Only 4,500 examples of this limited-edition Ford Ranger Thunder pickup will be made, making it a rare truck indeed. Could it tempt you out of your conventional family SUV? Is it a poor man's Ranger Raptor?
In the metal
The idea, the general theory, of driving a big pickup as a daily car, is a tempting one. That temptation is amplified when you consider this, the new Ford Ranger Thunder. Being built in a limited edition of just 4,500 (only 1,400 of which will be made in right-hand drive), it's Ford's way of saying bye-bye to the current Ranger, ahead of an all-new model (co-developed with Volkswagen) being released later this year.
To say goodbye, Ford has bought the Ranger an all-new suit. The Thunder comes in a delectable 'Sea Grey' paint finish, with lots of red highlighting and a chunky body kit that includes 18-inch wheels and a 'Sports Hoop' above the load bay. The Hoop is something of an aerodynamic aid, and also contains the lights for the load bed.
That load bed can handle a payload of just over a tonne, and in Thunder spec comes with an anti-slip, anti-scratch coating, plus a retractable load cover.
In the cabin, you get seats for five, and up front there are hugely comfortable sports seats with leather trim and - crucially at this time of year - heating elements. There's lots and lots of contrast red stitching, an eight-inch touchscreen for the really rather impressive Ford SYNC3 infotainment system, part-digital instruments and a switch that allows you to swap from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive, or even low-ratio four-wheel drive, on the go.
Our Thunder test car (truck?) also came with the optional Driver Assistance Pack that includes adaptive cruise control and automated parking.
Under the big bonnet, and behind the vast grille, sits Ford's 2.0-litre EcoBlue bi-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine, with 213hp and an impressive 500Nm of torque. That's bolted to a ten-speed automatic gearbox, which has a little manual shift button on top of the stick.
If you're expecting the Ranger Thunder to drive like the Ranger Raptor, you're going to be disappointed. The Raptor uses specially made suspension (by off-road racing geniuses at Fox) and is really pretty close to being a racing truck that's been civilised enough for road use. The Thunder, by contrast, is a regular Ranger with a nicer cabin. In some ways (and I'm dating myself here) it might once have been called a Ranger Ghia...
Not that there's anything wrong with that. The combo of a relatively smooth diesel engine with that ten-speed gearbox and quite relaxed suspension settings makes the Ranger Thunder a very relaxing car to drive. In a Raptor, you're constantly scanning for fields with open gates so that you can go and do some sneaky off-roading. In the Thunder you just cruise.
It's not perfectly refined - rev that diesel engine out and it gets predictably noisy, while the suspension gets quite fidgety at low-to-medium speeds. It is an accomplished cruiser, though, with better refinement at lower efforts, and surprisingly good steering and handling balance. I mean, it's no GTI, but it comports itself pretty well, and you can feel how much Ford has improved the Ranger's overall dynamic balance since it was first launched in 2012. The automatic parking aid is also a boon when you live in the city - with electronic assistance, it's amazing how the Ranger Thunder tucks into spaces that you wouldn't think were possible.
Plus, there's the overall practicality - there's lots of room up front; slightly less room (but tolerable) in the back, and that massive load bed out the back. If your life revolves around shifting hefty chunks of furniture, or making regular runs to the recycling facility, then the Ranger Thunder might actually make a glimmer of sense as a daily car.
It even has a solidly impressive safety rating - when tested by Euro NCAP, the Ranger scored a maximum five stars, including an 81 per cent pedestrian safety rating.
What you get for your money
The Ranger Thunder's case starts to fall apart a bit when you start looking at the money side of things. With a starting price of €48,968 and an options-in price for our test car of €54,611, the Thunder isn't cheap. OK, it's more affordable than a Raptor, and pretty decent value compared to specced-up versions of the Volkswagen Amarok and Toyota Hilux, but for that kind of cash you could be sat in a more 'regular' SUV such as a Kia Sorento, or a top-spec Toyota RAV4. True, neither of those have the ruggedness and off-road ability of the Ranger, but then for most of us neither are, or at least neither should be, deal breakers. It's also pretty thirsty - at best we averaged 10.1 litres per 100km, which in a world that's rapidly turning electric, starts to look rather unappetising.
There is something deeply tempting about the Ranger Thunder, if you can get past the big diesel, the price tag and the generally hulking shape and size. It's a hugely relaxing thing to drive, and massively useful at times. Really, it's a hard-working commercial vehicle, but if you fancied using one as your daily car, we wouldn't argue (much).