Over the last five years, Australians have shown first-hand their love for utes and SUVs. It’s a space that’s been controlled by the Toyota HiLux, but thanks to Ford’s next-generation Ranger, that’s all about to change.
With thanks to Ford Australia, yours truly headed to Melbourne for a two-day driving experience, exploring all the features and capabilities the Ranger has to offer. The event took place at the Australian Automotive Research Centre and Otway National Park.
We were given the chance to drive through water up to 600mm deep, drop down and up 60 degree gradients, and try out the Ranger on everything from tarmac to dirt, mud, sand and gravel, as well as a variety of articulated surfaces to really flex the big Ford’s capabilities.
Four models were on offer for us to swap in and out of throughout the launch, including the base model XLS, the XLT, The Sport and the range topping Wildtrak (Raptor excluded of course).
All of them were fitted with either the bi-turbo 4-cylinder or the new V6 turbo diesel, coupled to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Ford has ditched the manual from the 4WD Ranger range due to its lack of popularity. For us, the V6 is a clear winner.
The new model is an evolution, rather than a revolution. That’s a good thing though, as Ford has kept the styling DNA from previous models, but toughened it up. The face is now blockier, solid and definitely more rugged.
C-clamp style headlights mould into the grille, while the side of the truck now features plastic vents in the front guards, helping remove heat from the engine bay. A choice of 16, 17 and 18-inch wheels can be fitted at each corner. That’s variant dependent of course.
Large external mirrors improve rear vision, especially when towing. Likewise, there’s been a big focus from Ford on the rear tub, with research influencing load carrying capabilities, and just how important it is to be able to secure things properly.
As a result, the cargo area is now more versatile than ever, with an external rear step is now a feature. There is no doubt the truck isn’t low to the ground and even for someone like me, who is 5-foot 11, it’s hard to see the tub contents with the tailgate up.
Drop the tailgate to inspect the rear area and you’ll see where Ford have taken the time to redesign the space. It even comes with a ruler along the top of the tray and two points that you can put a clamp into to hold bits of wood/steel; definitely a very handy feature.
There’s also moulded inlets to allow you to place timber dividers and utilise the space to suit your needs. The Wildtrak also scores movable tie down points that slide front to back, and the rear tray is big enough to fit a euro pallet with a little extra room.
On Wildtrak, you also get a power roller shutter and a 12v power outlet. The Ranger is also longer and wider than the previous model, with the front suspension being moved forward 50mm and the track widened 50mm.
That change becomes really obvious when you open the bonnet, with more room in the engine bay, The wider track has also allowed the shocks to sit outboard of the chassis rails, making the Ranger more stable than previous models.
As an added bonus, Gross Combined Mass on the 4WD models has been lifted to 6350kg. With the Wildtrak V6’s weight of 2353kg, and 3500kg towing capacity, that means you can now carry 547kg of other stuff on board, including family, luggage and the dog.
Inside, the dash shares the same brick-like styling in the form of new look air vents, while the seats are both comfortable and hard wearing. There’s a portrait style 10.1 inch infotainment system in all models except the Wildtrak, which gets a larger 12-inch unit.
All models come with steering wheel adjustment in both reach and height, and an 8 inch colour-digital instrument cluster. The controls for both the 4WD and an actual gear selector can be found in the centre console.
The ergonomic new shifter, which can switch itself back to park, is comfortable and easy to use. A traditional handbrake (and taller shifter) are offered in the XLS, but all other variants get the new shifter, and an electronic park brake.
Up to six drive modes are available too, including Normal, Eco, Tow Haul, Slippery, Mud and Ruts, and Sand. For buyers of the base model, you’ll have to settle for Eco, Normal, Tow Haul and Slippery.
The practicality of the interior continues on the door trims, with soft materials on the window sill (because who doesn’t like to rest their arm there). The door handle has been relocated into the grab handle.
At first you’ll think this is a daft idea, but it’s not, and it actually makes it easier to get in and out with one hand. There are some downsides though, and one of them is the non-powered seats in the lesser models.
It’s quite difficult to reach around to adjust the lumbar support, and to lean the seat forward and back as the controls are located between the seat and the b-pillar. It takes some fiddling, and it’s a bit of a nightmare.
While the large screen is also welcome, with the dash carrying its blocky styling, it does sit completely flat, making it a little difficult to hit buttons when needed. That said, most things are on the steering wheel anyway.
Where that big infotainment system really comes into its own though is with the 360-degree camera. Combined with the front and reverse camera, it gives high quality imagery from the top of the car, meaning you’ll have no excuse for backing into the trailer again.
On the road, the Ranger doesn’t feel like a harsh ute anymore either, and is comfortable and easy to drive. The transmission flicks through its ten speeds effortlessly, so much so you barely notice it shifting.
Coupled with its electric power steering, manoeuvring the Ranger around can be completed with ease. One thing that did worry us though is the performance capabilities of both engines.
The 4-cylinder offers 155kW and 500Nm, while the V6 offers 184kW and 500Nm, which is awesome at highway speeds. But from a standing start, both felt like they struggled, which could make towing a heavy trailer an interesting proposition.
Fuel consumption during testing was 9.0-litres/100km for the 4-cylinder and 10.0-litres/100km for the V6. One feature we really loved is the ability to not only use 2WD High, but also 4WD AUTO.
This latter mode turns the Ranger into an AWD, and varies the torque between front and rear as the driving conditions vary. Switching between the modes is seamless and done at most speeds. It’s a great addition for the those looking for a safer drive.
Safety features, such as pre-collision assist, evasive steer assist, post impact braking, BLIS with trailer tow function and cross traffic alert, and reverse brake assist were trialled during our testing too, and combine to deliver an excellent driving experience.
Adaptive cruise control and lane assist both worked well too. The latter feels more like a helper than a device you can trick into letting you drive hands free. It’s definitely far less invasive than other car makers.
Off road, in extreme four-wheel driving conditions, Ford’s hill descent system was the first new feature to be showcased. With a 60-degree gradient, we activated the functionality through the rotary 4WD dial, and then slowly roll over the edge.
It was almost like a rollercoaster. At the moment we thought the truck was going to take off like a scalded cat, the hill descent system kicked in to slowly coast us safely down to the bottom of the hill. No braking or accelerating was needed either.
Coming back up the hill came with a twist as we were asked to stop half way on the return journey, engage hill descent and roll back down the hill – backwards. It was a task the Ranger carried out easily. We were able to test the system on uneven surfaces too.
From there, with Mud mode engaged, we locked the rear diff via the infotainment unit (unique to the Wildtrak) and set off to see how it would handle. For the other variants, the diff lock is a button on the centre console.
Setting out on our mini adventure, we found a collection of mounds, mud and ruts to help articulate the truck and put it through its paces. The front camera acts as your eyes when you are pointing at the sky, allowing you to see the trail in front of you.
It lets you check it’s safe and continue your journey. It’s a feature we missed in the base model, where it isn’t available. The most evident thing from the whole process though was just how easy the Ranger is to drive, and how good the off road capabilities are.
Only once did we think we might have beached it on a mound, with the front and rear flexed in opposite directions, but to the big Ford’s credit, a little backwards and forwards saw us on our way.
With that out of the way, it was time for a water crossing, dipping the Ranger into water up to 600mm deep. We’re pleased to report, none were drowned during the test. We would recommend a snorkel if wading in the wet stuff is something you do regularly though.
Ford has also partnered with ARB for an array of aftermarket gear that you can add to your Ranger, with all of them able to be fitted at your local dealership. The upside is that if it’s fitted at a Ford dealer, it’s covered by the car’s 5-year warranty.
As we mentioned, we also got to test out Ford’s Tow Haul package. No longer a pain in the proverbial with lots of aftermarket bits, the electronic braking system is integrated into the dash, and you can now program up to ten different trailers.
The Ranger’s technology rich setup will know which trailer you’ve hooked up, and the system will then adjust the BLIS automatically. Cooler still, you can simply select a mode on the infotainment unit and it will automatically cycle through the lights on your trailer.
This means one person can check everything. If it senses a blown light, it will tell you that too. From trailer testing to Otway National Park, our journey continued, this time in the base model, to negotiated tight and tricky trails with muddy conditions.
While not having all the “nice to have” features of the Wildtrack, it handled the conditions easily, which is a real testament to how well the entire range drives off road. Trudging around the scrub gave us some situations not experienced in the testing facility too.
It was great to also learn you can lock out the number of gears on offer to enhance the capabilities of the transmission during heavy towing or serious off roading. As a result, there’s no doubt Ford can scream – “you asked, we delivered”.
Everything Ranger owners have asked for has been incorporated into the new model. Their collaboration with ARB also means it’s easy for someone to build their dream pickup, and not void their warranty. That’s a real boon for a novice off roader.
Overall, what Ford has delivered in the new Ranger range, is the ability to have your cake and eat it too. You can spec up your own 2023 Ford Ranger XLS, XLT, Sport or Wildtrak on the Ford Australia website. If you’re keen to own one, and need finance visit CreditOne.
Our test vehicles were supplied as part of a two-day media launch event, hosted by Ford Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Ford Ranger range, visit your local Ford dealer.