Fleet News

On test: Ford Ranger Thunder

YEARS ago, if you were tired of having sand kicked in your face, you went out and bought a Charles Atlas body-building kit.

Nine times out of 10 you pumped away like crazy for a couple of weeks and then consigned the kit to the back of the wardrobe, reflecting that perhaps, after all, the great gymnasium of life had decreed at your birth that you were destined to be a kickee rather than a kicker.

Nowadays, of course, it's different. You can become a macho man in a flash with no physical exertion whatsoever, apart from the effort of lifting the thick end of eighteen grand out of your wallet.

You simply ankle round to the nearest showroom and buy a big 4x4 vehicle with a name like 'Animal', 'Warrior' or 'Thunder' – which happens to be the moniker on the latest muscle truck on test here.

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Ford's Ranger truck range comes in several forms, from workmanlike 2x4 regular cab – the kind you see loaded down with bricks and rubbish – to this shining double cab knight of the road clad in menacing black and silver and complete with leather seats.

In between comes a 'supercab' which has a bench in the back suitable for short journeys only. Basically, the bigger the cab, the shorter the load area.

Ranger prices start at £10,797 ex-VAT delivered for the basic 2x4 and culminate at £17,597 for the Thunder.

There is a single engine on offer – Ford's 2.5-litre 12-valve turbodiesel, offering either 83bhp at 4,000rpm and 143lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm or 108bhp at 3,500rpm and 166lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm.

Payloads are 1,180 kg for the regular cab, 1,120 kg for the supercab and 1,135 kg for the double cab and towing capacity for four-wheel drive models is 2,800 kg.

The 4x4s have three transmission modes, 2wd, 4wd high and 4wd low, with a shifting stick alongside the conventional gear lever. Anti-lock brakes are standard on four-wheel drive models, along with twin airbags.

The Thunder is certainly a head-turner, dripping with chrome and stainless steel and coming with a roar to wake the dead. And before fleet buyers dismiss this vehicle as a retail trinket, it must be pointed out that firms that wish to make their presence known will certainly achieve that aim with the Ranger. This vehicle will speak volumes about the company which owns it.

In the front

You have to literally climb aboard this vehicle (entry is by remote control plip lock) and once inside it is very much like all the other double cabs on the road – big, chunky knobs and switches and everything of Tonka toy proportions. The seats are very American – big and wide for those extra large backsides and rather on the soft, squishy side. Having said that I drove the Ranger for five hours one day and didn't suffer from any back complaints. Legroom is rather at a premium in the rear although passengers will be comfortable as long as they are not too tall. It's nice to see that a CD player is standard.

In the back

The rear load area of the Thunder features a heavy flip-down tailgate, plastic loadbed protector and a grid to stop loads from breaking through the rear screen and killing the occupants. The problem, as I found when I tried to load up a three-seater sofa to take to the local tip, is that there are no load lashing eyes. I finished up tying the settee awkwardly on to the cab railings. Owners might like to consider one of the many truck tops to cover the rear end.

On the road

I wondered how Ford chose the name Thunder – that is until I started this truck up from cold one frosty morning. There was a loud ker-chunk ker-chunk as the starter motor turned over, a massive cough, then a shake and roar loud enough to wake a pride of lions. And that's not to mention the huge cloud of black smoke that probably would have choked the poor creatures to death, had they been sleeping nearby.

But whereas this would normally have been marked down as a minus point in most vehicles, it somehow seemed befitting for this behemoth and I found a smile creeping over my face at the thought of getting out there on the road and frightening a few old ladies.

That's the way the Thunder gets you, I'm afraid.

Gearchanging is clunky, the whole vehicle vibrates gently on idle and you certainly won't win any prizes at the traffic light grand prix. But the Thunder just wouldn't seem right any other way. And once out on the road at motorway speeds, the vehicle lopes along nicely and the engine settles down to a meaty thrum.

If you do happen to hit something, the Ranger features two energy-absorbing 'crash cans' between the front bumper and the frame of the vehicle. They are designed to absorb the energy of the impact before it reaches the passenger compartment. Even without knowing about this hidden asset, the Ranger Thunder feels enormously beefy. The biggest problem driving this vehicle is its turning circle, which is akin to the new Queen Mary 2. Parking at Sainsbury's on a Friday evening can be an interesting affair, believe me.

Verdict

YOU either love these vehicles or hate them – there doesn't seem to be a middle path. Few fleets would buy the Thunder model for its off-road ability or its load-lugging capacity. It's a posing machine and that's that.
But if your company needs to be noticed and admired, the Ford Ranger Thunder will do very nicely indeed.

Power (bhp/rpm): 108/3,500
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 166/2,000
Payload (kg): 1,135
Towing weight (kg): 2,800
Price (£ ex-VAT): 17,597

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