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We drove the new Ford Ranger and, yes, it’s a game changer

Published May 26, 2022

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Phuket - It’s been a long time coming but, finally, after all the sneak peeks, reveal pictures, speculation, confirmation, and many articles, we got to drive the next generation Ford Ranger.

IOL’s parent company Independent Media was one of only three local media houses that managed to get an exclusive drive and behind the scenes information, during the Asia pacific regional drive of the next generation Ranger launch, in Phuket.

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So, did it match all the hype that’s been doing the rounds in the last 18 months or so?

From our side it’s an unequivocal yes, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s a game changer in the current market.

It’s a whole new Ford Ranger, that’s been built from the ground up, and, for the first time, extensive customer interaction and input around the globe formed part of the planning and design.

In the metal, Ford’s global truck design DNA is clearly visible.

I asked Leigh Cosentino, the Ford Ranger’s exterior design manager, how much of the Ranger’s design is taken from the Ford F-150.

“Because we followed the global design of our trucks, there is some of the F-150 in the new Ranger, but we spent a lot of time on the styling, as you can see from the shoulder line down the sides and the bolder wheel arches. We incorporated lines that would make it look less like flat metal, but still give it a bold truck look,” said Cosentino.

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The new grille and signature C-clamp headlights, the Wildtrak we drove were fitted with matrix LED headlights and sets the Ranger apart from anything else currently in our market, and I reckon will also be a large part of its success.

Inside, it’s a whole new design that takes bakkie interiors to a very premium level.

The new Ford Ranger will be launched in South Africa towards the end of 2022. Picture: Supplied

You can’t help but notice the 12-inch touchscreen, with Ford’s Sync 4 system, that dominates the dashboard. When I first saw it in pictures, it looked a bit out of sorts but once you’re in the car, you can tell that the engineers and designers have made it flow as part of the dash, so that it blends to form a homogenous unit.

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A first for Ford, in the bakkie segment, is the fully digital instrument cluster that can be tailored to your preferences.

Fortunately, not everything is controlled electronically. Underneath the screen are dials for the air conditioning and volume control, which are easy to reach from the driver’s position.

There is one concern though that I have about the touch screen, when it comes to offroad driving, which I’ll touch on later.

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Quality soft touch surfaces abound, with ample storage space, as well as two retractable cup holders in the dash for the driver and passenger.

I was intrigued by the door handles, which are now placed inside the door armrests. It's a lightbulb moment from the engineers because of how simple it is, yet so effective in its ease of opening the door.

The new Ford Ranger will be launched in South Africa towards the end of 2022. Picture: Supplied

In the same vein, the rear step in the bumper allows easy access to the load bin without having to balance precariously on the rear wheel.

Talking of the loadbin, the drop in liner has a more knee-friendly surface that’s flat, rather than the current “crinkle cut” version, and there’s moulded grooves that allow you to slide in a partition to segregate the bay, as well as a plug running from a built in inverter to operate power tools.

A simple but effective removal of two small covers in the tailgate allows you to fasten G-clamps to use it as a workbench.

Watch the new Ford Ranger in action (story continues below video):

The electric adjustable leather seats, with orange stitching, provide just the right lumbar support and are very comfortable and, coupled with reach and rake steering, should make long overland trips a pleasure.

The steering feels more responsive and direct than the outgoing model, with no play when centred.

The chassis rides on a wheelbase that’s 50mm longer, with a 50mm wider track than the outgoing Ranger, while the front wheels have been moved forward by 50mm for a better approach angle and outboard for better off-road articulation. The live axle rear suspension dampers have been shifted outboard of the frame rails for a better on road, and offroad, ride.

The new Ford Ranger will be launched in South Africa towards the end of 2022. Picture: Supplied

These have been important changes to the Ford Ranger and it reflects in the quality of the ride.

When it comes to bakkie suspension, I believe the Nissan Navara leads the pack in terms of ride quality because of its rear coil suspension set-up.

Thanks to the changes the engineers have made to the new Ford Ranger – that is about to change.

Our route in and around Phuket consisted of a variety of road surfaces that included smooth highways, regular suburban roads, a twisty bouncy mountain pass and, because of the regular rain in Thailand, a muddy road through a nature reserve.

The Ranger drive quality now leans a lot closer towards a monocoque set-up rather than a ladder frame, and sets the bar for the segment.

Zipping up and down the wet mountain pass, we attacked the corners with vigour and, again, the suspension changes showed very little body roll and also highlighted the traction control that worked hard to keep us honest.

The new Ford Ranger will be launched in South Africa towards the end of 2022. Picture: Supplied

The Wildtrak we drove was fitted with the two-litre twin-turbo diesel engine with 154kW and 500Nm, fitted with the 10-speed automatic transmission, with some software tuning, providing a smoother change through the gears.

That engine will also be available locally but the halo V6 turbo diesel, with 186kW and 597Nm, also with the 10-speed auto, will be the one to have and, knowing South Africans, the two-litre version is likely to be a lonely example on the showroom floor.

Ford had built an offroad track in a quarry and called it “Rangerville”, with steep inclines, a wading dam, sandy sections, mud track, and a rocky stretch – which proved an effective area to highlight its 4x4 prowess.

It also showed the high resolution of the screen, with a top view image that highlights what lies ahead.

The new Ranger Wildtrak has now been fitted with the drivetrain management from the current Raptor, with an on-demand system that includes a permanent AWD set-up, with an automatic setting that distributes power to the wheels as needed.

There’s also a dial on the centre console with integrated buttons for 2H, 4H, and low range – that also allows you to switch between normal, grass, gravel and snow, mud and sand, and rock, all of which we tested.

The new Ford Ranger will be launched in South Africa towards the end of 2022. Picture: Supplied

And here is where I have some concern.

The diff lock is engaged through the touchscreen which, as a more traditional offroad driver, gives me a slight sense of panic.

Ford says they’ve tested over a million kilometres and done plenty of hours of simulations and that, just like a switch, it’s still a solenoid that gets engaged.

I don’t doubt that they have but, if for some reason the screen goes blank or it won’t respond to your touch and you have difflock engaged out in the bundus, you’re pretty much up a creek without a paddle.

A physical switch still gives you some hope of being able to MacGyver it, with a Leatherman or similar tool.

That said though, there were parts of the muddy track that I thought would eventually get people stuck after another downpour, with 25 or so Wildtraks on highway terrain tyres continually churning up the mud.

The new Ford Ranger will be launched in South Africa towards the end of 2022. Picture: Supplied

They didn’t and having driven the route three times and trying out various settings that occasionally had the accompanying instructor raise his eyebrows, the new Ranger is a genuine offroader and not just a pretender.

It’s been a journey of almost 18 months but, having finally driven the new Ranger, it’s everything it’s been hyped to be, the rugged looks, plush quiet interior and offroad ability will set the bakkie wars alight when it's released in quarter four.

Ford will announce exact specification, engine variants, and pricing, closer to its release date. Social media has been awash with pricing speculation but, through the grapevine, I’ve heard that they’re trying to keep it as close as possible to the current pricing.

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