Ford has had an impressive start to 2016 on the pick-up front, with more than 1100 Rangers sold in the first three months. Those sales could be crucial in order to dominate the pick-up sector, with the Mitsubishi L200 and Volkswagen Amarok undergoing minor facelifts to further refine their formulas, while others are having a fresh crack at the market like Ford.
These include the Nissan Navara NP300 and the Toyota Hilux, both of which impressed us here at Autocar. While it is in Ford’s interest to build a lead on its current rivals, it is even more imperative when you consider the manufacturers gearing up to joined this segment, with the Renault Alaskan readying itself alongside the Fiat Fullback. Waiting in the wings however is Peugeot and Citroen, but also Mercedes-Benz who have already shared several renderings of how the new X-Class could look.
So, Ford had to get this mid-life facelift Ranger right, and the first step was to go through the old model thoroughly, and in doing so, it has enhanced the equipment levels on all four trims.
The two entry-level Rangers – XL and XLT are the most rugged of Ford’s pick-ups, designed to be workhorses rather than majoring on comfort. There are also three bodystyles to choose from too, with Regular, Super and Double Cab models all available.
Opt for an XL model and you can choose the bodystyle you desire and comes with rugged details and fitments, including 16in steel wheels, plenty of moulded plastics, manual tailgate, electronic high and low range box and heated wing mirrors. Inside you will find DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, two 12V sockets and electric windows.
Upgrade to the XLT Ranger and you are limited to either the Super or Double Cab variants, however there is a wealth more equipment, including alloy wheels, front foglights, automatic wipers and lights, air conditioning and Ford’s Sync 1 infotainment system.
The mid-range Limited 2 and range-topping Wildtrak models accounted for nearly 95 percent of the previous Rangers sold. These now get numerous additions, with Ford's Sync 2 infotainment system, reversing camera, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation system and lane assist being among the technology now available. The later also gains bigger alloys, sat nav, aluminium roof rails and numerous titanium exterior trim.
Mechanically, Ford has opted for a new electric power steering system, which aids the lane assist and trailer sway control safety functions on the Ranger, while the 2.2 TDCi four-cylinder engine in Limited 2 trim is now available with a six-speed automatic gearbox. It's this model we're driving.
On first impressions, the Limited 2 Ranger looks a strong offering. It has a plush, well-appointed interior, with swathes of leather on the seats and a clean but rugged dashboard and centre console.
The driver’s seat is comfortable and electrically adjustable, along with a generous amount of height adjustment for the steering wheel. The double cab provides space in the back for two adults to sit, but probably ideally for only a short while, because the high floor makes getting comfortable tricky. The rear of the cabin also feels rather more functional in quality than the front.
Admittedly, no diesel is outright pleasant-sounding on start-up, and a distinctive clatter remains present even on the move.
However, compared with the Nissan Navara NP300, the Ranger’s engine sounds more refined and less strained throughout its rev range, even with hefty throttle inputs. The auto ’box shifts through its ratios smoothly and is keen to select higher ratios in search of better fuel efficiency at a cruise.
On the road, the Ranger feels one of the more capable and steady pick-ups, with little disturbance entering the cabin from smaller imperfections in the asphalt. That said, when the going gets more rutted and uneven, the reverberations can really unsettle it with its load bay empty.
As for the Ranger's carrying and towing ability (arguably one of the most important figures for buyers), the double cabs are able to haul 1081kg in the back, while the automatic Navara we tried has a slightly lower maximum payload of 1052kg. The braked weight it can drag behind it stands at 3500kg, which matches a Navara's best effort.
The Ranger is certainly one of the more refined pick-ups available, its 2.2-litre diesel clattering less than a Navara’s oil-burner. But what the Ranger gains in noise suppression, it loses on ride sophistication; the Nissan's five-link suspension set-up ultimately makes it more civilised on the road than the Ford.
Given that the Nissan matches the Ford for hauling and dragging loads, and the majority of pick-ups spend the majority of their time on the road, while we'd suggest there's good reason to investigate both these options, the Navara is ultimately the more rounded choice.