While the Americans – both fleet and retail buyers – have been cruising about for years in stylish trucks that can turn heads at 200 paces, the British have had to make do with dull, workaday offerings that were largely used, abused and unceremoniously chucked at the end of their working lives. But that, as they say, was then – this is now.
Things were slowly changing at the turn of the century, but what really prompted 'now' as opposed to 'then' was a change in the tax rules that allowed companies to reclaim VAT on double cab pick-ups, which until 2000 had been classed as cars.
No sooner was the new rule introduced than manufacturers were falling over themselves to offer fleets a range of stunning pick-ups that appear to have overdosed on testosterone.
Fleets that need rough, tough vehicles are queueing up to buy these new muscle trucks and the people who drive them just love them too, revelling in the macho feel they give. Ford had totally given up on the pick-up market in Britain five years ago with the demise of the Sierra-based P100.
But back in the States, its pick-ups were selling well so with the new niche opened up back here, it didn't take the engineers long to come up with the right-hand drive Ranger.
The truck is available in single cab, super cab or double cab formats with a range of add-on styling goodies, so there is a model for the local builder at one end of the scale, while high profile fleets which want an 'in-your-face' vehicle to show off their avant-garde business style might be more interested in the vehicle on test here, the XLT double cab Leisure.
All models are powered by Ford's 2.5-litre DuraTorq diesel unit, either normally-aspirated and offering 76bhp at 4,100rpm and 123lb-ft of torque at 2,500rpm or turbocharged with 107bhp at 3,500rpm and 196lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm.
Two and four-wheel drive are available on regular and double cab, offering low and high options. Prices range from £10,797 to £17,297 ex-VAT.
The Ranger XLT Leisure has an aggressive stance with huge 235/75R15 tyres set on alloy wheels, steel side steps and 4x4 decals on the side doors. A steel rear bumper and plastic protectors round the wheel arches add to the look.
It can trace its lineage back to the American Ford F-Series pick-up, which has proved the world's best-selling vehicle of all time. The use of computer design has helped achieve new levels of fit and finish and there were no complaints on that score with our test vehicle. Metallic paint is standard on this model, but a £210 option on others.
Ford boasts that its double cab is light, airy and has ample space for five adults – and it's right.
The cab may not look that large from the outside but with four large adults aboard during one trip, there were no complaints about lack of leg and elbow room.
I was pleased to note that twin airbags are standard across the range, with an anti-submarining bar on the front seats to stop passengers sliding forwards in the event of an accident. Also standard is air conditioning for double cab, CD player, electric windows and central locking.
There is also a separate power take-off point next to the cigarette lighter (why do information packs always call them cigar lighters?), and plenty of storage spaces, including a large 5.6-litre bin between the front seats.
Load area depends on which model is chosen. While the truck tested here has a load length of 1,530mm, the super cab offers 1,753mm while the regular cab boasts 2,280mm.
Inside the load area, the Ranger is steel lined for durability and our test model had an added steel Bjerg top at £850. It might sound a bit steep but it's a monster of a lock-up and a must for any fleet with valuables that need hiding away.
The truck's floor has a steel lining for extra durability and protection against scuffs and there are six roping and sheeting lugs along the side, together with lashing bars on each side. A protection mesh behind the cab stops the possibility of loads flying forward and injuring the occupants.
On the security front, Ranger has an engine immobiliser and the key has a built-in transponder so if the immobiliser doesn't recognise the key's code, the fuel supply is cut off.
Service intervals are 6,000 miles and warranty is three- years/60,000-miles.
Behind the wheel
By sheer coincidence, I happened to test drive a Toyota Hilux equipped with the Japanese maker's new common rail diesel unit the day before the Ranger arrived, thus giving me the chance to balance the two offerings.
While the Toyota's new powerplant fires up with hardly a murmur, the Ranger lets everyone in the street know when it wakes up in the morning, with a mighty roar and a shake which only settles down to a steady thrum once the engine is warmed up.
Toyota would, of course, say that the common rail unit puts the Hilux ahead of the Ranger and here I'd have to admit I'm in a bit of a quandary. For while I couldn't deny that the Hilux is a smoother performer, I rather like the macho rattle and roar that accompanies the Ranger.
The Hilux seemed rather like a Rottweiler that has had its 'doghood' removed – still the same animal but somehow not as butch. Call me old-fashioned but I like a macho truck to have a macho powerplant to go with it.
And the Ranger certainly has that 'big-men-only-need-apply' feel, with a high position that gives the driver a feeling of superiority, a hefty gearchange and a top speed of well over 90mph.
Suspension is on the rocky side of hard, but speed sensitive power steering gives the truck just the right amount of 'feel' whatever the speed.
Ford boasts in its press pack that the front seats 'have been designed to provide good support' but they are very much in the style you find in American vehicles – far too soft and squishy.
For my rather more diminutive European frame, I prefer a hard seat with good lumbar support. Ford could take a few lessons from the German manufacturers in this area – they seem to have the knack of making seats that feel at first like slabs of concrete but turn out after a couple of hundred miles behind the wheel to be superb.
Braking is assisted by a load-sensing proportioning valve and off-road, the Ranger is capable of coping with gradients up to 35%. Maximum fording depth is 450mm for four-wheel drive models and 300mm for two-wheel drive.
Rough and tough, yet stylish and eye-catching – it's a winning combination that is attracting more and more buyers to this growing sector. Fleets with a need for such a vehicle will not only be pleased with its cost-effectiveness but will also please their drivers by providing them with a truck that will massage their egos to the max.
|Regular 4x2||Regular 4x4||Super 4x2||Double 4x4|
|Load length (mm):||2,280||2,280||1,753||1,530|
|2.5 naturally-aspirated||2.5 turbo-charged|