Ford's all-new Ranger, released in South Africa this week, is the first pickup developed under the company's "One Ford" programme; designed in Australia, it will be built on three continents (including right here in Silverton, just north of Pretoria) and sold in 180 countries around the world.

Which is why we're not calling it a bakkie, although we can't help being amused that Ford still refers to a full one-tonner (and then some - payload on some variants is 1200kg) as a "compact pickup".

But enough teasing: the 2012 Ranger introduces three new engines - two Duratorq TDCi diesel engines and one Duratec petrol unit - in three body styles - single, super and double cab - on two ride heights, with 4x2 Hi-Rider models sharing the taller suspension of the 4x4 chassis.

Everything about the new Ranger is new, says Ford, after 30 000 computer models and a million kilometres of extreme-climate testing in 15 countries, including South Africa, with its unique combination of altitude, heat and dust.

That's been all the more important, say the Blue Oval boffins, because the new 2.2 and 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi turbodiesels are being built at Ford's engine plant in Struandale near Port Elizabeth for export to 140 countries around the world.

At 5274mm long and 2163 mm wide, it's significantly bigger than the previous-generation model, with what Ford designers call "21st Century Tough" styling, featuring a very short front overhang, and the three-bar grille that identifies Ford trucks from Argentina to Zastron.

But it's not a collection of blocks: the windscreen has been raked back and the front corners sculpted around bigger headlight clusters with bigger mirrors and stamped-in wheel-arches.

Most importantly, the waistline has been raised to give the new Ranger a chunkier presence on the road, and a deeper load box - 1.82 cubic metres on the single cab, 1.45 on the super cab and 1.21 on the double cab.

The B pillar in the double cab has also been moved forward to improve rear legroom and knee clearance; the maker says the rear bench will comfortably seat three adults, while two 1.8-metre Boerewors Bliksems can sit one behind the other.

The double cab also has 23 storage spaces, including an 8.5-litre centre-console box that'll keep a six-pack cold, a glove compartment big enough to store a 16" laptop and door pockets that will hold 1.5-litre cool-drink bottles. There's easily accessible storage for cellphones and other small items in the centre stack and hidden storage bins for tools and other valuables.

But a pick-up (all right, Cyril, a bakkie) is all about shifting the load, whether it be materials on site or family and playtoys to the 'Berg for the weekend.

Leading the way in the motorvational stakes is the new, five-cylinder, 3.2-litre TDCi, rated at 147kW and a substantial 470Nm, for which Ford claims 8.4 litres per 100km in a 4x2 chassis and 9.2 litres per 100km on a full-option 4x4 double cab.

The economy champion of the Ranger crew is the new 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCi four-cylinder diesel engine, with 110kW and 375Nm to work with at a cost of only of 7.6 litres/100km in a rear-wheel drive set-up.

The 2.5-litre Duratec four-cylinder petrol engine has also been updated; Ford quotes 122kW and 226Nm, while burning 9.8 litres of unleaded per 100km in a rear-wheel drive Ranger.

Petrol models have a five-speed manual gear-box, while the diesel come with either a six-speed manual or, on the fancier models, the option of a six-speed self-shifter (the only one in the one-ton class, says Ford).

And how much load can they shift? The short answer is, lots. Rear-wheel drive, single-cab models are rated to carry 1200kg, the big diesels can tow 3350kg and Hi-Rider models can wade through 800mm of water.

Off-road capability comes from a new, compact front differential, a tougher rear axle and lower overall ratios, with an electronically controlled transfer case (on both manual and automatic transmissions) that lets you shift 'on the fly' from rear-wheel to all-wheel drive, via a knob on the centre console.

Higher-specced Rangers also have a new traction control system that can brake a spinning wheel and then reduce the engine's torque to the exact amount that the tyres can handle at that moment. Also available is an electronic locking rear differential for extreme conditions.

Rear suspension is by traditional leaf springs and live axle (still unsurpassed for serious load-carrying) but the front end runs a new, double-wishbone set-up with coil-over dampers. The suspension architecture is the same across the range, with varying spring and damper rates depending weight, centre of gravity, engine torque and drive distribution.

Upspec Rangers now also have a comprehensive electronic stability programme that uses sensors to monitor where the vehicle is headed compares that to where the front wheels are pointed.

ESP functions include hill hold, hill descent control, trailer sway control, adaptive load control, roll-over avoidance and emergency brake lighting, that flashes the hazard lights when the driver hits the brakes hard.

The new Ranger needs servicing every 15 000km and comes with a four-year or 120 000km warranty, a five-year corrosion warranty, a five-year or 90 000km service plan, three years' roadside assistance and, on 4x4 models, free off-road driver training.

PRICES

2.2 TDCi Base Single cab - R184 400

2.2 TDCi XL Single cab - R193 400

2.2 TDCi XL Hi-Rider Single cab - R217 000

2.2 TDCi XL 4x4 Single cab - R262 900

2.2 TDCi XLS Hi-Rider Single cab - R251 100

2.2 TDCi XLS 4x4 Single cab - R251 100

2.2 TDCi Hi-Rider Super cab - R251 200

2.2 TDCi XL Double cab - R272 300

2.2 TDCi XLS Double cab - R319 200

2.2 TDCi XLS 4x4 Double cab - R364 400

2.5 Base Single cab - R174 000

2.5 XL Single cab - R193 400

2.5 XL Hi-Rider Single cab - R205 600

2.5 XL Hi-Rider Super cab - R228 000

3.2 TDCi XLS Hi-Rider Super cab - R323 900

3.2 TDCi XLS 4x4 Super cab - R370 300

3.2 TDCi XLS 4x4 Super cab a/t - R380 200

2.5 XL Hi-Rider Double cab - R259 400

3.2 TDCi XLT Hi-Rider Double cab - R380 400

3.2 TDCi XLT Hi-Rider Double cab a/t - R391 500

3.2 TDCi XLT 4x4 Double cab - R426 900

3.2 TDCi XLT 4x4 Double cab a/t - R436 700

3.2 TDCi Wildtrack Double cab - R402 600