By Jonathan Crouch
Bigger, safer, more capable and much better to drive, the third generation version of Ford's Ranger pick-up really went large in its appeal as a competitive proposition against tough segment rivals. In used form, as when new, the idea is to tempt everyone from builders to surf-boarding, mountain-biking families with what is a very complete product indeed.
2/4dr pickup (2.2 TDCi (125/150PS), 3.2 TDCi [XLT, Thunder, Wildtrak])
Think of a pick-up and Ford is a name you just can't ignore. Japanese makers may have conquered the European market in modern times, but the Blue Oval brand has a heritage in this segment going back far further than that, with pick-up sales that have run into their millions Stateside. Even the company's very first Model T back in the early 1900s could be bought in small truck form with a closed cab and a flat deck at the back. In those days, as well as in more recent times, vehicles like these could happily be as rough as they were tough. No longer. Today's pick-up must be almost all things to all people, a hard core business tool by day and family transport by night. A load lugger and a leisure SUV all rolled into one, with car-like road manners and affordable running costs. It's a brief that many modern contenders in this segment struggle with but one Ford claimed to have got closer to meeting than ever before when they launched this third generation Ranger model early in 2012, the most complete pick-up the company had ever made. It needed to be. In the modern era, Ford hasn't found it easy to create a pick-up tailored to the needs of European customers and has been trying since 1999 when we first saw the earliest version of this model. The MK2 variant of 2006 was better, facelifted in 2009, but it still couldn't properly compete with the tough Japanese triumvirate that rule this market segment this side of the Atlantic, Mitsubishi's L200, Toyota's Hilux and Nissan's Navara. All three have always been good vehicles but have historically been very obviously commercial in feel. At its launch in 2012, this MK3 model Ranger claimed to offer something more, if not a road car with a pick-up deck, then the closest thing to that we'd yet seen, with a design versatile enough for export to over 180 countries. Perfect in principle not only for core pick-up customers like farmers, plumbers and jobbing builders but also for the self-employed private people increasingly wanting a vehicle like this as a lifestyle accessory. It sold in this guise until Ford treated the model line to a far-reaching facelift in 2016.
What You Get
Almost the only global market in which this MK3 Ranger wasn't sold was that of the US. Apparently, it isn't big enough. Seems pretty large to us, nearly five and a half metres long and with a bulk quite intimidating enough to frighten away fast lane dawdlers. But just as the drive is in this guise a little more sophisticated, so too is the look. Australian designer Craig Metros kept it as square as any pick-up should be but sculpted the shape for a more modern and aerodynamic look. So the front end is chamfered from the signature three-bar grille back to the wheel arches, with a raked-back windscreen and a body accent line that flows through the larger headlights to the bonnet for a tough but trendier piece of penwork. Like most of its pick-up competitors, this one comes with a choice of three bodystyles - a two-seater 'Regular Cab', a so-called 'Super Cab' with its occasional rear seats and the four-door Double Cab that most end up buying. In terms of our comments, we'll start on the back seat, because it's here that traditional pick-up compromises tend to be made, with cramped legroom and, worst of all, a ridiculously upright rear backrest there to give packages in the loadbay behind priority over people. Now don't get us wrong: we're not suggesting that this MK3 Ranger radically changed things in this respect - but again, it raised the bar in this segment. By moving the central B-pillar forward, best-in-class rear legroom and knee clearance was achieved. And though this vehicle is actually narrower than an ordinary Ford Mondeo (and up to 100mm narrower than some of its rivals), it is possible to get three adults across this back seat without too much discomfort: two six-footers can certainly sit one behind the other with ease. Under the rear bench, you've hidden storage bins to keep tools and valuables away from prying eyes. Or, if the rear seat isn't in use, you can fold down the backrest for packages you may not want to consign to the rear loadbay. And up-front? Well, you climb up high to perch behind the wheel of any pick-up and this Ranger is no exception, with an airy, commanding cab offering great all-round visibility and class-leading front seat headroom. It's here that the design best delivers on its car-like claims, build quality from the South African factory seemingly very good and there's technology and switchgear recognisable from across the most advanced members of Ford's passenger car range. Gone is the awful old 'umbrella-handle' dash-mounted handbrake from the previous MK2 model and the wheel adjusts for reach as well as rake. The instrument cluster with its central LED display was apparently inspired by the design of a G-Shock watch, precision workings protected by a robust casing. And plusher models get a dash dominated by a five-inch colour screen and technology that can run to voice-controlled activation of everything from your Bluetoothed mobile 'phone to the sat nav and audio systems and even the dual-zone climate control settings. True, not all of the plastics are high grade and soft to the touch, but the brand says, with some justification, that this is mainly because the materials need to be far more durable in a utility vehicle of this kind. One that must be practical to live with - and is, with more interior space for your bits and pieces than any other competitor thanks to no fewer than 23 different stowage areas, everything from door pockets for 1.5-litre bottles to a glovebox big enough for a 16-inch laptop computer. There's also a deep 8.5-litre centre console bin that can optionally cool up to six cans of drink and big enough to shut away the smelliest Indian takeaway below an upper tray moulded to store a mobile 'phone and coins.
What You Pay
Prices for this third generation post-2012 Ranger model start from around £13,500- that's for an early low-spec 2.2-litre TDCi model. More typical 2.2-litre variants sit in the £14,000 to £16,000, but you can pay up to around £19,000 if you find a high-spec pre-facelift late 2015 version. The least expensive 3.2-litre model we came across was around £16,000, but more typical pre-facelift MK3 model Rangers sell in the £18,000 to £21,000, depending on age, spec and condition. The most expensive versions we found were priced up to around £24,000.
What to Look For
The Ranger is built extremely tough, and has benefited from many years of continual development. The interior isn't the last word in sophistication but it is hardwearing. As usual, check for damage to exhausts and suspension from off-roading, check that the load bay tie-downs aren't bent or broken and ensure there's life in the clutch, diffs and dampers. It might have been used for some very heavy towing. Our ownership survey revealed a few issues. Several owners reported issues with the gearbox - either transmission rattling or difficulty in selecting gears (especially 3rd), so look for that on your test drive. One owner had had a complete engine failure (down to a faulty piston) and various niggling faults were reported with things like the towbar, rear bumpers, trailer wiring and water leaks. Some owners also observed that the paintwork scratches easily.
(approx prices, based on a 2014 2.2 TDCi 150PS Ranger) As with most Ford models, spare parts are reasonably priced. An air filter will cost around £17 - or up to around £30 for a pricier brand. You'll pay around £120 for an oil pump, between £5 and £10 for an oil filter, between £10 and £25 for a thermostat and between £5 and £15 for wiper blades. A water pump is around £90 - or up to around £135 for a pricier brand. Brake pads are around £25 - or up to around £55 for a pricier brand. Brake discs are around £30 - or between £95 and £125 for a pricier brand. On The Road
On the Road
There aren't many pick-ups developed first and foremost to prioritise driving dynamics, but this is one of them. The leaf-sprung rear suspension that all vehicles of this kind must currently have for the really heavy payloads many of their owners will need is never going to produce an especially car-like driving experience, whatever the glossy brochures may tell you. But Ford's engineers have done their darndest to replicate that as far as they could, testing prototypes over more than a million kilometres in order to deliver a vehicle that still remains tough enough for the harsh conditions of the Australian Outback and can be driven for hours in the endless Argentinian Pampa, but one that in this third generation guise is also just as at home on high speed German autobahns - or merely collecting your dry cleaning. Have they succeeded in meeting this challenging brief? Really, it depends upon your expectations. Does it ride and handle like a Discovery? Well of course it doesn't. A Discovery isn't built to take a 1.3-tonne payload. But does it set high standards for models from this era in the pick-up segment? Very definitely yes, this Ford being agile, stable, precise and comfortable. The first thing you'll probably remark upon is the steering: well, you won't remark on it at all if you've come from a large modern family SUV because it feels little different, but if you're a long-time pick-up driver used to the vague old recirculating-ball steering that vehicles of this kind virtually all used prior to this model's launch in 2012, then the rack and pinion helm of this Ranger will be a revelation. That'll make you more confident wherever road takes you, especially if you're threading through town traffic, a place where the relatively tight turning circle - 11.8m on two-wheel drive models and 12.4m on 4x4 variants - will come in useful. Another huge step forward was achieved in terms of refinement, this model 22% quieter than its predecessor thanks to a stiffer structure and a double-sealing system for the doors. It's another area where this Ford achieved clear market leadership and it makes you far more willing to want to take it on longer distances and far less likely to leave it at home when the working day's finished if you've also a conventional car sitting in the driveway. But if that's the case, you're still going to need to make a few allowances when it comes to ride and handling. You still feel road imperfections that an ordinary family hatch would easily iron out and of course, especially if you don't have a heavy load in the back, this high-set two-tonne vehicle delivers plenty more bodyroll than the SUV set will be used to. Again though, for a pick-up, this MK3 Ranger raised the standard. Under the bonnet, most models were sold with the 2.2-litre four cylinder TDCi turbo diesel that Ford borrowed from its Mondeo and its Galaxy and S-MAX MPVs, available here with either 125 or 150PS. It's a torquey unit, with either 330 or 375NM of pulling power on offer, enough in the 4WD version to tow a braked trailer of up to 3350kgs, a best-in-class figure. For really effortless towing though, you'll need the flagship Ranger engine, a purpose-designed 3.2-litre five cylinder TDCi diesel with 200PS on tap and 470NM of torque, most of which you can access from as low in the rev range as 1,750rpm. A unit man enough in Australian tests to easily pull a 160-tonne steam locomotive out of its shed. Whatever you choose to tow, you'll be able to do it safely, thanks to a clever Trailer Sway Control system that automatically detects when a trailer is beginning to snake and unobtrusively brings things back under control. Transmission choice with both the two more powerful models is between a surprisingly slick 6-speed manual gearbox or the 6-speed automatic that many original buyers opted for, clever enough to adapt its change patterns to the terrain and your driving style. And of course, if you're a typical Ranger owner, you'll want to be putting its all-terrain capability to the test on a pretty regular basis. Which is why, though there were two-wheel drive entry-level models for those needing that, most of the range was built around 4WD variants. As usual with vehicles of this type, this Ranger runs in 2WD unless you rotate the drive controller to its '4H' '4x4 High' setting, something that can be done on the move. That'll be fine for slippery tarmac and grassy fields, but for anything more serious than that, you'll want to switch further into the '4L' '4x4 Low range' mode that'll give you a seriously go-anywhere set of off road ratios. Thus equipped, you can really start to make full use of what is a very confident mud-plugger indeed thanks to the way that key components like the fuel tank have been tucked out of harm's way, facilitating a decent ground clearance of 229mm. This enables approach and departure angles of up to 28-degrees on slopes you'll be assisted up with a Hill Launch Assist system and helped down with Hill Descent control. Axle articulation is excellent, sideways slopes of up to 25-degrees can be traversed and water waded through at a depth of up to 600mm. Plus there's a TCS Traction Control System clever enough to reduce the level of engine torque to the exact amount that can be delivered to the ground through the wheels, prioritising wheels with the most traction and automatically braking any that start to spin.
You can't deny that this MK3 Ranger is a thoroughly engineered product. It's safe, spacious, clever, able to carry large loads and finally has engines that can match or beat the competition. Whether the need is for active family weekends, or simply to carry workmates with their kit and tools, this rugged do-almost-anything automotive swiss army knife seems to have it covered. From the back streets of Bangkok to the logging trails of Liberia, you'll find Rangers earning their keep, but the step forward with this generation model wasn't really a rugged one: this Ford was always tough to break. No, the major improvement came in terms of driving dynamics. Maybe these aren't as car-like as the Blue Oval would like us to think, but they proved to be a big step forward for a vehicle of this kind, aided by technology that saw Japanese competitors having to play catch-up. When it all comes down to it, the right tool can make child's play of men's work. And if you're looking for the best all-round contender in the pick-up sector from the 2012 to 2016 era, then this could well prove to be the right tool for you. Job done.