Look at any boat ramp carpark, and four-wheeldrives, utilities and SUVs dominate the parking spaces. NZ Fishing Media Directors Grant Blair and Grant Dixon share their thoughts on their current drives – New Zealand’s most popular utility – the Ford Ranger.
Henry Ford would quite rightly be proud; having driven a Ford XLT Double-cab for almost 5,000km over a variety of terrain, it’s quite clear that things have moved on drastically since the Model T, with the rather snappy-looking XLT ute being functional, comfortable, safe and really doing the business. Importantly, for much of our day-today activities, it tows the Fishing.net.nz 6.1m Extreme with ease, handles well, and offers much of the ‘technical fruit’ we hope to find in today’s vehicles.
A five-cylinder 3.2L diesel engine coupled with a six-speed auto transmission delivers 147kW and 470Nm at 1500rpm, which means plenty of grunt and pull. It is spec’d to lug loads of up to 3.5
tonnes, or carry one tonne in the roomy tray – and that translates to the Ranger being a practical workhorse, whether you’re at work or at play.
While the interior is in keeping with the latest trends in design, it’s also functional, comfortable and spacious. There’s plenty of space for five passengers (plus a few rods, rifles or other important kit), even for those with longer legs.
A clear, clean dash display awaits the driver, and boasts stateof-the-art mod cons that includes Bluetooth for your smartphone – which is so simple to set up you don’t need to get the kids to help! Using an i-Phone and the voice recognition ‘Siri’ function, it’s totally hands-free for incoming and outbound calling. The higherspec versions have an eight-inch touchscreen that utilises Ford’s SYNC2 technology, with the LED display offering GPS navigation, music and dual climate control. More useful info is displayed on the right of the speedo, including fuel consumption and revs. Many of these features can be operated via an easy-to-use, four-way toggle button on the steering wheel.
Then there’s the cruise control, which is also simple to deploy and adjustable in 1kph increments – really handy for motorway driving, when your speed can creep up without you noticing.
According to Carbuyer.co.uk, the Ranger is the only pickup to get the full five-star crash safety rating from Euro ANCAP (even the Navara and Amarok only managed four).
The comprehensive array of active and passive safety equipment includes: seven airbags; traction control; stability control; anti-lock brakes; an emergency-braking system; trailer-sway control; loadadaptive control; roll-over mitigation; and anti-locking brakes with brake assist.
Road holding and cornering is firm and, with the latest technology to assist, you feel in control and safe. It’s fair to say the suspension is firm around town – the result of a traditional leaf-spring rear suspension setup – but it’s consistent with most other utes in the same class and is required to deliver reasonable load-carrying capacity. It can take a day or two to get used to, but overall it’s a very comfortable ride.
The Fishing.net.nz Ranger sports 265 x 50R20 wide, allterrain tyres on big alloy rims (17” 255/65R17 tyres are standard), and the performance is excellent. Braking comes via ventilated discs on the front and drums at the rear, providing heaps of stopping grunt when needed. The Ranger also has Active Brake Limited Slip.
4WD is available on soft sand or off-road with a flick of the wrist in high or low ratio. Diff-lock and hill-descent control assist with the gnarly stuff. The steering is well tuned for easy, low-speed manoeuvring, yet equally at home on the open road.
The six-speed auto is smooth and seamless. For towing, or those twisty-turny roads, the Tiptronic sports mode is a real cracker and makes light work of what could easily be hard-going in a lesser vehicle. The Kopu-Hikawai and Tairua-Whitianga roads are routes I drive frequently with our 6.1 or 7m Extreme project boat in tow, and the ability to manually select/hold a particular gear gives optimal performance. It’s a nice change to feel relaxed traversing those roads with a reasonable sized rig in tow.
At 2200kg, the Ranger is no lightweight, and fuel consumption has been 10.3L/100km over 5,000km (which includes a reasonable amount of around-town running and idling along in the turgid Auckland traffic, as well as towing the NZ Fishing Media boats).
It is no great surprise the Ford Ranger has sold so well and is currently leading the pack. Like the ads say: It looks the business, it does the business, it is the business!
Two years ago I was looking for a new tow wagon for the magazine, so test drove a number of the utility vehicles. This wasn’t just a matter of going for a ‘run’ up the road and back. For the ones I was most interested in, I put our then project boat, an Extreme 750 Game King, on the back and went for a drive.
The ‘new look’ Rangers had just been released, and the company ended up leasing an XLT model on my recommendations. I chose the Ford over the opposition due to its footprint, along with the towing power, and, just as importantly, the stopping capacity. The Ford has a five-cylinder motor poking out plenty of horsepower and torque, which has it over the others – all four cylinders pushing out not dissimilar horsepower, but from smaller blocks. In short, I was more than happy with the vehicle’s performance, especially with a boat in tow.
The circumstances changed, and two years down the track I found myself revisiting the vehicle scenario, and a chance meeting with the team at Pacific Motor Group, Whangarei’s Ford dealership, saw a deal struck for two sponsored Ford Ranger XLTs.
These are the facelift models, and while many of the features remain unchanged, there are some subtle differences. For example, the gearbox is smoother, especially through the lower gears, and a new electric-powered steering system enables fingertip control. I love the eight-inch touch-screen
display, which gives me everything from stereo, Bluetooth, GPS and climate control – also at my fingertips.
A feature I really appreciate, especially on those long night hauls back from a day’s fishing with the boat on behind, is the ‘load leveller’ function, enabling me to adjust the headlight angle to avoid annoying oncoming traffic. Another real asset is the 12-volt plug located in the tray, enabling me to run and charge the Balex Auto Boat Loader system fitted to the Voyager trailer under the Extreme 700 Game King.
The other item I would not be without is the backing camera. The Ford Ranger XLT is a big vehicle, and the camera with its directional indicator makes getting in and out of those tight Auckland parking spaces much easier, as is hitching up the boat!
Our ‘trucks’, with their black livery and lockable Ute Master chequerplate Load Lids and sports bars, 20-inch Mamba rims and all-terrain 265/50R20 tyres, are real eye-catchers, as well as being genuine work horses.
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