The Blue Oval workhorse for large parts of the world is the Ranger – unavailable for now in the United States where that duty falls with the F-150 series. Last year’s facelift of the former has also seen the Frankfurt Motor Show launch of the European version.
That variant is now being launched across the various European markets, hospital with our local office in Romania having the opportunity to spend a day out in the wild with the main versions of the midsize pickup truck. The segment was always to a commercial standpoint in Europe, just as it happened years ago in America, but that perception is going to be forever changed. With the emergence of SUVs and crossovers even the heavy-duty brethrens, as the pickups are counted, have started a slow metamorphosis. Today, just take a look at the exterior and interior design of the Ranger and you won’t feel ashamed taking the model to the Opera or your office building for a corporate meeting. The trend is present with the competition as well – Volkswagen’s Amarok has versions that reach out towards both ends of the market and Mercedes-Benz is going to deliver its own pickup truck based on the platform borrowed from the Nissan Navara, with AMG Line models already being confirmed as high-end versions.
The current generation of the Ranger pickup has bold credentials to show for as well – back in 2012 it took home the five-star EuroNCAP rating, the only model in its class to achieve it to date and it was named the 2013 International Pick-up. More so, the sales trend has been very positive, being the first in Europe last year and year to date, even as the automaker is preparing the dealership introduction of the facelifted model.
But let’s see the offerings coming from the restyle. Last year the model came with a new front end and most of all with a deeply modified cabin – when opting for the higher end trims there will be no differences to the current equipments available in passenger cars – such as the Sync 2 infotainment system. The workhorse version has remained on tow – it’s called XL and caters for the basic needs of professionals, with an accent on durability and reliability. It will come equipped with steel wheels but that doesn’t mean convenience or safety is relegated to the background: it has ESC, TC and EBA, heated windshield or electric heated mirrors. Go for the XLT and you can have air conditioning, the Sync 1 infotainment system and other amenities. By the way, there are visual differentiations between the trims – the XL comes with a plastic grille, the XLT and Limited have it chromed and the Wildtrack focuses on delivering a sporty theme with a metallic grey finish for the new trapezoidal grille, side mirrors, door handles, side air vents, load-bed rails and tail lamps. For the latter we also noticed the rectangular fog lamps, a custom sports hoop, machined 18-inch alloy wheels and the ubiquitous Wildtrak graphics.
We got the chance to test all trim levels, aside from the bare necessities XL, on a mix of asphalt, gravel, grass and off-road – with included water crossings and the time trialed axle crossing zones. By the way, before sharing our drive impressions, let’s see what the facelift brought on a technical level. Depending on the market, the base options will be the high-efficiency4-cylinder 2.2-liter Duratorq TDCi developing 130 HP (96 kW) with a 22 percent increase in fuel efficiency compared to the predecessor and a petrol 2.5-liter Duratec sporting 166 HP (122 kW) and 225 Nm (166 lb-ft). The main options though will be the 2.2-liter Duratorq TDCi churning out 160 HP (118 kW) and 385 Nm (284 lb-ft) and the updated 5-cylinder 3.2-liter Duratorq TDCi coming in with 200 HP (147 kW) and 470 Nm (347 lb-ft) of torque and a modified exhaust gas recirculation system for an economy boost of 18 percent. The engines can be mated to a six speed manual or a six speed automatic. 2WD and AWD models will be available and the latter are now packing an electronically-controlled transfer case and low-range 4×4 gearing for off-road usage or a towing capacity of 3,500 kg (7,716 lbs). There’s also a rear differential lock for those moments when all else is failing.
We also had the chance a while back to drive the previous model, in the XLT trim and packing the 2.2 TDCi – back then it had 150 hp and a quirky – utilitarian derived interior. Take a look in the gallery below and focus on the interior. The refreshed Ranger is an evolution case when discussing the exterior – we got a revised front end and different subtle modifications for the side and back. All is well here since the Ranger was one of the best looking models in the segment anyways – as this generation has adopted some of the macho styling cues from the US-only F-150 series. That means the Ranger will be seen by everyone as a true expression of Ford’s American roots, much more than its passenger car range, actually. Leave the chrome trimming behind and jump in the driver’s position and you’ll swear this is a completely new generation. This is arguably one of the best pickup interior we have seen yet, especially when paying for the high-end versions (Limited, Wildtrack) that boast the Sync 2 infotainment system. You have a completely new dashboard with few buttons and knobs, an all new instrument cluster and revised materials and trimmings. The durability is still there, because all the plastics are hard surfaced. Practicality and usability just jumped about two levels and sent the Ranger directly into the major league – effectively if you switch between one of the latest passenger cars like the Focus and the Ranger you won’t feel the need to adjust your mind and remember this model is sold by the commercial division of Ford.
The driver’s seat can accommodate a wide range of positions, which is needed since the steering wheel has remained a one-way adjustable affair. One small criticism could be delivered here – the center stack has very few buttons and it seems the excess ones were delivered to the steering wheel. Another thing you need to get used to is the electric steering assist system – at low speeds the wheel turns just as easy as if you were in a Fiat 500, which is odd to say the least. The direction input is precise and the feedback gets better when driving at higher speeds but I still feel the average driver will have trouble appreciating the vehicle’s trajectory based on the delivered feedback. This is of course to make the Ranger feel even closer to the passenger car segment. Another example of this is the suspension setup – which is simply incredible. We’re still dealing here with a rigid rear axle, but the suspension setup has evolved to the point where you’re going to be a complete “thick-skin” and pass over holes with speeds that may frighten the passengers. We mostly spent our time with the six speed automatic transmission linked to the 2.2 TDCi engine with 160 hp and 4×4, so we’re just going to give a few words on the Wildtrack ahead of a complete review coming later on. The model is not only for the off-road fans but also directly targeting the emerging pickup fan base, which use it as a lifestyle choice rather than the usual need to buy it option. As such the Wildtrack is well equipped for adventures – from the powerful engine to the optional goodies.
Instead, the XLT or Limited versions are the more sensible choices if you want to use the Ranger both for “work” and leisure. The versions – depending on the money you’re willing to spend, will get you close and very close to the passenger car atmosphere. And with the 160 HP under the hood, the 4×4 system and the low gear transfer you can also tackle any type of rough ground. In fact, the XLT and Limited, even with manual transmission, went everywhere, just like the Wildtrack and never presented the feeling they couldn’t match its credentials.