YOU’VE got to walk the walk if you talk the talk. So only a month short after Ford Motor Co. first revealed the pre-production version of its all-new Ranger pickup at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney last year, the carmaker staged an intensive introduction and drive program for the production model of its latest global offering, aptly held two weeks ago at the best possible place on earth for such a purpose—Adelaide Hills and Flinders Ranges in Adelaide, South Australia.
The vast Australian landscape, after all, is carpeted by smooth roads flowing across pretty scenery and unspoiled natural wonders that are usually tough to reach by wheeled contraptions. And the postcard sights of Adelaide Hills’ wine-growing region and Flinders Ranges’ mix of virgin sea, land, mountains and 360-degree vista of gorgeous nothingness are no exceptions.
For its part, the new Ranger was penned and developed at Ford’s Australian facilities in Melbourne and Geelong, and was tested in various spots around the continent (and additionally in other places around the globe). It is only fitting, then, that the Ranger be introduced to the world via detailed presentations and both real-world and surreal-world driving at Adelaide’s picturesque attractions.
Unlike at last year’s Sydney unveil and the Bangkok auto show display that followed around six months later, Ford at Adelaide had a working, running, breathing Ranger that can actually be driven, with the truck, in fact, hitting Australian showrooms as we speak. So the recent event didn’t start with the usual product-prose sessions but with honest work—driving. That called for taking on the narrow, twisty roads of the quaint countryside, a clever tact by Ford to tell you that the new Ranger has road manners more polished than its daddy had.
Well, the new Ranger is intended to reach 180 countries, so it has to be an every truck for every man. It has to live in places where the roads are as twisty and narrow as those in the Adelaide Hills, as ruler-straight as those in wealthy Middle East states, or as crummy as EDSA. Throw in there all the differing muck—dirt, mud, water, sleet, ice—that could possibly pave those surfaces and you can tell Ford engineers really had their plates full when they worked on the latest Ranger’s suspension. So what the truck got are the usual bits of truck suspension hardware like coils and struts and leaf springs, but these are bolted on to a chassis that’s longer and twice as stiff than before, and which are tuned (or will be tuned) to suit particular markets’ needs. A rack-and-pinion setup, with different boost settings for low and high speeds, now steers the truck, so it’s easier and more precise to turn. Fluid-filled rubber mounts fuse the truck’s chassis and body together, which reduces vibration.
Ford made the new Ranger safer, too, with 110 samples of the truck crash-tested and thousands more deliberately wrecked—but in less messy computerized simulations. What all that playtime led to are airbags for the driver’s and front passenger’s head and upper body, a chassis that yields when the truck strikes really big or hard objects in front of it, a beefed up side structure, and the usual array of stability and traction controls, antilock brakes and a system that lessens the chances of a towed trailer wanting to turn things the other way around.
Speaking of stuff towed, the new Ranger, depending on its variant, can haul as much as 1,528 kilograms and tow 3,350 kilograms’ worth of tools or toys—again, Ford anticipating multicultural use of the truck. The carmaker then stacked the odds in its favor by offering three power plants: a 2.2-liter Duratorq TDCi, four-cylinder, turbo-charged diesel that makes 148 horsepower and 375 Newton-meters of torque; a 3.2-liter Duratorq TDCi, inline-five, turbo-charged diesel that outputs 197 horsepower and 470 Newton-meters; and a 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder gasoline engine that’s rated at 164 horsepower and 226 Newton-meters. The diesels get new six-speed automatic and manual transmissions while the gas engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, so spec-sheet reading alone should tell you to go for the diesels as these are the more modern packages.
Besides, at the Adelaide and Flinders Ranges gig, only the two diesels and six-speed ‘boxes were used, which disqualifies any impressions on the gas/five-speed combo. For now, at least.
As expected, two-wheel and four-wheel drive trains are offered, the latter option packing tech that should make people obsessed with approach and departure angles come all giggly. The 4x4 adds hill descent control and rear locking diffs, electronically activated via buttons on the dash while selecting 2H, 4H or 4L modes requires the arduous task of twisting a knob on the new Ranger’s center console. Yes, you can tell Ford’s previous ownership of Land Rover didn’t go to naught as far as off-road kit is concerned.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, of course, and so interspersed with the daylong road trip were a series of informal presentations on key factors that went into building the new Ranger, including, for instance, the effect of vibration on body panels and structure—vividly demonstrated with the use of a computerized machine that throbs briskly, and table salt.
And, really, that was impressive. Because it says much about how fussy Ford engineers and designers were when they worked on the new Ranger. Proving that they’re, well, worth their salt, they pointed that—among a myriad other things—the truck’s B-pillars ensure there’s generous legroom in the back seat; the bed liner has slots to accommodate pieces of plywood vertically or horizontally; the 12-volt power socket in the bed is sheltered in the wheel well lining so it’s not prone to damage; the tailgate is lockable; 1.5-liter bottles fit in the door pockets; the glove box can swallow a 15-inch laptop; the console bin is cooled for drinks; various cubbies and clips will hold personal electronica; certain parts of the sheetmetal, like around the door mirrors and the gap between the cabin and bed, received special attention and tweaking so there’s less wind noise; beneath the backseat are storage panels with lids, supplementing the area behind the seat; the alternator and other intake bits were raised to afford the truck a best-in-class wading depth of 800 millimeters. Throw in the mix Bluetooth, multimedia interfaces, parking sensors and rear-view camera, and voice control. Team Ranger really gave the project much thought, and was also candid enough to admit it benchmarked other trucks in the market to seek what stuff are lacking, useful or, maybe, just plain cool.
Rangers on the Ranges
An hour-long flight aboard an 11-seat, turbo-prop plane from Adelaide Airport lies a dirt-packed, seaside landing strip where four 4x4 Rangers (a couple of top-model XLTs and two other XTs) awaited batches of journalists for the drive up and around Flinders Ranges—South Australia’s largest mountain range that stretches almost 500 kilometers. Out there, dirt roads that crisscross the main paved highway lead to trails well known among off-road enthusiasts hardy enough to venture into places where the nearest thing that may qualify as a “town” is at least 40 kilometers away. That meant the spot is one huge playground where the sky is bluest, the mountains high and the terrain jagged—perfect for off-road drives.
The new Ranger couldn’t have been more at home there, too. Whether cut in top- or base-spec, the truck proved to be a handy drive on dirt roads where its steering is quick and communicative enough to allow for bits of tail-out slides without scaring oneself silly, and the 3.2-liter diesel mills truly deliver on its prodigious promise of torque. Oddly, though, it’s the six-speed automatic ‘box that feels the better of the two transmissions offered with the diesels, its ratios spaced better for both on- and off-road action. The manual six-speed, for its part, is geared too low, perhaps a result of Ford intending it to be used for heavy hauling. But then again, customers can spec final drive ratios ranging from 3.31 to 5.3, so there should be a happy compromise somewhere.
On the rougher, steeper parts of the trails, where 4L is required and the rear diffs are better locked, the Ranger’s ample torque once again comes to the rescue, enabling the truck to climb steadily even when the engine is ticking over at idle speed. And consider that the XTs wore smaller, road-biased tires as opposed to the XLTs’ all-terrain rubbers.
Because what goes up must come down, Ford made sure the truck’s hill descent feature worked—and worked excellently it did. All that was needed was to disengage the rear differential lock and switch the hill descent on. Then throw the Ranger into a cliff and it rolls rubber-side down provided you steer within the trail. No drama, no “moments.” Actually, the new Ranger, whether climbing or descending, makes it all look easy.
It really does walk the walk.