Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for.
I’ve tried out tens of cars for these regular review slots so far, and often the process begins simply enough by pulling up at the weekly family dinner. Some of the cars are met with a glance out the window, others with a brief conversation about headlight design, while some even score the hallowed ride around the block.
But few have all the men of the clan charging the front door and rushing down the driveway like this one.
It’s the new Ford Ranger.
As far as I can make out, there are a few things going on here.
The story goes that a farmer’s wife from Victoria wrote to Ford in the early 1930s asking for something that could take the family to church on Sunday and the pigs to market on Monday. Ford then responded with the first-ever ‘utility vehicle’.
Regardless of the truth, the same principle underpins the utes of today – the idea is that they’re just as comfortable on the construction site as they are in the holiday park. Two cars in one.
Then there is the fact Australia is basically a big desert, with some high rises on the side. Something with four-wheel drive and high-ground clearance unlocks a lot of this. Even in the city, with potholes and stupidly placed concrete islands, it’s welcome.
Last but not least, the ute is seen as the alpha male of the car world. Those boys who played with Tonka trucks are now men who want a bigger Tonka truck. And you don’t have to squint very hard at the new Ranger to see that.
The numbers back this up too.
The Ford Ranger was the best-selling four-wheel drive in Australia last year, ahead of the Toyota HiLux by more than 1000 sales. Here in the ACT, it ranked second out of all cars for 2021 and fifth for 2020.
Dealers such as Gerald Slaven Ford in Belconnen are now scrambling to keep up with hundreds of pre-orders for the new, heavily-updated one. When I ask what model is scoring the most, there’s no hesitation: “the Wildtrak”.
This sits second from the top, underneath the monster Ranger Raptor, and – with the 3.0-litre, V6 turbo-diesel engine – retails from $70,190.
Yes, you read that right. $70K. Buyers are clearly not limited to pig farmers anymore.
Accordingly, the inside of the Wildtrak is much like any other modern family car. There is a massive touchscreen with shortcuts to an array of safety and infotainment settings, fluffy carpets underfoot and heated cowhide under-bottom, a camera display that moves with the steering wheel to predict where your front tyres will end up, not to mention the wireless phone charging.
But Ford hasn’t forgotten why the ute exists. Take the dedicated spot in the centre console for your Maccas fries, for example.
Does this make the Ranger a compromise? Yes, but the trick is in getting it right.
Some of the plastics do feel a bit tacky, while the indicator sounds like Gershon Kingsley is in the dashboard, playing Popcorn.
But for the most part, you know “she’ll be right”. It feels rugged.
The Ranger has also grown to the point it’s close to a super-size American truck, so taking it up to highway speed, you might be ready for it to sound like a cyclone inside. But no, it just settles down to a quiet and well … car-like glide.
A large part of this is down to the engine. It’s derived from the one in the Ford F150 (very much a truck) and like most big diesels, oomph is only delivered in large lumps. But they’re smooth lumps and the 10-speed automatic transmission does its best to make sure you’re always in the middle of one. The end result is not so much a sprint as a charge.
At first, I thought the suspension too rough but then I remembered the tray was laden with the grand total of a portacot and some blankets. I imagine three-and-a-half tonnes of caravan would have a different effect. Besides, the seats are supremely comfortable.
This is also on the road, with the four-wheel drive dial set to ‘2H’ to cut out the front wheels and save fuel. But a frolic through the mulch mountains at the Mugga Way tip – and the ‘4A’ and high- and low-range options – reveals the new Ranger to be just as capable off-road as it is mounting curbs at the shops.
Will you ever take yours off-road? Maybe not, but the point is, the option’s always there. Because that’s another part to the ute appeal – it’s insurance.
2023 Ford Ranger Wildtrak V6
- $70,190 (plus driveaway costs)
- 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel, 184 kW / 600 Nm
- 10-speed automatic, auto 4WD
- 8.4 litres per 100 km combined fuel usage
- 0-100 km/h in 8.2 seconds
- 3500 kg maximum (braked) towing capacity
This vehicle was provided for testing by Gerald Slaven Ford in Belconnen. Region has no commercial arrangement with Gerald Slaven Ford.