TESTING is a rigorous process in the automobile industry with manufacturers looking to equipment worth billions of dollars and the best engineers in the business to run the rule over their latest models. We, too, have our methods especially when it comes to dual-cab utes. It is far less technical but far more torturous - the family camping trip.
A recent foray saw our tent ripped apart by 27 knot winds. To erase that pain last week we took the Ford Ranger to an idyllic spot. On the third night we went to bed with a gentle drizzle and woke up to a waterfront view. Foolishly we held firm brewing countless cups of coffee but had to wisen up when the inside of the new tent had about as much water as the outside.
We packed hastily, the tub of the Ranger swallowing up camp beds and stoves, the fishing rods and barbie collection and of course the dreaded new tent.
The radio gave a crackly warning of the deluge to come and as we followed the procession out of the campground and onto inundated roads we were thankful for the Ranger's ability to negotiate the water and to keep its footing when many around us were losing theirs.
It came up trumps in trying circumstances unlike our new "waterproof" tent.
You wouldn't think that black leather seats with bright orange trim and accent panels would hold much appeal but surprisingly they look good in the Ranger adding an element of fun to the sporting feel.
The dual-cab ute is more than spacious with plenty of room to manoeuvre even for adults well over six-foot.
Doors that open almost at 90 degrees combine with wide side steps to make it easier to gain entry although it is still a climb for little kids and aged adults. The console borrows much from the Focus and Fiesta with controls set out in an efficient but stylish manner with nice brushed metal highlights.
Of course there are hard plastics around - this is a ute after all - but in vehicles of this kind it's more about durability than cutting costs. Storage options are plentiful and generous in size including a lined tray that is deep and wide enough to deal with both business and pleasure.
On the road
Climb into the Ford Ranger (not to be attempted with tighter fitting skirts), settle into the comfortable leather seats and turn the ignition. It's quiet - for a diesel that is - no clatter and hum just a refined workhorse ready for action. It is an accomplished performer both on the beaten trail and off it - the heart of a tank with the manners of a stately sedan.
There is enough steering feel and response to keep you interested and handling is easy. Look, it is no twinkle toes especially around sharp corners but it can hold its own and a suspension largely developed here and tuned to Australian conditions makes light work of road imperfections.
At 5.35m and just over two tonnes this is a big machine yet power delivery is spot on, gear changes smooth and the brakes reliable. Off-road it is a bruiser benefiting from good clearance and strong sturdy legs. You can engage 4H on the fly up to 100km but the ute has to be stopped for the lower gears.
What do you get?
Ford's intention with the Ranger was to make a ute that was truly multi-functional, a workhorse and a pleasure palace, and up-market inclusions help reflect that. Our top-of-the-range Wildtrak came with everything the heart desires - on the road anyway - but at a price exceeding $57,000 you would expect it to.
Dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth with voice control, reverse camera with parking sensors, five-inch colour screen sat nav and wheel-mounted controls are some of the features worth mentioning. The Ranger is one of the safest dual cabs on the market with electronic stability control, ABS, EBD and traction control as well as hillstart assist and hill-descent control and front, side and curtain airbags. It is also equipped with trailer sway control, load adaptive control and rollover mitigation.
The past 12 months has seen all of the big players pimping up their rides and competition is fierce. Historically the Toyota HiLux (from $53,490) is the one to beat but the Ranger also has a stiff run from its under-skin twin the Mazda BT50 (from $50,890), the Volkswagen Amarok (from $58,490), Nissan Navara (from $56,990) and Holden Colorado (from $51,990).
The Ranger's versatility must be applauded and little touches like bucket seats and a great suite of features add to the appeal.
The large side mirrors are a boon and an annoyance hindering vision when you are turning right while the steering adjusts for rake only.
We found the Ranger thirstier than expected surpassing the official 9.6 litres/100km by at least a litre.
Ford offers capped price servicing for 105,000km/six years with intervals at 15,000km.
Warranty is three years/100,00km and can be extended by a further three years/100,000km.
With its square nose and wide triple-bar chrome grille accentuating a tough and muscular stance the Ranger makes for a formidable-looking vehicle.
Chrome touches on the door handles, side steps and tailgate handle as well as the unique Wildtrak badging add a hint of adventure.
What matters most
The good stuff: Built tough, surprisingly comfortable interior.
What we'd like to see: Front sensors, easy to reach child restraints.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty, six years/105,000km fixed-price servicing. Servicing prices vary, but average at $575.85 annually over six years.
Model: Ford Ranger Crew Cab Wildtrak.
Details: Four-door twin cab four-wheel drive ute.
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel generating maximum power of 147kW @ 3000rpm and peak torque of 470Nm between 1500rpm - 2750rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed auto or six-speed manual.
Consumption: 9.6 litres/100km (a); 9.4 litres/100km (m) combined average.
CO2: 256g/km (a); 248g/km (m).
Bottom line: $57,390.