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Click to view picture gallery“Ranger — even the
  name of Ford’s new
  family-friendly pick-up
  sounds good. But
  listen up. The really
  good news is that it
  now comes with a lot
  more power!”

UNLIKE UK new passenger
car sales, or even general commercial vehicle sales,
pick-ups are selling in ever increasing numbers. Although most manufacturers supply these vehicles in a variety of body styles — from single cabs to door-and-a-half style club cabs or even tippers, all taking in two- and four-wheel drive options — it is the 4x4 double cabs that vastly outsell all others.

Most of the major manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Isuzu have, in recent weeks, introduced their latest 2007 model ranges — some with even more models and more power than before, but all trying to capitalise on the sales boom. Ford is no exception.

For the record, UK pick-up sales grew by a massive 347 per cent from 1998 — when they started to become fashionable leisure and work tools — until the end of 2005, when 34,314 sector sales were achieved. This year looks like another record year, with 32,086 pick-ups being sold already in the first nine months.

With a 38 per cent market share, the sales leader remains the Mitsu-bishi L200 range. It is followed closely by the Nissan Navara with 35 per cent, and then comes the Ford Ranger with 17 per cent. This leaves Toyota's Hilux (8 per cent), the Isuzu Rodeo (5 per cent) and Mazda's B-Series bringing up the rear with just 1 per cent.

Much of the sales growth for pick-ups — and the 4x4 double cabs models in particular — has come from the leisure or work/leisure market. The favourable benefit-in-kind taxation levels which apply because these vehicles are classed as commercial vehicles if they
have a 1,000kg or more payload, has made them a popular buy for businesses and business users as well as low mileage company car users. Additionally, not only are pick-ups ideal for both work and
leisure use but they can be equipped with a vast array of specific recreational or work accessories.

Whilst other manufacturers initially treated pick-ups as workhorses, Mitsubishi were the first to realise the leisure and low tax business opportunities for these vehicles. Their L200 Double Cab range sells in high numbers. Especially the all-singing, all-dancing, high grade 'bling-mobiles'. However, the big problem for the latest L200 models is that while they drive well and have loads of power and flashy looks, the load area has been reduced in length in order to free up more interior space.

This alteration has not been universally popular, and many long-time L200 Double Cab owners are now looking at other makes that offer a useable and worthwhile load area with less brash styling — the Nissan Navara, for one. Ford had missed out — not on the size of its Double Cab — but on the fact that it was a bit of a basic workhorse tool and decidedly underpowered.

But all that has been put right with the new Ford Ranger line-up, which went on sale in September. The range now comes with two-wheel drive Regular and Super Cab models and 4x4 Regular, Super, Double, Chassis Cab and Tipper versions. Prices range from 11,650 to 17,450. Remember that as these are all classed as commercial vehicles, the prices do not include VAT. Add in the VAT element and the prices increase to between 13,689 and 20,504.

The styling of the new Ford Ranger Double Cab is more of an evolution over the previous model. It retains the rather upright, big bonnet stance but the four-door cab is roomy enough for five adults. At the core of the vehicle is a ladder-frame chassis for strength. The front and rear suspension systems have been revised to give a more compliant and balanced ride, although for durability there are still leaf springs at the rear.

The main reason for having such a vehicle is the load and towing capacity. The load area length is a very useable 1,530mm — one of
the longest available. Load width is 1,456mm and the payload 1,100kg. The Ranger Double Cab will tow 3,000kg in weight — that's more than enough for a twin horsebox trailer or a large boat or caravan. So the Ranger falls into the work or leisure category. ABS anti-lock braking is standard for all models, and it has the option of two- or four-wheel drive selection with high or low ratio gears thus making it a true off-roader.

Whilst the Ranger's interior specification has improved, it is not as 'bling' as, say, the L200, and consequently is more functional than flash. Front driver and passenger airbags are fitted as standard, and the range-topping XLT and Thunder models also have side impact airbags. Surprisingly, the centre rear seatbelt is not a three-point seatbelt but only a lap belt, which is not very forward thinking. There are numerous stowage areas in the new Ranger, including five cup-holders, a pull-out tray to keep stationery in place and a two-bin centre console to store CDs, mobile phones and sunglasses. So it's family-friendly too.

The sculpted front seat backs are shaped to enhance rear seat legroom. The top of the range Thunder model, as tested here, costs 17,450 excluding VAT and comes with standard equipment that includes leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, air conditioning, electric windows, electrically-operated door mirrors with chrome housings and a Premium 6CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers. And in addition to normal instrumentation, there's an off-
road information centre with LCD dials that show temperature, climb/ descent and tilt angles. There's also a compass. Externally, the Thunder boasts polished 16-inch 6-spoke 'dished' alloy wheels with 245/70 R16 tyres, a chrome grille, a chrome rear bar with Park Assist sensors and a roll-over bar.

The biggest improvement is the use of a new engine. The Ranger is powered by an all-new four-cylinder 2.5-litre Duratorq TDCi common-rail, fuel injected and intercooled turbodiesel. Previous models only
had a 108bhp unit whereas this newcomer pushes out 141bhp. And it shows. Torque, too, is vastly increased: from 167lb ft up to an impressive 244lb ft at just 1,800rpm. Service intervals have been ex-tended to 12,500/once a year to reduce running costs. Fuel economy, at around 34.7mpg, is also much improved and the powerplant is also Euro IV compliant.

The new Ranger Double Cab shows improvements from end to end,
but it is the performance of this new, very strong and responsive engine which is the biggest reason to give it a test drive. It is very smooth, quiet and flexible. The tall fifth gear makes it a pretty quiet vehicle on motorways, so family cruising is not an issue. And the amount of torque available at a relatively-low engine speed makes for easy off-road driving, with the Ranger making particularly light work
of steep tracks. Should you have need of it, the Ranger can wade through water up to a depth of almost 18 inches.

Overall it's a much-improved vehicle, and because of its no-nonsense load area dimensions it's also a very practical workhorse Double Cab rather than some flash-in-the-pan fashion statement. — David Miles

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Ford Ranger Thunder Double Cab
| 17,450 (Excluding VAT)
Maximum speed: 90+mph | 0-62mph: 17 seconds
Overall test MPG: 34.7mpg | Power: 141bhp | Torque: 244lb ft

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