As product presentations go, it was probably a good a time as any for Ford’s Communication Manager for emerging markets, Asia-Pacific, Matt Moran to detail – that a Ford Ranger is sold every 20-minutes of every Ford business day in the region. This came against the backdrop of the new Ford Ranger 3.2 Wildtrak sitting canted amidst rich white sand, with one wheel articulated handsomely against a large boulder.
You could then appreciate just how influential the Ford Ranger is to the company as a whole both regionally and locally. Perhaps you’ve read the review of the all-new Nissan Navara NP300 in the preceding pages which claims to combine the usability of a pick-up truck with the comfort levels of a car – and as such does pretty well provide a formidable middle ground between the two. Where would that leave the cult-favourite on- and off-road bruiser the Ranger?
Well for one, given the company’s current flagship Mondeo, which too is spacious and drives nicely – perhaps presents the perfect platform for the tech trickle down towards the Ranger series. The synthesis, in any case, should be the best step forward for an already accomplished product.
The seminal face-lifted Ford Ranger now comes in three flavours to suit the palette. The Range starts off with the ‘XL’ manual priced at RM 91,588 – the middle-child ‘XLT’ variant which adds power and a tech boost priced at RM 101,388. And the range-supremo WildTrak variant which retails for RM 132,188 – which for all purposes of discussion , is enthusiastically and conclusively covered in this here report.
The 2.2-litre XLT feature a variable geometry turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder mill pumping out a wholesome 158 bhp at 3200 rpm while torque numbers 385Nm is lofted at the driven wheels between 1600 rpm and 2600 rpm. Squeeze another litre of displacement into those combustion barrels and the WildTrak storms the factsheet with a whopping 198 bhp at 3000rpm and 470Nm of torque between 1750 rpm and 2500 rpm.
Power is sent in both cases to an identical ‘6R80’ six-speed conventional auto equipped with a sport-mode. All four wheels receive power via the limited-slip differential in the XLT variant while the WildTrak receives full-locking differentials at both axles. All models are capable of shifting-on-the-fly.
On the road, however, the Ford diligently reminds you why it’s the best driving truck out there. The electronically assisted steering is both well weighted and distinct with its output – despite the size and width of the wheel, 18-inches in the WildTrak’s case; feedback from the front axle is accurate and dependable. Pedal travel on the brakes are nicely modulated against the output response, when you factor in the surefooted road holding of the Ranger, very rarely does one lose the sense of security and connection with the car. Despite the mass, and the rather stiff rear-leaf spring setup, which caters for a class-leading 1200 kg loading capacity – Ford has managed to engineer a quantum of compliancy into the Ranger’s suit of talents.
The 2.2-litre mill pulls nicely from a standstill up to speeds of 145 kph – neither slow nor erratic; the 2.2-litre represents a symbiosis of dependable power throughout the rev range. However, there’s no lloking back once you get into the WildTrak – the subdued howl of the 2.2-litre fades into memory as soon as one engages with the determined growl of the 3.2-litre. Every rpm the tacho-needle passes comes on faster and stronger than ever. Once you get on the throttle hard in the WildTrak – one must have your wits about you, in short the gusts of power and the fluidic delivery is addictive.
Off-road, rich white sand or otherwise - the Ranger excels as well. A host of off-road optimised tech enables a rather amateur driver like me the ability and confidence to tackle obstacles and terrain elements, that perhaps some 10-years ago were only reserved for the well-trained and experienced. Diving into a pool of water some 800mm in depth, or squirming through a muddy oil-palm plantation - was executed with sublime ease, to be honest. Most impressive perhaps was the Ranger Hill-Launch Assist and Hill-Descent Control – in both cases where my view out the windscreen was just blue sky – the Ranger seemed suitably unperturbed.
However, the off-road credentials were mostly established when the current model was introduced. What’s new to the current model is the host of active safety devices which are constantly working in symphony. The Ranger WidTrak now receives flagship Mondeo tech in the form of the Lane Keeping Aid and Adaptive Cruise Control by collating data from a suit of sensors that reads the road ahead. The Ranger is able to pre-empt the car from straying into a foreign lane and modulate the car’s speed to keep a safe distance from the one in front.
However before you go about thinking the Ranger is going to drive itself from toll-to-toll on a highway... that's not how it works. The system works by braking or torqueing an opposing wheel to keep the car centred in the white line – if the steering wheel is left unattended, the car would simply pinball between the white lines, which as you might surmise is counterproductive. But the system does work well to keep you alert and honest on the daily commute. As the saying goes – ‘with power comes responsibility’.
On the outside, the new Ranger is updated with the new corporate face of the new trapezoidal grille and angular headlamps – in itself, perhaps a charming nod to the company’s Mustang model. A menacing blacked-out front grille further demarcates the WildTrak and ‘XLT’ model – which receives a fully chromed unit.
On the inside, the WildTrak receives the updated Ford SYNC-2 system which combines all multimedia controls and projects them on an eight-inch colour touchscreen, my bugbear with the systems remains – despite the display architecture and voice recognition being vastly improved, switching through the command screens isn’t the most straightforward process. It’s no deal-breaker in my opinion and the audio quality and energy is the best I’ve experienced in some time, comfortably beating my previous favourite setup available in the Isuzu D-Max V-Cross.
The overarching thoughts surrounding my experience with the new Ford Ranger – revolves around the fact that this isn’t a car that hasn’t been a mild update to maintain market share or relevance, it encompasses a good company that understands how important just one product in its line-up can be – then going ahead and making it as good as they possibly can, perhaps they’ll even sell one every 15-minutes now!