Ford's reason for pulling out of the market in which it had a healthy lead was simple - pick-ups need to be rear-wheel drive and the Mondeo, Sierra's replacement, was front wheel drive. Even so, it was selling a healthy 7,158 in 1989 out of 13,861 pick-ups sold in the UK that year and continued to sell well until stocks ran out in 1993. Ford has now decided to return with its new Ranger, which officially goes on sale on June 10.
The new model tries to leapfrog the competition with high levels of standard equipment, including driver and front passenger airbags, electric windows (including rear windows in the double cab) and door mirrors, central locking, alarm and immobiliser and rear heated windscreen. For those who go for the top-of-the-range double cab, Ford throws in air conditioning. The only option is metallic paint at £210.
Ranger will come in three models - standard cab (with two seats and a large payload area); supercab (stretched cab with rear jump seats for occasional use available in two-wheel drive form only); and the 4x4-only double cab (two extra doors and a bench seat which offers as much room as a decent-sized family saloon). Estimated on-the-road prices begin at £10,977 for the 4x2 regular cab followed by the 4x2 supercab at £13,219, the 4x4 regular cab at £14,177 and the 4x4 double cab turbodiesel at £18,741.
Ford is looking for sales to reach 3,000 this year - taking it almost to the top of the market - with figures of between 4,000 and 5,000 predicted for its first full year. Competitors include the Toyota Hi-lux, which last year took 39.3% of the market with 3,274 sales while the Vauxhall Brava clinched 21% (1,749), followed by the Mitsubishi L200 (1,587), Nissan pick-up (676), Toyota Loadbeta (583) and Mazda B-series (464). Mazda has jointly developed the new model with Ford at a cost of about £370million - both will be built in Thailand - and the two models bear a striking similarity although Ford says that nearly every body panel is different. Mazda is also planning to offer a temporary five-year warranty, compared to three years unlimited mileage from Ford.
When the P100 came out, the market was similar to the current level of about 8,000 units but the new model increased the market to about 16,000 units. Ford is expecting the Ranger to do the same again, with targeted buyers including local authorities, builders, tyre fitters and breakdown organisations, with the double cab offering a bridge to the leisure market. Mike Platts, Ford's commercial vehicles manager, said: 'Even today's small cars have power windows and central locking, and this growing level of luxury affects commercial drivers, too. They get used to these, so they should also be available in our commercial vehicles.'
However, although the interior has luxury features, switchgear and dashboard are quite workmanlike with few frills and lots of plastic. Power steering makes manoeuvring effortless although low gearing means that tight corners and turns can produce a lot of wheel shuffling. The gearchange is smooth and clutch action and brakes light - a load-sensitive proportion valve adjusts braking according to the amount of cargo in the back - with a pull-out handbrake under the steering wheel. Unloaded, the Ranger tends to bounce along the road but, once the cargo area is filled, it covers ground much more smoothly and there is surprisingly little bodyroll.
There are two engine options, both 2.5-litre diesels, one with a turbo although it is only be available on the double cab. The TD produces a healthy wave of power between 2,000rpm and 4,000rpm coupled with quite quiet cruising but there is very little power below that range and noise becomes intrusive at higher revs without producing much difference to performance. However, most sales will be at the bottom of the range, with an anticipated 40% of drivers opting for the two-wheel drive standard cab and 25% choosing the four-wheel-drive version and, here, drivers get the basic 2.5-litre normally-aspirated diesel, an update of the engine currently available in the Mazda B-series.
After the turbodiesel, the normally-aspirated model felt lacking in power. It became loud at higher revs but, once at cruising speed, the noise eased off. The four-wheel drive coped with mud, water and rocks during an off-road test in the Scottish Highlands although its long wheel base means it would catch its underside on sharp crests.
Ford will be pitching at two markets with the Ranger as the double cab is expected to appeal to leisure buyers as well as businesses. We could also expect to see a number of 'loaded' versions aimed at leisure buyers. As a workhorse, the Ranger carries itself well but the market has changed in the decade it has been away and matching the success of the P100 will be a tough job.