First drive: behind the wheel of the 2019 Ford Ranger
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“More than a work ute.”
That’s how Ford Australia Programme Manager Dan Ciccocioppo describes the next-generation Ranger, which is set to start showing up at blue oval dealerships across both sides of the Tasman as we speak.
The Ranger lives at the apex of Ford’s changing global range make-up. Soon it’ll debut in America where Ford have removed all cars (apart from the Mustang) from their line-up, and right now it’s the number one selling new vehicle year-to-date in New Zealand and number two in Australia — outshining the Focus, Fiesta, Mondeo, and other ‘more traditional’ platforms.
And Ford will be hoping that the changes to the MY2019 Ranger will help the model maintain this stupendous sales momentum.
Last week Driven joined a raft of journalists from both sides of the Tasman at the new Ranger's launch in a rather grim and soggy Melbourne.
What lay ahead was a day-long loop from the airport to Daylesford, then the Melbourne 4x4 Training and Proving Ground in Werribee, and back — a route laced with broken pavement and gravel, with a subtle hint of suburbia.
At a literal glance the Ranger doesn't necessarily look much different to the old one. The front end sports less chrome on XLT trims and less black cladding on Wildtrak trims, while both add in a more intricate grille and more defined skid plate. Minimal, reserved, "if it ain't broke don't fix it" stuff.
But beyond aesthetics, there are some significant changes abound. The Ranger has undergone numerous mechanical tweaks to make it more comfortable, the spec sheet has been beefed up significantly, and a certain Raptor engine joins the four-cylinder 2.2-litre turbo diesel (118kW/385Nm) and five-cylinder 3.2-litre turbo diesel (147kW/470Nm) in the powertrain line-up.
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Ford's focus on comfort and technology is, at least in part, a reaction to the growing number of buyers chasing a ute that can be used as a family car as well as a load-lugging workhorse.
Its suspension has received revisions across the board in the form of a stiffer front stabiliser bar and softer spring rate up front. Acoustic glass helps reduce road noise. The new easy-lift torsion-sprung tail-gate is as light as a feather.
Does any of it make a comprehensive difference? It's hard to tell without driving it back-to-back with the current model. The Ranger still feels like a ute to drive; big dimensions, tall centre of gravity, and gravelly diesel engine note included. But, the incremental improvements became a bit more apparent the longer we drove.
Technology additives come largely in the form of safety upgrades. First-in-class Parking assist (standard on the 3.2-litre XLT and above), autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control (both exclusively on Wildtrak) are the main scalps, but the base XL does manage to pack the likes of trailer sway control and roll-over mitigation as standard.
XL Supercab and above also now offer rear parking sensors, while front parking sensors are standard from XLT and above.
Over the course of the drive, we sampled the Wildtrack outfitted with the four-cylinder 2-litre bi-turbo diesel, as well as a 3.2-litre XLT — the latter representing the most popular engine and trim choice in the line-up, and the former representing one of the most discussed, most debated, most fleshed out engines of 2018.
The 157kW/500Nm Ranger Raptor bi-turbo engine (which also comes in the Ford Transit) became a catalyst for swathes of internet fury off the back of an expectation that the hotly anticipated Ranger Raptor would come equipped with something slightly gruntier.
We drove the Aussie-developed Raptor in late August at the international launch in Darwin, and found that, yes, the engine was lacking in oomph when it came to overtaking on the motorway or carving through B-roads. But off-road, its eager high-revving tendencies made it a total joy.
And that ability on the rough stuff is very much still the case for the 2-litre–equipped Wildtrak. Through our off-roading testing in Werribee (which included a number of steep muddy inclines and flooded water crossings certain to test the Ranger's 800mm wading depth) the bi-turbo proved to be the pick of the bunch. Quicker to react to inputs than the 3.2-litre, with 30Nm more to play with.
On road is a tougher split. With all of the Raptor cache and expectation stripped away, the 2-litre engine's performance is less likely to come under the microscope.
Perhaps its greatest asset here is its 10-speed automatic — a transmission option exclusive to the 2-litre Wildtrak. It's slicker than the 6-speed automatic in other models, and it helps the bi-turbo Wildtrak achieve claimed combined economy figures of 7.4L/100km — less than the 3.2-litre's 8.9L/100km.
And it does this without compromising towing and payload capacity. The former stays at 3.5 tonnes, while the latter actually improves in the 2-litre from 929kg to 961kg (bare in mind that the base XL, with its stiffer suspension set-up, can handle 1483kg).
The Raptor power-plant comes at a $1000 premium over the fan favourite 3.2-litre, making the top Wildtrak a $71,990 proposition — $34,000 more than the entry level single-cab XL. The double-cab XLT meanwhile, a probable volume seller, starts at $51,490 for the 2WD variant, and $63,990 in 4WD.