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Driven: Ford Ranger Thunder – on sale now

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Review

Faced with tough competition from Nissan’s new Navara and the market leading Mitsubishi L200, the Ford Ranger pick-up struggles a bit.

Last year its sales totalled 7,539 units, close to the old model Navara’s 7,634 but dwarfed by the L200’s 12,179. Thankfully, Ford commercial vehicle dealers will get a revised Ranger late in 2006.

The current model is built for Ford by AutoAlliance in Thailand, a joint venture company with Mazda, whose identical B-series truck is also assembled there.

AM drove the special edition ‘Thunder’ model. It’s the only Ranger to have full leather interior as standard. It also gets air-con, front spot-lamps and two-tone metallic paintwork, plus a six-disc CD changer and rear loadliner, 15in alloys and some chrome exterior trim.

Of course, this all comes at a price – the Thunder costs £19,916, nearly £3,500 more than the entry-level Ranger double-cab.

The Thunder, like all other Ranger variants, is powered by Ford’s Duratorq 2.5-litre turbodiesel. It’s an old-school, unrefined, 12-valve six cylinder unit that gets very noisy and thirsty at motorway speeds.

Yet its output of 167lb ft of torque gives the Ranger acceleration that’s comparable to all rivals except the new Navara, and helps it achieve a maximum towing capacity of 2,800kg. That’s equal to the L200, and compares favourably to new Navara’s 2,700kg.

Other strengths of the Ranger Thunder are obvious. No prospective buyer can miss its rugged styling and elevated and comfortable cabin, with space for four adult occupants. And after a test-drive they will be convinced by its off-road capability and sheer load-lugging robustness. Yet, unfortunately, all these strengths are also present in all its rivals.

And the downsides, such as lack of refinement, agricultural handling, and a 12.6-metre turning circle which makes getting into parking spaces a real challenge, are made glaringly obvious when compared to new Navara.

While this truck has the wheelbase, ride height and easily-selectable 4x4 ratios for rough terrain such as farm fields and building sites, it is far from suited for regular trips into busy city centres.

Sales staff should be advised to remind prospective purchasers that most builders merchants and DIY stores are now in out-of town retail parks.

Ford is currently marketing the Thunder with a £1,000 cashback offer plus £1,000 of free Makita power tools. Added to this is the opportunity for buyers to claim back the VAT if they own a business, thanks to its gross payload of 1,180kg qualifying it as a light commercial vehicle.

Strengths: Tough looks, no-nonsense technology, tax benefits for businesses
Weaknesses: It’s no F150
Opportunity: Farmers, builders and action sports fans
Threat: New generation from Japan leaves it behind
The USP: A Ford for off-road action
Prices: £19,916 incl VAT
Engines: 2.5-litre, turbodiesel; 107bhp @ 3,500rpm; 167lb ft @ 2,000rpm
Transmission: 5sp manual, selectable 4wd
Efficiency: 27mpg combined
CAP Rv 3yr/30k: £7,725 (44%)
Rivals: Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi L200, Isuzu Rodeo, Toyota Hilux, Mazda B-series

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