9

The Blue Oval’s market-leading pick-up truck gets a major reworking

Find Ford Ranger deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
Nearly-new car deals
From £45,480
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

You might think of a pick-up truck as a purely utilitarian vehicle, a tool simply to haul hay bales, sheep and building materials. But it appears that for many UK buyers, their Ford Rangers are much more than that.

Take this for a stat: in the UK, 80% of Rangers of the last generation were ordered in Wildtrak spec. To those less familiar with Ranger trim levels, that’s the bells-and-whistles version with nice alloy wheels, leather upholstery, soft-touch interior materials and all sorts of other car-like features.

The Ranger will stay powered by internal combustion alone for the time being, but there will be “a version with a plug” in this generation. The likelihood is that it will be a petrol-engined plug-in hybrid.

It’s a trend that seems to have come from the US. The Ford F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle there for years, and quite obviously not all of them are farm trucks. A lot of them are lifestyle vehicles as well, suited to towing boats, transporting camping gear and the like.

For 2023, Ford is introducing a new generation of its European pick-up, so with the genre’s evolved remit in mind, we are testing a Ranger Wildtrak with the mid-range 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged diesel engine to see how well it works on the road as well as off it.

09 Ford ranger rt 2023 bi turbo gill

Range at a glance

The new Ranger line-up is pretty extensive, with chassis cab, single cab and double cab options. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel comes with three power outputs, and there is one V6 diesel. The V6 petrol only comes in Raptor guise. If you want any of the more powerful engines, you will need to go for the double cab.

Advertisement
Back to top
VersionPower
Ford Ranger 2.0 EcoBlue 170PS Chassis Cab168bhp
Ford Ranger 2.0 EcoBlue 170PS Single Cab168bhp
Ford Ranger 2.0 EcoBlue 170PS Double Cab168bhp
Ford Ranger 2.0 EcoBlue 205PS Double Cab*202bhp
Ford Ranger 3.0 EcoBlue 240PS Double Cab237bhp
Ford Ranger 2.0 EcoBlue 210PS Double Cab Raptor207bhp
Ford Ranger 3.0 Ecoboost Double Cab Raptor282bhp

*Version tested

TRANSMISSIONS

10-spd automatic (Except 170PS)               

6-spd manual (170PS only)

Additional reporting by George Barrow

 

DESIGN & STYLING

9
02 Ford Ranger RT 2023 front cornering

As light commercial vehicles, pick-up trucks aren’t quite as beholden to the whims of fashion as cars, so new generations don’t come along as often. The outgoing Ranger was launched in 2011 – ancient in automotive terms – but thanks to a major facelift in 2015 and the introduction of a new powertrain in 2019, it remained a class leader.

That engine, with its 10-speed automatic gearbox, is carried over, as it’s quite clever. It’s a 2.0-litre diesel with two turbos: a smaller, variable-geometry high-pressure one ensures response while the fixed-geometry low-pressure turbo spools up. This 202bhp option is joined by a less powerful single-turbo version, as well as a new 3.0-litre V6. The only petrol is the V6 in the Ranger Raptor. The frame is an upgraded version of the existing one, because some things don’t need reinventing, and a ladder chassis and leaf-sprung rear live axle are still the set-up of choice for maximising payload.

The Ranger doesn’t look as absurd on UK roads as the F-150 Lightning (road test, 17 May), but you still think twice about where you park a vehicle of this size.

The rest is substantially new. The front wheels have been moved forwards by 50mm, which has the effect of lengthening the wheelbase and reducing the front overhang. The tracks are also 50mm wider, making space for the V6.

You can thank Volkswagen for the latter. The new VW Amarok is now based on the Ranger, and although it was mainly a Ford development, VW reportedly insisted on having a V6, in light of the Amarok’s slightly more premium truck billing. The biggest engine in the old Ranger was a 3.2-litre inline five, which needs less width than a vee engine.

The wider chassis also allows for “other propulsion technologies”, says the press pack cryptically. The first of those is the plug-in hybrid Ranger that will join the range in 2024. It combines a 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a battery and an electric motor. It also wouldn't surprise us that an electric Ranger is in development for those who want a Ford F-150 Lightning suitable for Europe.

Mind you, although the new Ranger is smaller than the F-150, it is still a very large vehicle, being the same width as the new Range Rover and over 30cm longer. The new Ranger has also clearly turned to its big American cousin for its look, as evidenced by the bluffer, squarer front. Meanwhile, the wheel arches are more neatly incorporated as flares, and there’s a shoulder line running down the sides. Ford still offers utilitarian versions with unpainted bumpers and steel wheels, but even the posher versions have chunky bumpers that will withstand some actual bumping.

In the UK, the Ranger comes as a single cab, a double cab or a chassis cab (the ‘supercab’ isn’t offered here due to low demand, and nor is the related Everest large SUV).

Like the old Ranger, the new one was developed largely by Ford’s Product Development Center in Australia, which makes sense given the size of the ute market over there. European-market Rangers are built alongside the Amarok in Ford’s Silverton plant in South Africa.

INTERIOR

8
10 Ford Ranger RT 2023 dashboard

When you hoist yourself into the cab of a pick-up truck (and unless you are exceptionally tall, you will be grateful for the handles on the A-pillars and the Wildtrak’s running boards), you expect to be greeted by a sea of black plastic. But in the Wildtrak, that is not the case.

Although the hard materials are there if you go looking for them, the tops of the dash and doors are padded with imitation leather, and there are pleasing design touches like the painted trim and chrome decoration around the air vents. You wouldn’t mistake this for a BMW interior, but it is an upgrade from a Ford Focus.

The hidden interior door handles that you have to squeeze are oddly reminiscent of 1970s BMWs. They work better than any modern electronic alternatives.

The experience is somewhat different in the lower trims. Choose XL or XLT and you will get the expected black plastic, and you lose the extra cubby on the passenger side (which feels unnecessarily mean). Then again, those hard-wearing materials might very well be preferred on a work vehicle, and everything still feels very solid. There's also a bit of padding on the part of the door you might rest an elbow.

The general design is the same on all Rangers, including the big screens. Lower trims get a 10.1in item, while Wildtrak and above gets a 12.0in one. The climate functions are permanently displayed at the bottom of the screen, and unlike the Amarok, all Rangers also get a bank of physical controls. On the topic of air conditioning, it is a £500 option on the Ranger XL.

The gauge cluster is digital too, even on the cheapest models, and the Raptor and upcoming Platinum gain a larger screen. It’s not the most configurable, but it’s clear enough and easy to navigate using the steering wheel buttons.

If you’re not used to modern pick-up trucks, the prospect of driving such a large vehicle might be daunting, but it’s remarkable how quickly one feels at home in the Ranger. The driver’s seat goes quite far down, but you actually want to set it fairly high for a commanding view out over the long flat bonnet.

The square corners and straight sides of the body, and the huge side mirrors and fairly thin pillars, ensure excellent visibility, making this a surprisingly easy vehicle to place on the road. The way you look down on most SUVs reinforces the imperious feel.

With as much length as possible going to the load bay, the rear leg room is only similar to what you will find in a family hatchback, but the flat roof and vertical rear window mean that head room is pretty generous. This is all typical for a double-cab pick-up, and the Ranger is even slightly roomier than the Toyota Hilux. The seat base can be flipped up to reveal a few cubbies that hold the toolkit and jack, or the back rest can be folded down to create a shelf for storage.

That brings us to the most important part of a pick-up truck: the bed. All versions of the Ranger apart from the Raptor have a payload of at least one tonne, ranging from 1035kg for a 2.0-litre 202bhp Wildtrak X to 1207kg for a single-cab XL. Being wider than before also means the bed fits a Euro pallet, like the Ranger’s rivals.

All Rangers have various hooks and tie-down points along the bed. The sides are topped with plastic to protect the paint, while little flaps hide further mounting points. Ford has a lengthy list of accessories including rack systems, divider systems and hard tops, and if that’s not enough, there are plenty of aftermarket suppliers that produce additional kit.

Our car had the spray-in bed liner and the powered shutter, which worked very well. The torsion bars for the tailgate are a useful standard feature, making it nice and light to open and close.

Multimedia system

14 Ford ranger rt 2023 multimedia 1

All Rangers run Ford’s latest infotainment software, Sync 4, on a large portrait touchscreen. The screen is completely vertical and positioned fairly low compared with your eyeline. That makes it less distracting on the move, but also means the viewing angle is less than ideal.

The interface itself is excellent, however. The big screen ensures that the most frequently used functions can remain visible at all times. The lower quarter permanently displays the climate controls, the next quarter gives you quick access to recently used functions, while the top half can display things like phone mirroring, the navigation (which generally works well, but failed to recognise some points of interest) or the media player. Tapping the car icon in the top right corner instantly brings up the settings.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay can both connect wirelessly, and our test car had four USB ports, two of each type. Lower trims get fewer, and wireless charging is a separate option, which our test car didn’t have. The Bang & Olufsen stereo, equipped with eight speakers, sounded good but not exceptional.

 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

8
19 Ford Ranger RT 2023 2 0 biturbo engine

Modern diesel engines mean your light commercial vehicle needn’t be slow. The 202bhp 2.0-litre tested here occupies a healthy middle ground between the 168bhp base model and the 237bhp Ranger V6 diesel. It’s mated exclusively to a 10-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox.

At 2348kg on our scales, this ‘light’ commercial vehicle is pretty heavy by passenger car standards, and a good 100kg heavier than the Toyota Hilux we road tested earlier this year. Nevertheless, the Ranger managed to be slightly faster to 60mph, needing 9.8sec.

Ranger Wildtraks get rear disc brakes, but lower trims are stuck with drums. A step in the rear bumper helps you access the box without having to stand on the tyre. Wildtrak gets 18in alloys, but 16in steel wheels are standard.

More important is the powertrain’s everyday flexibility, and there’s no shortage of that, thanks in large part to the gearbox. Ten ratios are a lot to keep track of, but the ’box manages them expertly. It’s smooth and responsive, quickly dropping down one or two gears when you flex your right foot.

Under hard acceleration the transmission quickly rifles through the closely stacked intermediate gears, each time only dropping a few hundred rpms. It certainly feels more direct than the Hilux’s slushy six-speeder, if a little CVT-like.

There are two manual modes of sorts. Press the M button on the side of the selector, and the gearbox will be locked in whatever gear you select with the + and – buttons. Use them without pressing the M button first and it will act as a limiter, ensuring the transmission never shifts beyond the selected gear.

The engine itself gets the job done but overall is less impressive. The sequential turbocharging gives it a reasonably flat torque curve, which is reflected in the 10.7sec 30-70mph time in fifth (it won’t reach 70mph in fourth). However, when it has to work at all hard, it sounds like a typically clattery commercial vehicle diesel. It’s by no means terrible, but it also doesn’t set new standards for refinement.

Being a Wildtrak, our Ranger had disc brakes all round. Go for one of the cheaper trims and you get drums at the back. Even with the discs, however, the Ranger’s braking performance is limited by the standard mud and snow tyres. Optional all-terrain tyres are available, but those would be even worse for braking on dry Tarmac. The resulting 55-metre stopping distance from 70mph would be disappointing in a passenger car, but is only slightly longer than what we recorded in the Hilux.

We've also tried the V6 and the entry-level 168bhp four-cylinder. The former makes performance even more effortless and adds a more cultured growl. The single-turbo four, meanwhile, feels very much like the commercial vehicle engine. It will lug loads and climb hills, just not very quickly, and it sounds the most like an old-school diesel. It's always mated to a six-speed manual, which is tight and tactile when you take your time, but can be quite baulky when you try to rush it.

RIDE & HANDLING

8
20 Ford Ranger RT 2023 cornering front

Is it too much to expect Ford’s reputation for fine-handling cars to rub off on its commercial vehicles? The Ford Transit consistently suggests it isn’t, and the Ranger’s initial ‘handshake’ confirms it.

The steering isn’t as slow as you might expect from a ‘truck’, and superficially has a similar feel to Ford cars in that it is slightly springy around the dead-ahead. Once you get into the meat of the turn, it’s reassuringly but not excessively weighted. It’s quicker and more accurate than in most cars of its kind too, and the suspension keeps body roll in check reasonably well.

The Ranger is a thorough evolution of the previous one, which sat on the T6 platform. As such, it has a steel ladder chassis with a separate body, double wishbones at the front and a leaf-sprung live axle at the rear. Weight distribution on Millbrook’s scales was 54% front, 46% rear.

Still, with those mildly off-road-capable tyres, one shouldn’t expect any miracles. There’s no steering feedback to speak of, and grip is ultimately quite limited if you’re used to normal cars. You’ll know you’re getting to the limit of what they can handle from the pronounced squealing.

There is enough of a margin for safety, though, and the traction and stability control will smoothly rein in any antics before they have a chance to develop.

21 Ford ranger rt 2023 cornering rear

Comfort and isolation

Similarly, you might not expect much of the ride comfort of a vehicle with a ladder chassis and a live rear axle. True, the Ranger can’t entirely avoid the ill effects of its make-up, and over rutted roads it can occasionally crash and shimmy a bit, despite having relatively soft suspension and 65-profile tyres.

By and large, though, this is quite a comfortable vehicle to travel in. The long-travel suspension is fairly soft by car standards, but is firmer and more tightly controlled than some other off-roaders, giving it quite a serene primary gait.

And there is something very relaxing and reassuring about being able to power through potholes, mount kerbs and take to verges in the knowledge that you’re not going to bend a wheel or bottom out.

The noise isolation also makes you forget you’re in a commercial vehicle – 67dBA at 70mph is on a par with many premium crossovers and hatchbacks. The seats are broad and mostly comfortable, with the Wildtrak’s gaining electric adjustment and lumbar support. We did miss an extendable thigh bolster and some tilt adjustment for the cushion, however.

Off-road notes

22 Ford ranger rt 2023 off road

The Ranger is slightly down on the Toyota Hilux in most areas apart from its approach angle (30deg plays 29deg) and wading depth (800mm plays 700mm). Its departure angle, breakover angle and ground clearance are slightly inferior to the Hilux’s 26deg, 23deg and 310mm.

It has most of the hardware you would expect of a pick-up truck with some off-road chops. It has an automatic four-wheel-drive mode, low gearing, a locking rear axle, some off-road driving modes and a low-set camera to help you see forwards when climbing a steep hill. All-terrain tyres are optional, but the standard all-season tyres will be able to handle most situations in the UK.

The Ranger coped with a mild off-road course with no drama and hardly any wheelspin. Ultimately, you will be limited in how far off the beaten path you can take a Ranger by its sheer size. Green lanes that a Suzuki Jimny would saunter through will scratch both sides of a modern pick-up truck.

 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

8
01 Ford Ranger RT 2023 Lead front driving forest

The new Ranger scores well in all the utility areas. Its bed is roughly the same size as rivals’, it has just over a tonne of payload (some versions a bit more still) and it can tow up to 3.5 tonnes. So while it doesn’t excel in any of them, it’s on a par with the competition and there is nothing here to put you off.

The Ranger is certainly not the cheapest pick-up truck, whether in stripped-down workhorse spec or posher, Wildtrak form. With similar equipment it’s marginally more expensive than the Toyota Hilux, and an Isuzu D-Max or Ssangyong Musso is even cheaper. The VW Amarok, which is based on the Ranger but positioned as a plusher, more lifestyle alternative, is a few thousand pounds more.

Spec advice? XLT doesn’t offer all that much more than XL, so we would stick with that for a basic work truck. Wildtrak is a good daily driver spec, while off-road enthusiasts will want the Tremor or Wildtrak X. For Range-Rover-on-a-budget vibes, wait for the Platinum to launch. If you choose the XL, make sure to get air conditioning, as that is not fitted as standard.

All Rangers except the Raptor are classified as a light commercial vehicle, so incur a flat road tax rate of £320 per year. It’s the same for benefit-in-kind tax: £66 per month for 20% taxpayers, £132 for 40% taxpayers. One downside of most pick-up trucks is that if they exceed 2040kg of unladen mass (which double-cab Rangers do), they must keep to a lower speed limit on single and dual carriageways.

We averaged 28.9mpg over a week with the Ranger that included performance testing, which is exactly the same as we got from the Hilux, despite the Ford’s more modern engine and gearbox. However, the Ranger’s 36.6mpg touring MPG was significantly better. For a heavy, bluff-fronted vehicle, it should be fairly efficient at a steady motorway cruise. With the 168bhp engine, we saw an average of 35mpg, whereas the V6 struggled to better 24 mpg.

VERDICT

23 Ford Ranger RT 2023 static

Given the rate of attrition in the pick-up truck segment, Ford could have been tempted to coast with this new generation of Ranger. It hasn’t, however. Instead, Ford has improved it in meaningful ways to further reduce the number of compromises that come with a light commercial vehicle.

The new Ranger looks great, whether in work truck or lifestyle trim, it rides better than quite a few cars that don’t have half its off-road ability and it handles remarkably like a big SUV. In Wildtrak trim, its interior isn’t too dissimilar from one either. Importantly, it does all the truck stuff well, too.

It can’t completely cover up the effects of its heavy-duty make-up, but then neither can its rivals, and the gruff diesel engine is ultimately quite a minor complaint in the context of this class. It’s easily fixable too, albeit at a price, by opting for the V6.

Overall, the new Ranger is a very complete pick-up that lets you forget you’re driving a commercial vehicle more often than it reminds you of that fact. It aces the modern pick-up truck brief of marrying work and leisure, which is no mean feat.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Ford Ranger First drives