The next few months will be hugely exciting for bakkie buyers: already spoilt for choice by the wide selection of light commercial vehicles on our roads, they’ll soon have opportunity to open their hearts and wallets to a whole brace of new offerings. We’ll see an all-new Toyota Hilux in February 2016, the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton are both due for replacement as well, while Isuzu has already released their updated KB-series. But none of these will make Ford feel nervous, because they’ve already launched their pre-emptive strike at the marketplace with an almost-new Ranger.

I call the refreshed Ranger an almost-new vehicle, because its basic skeleton is pretty much unchanged: the ladder-frame chassis stays the same, and so does the suspension and the engine line-up (albeit with a few detail changes). It even looks very familiar, but then again, it was hardly necessary to mess around too much with a bakkie which has already proved to be as competent as it was attractive.

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The outgoing Ranger has done well for Ford, with more than 250 000 units already manufactured at their Silverton plant over the past four years, most of which has been exported across the globe. This facelift is aimed at keeping the Ranger at the top of its class by expanding the model range, improving comfort and refinement, and introducing new technology to its market segment.

The model range expansion is easy to explain: while the old XLT and Wildtrack derivatives already made a clean sweep among leisure-oriented buyers, there have been some gaps in the range which kept it from being as popular with buyers who want simple, honest workhorses. To this end, a number of lower-specced versions have been added, with a wider selection of engines and body styles: you can now have your workhorse with petrol- or diesel power, and with a choice between single-, extended- and double cab body styles.

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Under the skin, revised cab mountings reduce the intrusion of vibrations into the cabin, and added sound-insulation makes the cabin even quieter than before. The drivetrains also come in for a mild massaging to improve fuel efficiency and refinement.

The engine range is still mostly diesel-biased (there’s only one petrol engine in the mix), and the diesel engines are still available in 2.2-litre four cylinder or 3.2-litre five-cylinder format, but some detail changes result in more power being extracted from the four-pot. Both diesel engines benefit from cleaner exhaust emissions, thanks to a new exhaust gas recirculation system and revised electronic programming, while the gearbox programming (on automatic vehicles) has been tweaked as well.

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The basic 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol continues unchanged and delivers 122 kW and 226 Nm, while the entry-level 2.2 diesel still produces 88 kW and 285 Nm. These engines are mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, but are both confined to the lower end of the range. The first step up is a retuned version of the same 2.2 diesel engine with 118 kW and 385 Nm (up by 8 kW and 10 Nm compared to its predecessor), sending its power into a six-speed manual transmission. The big daddy 3.2 diesel still produces 147 kW and 470 Nm, and is available with manual- or automatic gearboxes, both with six forward gears.

The cosmetic changes are much more comprehensive than the technical updates, however: the front-end styling is borrowed from its new Everest stable mate, with swept-back headlights and a gaping grille to bring the Ranger in line with Ford’s current design language. The cabin (in all versions except the base models) is also mostly drawn from the Everest, with a horisontal emphasis to its styling and a really car-like ambience. The Ranger loses out on the Everest’s stitched-leather dashboard trim, but appears upmarket and well-assembled nonetheless.

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That restyled cabin also plays host to a lot of new technology. For starters, XLT and Wildtrack derivatives receive an 8-inch colour touchscreen user interface, linked to Ford’s SYNC 2 multimedia system. This touch screen controls the audio system, phone functions and climate control, while doubling as the display for the rear-view camera. These range-toppers also feature 7 airbags in double-cab guise.

Driver assistance technology also receives a boost, with radar-guided (adaptive) cruise control becoming available on the top-spec Wildtrack, along with lane-keeping assistance (alerting the driver and steering itself back into line if the vehicle strays out of its lane) and forward collision warning. Depending on the specification, front- and rear parking assistance is available, but stability control is standard on all versions bar the entry-level derivatives.

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On the road, the new Ranger delivers on the promises made by its specification sheet. It’s not like the outgoing model was in any way crude or uncomfortable, but the new one takes it to a whole new level. The cabin is quiet even at high speeds, while the ride quality is surprisingly comfortable for a vehicle equipped with a leaf sprung rear axle. It’s not quite a luxury car, but certainly counts as one of the smoothest-riding bakkies on the market. This impression of refinement is heightened by the new, electrically-assisted steering system, which manages to keep driver effort to a minimum while filtering out any road shocks which find their way past the supple front suspension – both on- and off road.

The Ranger, whatever its trim level, is still a vehicle with serious load-lugging ability, for even the double cab can carry a full tonne in the loadbay, and can tow a solid 3500 kg. 4×4 versions boast equally serious credentials: with a wading depth of 800 mm and 230 mm of ground clearance, it’s more capable off the beaten track than you’d expect, aided by a locking rear differential and the luxuries of hill-start assistance and speed-adjustable hill descent control.

This level of technical competence and technological advancement comes at a price, however. While the mid-level XL, XLS and XLT derivatives are fairly competitively priced, the Wildtrack nudges close to the R 600 000 mark in 3.2 4×4 automatic guise – almost triple the pricetag of the entry-level 2.5 petrol single cab. This pricing pitches the Wildtrack close to the outgoing Navara V9X, but can mostly justify its wild pricetag with the brace of fancy technology contained within. Better value is found lower down the price ladder, however – exactly as Ford intended in its quest to gain a larger chunk of its market segment.

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All in all, the Ranger makes a compelling argument for itself, augmented by a service plan for five years or 100 000 km and service intervals which now stretch to 20 000 km. Pricing ranges between R 212 900 and R 596 400, so there’s bound to be a Ranger to fit any budget and almost any requirement. It will be interesting to see what those upcoming competitors bring in their quest to slow down the Ranger’s march to market dominance. The battle lines are drawn.

Martin Pretorius

Model Range

Single Cab
2.5 Base Chassis Cab 4×2 5MT Low Rider 4×2 (122kW)
2.5 Base 4×2 5MT Low Rider 4×2(122kW)
2.2 TDCi Base Chassis Cab 4×2 5MT (88kW)
2.2 TDCi Base 4×2 5MT (88kW)
2.2 TDCi XL 4×2 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XL 4×4 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XLS 4×2 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XL-Plus Chassis Cab 4×4 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XL-Plus 4×4 6MT (118kW)

3.2 TDCi XLS 4×2 6MT (147kW)
2.2 TDCi XLS 4×4 6MT (118kW)
3.2 TDCi XLS 4×4 6MT(147kW)

Super Cab
2,2 TDCi Base 4×2 5MT (88kW)
2.2 TDCi XL 4×2 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XL 4×4 6MT (118kW)
3.2 TDCi XLS 4×2 6MT(147kW)
3.2 TDCi XLS 4×4 6MT(147kW)
3.2 TDCi XLT 4×4 6AT (147kW)

Double Cab
2.2 TDCi Base 4×2 5MT (88kW)
2.2 TDCi XL 4×2 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XL 4×4 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XL-Plus Chassis Cab 4×4 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XL-Plus 4×4 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XLS 4×2 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XLS 4×4 6MT (118kW)
2.2 TDCi XLT 4×2 6MT (118kW)
3.2 TDCi XLT 4×2 6MT(147kW)
3.2 TDCi XLT 4×2 6AT (147kW)
3.2 TDCi XLT 4×4 6MT (147kW)
3.2 TDCi XLT 4×4 6AT (147kW)
3.2 TDCi Wildtrak 4×2 6MT (147kW)
3.2 TDCi Wildtrak 4×2 6AT (147kW)
3.2 TDCi Wildtrak 4×4 6AT (147kW)