They may have won the battle but they haven’t won the war – Hilux vs Ranger rages on. Latest reports from the frontline show 3063 Hiluxes were registered in September, versus 2437 Rangers. A resounding success for Prospection over Silverton you’d think. Until you realise the majority of Toyotas are workhorses and Ranger is in fact the year-to-date leader in the double-cab segment. Now by adding a new automatic to its most popular diesel engine, Ford believes it’s got what it takes to stretch its double-cab advantage even further and make significant inroads where it’s lagging in single and super cabs. Yes, for Hilux to stay ahead it will now have to take on nine new 2.2 TDCi auto derivatives: two single-, three super- and four double-cabs, pushing the full Ranger count to an impressive 36 in total. There’s method here. Ford has seen a 20 per cent shift in the double-cab segment from manuals to automatics, with a resounding 70 per cent of 3.2-litre double-cab owners choosing the auto option. Now given the choice, Ford predicts as many 2.2 owners will follow suit into the realm of two pedal transmissions.
Easy does it
It’s inevitable really, owners wanting an automatic gearbox that provides constant, easy access to the power, making it versatile as an everyday commuter or sand dune traverser. Hopping up into the cabin of our mid-spec XLS 4×4, as one must entering a Ranger with 237mm ground clearance, you’re greeted with a frill-free interior with cloth seats. Hard plastics are peppered with stock Ford switchgear, SYNC infotainment system with 4.2-inch display, air-con, cruise control and six airbags. Top-spec XLT models feature the 8.2-inch SYNC2 touchscreen system with twin USB ports and SD card input, two digital displays either side of a central speedo, parking sensors and a reversing camera. A lack of reach adjustment on the steering hampers finding the optimum driving position and the seats could be better bolstered. On the whole the cabin is well screwed together, rattle-free and well insulated from the road noise.
It’s on the move that the 2.2-litre mill, with 118kW delivered at 3700rpm and 385Nm available from 1500-2500rpm, proves no slouch, even if it sounds a bit belligerent at low revs or until it’s up to operating temperature. It never wants for power or torque in any driving situation, as we’ve found both on road and off road so. Most noteworthy for an off-road environment are the slew of driver aids – on-the-fly 4×4, low range, locking diff, downhill and hill-start assists. But the key factor here is the interface between engine and gearbox. The six-speed auto is the same conventional epicyclic type you get in the 3.2 and it has a pleasant shifting style, a safe middle ground with a hint of torque converter slip to smooth out shifts and tame the high torque output. There’s not much lag on take-off, nor a loss of momentum between gears, and, mercifully, little hunting between ratios. The gearbox also learns how you drive with driver style recognition; shifting up early or holding a gear longer. The Ranger 2.2 was crying out for an auto option ever since its 2011 launch, the manual gearbox’s agricultural notch-and-tug shifts and clunky drivetrain leaving a lot to be desired. Five years late, but job done then.
How about on the move?
There is more aiming than steering, owing to a power steering setup that’s electrically assisted and overly light at speed. As for the ride, it is classic Ranger – ladder-chassis judder over imperfections and rough gravel roads and choppiness from the firm leaf-sprung rear suspension. There’s plenty of body roll, too, and cornering composure falls away as speeds increase, but with electronic stability control as standard, any incidental sideways jumping over mid-corner bumps is safely contained. Also standard on all Rangers is a tow bar – most Ranger customers were fitting them anyway so Ford lobbed it in for free – delivering an impressive braked towing mass of 3500kg, to go with its 1 tonne payload. Also, unlike similar base-engined competitors that need servicing every 15000km, the 2.2 only needs a look at every 20000km, which should provide lower running costs over time.
So it’s a winner?
Seems then, Ford’s game-changing Ranger is boxing clever with its new auto ’box. This impressive drivetrain makes the 3.2 auto a little redundant, unless you’re after ultimate bakkie bragging rights down at the pub. On the whole it’s an unfussed, easy to live with, solid to drive and relatively inexpensive bakkie that finds the sweet spot between convenience, capability and toughness… Your move Toyota.
NEED TO KNOW
Ford Ranger 2.2 TDCi XLS double cab 4×4 Auto
PRICE R517 900 ENGINE 2198cc, 16v, four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel, 118kW @ 3700rpm, 385Nm @ 1500-2500rpm TRANSMISSION 6-speed Auto, 4×4 SUSPENSION Double wishbone front, leaf-spring solid-axle rear LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5354/2163/1851mm WEIGHT 2079kg PERFORMANCE na 0-100kph, na top speed, 7.4ℓ/100km, 216g/km ON SALE Now