Can you really justify buying a pick-up truck? Where there's a will there's a way…
By John Howell / Tuesday, 5 July 2022 / Loading comments
You know when you quite fancy something, but you can’t really justify it on a logical level? Well, pick-up trucks fit into that category for me. I like them. There’s something quite appealing about trucking along in your lofty, go-anywhere machine, but then I think to myself “how practical are they really?” “Not very,” is usually the conclusion I arrive at, and that’s where the conversation with myself ends.
The obvious problem is that, when you put something in the back of a pick-up truck, you’re effectively driving around a huge honesty box, with one crucial difference: probably, you’d like to keep whatever is in there, should you, say, pop into Costa to grab a coffee. I like to think that most people in the world are good people, I really do, but there are enough scallywags and swindlers to guarantee your payload will disappear without being paid for at some point. And if you left an actual honesty box in there, they’d have that away, too.
Even if there’s a sturdy load cover and whatever is in there fits underneath it – to protect it from the less well-groomed elements in society – there’s also the great British weather to consider. Most covers leak. So, if what you’re carrying is in the least bit hydroscopic, like anything from Mr Thomas Chippendale, after a shower you’ll be scooping worthless pulp out of the back. The sensible conclusion, then, is that a van is clearly a better load-carrying solution. But a van is also a bit dull.
Then there’s the problem of which pick-up to buy. The obvious option used to be the Volkswagen Amarok. It was the most refined and easy to live with, but that’s not on sale right now. The Ford Ranger ran it a close second, and the main thing it was missing is a creamy V6 diesel. Yet, in nearly every other respect, it’s a match for the Amarok – as I confirmed last week after several hundred miles schlepping about in a Wildtrack.
Okay, the engine is a four pot, but that’s fine. It’s not the quietest diesel engine ever made, but for something that’s just to the left of a tractor on the agricultural spectrum, it’s actually smooth and quiet. You notice it’s a tad dieselly at town speeds, but once you’re on the motorway at the legal limit, the Ranger is really very hushed with the motor spinning at just 1,600rpm. All that disturbs your daydreaming is a light flutter of wind noise, which is surprising. You’d think the hefty-looking 18-inch alloys layered with 265/60 rubber would generate a healthy rumble. But, no, they don’t.
I have a friend who used to have a Ranger, and every time he sees me driving one he starts on about the time “I had one those and the gearbox failed.” He ended up getting his money back and went off and bought a Mitsubishi L200 instead. Now, I am not condoning unreliability. Things that are designed to move, should move and, if they don’t, it’s bad. But if I had an L200 I’d wish the gearbox would fail, just so I didn’t have to drive the thing. L200s are terrible. Like pretty much all the Ranger’s rivals, the engine’s primary purpose is to generates huge amounts of noise and vibrations and some power as a by-product. It does this very well. As a result the L200 (and the Nissan Navara and the Isuzu D-Max) is a slow-moving torture device. If you actively choose to buy one, you’re a masochist. So when I see my friend clattering along in his L200, the only logical conclusion is that he likes to be tied up and given a damn good thrashing.
Now, the gearbox in this Ranger lasted all week. I’ve never had any problems with the gearbox in any of the Rangers I’ve used over the years, come to think about it. It’s not perfect, mind. It has ten speeds, which accounts for the engine’s easy-going bent on motorways, and it also helps the economy. 30mpg isn’t exactly Prius-busting but the Ranger is a big old brick to push through the air. The gearbox has so many gears that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a CVT, apart from the fact that it’s a bit jerky at times, which is its less good side. It’s very much an old-school slusher in that respect, but otherwise it’s reasonably responsive when you kick down and, combined with the Ranger’s 213hp, gives you a tidy turn of speed – 0-62mph is a very respectable nine seconds.
It’s also got 369lb ft of strong determination to pull you along effortlessly. I’ve no doubt you wouldn’t notice if it was carrying another Ranger in the back. I didn’t try that – I didn’t have another Ranger for a start and maximum payload is 1,252kg. But with a towing capacity of 3,500kg it would certainly tow another Ranger, although I didn’t try that, either. I did use it to pull a trailer with some weighty things on it and it managed that just fine.
As well as its quietness, pace and strong determination, the Ranger also rides about as well as you could expect. Actually, that’s unfair: it rides better than you’d expect. There’s a bit of chassis wobble and a few hits over big crags, but otherwise it’s pretty cushy. It also handles well. I didn’t feel the urge to launch it at an apex – it’s a pick-up truck for heaven’s sake – and yet, unlike its rivals that steer and handle like a super tanker, the Ranger goes where it’s pointed.
There’s no second guessing and endless correcting, and it doesn’t roll alarmingly, which is all you can ask for. It’s undemanding to pedal along. Even the brakes are good. Very American, in the sense that you can imagine this being advertised with ‘The Ranger comes with powered brakes standard’ like something from the 50s, but while they’re highly servoed, they’re strong and the firm pedal is easy to meter. Basically, what I enjoyed about this car is that you don’t feel overtly compromised by its ruggedness.
That goes for the interior, too. Of course, it’s full of hard plastics because you don’t want bits to break off, but the Wildtrack tops this off with just enough frippery to hint at luxury. There’s a soft-touch dash top with contracting stitching, and the electric driver’s seat is comfortable, even after three hours at the wheel. There are still plenty of buttons to change the obvious things, like volume and temperature, and they’re big enough to hit even when you’re wearing gloves.
The only annoyance was the infotainment system, which didn’t always connect to Apple CarPlay properly, but when it messed around I just unplugged my phone, plugged it back in again and was back online. And speaking about the equipment, this is no stripped-bare Series I Land Rover. It’s got leather (although possibly from a rhinoceros judging by the texture), electric windows, power-folding door mirrors, climate control, heated seats and a cool box in the centre console. The xenon headlights are effective, too, while the rear camera is a welcome essential.
Now, my main yardstick for a car is that it must be fit for purpose, and the Ranger was starting to stack up handsomely on that front. However, with more time I remembered all the other little irritations that come with pick-up ownership, like the fact you have to lash everything down in the bed. If you don’t, you’ll hear it ricocheting around like the golden snitch the minute you turn, accelerate or brake, and when you come to retrieve the broken remnants at the other end of your journey, that’s a problem as well. I mean, look, I am well over six feet, yet I struggle to reach over the vast sides of the Ranger, and I am far too old to be scaling the tailgate simply to reach my shopping. The electrically retracting load cover is great, though.
Then I had a zinger moment. The thing that made all the hassle worthwhile and proved the pick-up’s uniqueness. I stopped off to see Rikki. Now, Rikki has a reclamation yard and I often stop by to see what’s in. This time a metal garden bench that caught my eye, and instead of paying him deliver it I thought “Will it go in the Ranger?” It wouldn’t fit in a small van, let alone an estate car, but it might just… Well, it slid in perfectly and the tailgate shut behind it like it was a piece of fitted luggage. So there it is: if like me, you fancy a pick-up truck but can’t quite find the logical reason to justify it, the justification is it saves you on delivery charges. It’s a tenuous one, I admit, but I bloody loved the feeling that something just worked. And I tell you what: the Ranger just works, too. So well, in fact, that I couldn’t help but think that the new Ranger is going to have to be pretty stunning to top it.
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