Wild at heart

James Batchelor takes a closer look at one of our Towcar of the Year Awards winners

Ford has long dominated the US pick-up sector with its F-150 truck, but here in Britain the smaller Ranger has always been a top-seller, too. Over the years buyers have flocked to the Ranger due to its rugged go-anywhere ability and fine driving characteristics, and it has also been a firm favourite among caravan owners. So, when there’s a new one in town, it’s big news. Moreover, the latest Ranger promptly walked off with the ‘Pick Up’ category gong in the recent Caravan and Motorhome Club Towcar of the Year Awards. Here we take a closer look and explain why it’s a worthy winner.

Comfort – 74%

As we pointed out in the Towcar awards section last month, the new Ranger shares much with the Volkswagen Amarok. They’re basically the same vehicle and are the result of a wide-ranging technical partnership between the two automotive giants. This involves Ford using VW’s electric car expertise for its next-generation EVs, and Volkswagen using the Blue Oval’s know-how when it comes to commercial vehicles. But we’ll come back to that another day – here we’re focusing on the Ranger. 

It’s clear Ford has used some of the US F-150 pick-up as inspiration for the Ranger’s styling, as it’s an imposing looking thing. With the previous generation model it was only the high-performance Raptor that had an aggressive look, but even this mid-spec Wildtrak has bucketloads of attitude with a blunt nose, an enormous grille and chunky wheel arches. It stands out even more when it’s painted in optional ‘Cyber Orange’ (£600, excluding VAT). 

The Wildtrak comes well equipped – part-leather seats with electric adjustment for the two front seats, a 12in touchscreen, LED headlights and 18in alloy wheels are just a few of the goodies thrown in.

The touchscreen is worth dwelling on for a moment. It’s a large, portrait-orientated affair that really gives the Ranger an up-market feel – no other pick-up on sale is as generous when it comes to technology, and it’s broadly the same set-up you’d find in the Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV.

The row of physical buttons to control volume and the air conditioning is very welcome. In fact, the whole cabin feels very SUV-like. Sure, there are a few cheap plastics in some places, but generally it’s a plush and well-put-together place to sit. Our car was fitted with a number of options; one we particularly liked was the ‘Power Pack 3’ which comprises a power inverter, wireless phone charger and, impressively, a row of ‘Aux’ switches above the driver’s head allowing owners to power an array of items such as light bars and winches.

Of course, when you’re in the back there’s no getting away from the fact that the Ranger is a pick-up, as passengers will sit with their backs straight. But there’s decent knee and headroom, and the seat bases are well angled to give some good support on long journeys. Both outer seats have Isofix points and there are USB-A and USB-C charging points, too. 

Of far more relevance is the business end – the pick-up bed. In this double-cab Wildtrak, the bed is big enough to carry a pallet and over a tonne in weight – so transporting luggage and other caravanning paraphernalia won’t be a problem. There are numerous lash-down points and a couple of sockets to power items, and the whole space can be tailor-made, with Ford dealers offering a wide assortment of covers and roof boxes. Our test car had a very useful but pricey electric roller shutter (£1,800).  

Driving – 74%

Unlike some of its rivals, the Ranger is available in a selection of engines. There are a couple of diesels, and a 3.0-litre V6 petrol that’s reserved for the performance-minded Raptor version, while a petrol plug-in hybrid has recently been announced that will become the first pick-up of its type on sale. Until that variant lands in the UK, the diesels will form the vast majority of sales; there’s a choice between a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit with either 168bhp or 202bhp and a 3.0-litre V6 with 237bhp. Only the lower-powered 2.0-litre comes with a manual gearbox, the others all receiving a 10-speed automatic with four-wheel drive and an electronically controlled torque on-demand transfer case.

We have driven the 2.0-litre diesel unhitched, and what it gains in being cheaper to run (fuel economy and CO2 emissions are lower than the V6 diesel, naturally) it loses in terms of refinement; nothing can beat the V6 for smoothness. This six-cylinder is grunty and delivers good torque across the rev range, feeling at home when carrying heavy loads in the pick-up bed or when towing. You will pay for this at the pumps, though, and as it has the same towing capacity as the 2.0-litre, choosing the V6 might seem a little extravagant for some.

With heavy-duty springs for the rear suspension, there’s no getting away from the typically pick-up-like ‘bobbing’ motion when hitting potholes, but this Ranger manages better than rivals, thanks in part to the Wildtrak’s ‘comfort’ suspension tune. There are buttons to switch between two- and four-wheel drive, and a drive mode selector features a number of settings including a dedicated ‘towing’ mode. The big Ford handles well for such a large vehicle and it’s quiet on the move, too, at times feeling just like a large SUV.    

Towing – 89%

The Ranger has a kerbweight of 2,283kg, so keeping within the Club’s  85% guidelines, nearly all caravans will be sensible matches. We hitched to a 2018 Swift Eccles 590 with an MRO of 1,439kg, and the whole outfit was very stable, with only a hint of wobble at 50mph and minor steering corrections needed. The rear-end’s ‘bounce’ due to the leaf spring suspension was a little exacerbated during testing, but not excessively so – many firm-riding SUVs exhibit similar looseness over big bumps.

The car feels very tied down when cruising but, by switching to the dedicated ‘towing’ mode on the drive mode select switch, four-wheel drive is engaged. This adds a little extra security at the expense of lower fuel economy. Speaking of which, the Ranger returned an impressive 21.2mpg on a varied 50-mile route.

Additionally during Towcar judging, we were able to test the Ranger on a 17% incline and it demonstrated no wheel spin or slip (the Wildtrak’s limited slip differential helped here), and there was no need to switch to four-wheel drive mode. The brakes needed a heavy prod, but Ranger came to a stop quickly and safely.

Verdict – 79%

Pick-ups have long been a compromise when it comes to useability and refinement. The new Ranger is a huge step forward, though, delivering a driving experience that’s not far off a large SUV. It’s pricey but there’s no better pick-up on sale right now.


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