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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Big, butch and cool:
  the new Ford Ranger
  Double-Cab offers
  UK pick-up drivers
  more power.
  The question is,
  Are you one of them?”

FASHIONABLE LIFESTYLE RECREATIONAL USE, reduced levels of company car taxation and 'cool' sporty looks have been the driving factors in the growth of pick-ups in particular double-cab models in the UK in recent years.
The main players have been Mitsubishi, Nissan, Ford and Toyota. But there are others to choose from, including Isuzu and Mazda.

In 2006 UK pick-up sales showed a 35 per cent growth but this year — due to the reduction by The Treasury in the company car taxation advantages pick-ups had enjoyed over conventional passenger cars, estates, 4x4s and MPVs — the car-derived pick-up sector has seen sales fall by 28 per cent. However pick-ups (even the posh lifestyle double-cabs) do still offer company car users taxation advantages as they are classed as commercial vehicles and, of course, if they're used for business they are generally exempt from VAT.

Although Nissan with the Navara and Mitsubishi with the L200 models continue to battle it out to see who will end up top-dog this year as market leader, Ford has strengthened its hand and added new models to the Ford Ranger range.

Last year Ford introduced a much better Ranger line-up, with a new 2.5-litre 141bhp common-rail turbodiesel engine, a completely re-designed interior, increased loading and towing capacities with better durability, ride comfort and improved driveability.

More recently, for those users wanting even more power, they intro-duced a 3.0-litre 154bhp turbodiesel engine option along with additional Wildtrack and Thunder versions joining the line-up.

Whilst the 3.0-litre 'glitzy' Ranger Wildtrack — with its 5-speed manual transmission — is aimed fairly and squarely at the recreational 'lifestyle' market, the 3.0-litre Ranger Thunder, with its standard automatic transmission, is aimed at company car, private and commercial vehicle users.

The Ford Ranger line-up is just as extensive and complicated as any mainstream passenger car range. In addition to the two engine options, depending on the model chosen, there are 'Regular' (two door pick-up), the best-selling four-door Double-Cabs and pillarless Super-Cabs, which have a door-and-a-half each side. The Regular and Super-Cab versions are available as two- or four-wheel drive models while all Double-Cabs are 4x4 models with a selectable two/four-wheel drive system with added low ratio gears selection. The specification and equipment level choices range from Standard to XLT up to Thunder and Wildtrack, but again availability depends on what body style is chosen.

On-the-road prices start at 12,372 and go up to 20,872. These are excluding VAT as they are officially classed as commercial vehicles.

I'm not sure there is any sector in the UK new vehicle market that attracts such a diversity of customers as the pick-up sector. Private owners to travellers, farmers to business executives, company car drivers to building and gardening contractors, rescue services to the utilities markets and the airport authorities.

The big sellers are the double-cabs which these days mostly have as standard the high interior trim and specification levels of an upmarket 4x4. In addition to their bold looks and the huge array of styling and functional accessories, the improvement in the driveability and refine-ment of these vehicles has been considerable — and the latest models are even better.

The Nissan Navara is probably the best overall for refinement, on and off-road performance and scores by having a large load bed yet still having a roomy interior for five adults. The long-time market leader, the Mitsubishi L200, performs well. But increased interior space means a shorter load bed length and the flashy sports styling is not apprec-iated by many previous generation L200 owners. Another big improver is Ford with their latest Ranger models.

The Ranger models are also SUV-like for interior specification, with comfortable seating and much improved on-road driveability perfor-mance. The Ranger double-cabs also have a sensible-sized load box. The overall length of the Ford Ranger double-cab is 5,165mm, so it's long — and that needs to be taken into account when trying to park
it or put it into a garage. The all-important double-skinned load bed has a length of 1,530mm; the load box width is 1,456mm; the load
area walls are 457mm deep; and the loading height to the fold-out drop-down tailgate is 811mm. Securing tie-down rings are provided in the load area. The Ranger double-cab gross payload is 1,175kg with
a maximum braked towing weight of 3,000kg — more than enough for
a stock trailer, horse box, boat or caravan.

So at the business-end of the Ranger double-cab we still have an impressive load carrying area: precisely what the double-cab concept is all about. At the front we have a modern and stylish cab section with an imposing new bonnet design, a wide and prominent grille and stylish wheel arches, all of which portray a tough image.

Durability is assured as the Ranger retains its body-on-chassis con-struction. The suspension system has been significantly improved to sharpen up the vehicle's handling, making it more SUV-like. The changes also make it more comfortable for passengers, whether the vehicle is carrying a load or not. Alloy wheels (for most models) add
to the smart looks.

Whilst the 2.5-litre, 141bhp turbodiesel engine was just about okay
for the Ranger, the recent introduction of a 3.0-litre Duratorq four-cylinder, common-rail, direct injection unit with a turbocharger and intercooler now gives the vehicle the performance to go with its 'tough-boy' looks. The extra power will be loved by all customers, whether they are driving it up and down a motorway as a business
car-cum-load carrier or off-road pulling heavy loads in a farming or construction industry environment.

My test model was the Ford Ranger Thunder. Not quite the top spec-ification recreational version, but the model most likely to suit most customers. Like most 'fashion' double-cabs, this model has a bright tubular sports bar positioned behind the passenger cab with chrome side sill and rear under-bar. Inside, there are leather seats, electrically-operated windows and door mirrors, sill scuff plates, radio/6-CD player and air conditioning. There is seating for five people — although the middle passenger in the rear seats only gets a lap seat belt and no head restraint. There are front and side airbags and the on-the-road price, excluding VAT, is 19,972.

The Ranger Thunder version has an automatic transmission as standard and it works well with the 280lb ft of torque available from 1,800rpm. The Thunder also has a two- and four-wheel drive system with a low ratio setting, all controlled by an easy-to-use dial switch. Four-wheel drive can be engaged on the move; low ratio is dialled in whilst the vehicle is stationary.

The combination of 3.0-litre power coupled to an 'auto 'box really makes driving easy and pretty relaxed on motorways. However, care
is needed in two-wheel drive mode on wet roads. The power to the rear wheels comes in with a bang and does out-perform the grip avail-able so handling can be 'lively'. I found that for 'bad' road conditions using the high-ratio four-wheel drive setting tamed the performance and gave a more controlled and balanced drive due to the better grip. The vehicle has a rear limited slip differential to partially eliminate transmission wind-up during tight cornering, but there are no diff-locks for heavy off-road work in deep mud or snow, so it does have traction limitations.

The power steering is ball-and-nut type which is never as responsive or as sharp as the conventional systems used for SUVs. Like all Ranger double-cabs, the Thunder model has anti-lock braking — but again, care is needed during heavy braking on wet and slippery roads.

As for performance, the Thunder has a top speed of 105mph and it gets from zero to 60mph in 13.3 seconds. On average it returns 31.7 mpg. Even though the CO2 levels are, relatively high (224g/km) and which would — if it were classed as a car or SUV — put it in the top 300 road tax bracket, because it is technically a commercial vehicle the VED rate is lower: 115. Not working in the Thunder's favour is its rear-wheel drive traction and control on wet roads. Neither does its dull steering response do it any favours.

However, the sensible styling and practical load dimensions are good, as too is its payload (1,175kg) and towing capacities (maximum braked towing weight: 3,000kg). Throw in a strong engine and transmission and a well-equipped interior and the Ranger package begins to shape up nicely. Move 'em out! — David Miles

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Ford Ranger Thunder 3.0 TDCi Double-Cab | 19,972 Excl VAT
Maximum speed: 105mph | 0-62mph: 13.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 31.7mpg | Power: 154bhp | Torque: 280lb ft

CO2 244g/km | VED 115 | Insurance group 11A
Visit Ford's website Click to go there now

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