive, it's hardly surprising to see so few F-250s on the road.
Thankfully Ford launched the new Ranger locally last year, which is about as close to a junior F-Series as South Africa has ever had. Bold, muscularly proportioned styling endows it with ample bakkie presence, especially in the company of the current crop of sedately-styled Japanese bakkies.
A key feature of the new Ranger is the addition of long-awaited common-rail injection turbodiesel power.
On the inside
Although the handsome exterior styling, with strongly squared-off proportions and a properly oversized blue oval adorning the large grille, adds to the rugged Ranger image, there are some rather neat comfort features that make it very easy to live with too.
Our test unit was a 3.0 TDCi 4x4 XLT SuperCab, although not range topping, was still decently equipped. Probably the most impressive standard feature item is the presence of driver and passenger front and side airbags, a first in the local bakkie segment.
Interior architecture is orderly, with car-like switchgear and instrumentation, although the bright silver finish, and flat-slab design of the fascia is both tacky and lends a slightly claustrophobic feel to the interior. The green instrument dials are odd at first, but they grow on you.
You do get a very clever serving tray for the front passenger too, which folds out from above the glovebox, and doubles as a convenient map reading- and eating-surface. Simple, ingenious and long overdue in the local bakkie market, this item is sure to be very popular with Ranger owners out in the field.
The SuperCab configuration yields extra utility space behind the seats (it's not the most spacious cabin though), taken up primarily by the presence of two large storage bins. Although rather shoddily constructed, with a locking mechanism more akin to those found in discount furniture dressers, these bins are awfully handy to store cameras or other valuable items in when you want to go shopping or surfing.
The suicide doors open up to a near 90 degree angle too, yielding easy access to the rear storage bin area. The loadbay is quite capacious with the sidewalls having been raised by 60mm.
Unfortunately the loadbay cover is a bothersome, old-school loop-and-thread rope design, which is shown up by the more contemporary flip-and-seal covers found on some other bakkies in this class.
Under the skin
As befits a bakkie with such muscular styling the Ranger has plenty of power and torque to lug stuff around, especially as the SuperCab can take a full one-ton payload off-road.
The 3-litre turbodiesel engine produces 115kW and 380Nm and though neither of those figures are class leading, on road this is the best turbodiesel engine currently in a bakkie on sale locally.
It starts quietly and instantly, and when you floor the throttle in any of the lower three gears, you simply surge forward on a torrent of lag-free, turbodiesel torque. As refined as any petrol engine in the segment, the frugality and workhorse characteristics of the TDCi engine make the Ranger an absolute pleasure to live with.
Ranger rides on a classic double wishbone front- and leaf-spring rear-suspension set-up, so ride-quality is obviously truck-like, but this is the compromise you have to live with for real loadability and some off-road ability.
Handling is generally secure, and you can hustle the Ranger at fair speeds on gravel roads without putting the fear of God into yourself or your passenger.
Carrying a one-ton load whilst churning your way through a sandy riverbed or simply cruising at speed through the vastness of the Northern Cape byways, the TDCi engine is beyond compare.
Roll-on acceleration in fifth at the legal limit is plentiful for 18-wheeler passing manoeuvres, and it runs with an uncanny lack of audibility for a diesel. With a slick-shifting box the 3-litre just invites you wind it up repetitively, and even when pushing on consumption remains factored in the 8-10km per litre range.
Off-road you have automatic locking hubs that negate the need to slush around in mud and engage four-wheel drive manually at the front hubs. Isuzu KB and Nissan Navara feature push-button and turn dial low/high 4x4 engagement respectively, and make the Ranger 4x4 system look a bit dated.
Some 4x4 enthusiasts prefer the old 'short-lever' low/high range selector system, believing it removes unnecessary complexity and potential mechanical foibles from the drivetrain.
I remain unconvinced of this in a utility 4x4 application such as a bakkie though. If the differential lock is dashboard mounted, why not the high/low-range selector too?
The locking rear differential and low range transfer box combined with the exemplarity torque characteristics of the 3-litre turbodiesel mean powering up shale inclines and across sand is effortless. The five-speed gearbox has a solid, mechanical feel and is a pleasure to manoeuvre up and down the ratios.
Negotiating severely undulating terrain is more a matter of how much damage you are willing to visit upon your Ranger. It remains a bakkie with a 4x4 drivetrain instead of a forbidding, uncompromised off-roader. Ranger is better suited to medium/heavy rather than extreme off-road work.
While most competitors have restyled their bakkies to appear as unthreatening as possible with bulbous curves and soft lines in all the wrong places, Ford has gone traditional. The latest Ranger looks as forbidding as its legendary F-series forebears and now finally - most fans will say with a sigh - it sports common-rail injection diesel power too.
Vying with the Nissan Navara for title of most handsome bakkie, Ranger, despite a slightly cramped interior and some tacky fittings, is way out in front with regards to drivetrain.
The TDCi engine and gearbox synergise to provide an uncanny combination of refinement, power and economy local bakkie buyers have never had the fortune of experiencing before. And the one-ton payload capacity make it a decent workhorse too.
In SuperCab trim the Ranger is very convincing. With the extra interior stowage space, some ingenious cabin features - such as the fold-out serving tray - and the safety boon of front and side airbags, Ranger manages to combine all the best South African bakkie virtues with contemporary technological refinements.
If you parked it at the Nampo agricultural show in Bothaville, or on the slipway at Yzerfontein, the manne would say, "Da' staan nou 'n properste bakkie." And there is scant praise higher.
Brilliant turbodiesel engine
Proper bakkie styling
Safety and comfort features
Some tacky interior trim bits
Novice friendly push-button/turn dial 4x4 system would be a neat addition
Cabin could be more spacious