Good: serious presence, spacious interior, big cargo bay.
Not so good: manual gearbox, unrefined chassis and ride.
You'd be forgiven for not getting wildly excited by the appearance of a Ford Ranger a few years ago. It was all very practical and, if anything, a little dull. Not that there's anything wrong with that; after all, this whole segment is about practicalities. But there is a section of the market that favours the lifestyle side of things. This is where the functional appearance let the Ranger down in the past.
But now there's a new Ranger in town (sorry, best to get that one out the way early on), and in looks at least, it is more like Ford pick-ups we're used to seeing Stateside. It does come in a single-cab setup, but, like our test vehicle, the twin-cab harbours much more appeal and is still able to take on plenty of cargo.
The first thing you notice about the new Ranger is the size. This thing really is big and it carries with it plenty of road presence. That's not to say it's not manoeuvrable. I use the word 'manoeuvrable' rather than agile, as it's a bit more apt. Although the Ranger does have a useful enough turning circle, the sheer size does make you more conscious of your surroundings, especially in small towns. Parking is helped by sensors too although only on the Limited model. It does has a relatively smooth ride, but don't expect to feel like you're wafting along on a cushion of air. Its lofty height means there is a degree of body roll in the corners, although to be fair, I wasn't carrying any heavy loads to help tie it down.
Steering lacks any real feeling of directness yet it is well-weighted, remaining light enough around town. Probably the biggest let down is the six-speed manual gearbox, which doesn't feel anywhere near as modern and up to date as the rest of the Ranger does. Its short first gear doesn't make stop-start driving any easier and considering how good some other manual gearboxes in this category are (Volkswagen's Amarok for example), this offering is disappointing from Ford.
The 3.2-litre engine churns out 200hp and pulls steadily from low in the rev range; and the 470Nm of torque produced isn't the Ford's only strength in the engine department. That TDCi diesel engine isn't the thirstiest in the world and even around town, when driven with some consideration, won't put as big a dent in your monthly fuel budget as you might think, although it's worth noting that the smaller 2.2-litre TDCi engine offers better fuel economy.
In appearance it is certainly one of the best looking in its class now. That front end is dominated by a large three-bar chrome grille with 'Ranger' embossed across its top. Chunky 17-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass help, as do the bold '3.2 6 Speed' badges on the side vents.
Inside, it is a more reserved affair that, from a design point of view, is in keeping with what can be found in Ford's car range. All the main controls fall easily to hand and while the main dashboard dials are clear and easy to read, the standard colour infotainment screen on top of the centre console is quite small. With the Limited trim, buyers benefit from an electrically adjustable and heated driver's seat, along with climate control.
In double-cab guise there is enough room to comfortably seat three in the back while still leaving a sizeable cargo load area. The rear cab also has ISOFIX points and a 12-volt power socket. The cargo bay can take a euro pallet, but one thing that does go against the Ranger is the high loading level, which could be a hindrance for those that need to load and carry heavier objects. It does have plenty of tie-down points as well as having a 12-volt exterior power socket, however.
With the latest Ranger Ford has certainly upped its game, and although it falls short of being king of its segment, it is one option that should now be seriously considered by any potential buyers before making a decision. And not just those that think practically.
SsangYong Korando Sports: plenty of size, but lacks the refinement of others in both finish and driving performance.
Toyota Hilux: seen as the old reliable in the segment and not without reason.
Volkswagen Amarok: stylish, practical and one of the best to drive in its class, although it comes at a price.