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What’s this?

The new Ford Ranger. It is of course Ford’s newest pick-up truck, but oddly, the bits Ford are shouting about have nothing at all to do with off-roading load capacity or towing ability. Hmm.

You call that a pick-up truck?

I’m aware a fair few of you who tune into TG.com are peering across from North America, where trucks are a cult, a tribal way of life. And by comparison, what we Brits think of as a hulking parade float of chrome and brawn is pretty much a Happy Meal toy to you guys. We don’t get the forbidden fruit of F150s and Supercabs and Duramaxes over here. What we get is the Ranger, now more efficient and teched-out than any commerical Ford truck…ever.

Time for some numbers.

No V8s here, but you do have a choice between two four-cylinder diesels or a 197bhp 3.2-litre job. Most Brits will want the four-pots, which, now Ford’s included stop-start, electric power steering and new gear ratios, kick out CO2 in 171g/km-sized lumps. 

In the case of the 158bhp version (there’s also a 128bhp four-cylinder entry-level Ranger), that’s all the way down for 206g/km in the old truck. Claimed fuel economy has shot up from 36.2mpg to a much more palatable 43.5mpg. All very worthy, cost-effective stuff for a vehicle that’s designed to be the cornerstone of its owner’s entire business. We’re driving the 3.2-litre Double Cab Limited, which costs £31,834 when you include VAT, which most buyers will dodge.

Still, most of those four-cylinder pick-ups are little more than farm hacks gussied up with chrome and alloys, right?

The tide is turning. Okay, all the manufacturer chatter about these trucks becoming indistinguishable from crossovers is claptrap – the Ranger’s 3.2-litre engine clatters loudly and even with 347lb ft from 1500rpm, doesn’t move the truck forward at a rate above ‘leisurely’. It does weigh 2167kg when empty, in fairness.

Nissan made a big deal about the latest Navara having best-in-class ride quality by ditching leaf springs for independent rear suspension, and at the time, it felt pretty impressive. But the Ranger, still leaf-sprung at the rear, pulls off the same trick of not feeling like its feet are tied together, maintaining some comfort and dexterity even when you’re using precisely none of the 1260kg payload capacity, which tends to settle down jumpy, fidgeting trucks. It’s no Edge crossover, but for a workhorse, Ford’s done a nice job. The six-speed automatic gearbox (a £1250 option) deserves a nod for smoothing out progress too. 

How much crossover stuff has leaked into the cabin?

A lot, (in this ‘Limited’ spec test car, which is the other thing Ford’s quite keen to push for the latest Ranger). For a kickoff, you get the Sync 2 touchscreen interface which you’ll recognise from the Focus, Edge, Mondeo and so on. Not that you’ll remember it fondly. It’s not a good system, suffering from laggy operation and too many sub menus accessed via fiddly ‘buttons’. Nissan’s infotainment from the Navara, and Toyota’s gubbins in the new Hilux are miles less frustrating. 

Instead, Ford’s heaped in (for a fee), the building blocks of self-driving tech: lane-keep assist, road sign reading, and adaptive cruise control. Not ground-breaking stuff these days, but significant that trucks are no longer being denied toys once the preserve of cars. Ford wraps this lot up with automatic headlights and pre-crash braking, for £1350. The Japanese trucks don’t offer this tech…

Any good off-road?

Don’t know, sorry. The Limited has all-wheel drive (or selectable rear-drive to save fuel), plus hill launch and descent control, low-range gearing and 800mm of wading potential. All highly competitive, but we didn’t have chance to try it out. 

Likely, the Ranger would’ve enjoyed being taken into the rough. Excelled, even. But it’s more impressive back on the road, thoroughly habitable and easy to drive. For a teeny European pick-up, anyway.

What do you think?

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