WHILE it was once possible to consider the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger the same, a 2015 facelift introduced noticeable mechanical and cosmetic differences.
Unlike previous Mazda/Ford joint developments, which were mostly the work of the Japanese brand, the Ranger was engineered by Ford in Australia, is built in Thailand, and up until recently differed only in its spring rates, which were slightly softer than in the Mazda.
In the facelifted Ranger, the biggest departure is evident as soon as you turn the wheel. A new electric power steering system (the BT-50 retains the old hydraulic system) provides light, smooth steering at parking speeds. Itís at odds with the butch look but isnít a bad thing, making the Ford easy to wheel around the suburbs.
As speeds rise, the weighting becomes more natural, without the wheel losing its lovely, frictionless feel. This steering system is where the Ranger stands head and shoulders above its rivals, providing a great sense of connection that encourages you to push on, which few utes do.
But thereís more than one area in which the Ford ute stamps its authority on the segment. The Rangerís 147kW/470Nm outputs are impressive and translate to the real world, where the Ford keeps company with Navara and Colorado from 0-100km/h (10.5sec) and 80-120km/h (7.7sec), while feeling more effortless in most everyday Ė and off-road Ė scenarios. To top it off, the 3.2-litre five-pot sounds throaty and has gained refinement thanks to quieter new injectors and cylinder-head revisions as part of last yearís facelift.
Although near-identical twins until recently Ė and despite the Mazdaís price advantage Ė the Ranger has historically sold twice as many as its sibling. Would you believe itís all down to image and aesthetics? And we thought passenger car buyers were a superficial bunchÖ However, while both vehicles are equally terrific in terms of refinement, there are real reasons to choose the Ford over the Mazda, such as the Rangerís more compliant ride on bitumen surfaces.
From the front seats, the other difference is obvious. While the Mazda is relatively sleek and car-like, the Ranger has a dash that drawls ĎYank truckí, which fits perfectly with its pervading image.
As in the BT-50, the Rangerís rear compartment is roomy and has terrific legroom thanks to its long 3220mm wheelbase and sculpted front-seat backs.
Itís still upright, but at least rear occupants get air-conditioning vents, a centre armrest with cupholders, big bottle-holders in the doors and 12V and 230V outlets.
Off the beaten track, the big Ford takes it all in its broad stride, dismissing even the most challenging climbs with insouciance and a minimum of wheelspin.
Itís not quite as accomplished as the Hilux Ė nor as much of a known quantity long-term Ė and itís not quite up to the urban polish of the new-school Amarok, but the Ranger will take you just about anywhere youíd expect with a standard roadgoing 4x4.
You can tell that much about the Ford by looking at it. Just ask anyone whoís ever overlooked the Mazda BT-50. JW
Rangerís muscular 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel is a terrific basis for an off-road-capable ute with class-leading load capacities of 3500kg braked and 750kg unbraked. The fact the engine draws intake air from inside the front guard helps deliver a superior wading depth compared with those utes with under-bonnet air pick-ups. The Ranger also boasts a generous 237mm ground clearance, which lets you go further before snagging its undercarriage. The updated versionís revised traction control ensures solid climbing credentials and stays activated across the front axle when the rear diff lock is engaged.
Specs $56,590 Engine 3198cc 5cyl, dohc, 20v, TD Power 147kW @ 3000rpm Torque 470Nm @ 1500-2750rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 5351/1850/1821/3220mm Weight 2159kg Tray capacity 1041kg Braked towing capacity 3500kg Unbraked towing capacity 750kg Ground clearance 237mm Tyres Dunlop AT22 Grandtrek 265/65R17 ADR81 fuel cons 9.2L/100km 0-100km/h 10.5sec 0-400m 17.6sec @ 128.3km/h 80-120km/h 7.7sec 3yr resale 65% . Slick steering; spacious cabin; grunty five-cylinder diesel; on- and off-road polish . Pricey; relatively thirsty