Ahead of its sales launch, Sime Darby Auto ConneXion (SDAC) previewed the new-generation Ford Ranger today. This can be considered the fourth generation of the pick-up truck which was originally conceived as Ford’s idea of an ‘ASEAN Car’ in the mid-1990s. Its development was partly inspired by the creation of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) as a single trading bloc. Products could be exchanged among ASEAN countries without import duties so manufacturers could set up large factories in one location for economies of scale and supply to neighbouring countries without tax penalties.
Ford (in partnership with Mazda) chose Thailand to build a huge factory in Rayong on the eastern seaboard for its new model called the Ranger, which succeeded the Courier. For the Malaysian market, the timing was perfect as regulations has just changed (in the late 1990s) to permit private registration of pick-up trucks. With the Ranger’s stylish design and more passenger car-like features, it very quickly became a top-seller, accounting for 51% of all trucks sold in Malaysia in its early years.
2022 see a new generation of the model which has by now become a very global product, made in Thailand and South Africa, and exported to some 180 countries. For this new generation, Ford has no longer collaborated with Mazda (which has instead teamed up with Isuzu for its new truck) and has partnered Volkswagen (which makes its Ranger-derived product the new Amarok).
Pick-up trucks generally have similar profiles – a cab up front and a long cargo bed at the back, with lots of ground clearance. Apart from a few exceptions, they all sit on a chassis frame (or ladder frame) which has been the case for decades. This type of construction, with the cab bolted on, is stronger and can handle heavy loads better. It’s also more resistant to flexing, an important point when driving in rough terrain.
However, the styling is where the differentiation is, and Ford’s designers have kept the new Ranger stylishly rugged. According to Max Tran, who led the design team for the model, they looked at nature for inspiration as well as the F-Series trucks and also the previous Rangers.
The front end is bolder with more distinct elements but the most eye-catching are the two ‘C-clamp’ LED lighting units around the large headlights. These serve as daylight running lights (DRLs) and certainly make the new Ranger recognisable from a distance. The same theme is used for the tail lights as well.
The dimensions of the new Ranger are roughly the same as before, but the wheelbase is 50 mm longer, and the tracks have also been widened by 50 mm. The extended wheelbase moves the front wheels forward so that the overhang is reduced, making for a better approach angle. The widened tracks allow the body to be slightly wider, which makes a difference in the cargo bay.
Since the second generation, the brand badges have been enlarged to make them more visible from far. This time round, ‘RANGER’ has been stamped into the lower section of the tailgate panel, giving a rugged look to the vehicle. On the top of the tailgate is a hint of a spoiler, helping to influence airflow in some beneficial way.
As before, some versions have an ‘easy-lift’ bar under the tailgate which makes opening and closing really easy. The tailgate is normally a heavy piece and you need two hands and a bit of effort to lift it but with the Ranger, you can use one hand to close it.
As before, there are two 2-litre diesel powertrain choices – the Bi-Turbo and Single Turbo. Both have received improvements, particularly in reduction of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness). The output remains the same, though, with the Bi-Turbo putting out 210 ps/500 Nm, and the Single Turbo generating 170 ps/405 Nm. Because the Ranger is sold widely in ASEAN, where governments are promoting biodiesel strongly, the engines can run on diesel blends up to B20 with no problem.
Also carrying over from before, the Single Turbo engine is coupled with a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, while the more powerful engine gets a 10-speed automatic transmission which has been updated for more efficiency with closer ratios. Ten ratios is a lot but it does allow for higher ratios to keep revs down for efficiency while, at the same time, having low ratios for strong pulling power when needed. The manual transmission is actually new and was four years in development across 4 continents and has a new gear set for smoother shifts.
To improve cooling in the engine bay, the structure around the front end is hydro-formed. This allows for extra space in the structure around the radiator, and also makes it possible for other powertrains in future (an electrified one, perhaps?). There’s also a dedicated space under the bonnet for the installation of a second battery for use as an auxiliary power source to keep camping accessories running.
There are also two drivetrains and both have electronic management with shift-on-the-fly capability. However, only the top Wildtrak version has the sophisticated electronically managed 4×4 system that intelligently delivers power to the wheels. A rotary dial is used for the first time for selection and there are four modes – 2WD High, 4WD High, 4WD Low and automatic 4WD. The other versions have the more traditional 2-wheel drive High and Low range transfer case.
There’s also another set of drive modes to suit different types of surfaces conditions, from mud and sand to normal roads as well as for fuel-saving. The Wildtrak gets 6 modes which include the different terrain settings but the other versions get only 4 modes for normal, economy, towing or slippery surfaces.
The platform has similarities to the one used before but it is not identical. It’s an evolved version which has the rear suspension dampers shifted outboard of the frame rails. The aim has been to allow more tuning range with a better balance between comfort and durability. With trucks being used more on-road than off-road, the comfort aspect is desired more.
Flexible multi-function cabin
Each generation of the Ranger has seen a new approach to interior design, influenced by feedback from customers as well as themes chosen by the design teams. The third generation, for example, had some elements inspired by Casio G-Shock watches which the chief designer was impressed by. This time round, more than 5,000 people were interviewed to find out what to improve and what was expected.
The result is a flexible, modern cabin space that is more functional for family use as well as for work. To meet this requirement, Ford has provided smart and connected technologies and features, with more comfort and storage options. Digi-graphics are dominant on the instrument panel and also a tablet-like centre display which looks like the one in the Mach-E SUV.
The portrait orientation of the centre touchscreen display provides more surface area so that more menu elements can be displayed. With a horizontal orientation, the menu may need to be layered, adding time to the operation for the driver. The vertical panel also displays the 360-degree + overhead view that allows the driver to see all sides of the vehicle.
There are two centre consoles between the seats and the Wildtrak gets the ‘advanced’ one with an electric parking brake tab (no lever) and the rotary dial for the drive modes. The other versions continue with the conventional handbrake lever on one side. All versions have the option of manual gear selection and this is done by a rocker switch on the side of the shift lever knob. It’s been used for a long time and is common in American vehicles, instead of paddles on the steering wheel.
There are USB and 12V power points around the cabin (and even a 3-pin one in the cargo bay). With many people installing dashcams nowadays, the interior designers have also provided one USB socket at the top of the windscreen area to power the device without having a cable dangling down. And for those who have smartphones that can charge without cables, there’s also a charging pad.
With the second generation Ranger, Ford provided a slide-out tray for the front passenger but that idea probably didn’t catch on so they omitted it later on. For the latest Ranger, besides the rather small glovebox, there’s a horizontal space above it which can be used for a small umbrella or small items. There are, of course, the requisite cupholders with sizes that have been thoroughly researched for universal use.
The instrument panel is now fully digital with an 8-inch TFT display that provides the driver with a wide range of information. To ease the driver’s workload is SYNC4a which is the latest version of Ford’s own connectivity software that was introduced in 2019. It offers enhanced conversational voice recognition, OTA update capability, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
With this new Ranger, the interior designers have gone even further in making the cabin feel like a car’s. In fact, if you were not told that it’s a truck, you would think you’re in a spacious sedan or hatchback. The materials used are soft-touch or well padded, and there are many convenience features. All versions now have rear air-conditioning vents and the rear backrest can be folded down to place items that can’t be left in the exposed cargo bed. Additionally, there are two compartments in the floor as ‘hideaway’ storage areas.
An even safer Ranger
Right from the start, the Ranger has been a leader in safety in the truck segment. For Ford, the lives of the occupants of a truck are no less valuable than those in a passenger car. So even with the first generation, Ford was providing safety features – including airbags – that other trucks didn’t have. This leadership position continues to the latest generation with the more advanced integrated active safety systems being provided (albeit in the Wildtrak only).
The Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) that you see in many cars and SUVs these days are also available in the Ranger Wildtrak. Using a camera and radar, these range from pre-collision warning to automatic emergency braking as well as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping. There is also post-collision braking which brings the vehicle to a faster stop after an accident.
Additionally, Ford has also installed Evasive Steering Assist, a system which complements the Pre-Collision system. If the vehicle is rapidly approaching a stationary vehicle or a vehicle traveling in the same direction, the Evasive Steering Assist system can help the driver steer around the vehicle in a controlled and stable manner. Additional steering torque is applied to help steer around the vehicle. After passing, the system applies steering torque in the opposite direction to encourage a return to the original lane.
There’s also protection for the vehicle in view of it likely to be used in rough off-road conditions. To protect vital components, there are protective underbody shields for the steering, sump, transmission and transfer case. These shields are made from pressed and folded laser-cut steel. The recessed mounting bolts are protected from damage and easy to remove for servicing, and because the shields are bolted directly to the chassis, they add to the structural integrity of the vehicle.
Introducing the new Ranger
SDAC will have a series of events between now and October to introduce the new-generation Ranger before it officially goes on sale. If you sign up here, you can get an exclusive invitation to a debut event at a city near you as well as receive regular updates to keep you informed. To know more about the new-generation Ranger models available in Malaysia, visit www.sdacford.com.my.