FORD BLURS LINE BETWEEN LIGHT COMMERCIAL AND PASSENGER CAR, WRITES PHIL HANSON
Ford’s rock is still on a roll. Last month, says New Zealand boss Cory Holter, the company sold 738 Rangers, nearly 200 ahead of its nearest rival, plus it’s the top-selling new vehicle in the country.
Ford had to dig back to 1991 to find the last month one of its vehicles outsold the Ranger: the Falcon, with 869.
Holter didn’t name names, but that rival will be the outgoing Toyota Hilux, which Ford has had in its crosshairs ever since the redesigned Ranger made its debut in 2011 and went on to become the centrepiece in the local line-up.
There’s a new Hilux coming in November and advance reports suggest it will be a good one, maybe good enough to wrestle the title of New Zealand’s best-selling ute from Ford. But Holter seems unconcerned, especially now that he has a new weapon with which to fight the new Hilux.
That’s the new Ranger: new, at least in the context of a facelift, rather than the clean sheets of paper from which the newborn Ranger emerged four years ago, with massive input from Ford Australia, whose engineers and designers already knew a thing or two about utes.
When Ford ushered motoring journalists into a large building in South Australia for the Australasian launch of that light truck, they saw dozens of displays, from a naked chassis to crash-tested prototypes that, along with technical presentations, left no doubt about the depth of engineering and design expertise behind the ute.
They had rewritten the book about what a ute should be — a hard act to follow, either for rivals or for Ford itself when it came time to do an upgrade.
After early supply problems, this Ranger built enough momentum to topple Toyota from the sales lead it had enjoyed for more than three decades.
Ford has now shown how to better its own act during a presentation and drive programme out of the new Kauri Bay Boomrock facility, near Clevedon. Blue Oval technical teams have refined the Ranger to further blur the line between light commercial and passenger car, at least at the top end of the product line-up.
All makers of Japanese utes have a similar level of refinement as a goal, as they hunt the rich pickings in urban and suburban markets, but having such a good base to work from, the updated Ford product has succeeded rather spectacularly.
It takes little time on New Zealand soil and tarmac to discover a ute that’s quieter, better riding, smoother, better handling and which consumes slightly less fuel. Its soft-touch cab is laden with goodies, especially on the top XLT and Wildtrak versions.
These tick box after box on the lists of city shoppers, keen to maybe dump the family car, wagon or SUV in favour of a utility, with a tray to carry bulky loads and dirty loads, and which can tow anything up 3500kg braked without fuss, thanks in part to Ford’s Trailer Sway Control, which automatically comes to the rescue if a driver gets into a spot of bother.
According to Ian Cole, one of the Ranger’s Australian product development team flown over for the launch, the ute has received a nose-to-tailgate makeover, in a three-year programme. Nothing huge, just tweak after tweak.
From the outside, the most obvious change is a new nose and headlight treatment that incorporates the corporate trapezoidal grille.
It hints at the North American F-150, the world’s best-selling pickup, which leaves showroom floors at the rate of about 60,000 a month.
Inside, the cabin has been made to look more like a car’s, including a wider use of soft-touch materials and a changed dashboard. Noise, vibration and harshness levels, already among the best, have been improved.
The well-received 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre five-cylinder Duratorq turbodiesel was modified in several areas, hardware and software, to improve economy and smoothness.
The automatic and manual transmissions were upgraded. The manual has a completely revised shift mechanism and different ratios to help improve economy and give a better “take-off” feel.
Ford hasn’t forgotten the bread-and-butter fleet and trades market. The entry XL, which can be spotted by its 16-inch steel rims, benefits from many of the improvements, but its interior is more fit-for-purpose, swapping carpet for vinyl and leather for fabric. It’s Ford’s rock for hard places.
Prices start at $36,040 for the special-order 2WD XL Single Cab chassis cab with a manual gearbox and the 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel. They top out at $69,640 for the Wildtrak Double Cab wellside.
At home on the Ranger
Here are 10 new features that make the updated Ranger a better place to be.
1 SYNC 2 on XLT and Wildtrak is based around an eight-inch colour touch screen and controls phone, navigation, audio, media inputs and climate control by voice or touch commands.
2 Adaptive cruise control on the Wildtrak automatically maintains a pre-set distance from the vehicle in front.
3 A speed limiter. You know, speeding tickets and all that.
4 Lane Keeping System warns the driver if it detects “unintended lane departure” and provides steering toque assistance to help get the Ranger back in its lane.
5 Forward Collision Alert scans for possible crashes, warns the driver and, if there is no response, begins braking when the driver’s foot is lifted from the accelerator.
6 MyKey on the XLT and Wildtrak, designed primarily for parents of younger drivers, allows various custom settings including disabling the audio until seat belts are fastened, limiting maximum volume and blocking incoming calls and texts via SYNC 2.
7 Multi-colour ambient lighting. Might as well feel good.
8 Electronic Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) includes an electronic minder that adjusts the amount of assistance and “feel”, depending on speed and road conditions.
9 Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) on XLT and Wildtrak rides shotgun on air pressures and warns the driver.
10 240v power inverter charges or power electrical devices of up to 150w; so don’t try to ruse it to run the toaster.