Does $52k 2021 Ford Ranger Sport hit the sweet spot?

ByDean MellorJanuary 22, 2021
10 MINUTE READ
Does $52k 2021 Ford Ranger Sport hit the sweet spot?

Does the updated MY21.25 Ford Ranger Sport 4X4 Double Cab Pick Up hit the sweet spot in Ford’s 4X4 ute line-up? We get behind the wheel to find out…

The Ford Ranger Sport has been only mildly updated for 2021, so we thought we’d better get behind the wheel to see if Australia’s best-selling 4X4 still stands tall amongst its newer and more heavily revised competitors.

Our first taste of the MY21.25 Ford Ranger comes in the form of a 4X4 Sport Double Cab Pick Up 3.2 auto. (We’ve also got a test of the new Ranger FX4 Max lined up soon, so keep an eye out.)

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Other than the addition of a couple of new model grades, Ford has not made any huge changes to the Ranger for 2021, but there are a few significant tweaks here and there, the most notable of which is the replacement of the dual 4.2-inch multi-function display screens on some model grades (XLS with Premium Pack, Sport and XLT) with a new, more practical single 4.2-inch multi-function display. The Ranger Wildtrak/Wildtrak X models retain the old dual-display setup, while the Ranger Raptor gets its own unique single display.

In addition, there have been a couple of minor equipment changes, such as the deletion of the 230V inverter in the rear console of XLS with Premium Pack and Sport grades, but this feature is still standard fitment on XLT and above.

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New single 4.2-inch multi-function display means return of the analogue tacho. Yippeee!

What are we testing and what does it get?

The Ranger 4X4 Sport Double Cab Pick Up 3.2 auto tested here sits in the line-up between the XLS and XLT grades. It is based on the Ranger XLS, but it comes with a host of extra features worth about $6k if optioned individually. It currently lists at $51,490 driveaway, which is a $3000 premium over the $48,490 driveaway Ranger XLS Double Cab 3.2 auto.

Standard kit on Ranger XLS includes the aforementioned single 4.2-inch multi-function display, six-speaker sound system, embedded modem and FordPass Connect, SYNC 3 (but without embedded voice control, satnav or CD player), two front USB ports, windscreen-mounted USB port, single-zone manual air conditioning, two ISOFIX points, two child seat anchorage points, carpet, driver’s floor mat, auto headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels.

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Sport scores 17-inch black alloys with 265/65R17 rubber.

Over and above the XLS grade, the Sport comes with a fair bit of extra kit. This includes 17-inch black alloy wheels; a black sports bar with integrated LED lights and high-mount stop lamp; black side-steps, door handles, rear bumper and side mirrors; darkened headlights; a drop-in bedliner; all-weather floor mats; and Premium Pack which includes satnav, embedded voice control, CD player, DAB+ digital radio, dual-zone climate control air conditioning and smart keyless entry and start.

The aforementioned embedded modem and FordPass Connect allows for vehicle locking/unlocking and engine start through a compatible smartphone. The FordPass Connect app also gives phone access to a real-time odometer, fuel level, distance-to-empty and vehicle location on your phone, as well as other handy features such as alarm activations, how-to videos, Ford dealer locations and a shortcut to roadside assistance.

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On the safety-tech front, the Ranger Sport comes with lane-departure warning, forward-collision mitigation, pedestrian avoidance with braking, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, traffic sign recognition, cruise control, speed limiter, hill holder, active lane-keeping assist, trailer-sway control, driver-attention detection, auto headlights, and front fog lights.

The premium paint (Meteor Grey) on our test vehicle adds $650 bringing price-as-tested to $52,140 driveaway.

Can’t be bothered reading on? Check out the short video summary below:

The details

The Ranger Sport is powered by Ford’s long-standing 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that makes a claimed 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm from 1750-2500rpm.

The 3.2L diesel can be mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto, and our test vehicle is equipped with the latter, which is a ZF-derived/Ford built auto with sequential manual shift option and standard and sport modes. The Ranger also has a part-time 4X4 two-speed transfer case and a standard fitment locking rear diff.

As with most current-generation 4X4 utes, the Ranger Sport runs separate body on chassis architecture with a strut-type independent front suspension and a live-axle rear-end with leaf springs, as well as disc brakes up front and drums at the rear. The steering has electric power assistance, allowing for operation of the active lane-keeping assist, which can be easily switched on and off via a button on the end of the indicator wand.

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Ranger runs IFS up front and live-axle-rear with leaves. Oh, and that spare is mounted to a steel rim.

Dimensionally, the Ford Ranger is one of the larger dual-cab utes on the market and the Sport measures 5382mm long overall, 2163mm wide and 1815mm high, with a 3220mm wheelbase and a 12.7m turning circle.

In the cabin there’s plenty of width, good fore and aft seat adjustment for front-seat occupants, and pretty decent (for a dual-cab ute) leg room for those in the back seat. There’s loads of dark grey trim in the Sport’s cabin and it doesn’t offer as many soft-touch finishes nor the air of luxury found in higher grade Rangers (no piano-black plastic or faux leather in here!), but everything is well laid out and logically positioned, although those HVAC controls are still difficult to read when wearing sunglasses. Not to worry; the HVAC can be operated through the bright and well-position 8-inch colour touchscreen.

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The easy-to-use dial for 4X4 operation is next to the gear-shifter and the buttons for the centre diff lock, hill-descent control, stability control and parking sensors are nearby and easy to access. There’s decent storage throughout the cabin with a big glove box and door pockets, but only a smallish centre console bin.

There’s no split for the rear seat and no centre armrest in Sport grade, but there are a couple of small storage bins beneath the seat base. Oh, and there are no AC outlets for rear-seat occupants, just a 12V power outlet in the rear of the centre console.

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Out the back, the tub offers generous dimensions compared to many other dual-cab utes, measuring 1549mm long, 1560mm wide, 1139mm between the wheel arches and 511mm high. It comes standard with four tie-down points and the Sport has a drop-in bedliner with tailgate protection, assisted tailgate and a pair of LED lights under the sports bar with a switch in the cabin. The tailgate is lockable, but not connected to the central locking, so you’ll have to go old-school and use the key.

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Bedliner and LED lighting are handy features, and the tailgate light to lift.

Kerb weight is 2209kg and GVM is 3200kg, resulting in a 991kg payload, while maximum braked towing capacity is listed as 3500kg and GCM is 6000kg. Do the maths (6000kg GCM – 3200kg GVM = 2800kg) and maximum braked towing capacity would be reduced to 2800kg if the vehicle was loaded up to GVM. Or looking at it from another perspective, if you wanted to tow a 3500kg trailer, payload would be reduced to 291kg (6000kg GCM – 3500kg GVM – 2209kg kerb = 291kg payload).

Off-road angles are reasonable with a claimed ground clearance of 237mm and approach, ramp-over and departure angles of 29°, 25° and 27° respectively, while wading depth is a decent 800mm.

What’s it like to drive?

Bloody good, actually. Despite now being one of the older 4X4 ute platforms on the market, the Ford Ranger Sport is still one of the nicest to drive. The electric power-assisted steering is well weighted and reasonably responsive, and the Ranger exhibits good on-road manners and impressive ride quality. In fact, unladen ride quality is better than the recently revised (and tweaked for better unladen ride) Toyota HiLux, and it also rides better than the all-new Isuzu D-MAX/Mazda BT-50 siblings.

Throw some weight in the back and the Ranger maintains its composure; it doesn’t exhibit excessive suspension sag and on-road handling remains composed and controlled.

What was once a class-leader in terms of power and torque output, the Ranger’s 3.2L inline five can’t match some of the newer four-cylinder diesel engines… on paper, at least. It has claimed power and torque peaks of 147kW and 470Nm, and while it might not match the likes of the 2.0L bi-turbo Ranger’s 157kW/500Nm or the new 2.8L HiLux’s 150kW/500Nm, it still holds its own on the road. It might not win the traffic light race but dollops of torque from low in the rev range and a strong midrange ensure there’s enough grunt for decent acceleration and load-hauling.

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Unladen ride quality is impressive… even on rough unsealed roads.

The engine is nicely mated to the six-speed auto which offers smooth and predictable shifts. On downhill runs, dab the brakes and the auto will eventually downshift (it’s doesn’t feel as proactive as some other autos on the market) but you need to keep an eye on the speedo to keep speed in check. Slip it into Sport mode and it quickens up the shifts, both up and down the ratios, or you can use the sequential manual mode to self shift.

To some the Ranger’s inline five-cylinder diesel might feel a bit gruff under hard acceleration or higher up in the rev range but, to others, it has a unique and appealing character that’s absent amongst the four-pot diesel utes. Anyway, when cruising along at low- to middling-revs, the 3.2 feels smoother than just about any four-cylinder turbo-diesel on the market thanks to its better primary balance… as well as Ford’s impressive efforts at sound deadening. Road noise is also well suppressed, both on sealed and gravel roads, as is wind noise at highway speeds.

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On the open road the Ranger lopes along at 100km/h with less than 2000rpm showing on the tacho. The active lane-keeping assist does a good job of pointing you in the right direction if you start to wander and if it feels too intrusive it’s easy enough to switch off.

Get into loose gravel and the Ranger feels sure-footed and predictable, with its stability control intervening in a controlled rather than overly aggressive manner. The 265/65R17 Dunlop Grandtrek AT22s offer enough sidewall to soak up bumps when driving over rough surfaces, and they perform well on-road, but for more extreme off-road conditions you’d want to consider throwing on a set of tougher LT (Light Truck) tyres.

How does it go off-road?

Out of the current crop of 4X4 utes, the Ranger is up there with the best of them when it comes to off-road capability. The engine’s low-rpm torque combines nicely with the low-range gearing (42.3:1 in low first) making low-speed climbs and crawling over obstacles easy, while the traction control works well, the electronically locking rear diff engages quickly and without fuss, and, importantly, the traction control remains active when the rear diff lock is engaged (many others, including HiLux, Triton and D-MAX, do not).

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Wheel travel is pretty decent.

The Ranger offers decent wheel travel and reasonable ground clearance, although those plastic side-steps are quite low and vulnerable, and the small air dam beneath the front bumper doesn’t help approach angle. With no low-slung OE towbar fitted to our test vehicle, and the Sport’s compact rear bumper design, departure angle is better than some other higher-grade Rangers with a rear-step bar and OE towbar. Take a peek underneath and most of the Ranger’s vital components are tucked up and out of the way, while there’s a metal bash-plate under the sump.

The standard 800mm wading depth is impressive, and it comes courtesy of the Ranger’s big airbox, which sources air from high-up through the driver’s side inner guard. The alternator is also located high in the engine bay. You’d still be well advised to fit a decent-quality snorkel if you’ll be doing any water crossings or driving in very dusty conditions.

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The long wheelbase means ramp-over isn’t great.

The hill launch assist is handy when driving in hilly country and the hill descent control does a good job of arresting speed on steep downhill runs, while the standard reversing camera comes in handy in the bush when manoeuvring in tight spots. The electrically assisted power steering is nice and light when turning in tight spots but like most 4X4 utes, the long wheelbase means the Ranger’s turning circle ain’t great at 12.7m

Practicalities

Starting at the front, the headlights on the Ford Ranger Sport have auto on/off as well as auto high-beam, which is a handy feature, although, unlike higher-grade models, they are halogen units instead of LEDs. The foglights are also halogen units. Nevertheless, the high beam is pretty decent but for country and/or outback driving you’d definitely need to fit auxiliary lighting.

Popping the Ranger’s bonnet open is a cinch thanks to a pair of gas struts (no fiddling with bonnet stays here) although there’s no light on offer. There’s not really any space in the engine bay to fit an auxiliary battery so many Ranger owners opt to fit a slimline unit behind the back seat, or an underbody kit or something in the tub.

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Struts make it easy to open bonnet.

On the inside, the windscreen-mounted USB is a great idea, making it easy to power a dashcam or other device, but it’s a pity the 230V AC outlet has been deleted from the Sport. Like other Rangers, the Sport has an alarm with perimeter, interior motion and vehicle inclination sensors, so if you put it on the Spirit of Tasmania, or there’s a moth inside, the alarm will go off if it’s left in full-protection mode. The alarm setting can be easily downgraded using the steering wheel buttons and the multi-function display.

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Underneath, the Ranger’s 80L fuel tank is the class average, which is good for around town driving but not ideal for long-distance touring. The claimed combined fuel consumption figure is 8.3L/100k but to date we’ve recorded and average of 10.8L/100km with a mix of town, highway and off-road driving, so fuel range is around the 900km mark with a 50km safety margin built in.

The spare tyre is a full-size item, but it’s mounted to a steel rim rather than a matching black alloy.

Out the back, the standard bedliner is a welcome feature, as is the LED tub lighting and assisted tailgate.

When it comes to expenses, the Ranger Sport is covered by a 5-years/unlimited kilometre warranty, while A or B scheduled services are capped at $299 for 4-years/60,000km. The standard service interval is 12-months/15,000km.

Summary

I reckon the Ford Ranger Sport offers just the right amount of kit for the money. Practical inclusions like the drop-in bedliner, satnav, dual-zone climate control and keyless entry and start are most welcome, while the black-out treatment and black 17-inch alloys make it look much more appealing than the lower-grade XLS.

On the flipside, the Sport misses out on some items fitted to the more expensive XLT; but who really needs a leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome trim or adaptive cruise control?

I reckon the Sport hits the sweet spot in Ford’s Ranger 4X4 line-up. So much so that I bought one. This one, in fact.

After studying the spec sheet, mulling over the equipment list and doing the sums, I decided a new Ranger Sport has everything I need in a 4X4 ute and not much I don’t. And with car finance at the lowest rate in just about forever, I bit the bullet and organised a loan. Keep an eye out over the next few months as I kit out my first-ever brand-new 4X4 for touring.

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I reckon I got a bargain at $52,140 driveaway… but I’m going to miss that ol’ Defender.