The stakes are high when you’re re-introducing one of the best-selling vehicles in South Africa, and you could’ve perhaps forgiven Ford for taking a low-key approach to the Ranger Auto. Instead, however, the new bakkie aims for a trio of improvements (and companion challenges): an all-new auto box that needs to convince traditionalists that manual isn’t the only butch; a 2.2L engine that has to compete with the de facto V8; and lashings of tech at odds with the “simple workhorse” many expect. Ambitious, then: read on to find out whether Ford’s new auto engine star succeeded our first drive test.
The setting is George, alongside the Garden Route we often read and hear about. The beach and sea views are majestic, as is the ride. Unmistakably, the Ranger, doesn’t stray too far from Ford’s current design language from the outside at least. Heck, it is the exact model introduced to us earlier yesteryear. The headlamps are more interestingly shaped and the grille less slabbishly-rectangular, while the detailing on things like door handles and bumpers feels more considered.
Inside, the layout has not changed much; the dashboard has been left untouched versus yesteryear’s model, and it’s all the better for it. Broad window sills and armrests, a chunky steering wheel, and dedicated physical controls for the key features – all with sizable buttons and knobs – are welcome, particularly if you’re wearing gloves. Ford has tried to skirt a line between tech and usability in the center stack, and for the most part succeeds. There’s that 8-inch touchscreen from which all of the usual infotainment can be accessed, like multimedia, and it responds well, using a resistive touchscreen – again, for those wearing gloves – that’s still quick to react. However, it’s also a button-fest of a cabin, with something to press across most of the surfaces.
Still, there are some omissions in the mix. There’s no CarPlay or Android Auto, for instance, with Ford unable to tell us when they might be added. You can only have one Bluetooth device paired and active at any one time. Nonetheless, the cabin is a quiet, comfortable place to spend a road trip in.
Depending on the cab you choose, there seems to be much more hip and shoulder space. You sit up high, of course, and visibility is great; Ford has kept the steering and seat adjustment to best suit you. The seats are supportive and comfortable, although they’re not covered in leather. In the back, meanwhile, the rear seats fold up with surprising ease and leave a huge, flat-bottomed swathe of space for luggage.
The Innards and In Use
We spent our time with the 2.2 TDCi Double Cab XLT 4×2 (Auto) which retails from R396 900. And, In fact, Ford is preemptively crediting the 2.2 as keeping drivers (and the commercial word) in full-sized bakkies, no longer looking to step down in size in order to achieve better fuel-economy. With such weight resting on its metaphorical shoulders, then, it’s good that the 2.2 Auto is such a success on the road. Pulling away with the urgency you’d expect from a significantly larger engine, the combination of the Ranger’s lower center of gravity and easy steering quickly lull you into thinking you’re in something other than a double cab.
In fact, the 2.2 4×2 handled both straights and corners with ease. On the former, it surges forward – admittedly with en empty bed – without hesitation, the low-end torque showing its worth. When we tackled some curvy stuff, however, there’s little of the body roll or sway you’d expect from a van. Understeer arrives eventually, but far later than you might predict it to, and when faced with sudden dips in the gravel road there was minor flex and twist.
If you’ve got some serious load to haul along the way, though, there’s no denying that the new 2.2 auto’s capabilities are significant. The truck retains its poise even under heavy load.
With final fuel economy figures coming in at 7.7l/100km, it’s still too early to crown this new range of autos the king of bakkies quite yet – in our books, that is. Nonetheless, it makes one of the strongest arguments as a load carrier for the everyman we’ve seen in the segment, with a combination of quality construction and thoughtful configuration that was only missing this 2.2 auto variation to truly round out the range.