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Tow Test: New Ford Ranger

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Words: Mark Samuel Photography: Mark Samuel | www.quickpic.co.za

Game RANGER: Ford Ranger 2.2 TDCi XLS 4×2 Double-Cab

There’s a new range of Rangers in town. From the ground up, every aspect has been changed, improved, enhanced and upgraded. We put the smallest-capacity derivative, the efficient 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, to the tow test.

Completely new in every way, except in name.’ Those were the words from Ford that rang in my head as I settled in behind the wheel to tow test the new Ranger double-cab.
Let’s step back for a second. The previous-generation Ford Ranger was a fantastic towcar, with a brilliant engine. But that was a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel, an option now discontinued in the new line-up of Rangers. I had my doubts whether anything could be as good as that predecessor’s performance.
Back to the present: the cream of the crop in the new lineup is the 3.2-litre turbo-diesel, which develops a colossal 470 Nm of torque at 1500-2750 rpm. But alas, the first Ford Ranger test vehicle we received was the 2.2-litre turbodiesel double-cab 4×2 Hi-Rider with 1000 cm3 less capacity; the Hi-Riders in the fleet have the same frame as the 4×4 models. Hmmm, I thought, upon signing for the car, perhaps this was somewhat fortuitous for the 2.2, because if we’d received the 3.2 first, my performance yardstick might’ve been somewhat influenced by the more powerful performer. Was I to be disappointed?

Ford Ranger 2.2 TDCi XLS 4x2 Double-Cab

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Let’s begin with what we all notice when we see a new vehicle driving down the road: the exterior. Ford has done, in my opinion, an outstanding job with the overall styling and finer aesthetic details. Great-looking bakkies like the VW Amarok and the Nissan Navara will no longer be, I reckon, the best turned-out on the block.

The dimensions are sizeable: it’s 5274 mm long from bumper to bumper, 2163 mm wide including the wing mirrors, and from road to roof 1821 mm, depending, of course, on the choice of tyres. During my time with the bakkie I had motorists and pedestrians craning their necks for a better look as I drove by – this vehicle is that noticeable. The front, with its assertive three-bar grille – a now globally recognisable Ford truck insignia – larger headlamps and short overhang (which optimises the approach angle), without doubt exudes ‘modern’ and ‘confident’.
The windscreen has a raked-back profile, underpinning the cab’s sportier look. With aerodynamics in mind, the side body panels and bonnet have been smoothly sculpted, and integrated stampedin wheel housing borders allow the sheet metal to flow uninterrupted. The bakkie’s beltline, running beneath the side windows and along the top edge of the loadbox, has been raised, aiding functionality, with its resultant deeper bak, and form, by way of its bulkier overall attitude. All these aspects tell you this is a bakkie that’s muscular in stance and no-nonsense in approach. But looks alone do not a good tow vehicle make …

Inside

Immediately noticeable towing down the highway were the low noise levels in the cabin. Road and engine noise has been kept to a minimum, which, considering it’s a diesel bakkie, is a commendable achievement.
As with other leading bakkie brands these days, the interior is sedan-like, though this specific model boasts cloth seats. But no, I’m not averse to cloth, as long as it isn’t ugly.
Legroom, at the front and back, is very good, even for six-foot-plus people. In fact, the new doublecab boasts best-in-class legroom and knee clearance in the aft row. Headroom at the back, which can present a problem in certain bakkies, is liberal, even if you’re tall.
If you’re looking to stash something away, there are 23 compartments to choose from, including a cleverly sized cubbyhole that can swallow up a 16-inch laptop and door bottle-holders that can accommodate 1.5-litre bottles.

Towing long distance can be thirsty work, after all. The 8.5-litre centre console bin is the largest in this vehicle segment, deliberately designed to be big enough for 600 ml bottles. It has an upper tray too, for a cellphone, wallet and loose coins.
The rear seats can be folded up to access hidden stowage bins for items like towropes, D-shackles and tools. Behind these seats, accessed when they’re folded forward, is space enough for the jack, a one-litre oil container and a first-aid kit. To make rear-seat passengers more comfortable, a centre armrest folds down, into which are fashioned two cup holders; you can never have too many cup holders! There are also bottle holders in the door mouldings. As David Stanley, package supervisor involved with product development of the Ford Ranger, explains, ‘We intentionally went for the biggest spaces wherever we could. Where the competitors could fit only smaller bottles, we could fit larger ones.’
A top-performing sound system, effective manually operated aircon, airbags (driver, front passenger and sidecurtain) and other passive safety features, and general allround ergonomics make the cab a pleasant place to inhabit, be it on long trips or short. And towing?
You’re all champing at the bit to know how it performed with a caravan hitched, I’m sure. Let me start with some facts and figures. The tare is 1960 kg, a figure that would ordinarily limit the GVM of your overrun-braked caravan or trailer, if the vehicle were a passenger vehicle (i.e. not classified as a goods vehicle). But bakkies are goods vehicles. So what needs to be considered is this: the GVM of the bakkie is 2925 kg, and the gross combination mass (GCM) 4725 kg, leaving the manufacturer’s maximum towing capacity at 1800 kg – i.e.

the difference between the GCM and the GVM. That means you must not tow anything with a GVM of more than 1800 kg behind this particular 2.2-litre model, otherwise you will be exceeding the all-important GCM.
The GVM of the braked caravan we chose for the test was 1330 kg. The vehicle can tow heavier, but this was a midweight contender, and considering we’d used a similarly weighted caravan for the VW Amarok double-cab back in 2011, it gave us a fair combination. I prefer to get what I didn’t like about a specific test towcar out of the way – though, frankly, there isn’t much not to like about this bakkie. But if I had to nitpick, here’s what I’d highlight.
Although the gearshift action on this manual sixspeed was nowhere near as awkward as the Amarok’s transmission, it felt a tad spongy and took some getting used to. There’s also a small ‘up’ arrow on the instrument panel that’s activated when the onboard computer thinks you should change to a higher gear. Okay, I get the intention behind it – it’s to promote more economical driving – but give me a break: I’ve been driving and towing for a long time and I don’t need to be told when to change gears! Also, try as I might, I couldn’t get the arrow to switch direction and tell me to change to a lower gear when the engine was labouring. Seems like this vehicle only likes drivers to change up! VW Amaroks have a similar feature, except that theirs does sometimes tell you to change down, and a displayed number actually advises which specific gear you should be in. I don’t need this feature in any manual car I drive. The final item in the con column, if I don my ultracritical cap, was the slight ‘running out of legs’ while accelerating hard up a hill with the caravan in tow. Perhaps I’m being too harsh: this is only a 2.2-litre, and maybe the sheer size of the bakkie under my control made me subconsciously think I should be able to tow any caravan, no matter how big, up any gradient with little effort. That said, however, the standard hill climb time wasn’t at all bad at 1:39.07, fractionally quicker than the 2.0 BiTDI Amarok, but the Amarok was towing an ever-so-slighty heavier caravan. Acceleration test runs yielded good results: the 0-100 km/h sprint came in at 19.44 seconds.

Braking was, well, on the better side of average in terms of time: 3.23 seconds. The shuddering associated with the ABS action was certainly noticeable. Handling was supreme, so much so I thought this model had the new Trailer Sway Control system fitted. It didn’t. What made the handling all the more impressive was that the towbar and caravan coupling were too high for this combination, resulting in a ‘nose up’ profile on the caravan. If anything is going to make a towing combo unstable, that will do it – but, oddly enough, it didn’t happen with this bakkie. And speaking of towbars, this model is fitted with one robust-looking unit: astonishingly, according to the manual, the towbar can take a trailer noseweight of up to 225 kg! In South Africa it’s illegal to have a trailer noseweight this high (legislation says it may not exceed 100 kg), but it does indicate that this towbar is extremely strong.

Tow cruising with this bakkie on the open road in the optimal torque band of between 1500 and 2500 rpm is blissful. It felt happiest closer to 1500 rpm, confirmed by the significantly lower instantaneous fuel consumption figure on the onboard read-out.
So how did it fare as a towcar? Well. Actually, better than well! This bakkie is big, it’s tough, it’s practical (with its enormous loadbox and cleverly positioned tie-down points both inside and outside the bak, and driver and passengers will remain in a high degree of comfort in the cabin. The best news about the 2.2-litre is that it’s frugal on fuel: towing at and around 100 km/h I achieved 11.1 l/100 km, and unhitched the figure hovered around 8.8 l/100 km.
But all things considered, I have the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel in my towing sights, and I’d hazard an educated guess that it’s going to stun the towing fraternity with its performance. You’ll definitely be the first to know how it performs.

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