While rivals can carry off an impression of a car quite well, the Ranger can’t. It’s a dyed-in-the-wool truck, no matter how many toys are in the cabin, or how pleasing it is to the eye with its nice new paint, trim and addenda.
While we commend Ford for the honest approach of the Ranger and its effectiveness at what it was set out to do, it can also be used as a stick to beat this Wildtrak X version with. Ford quotes £38,574 for it, rising to £40,350 for our test car with a smattering of options.
That’s a lot of money for something that really doesn’t wear such a price tag comfortably, sitting alongside V6 versions of the X-Class and Amarok, which are more car-like in their cabins and on-road performance.
Toyota’s top-spec and even-better-appointed Hilux is rougher and tougher still, beating all comers in our pick-up off-road test earlier in the year. You’ll also get as much as £10,000 change from even the top-spec Nissan Navara or Mitsubishi L200, models the Ranger would find more comfortable company in usually.
So as a £40,000 vehicle the Ranger must be judged. There are no dynamic changes in its evolution into a Wildtrak X, so whereas when it was first launched in 2012 it was the standout on-road performer in the segment, rivals do now ride and handle more car-like than ever and have surpassed the Ranger.
When you’re carrying no load, the low-speed ride is as crude as you’d expect from something with such a chassis. Its best, most comfortable work is done at about 60mph on faster, smoother roads – here it settles nicely, and the high driving position and commanding view of the road make the Ranger a surprisingly relaxing companion.
It still handles better than you’d expect, with body roll well controlled and the steering competent and at least feeling connected to the body, something that wasn’t true of pick-ups a decade ago. It’s not a car you’d ever want to push on with, but it’s no disgrace either.
Everything about the engine exudes workhorse, from the grumble at idle to the surge-like sound whenever you press the accelerator pedal. A V6-powered Amarok is considerably more refined. Yet the Ranger’s engine feels strong and rich in torque, and connected to a transmission with a very short first gear to help get those heavy loads moving. Up to speed, it’s flexible, and its power and torque reserves are easily accessed. While lacking refinement, the engine is entirely in keeping with the Ranger’s workhorse brief.
The Ranger itself is a big motor, too. An X-Class (and its Nissan Navara donor car) feels big, but the Ranger feels half a class bigger again. That’s reassuring if The Walking Dead suddenly came true, less so when squeezing through a width restrictor into Morrisons car park.
The Wildtrak X brings with it an interior that has much more in common with Ford’s passenger cars, albeit from a generation before. The material mix is a nice blend of comfort and quality where you interact with it, and robustness where it’s likely to take a kicking and get a bit mucky.