South Africans sure do love a bakkie, and casting a snoot around any shopping mall parking lot affirms Ford‘s assertions that the Ranger is one of the most popular in the class. Aside from its legendary ruggedness and versatility, the Ranger is beloved for its affordability and feature set. It’s the last of these we were most interested in when we requested a loaner 2018 version to take road tripping. For a heavy lifting workhorse it’s packed with technology to make long or short drives not only more pleasant, but safer. But first, a bit about the ride.
Our Ranger experience started in the midst of a torrential Joburg thunderstorm on a Friday afternoon. We loaded up our kit, installed a baby seat (using the built-in ISOFIX attachments now standard on pretty much everything with a backseat), paired an Android phone for music and podcasts using Bluetooth, and hit the road… only to promptly get stuck in downtown gridlock. The upshot was we got to play with all the buttons and dials. There are blessedly fewer of them (at least in the high-end 3.2-litre TDCi XLT variant we got to test).
The 8in TFT touch display in the centre console makes for easy fiddling with the intuitive infotainment system and puts navigation and climate control literally at your fingertips. Of course, you can skip the touch all together and use Ford’s excellent Sync 3 voice controls via a press of the mic button on the steering wheel. We’re huge fans of Sync 3 (and its predecessors) not just because its easy to use, but because it adds smarts to even relatively entry-level Fords. We’ve previously tested it on the new Fiesta, and no surprise, it’s as good there as it is here.
Once we’d cleared the city and gotten on the N3, we could pay less attention to the interior and more attention to the ride quality. This Ranger seems to let less road noise into the cabin than its predecessor, and on city streets or the freeway it feels a lot like driving a jumbo SUV: smooth, confident, responsive. Plus, coming from the tiny, low-slung roadster we drive most days, the ride height made us feel like Gulliver. There are plenty of tall SUVs on the road, but comparing our position to that of anything that pulled up next to us, the Ranger is still among the tallest (1,851mm).
With our tester being a diesel there was a bit of lag should we choose to put our foot down, but being a 3.2-litre version thereof, there was no shortage of oomph (147kW of power and 470Nm torque, to be exact). Not only did that let us overtake with confidence, but it was clear we could’ve attached anything from a small trailer to a horse box to the Ranger (we had neither to hand, but the spec sheet claims it’d manage 3,500kg, which would be a very big horse indeed). Given the engine capacity, the Ranger was surprisingly quiet, and the cruise control and automatic braking when the vehicle ahead slowed down made it easy to stay below the speed limit, which otherwise proved tricky given the combination of the power on tap and the smoothness of the ride.
Though we were heading to Durban, we’d opted to overnight at a farmhouse near Nottingham Road. The owners had warned us the recent rain had made for a muddy last few kilometres, but unsurprisingly the Ranger was utterly unfazed. With a ground clearance of 230mm, a wading depth of 800mm and approach and departure angles of 28 degrees and 25 degrees respectively, a sodden dirt road with the odd rock was hardly likely to present a challenge.
Our tester came with a six-speed automatic transmission (it’s also available in manual), four-wheel drive complete with low-range, hill descent control and an electronic locking rear differential. Consequently, the only challenge we faced was keeping our speed sufficiently low to prevent pre-scrambling the eggs we’d brought along for the next morning’s breakfast, and prevent those in the backseat from hitting the roof over the more substantial bumps. Leaving the next morning we felt slightly embarrassed the Ranger had been so minimally challenged — we really ought to have found a river to traverse. But at least we had a healthy dose of mud splatters to offset our blatantly city slicker outfits.
Paint it black?
Stopping on a quiet stretch of road in the midlands we couldn’t help but admire the Ranger’s updated exterior. The grille, headlamps, bonnet and bumper have all been tweaked, resulting in an Everest-like look that makes it look a little posher than its forebears, too. Overall, it makes for a slicker package. Of course, if you want to make it standout even more there are plenty of customisation options to be had. Counting the single-cab, double-cab and luxury variants there are over 30 models to choose from before you even get stuck into paint, rim and other options.
If standing out from the crowd is especially important you can also opt for the Fx4 package that includes a whole lot of black: 17” Black Alloy wheels, a black bedlinen, black doorhandles, black radiator and fender grilles, black roof rails, black side steps… pretty much black everything, even down to black fog lamp bezels. Going the Fx4 route will add R15,000 to the price tag, but it’s undeniably eye-catching.
It’s what’s inside that counts
Turning our attention back to the interior, the XLT is packed with conveniences that belie its positioning as a toughie. First up, there’s the rear-facing camera and parking assist — a borderline necessity on a vehicle this long (5,354mm). Then there’s the pair of customisable 4.2in displays on the instrument panel. The left-hand display shows Sync 3 content like music and phone settings while the right shows vehicle information like fuel economy (more on that later).
There’s also a pair of high-speed USB ports and two 12V ports upfront, and we found the infotainment system was as happy with Android devices as it was with iOS ones (Sync supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). In the enormous centre storage compartment — which should hold a tablet or laptop with ease — there’s also an SD card slot. Peering around the Ranger’s cabin there are more pockets and storage compartments than you can shake a snack at, including the only thing about the interior with which we weren’t enamoured: A built-in sunglasses storage compartment lined with foam that felt a little rickety. Overall though, like the exterior, on the XLT at least the interior lends an air of refinement to what’s clearly meant to be a primarily functional vehicle.
A ripper but a sipper
Ford claims the new diesel Ranger is 18% more fuel efficient than the previous model. We can’t confirm or deny that, but we can tell you we managed to get 9.5l/100km from it over the week we had it. That included driving to, from and around Durban and the Midlands from Johannesburg. It’s not record-breaking, but it is very respectable indeed. While we used the cruise control extensively on freeways even our time in regular urban traffic didn’t seem to have much effect on its thirst.
At the end of our time with the Ranger we were left with a better understanding of why its not just one of the best-selling double cabs in South Africa, but one of the best-selling vehicles more broadly. It’s as comfortable as it is capable, and it’s very capable indeed. Frankly, given our short commutes and decidedly urban lifestyle, it’d be wasted on us, but for the weekend adventurer, weekday contractor, farmer, polo player or anyone else who needs to carry or tow substantial loads, or still wants the option of carrying five adults (or four and a baby as we did), and doesn’t want to give up features for fearlessness, it’s an obvious choice.
Pricing for the 2018 Ford Ranger double cabs starts at R325,700 and goes up to R633,500. You can, of course, go above this if you get stuck into the optional extra. Our review vehicle (the 3.2-litre TDCi double cab XLT 6AT 4X4 HR) is priced at R610,300.