Ford knows trucks, and even its Asian offspring, the Ranger, is truly impressive. The last update saw it with a raft of improvements: electric power steering, more safety features, improved in-car electronics, and a refined engine that is less noisy and harsh compared with the pre-facelift version.
The big, bad Wildtrak variant has the most jaw-dropping specs: biggest engine and exterior dimensions, highest-rated fording depth of 800mm, and largest towing and pickup-bed payload capacities. It also has the most in terms of electronic safety aids such as blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision avoidance, lane-departure warning, ABS-EBD, and traction and stability controls. The only thing that isn’t top-notch is ground clearance at 237mm, which is 42mm less than the corresponding figure for the Hilux.
Off-road, the Ranger is truly king of the hill in a growing, booming marketplace. It is the most capable truck out of the box in harsh and difficult terrain. It is almost impossible to get it stuck in practically the most extreme surfaces. I intentionally stuck one tire in a hole almost a meter deep and roughly just as wide; the pickup simply activated its electronics and pulled itself out, with the driver-side rear wheel hanging up in the air like an incontinent dog going number one.
The engine is a monstrous 3.2-liter five-cylinder turbodiesel originating from the Volvo XC90. It produces 197hp and 470Nm. If you do a lot of overlanding, towing and hauling, the Ranger’s powertrain and off-road abilities make it unbeatable. The aforementioned hole rendered the Hilux completely motionless and useless. I strapped my recovery gear onto the Hilux, attached it to the Ranger, and left the Ford in Drive. It pulled out the Toyota effortlessly and with no drama. And I’m an off-road newbie myself!
But the Ranger isn’t without foibles. The suspension is good for off-road use, but it’s too soft on the highway given the truck’s weight, power and torque. The steering feels like a gaming console’s control stick--accurate and responsive, but lacking in feel and with a very rubbery self-centering action.
These shortcomings make this pickup somewhat difficult to use on winding tarmac at night, in treacherous weather. Driving home from Tagaytay on a foggy evening had me slowing down a lot simply because the brakes don’t inspire confidence, and the headlights don’t provide good visibility. Midday on the highway, it’s a different matter--if you’re not careful, the Ranger will easily kiss just south of 200kph.
Off-road during the day, however, the Ranger is simply all-conquering. Working in the mining industry or doing a lot of rescue/recovery work? This is the truck for you.
SPECS: FORD RANGER WILDTRAK 3.2 4x4 AT
Engine: 3.2-liter turbodiesel I5
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Power: 197hp @ 3,000rpm
Torque: 470Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm
UP NEXT: Toyota Hilux
We recently pitched the Hilux against the Nissan Navara and the Mitsubishi Strada, and it narrowly edged out the Navara thanks to its superior ground clearance. Coming in to this match, we all thought it was in for an easy win. Boy, were we wrong: The Hilux’s super-stiff ride was like a sucker punch to the kidneys, and in extreme off-roading environment, it was extra-brutal!
While the Toyota has great ground clearance, axle articulation is poor versus the Ford. And while it has a locking rear differential, the lack of A-Trac, similar off-road-oriented aids, or a locking front differential means it will get stuck much more easily. Embarrassing that the Ranger had to literally drag its competitor’s ass out of major trouble.
The Hilux is also heavier to deal with. The controls are heavier, matching the suspension’s firmness, but the brakes are somewhat soft. The steering, in particular, seems to require a lot more effort compared to other Hilux units I’ve driven, and compared to the Fortuner and the Innova, with which it shares the same IMV platform. Cabin space is very good and an improvement over the old Hilux, but it just falls a bit short versus the Ranger. When it comes to rear accommodations, however, the Hilux has a slight edge in space thanks to well-sculpted seatbacks and a high seating position that allows you to slide your feet underneath the front seats.
The engine in the top-of-the-line G 4x4 variant is Toyota’s latest 2.8-liter CRDi turbodiesel codenamed 1GD-FTV. Its 174hp and 450Nm drive are put to the ground by a six-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive is activated via a switch on the center console. Fording depth is 700mm or 100mm less than the Ranger’s, but ground clearance is an amazing 279mm.
If the Ranger is excellent off the road, the Hilux is far better on tarmac. The Ford truck may have a higher top-speed potential and faster acceleration, but you feel more confident in the Toyota on the highway thanks to the firm steering, which has excellent feel and feedback, and the solid suspension, which had us crying on the rough stuff. Driving position is good.
The Ranger possesses a backing-up camera as standard, while the Hilux doesn’t; it’s a P15,000 dealer-fit option, apparently. Thankfully, Toyota’s infotainment system sounds better, even if Ford’s multimedia interface looks high-tech and better-integrated.
The Hilux would be the ideal workhorse if you do a lot of overlanding and you don’t encounter a lot of difficult terrain. It’s also excellent on the highway and more than enough for most light to medium off-road activities. Just make sure you upgrade your tires and install a winch if you really want to venture on to the hardcore trails.
SPECS: TOYOTA HILUX G 4x4 AT
Engine: 2.8-liter turbodiesel I4
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Power: 174hp @ 3,400rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1,600-2,400rpm
UP NEXT: The verdict
In this comparison, both the Japanese Hilux and the American Ranger were surprises. We thought the Hilux would win because it had outclassed its rivals in our previous Big Test. On the other hand, we thought the Ranger would be all specs and no real ability--ability that cannot easily be described, quantified and readily justified.
We were pleasantly surprised to be wrong. The Hilux rightfully represented the Japanese contingent because it was the best in the last test we did. But the Ranger showed us that it has real depth of ability to represent the American invasion. The pickup is, after all, the most ubiquitous of all American vehicles. It’s an American invention, so it does make sense that the Ranger, despite being of Thai origin, will give its Japanese opponent a run for its money.
And on to the winner. Given the slant of our hardcore off-road test, the Ranger wins simply because an off-road noob like me was able to navigate through Southwoods 4x4 Off-Road Park without getting stuck and needing recovery assistance. I represent the vast majority of first-time 4x4 owners who might venture off the beaten path to experiment and explore.
But as mentioned earlier, the Ranger is not perfect. Aside from the aforementioned issues, after-sales concerns still seem to plague and haunt Ford Philippines. Parts availability is the most commonly cited issue in online forums and on social media. Putting that aside, though, it’s hard to find fault in the Ranger’s awesome off-road abilities.
That said, the Hilux should feel no shame. It lost, but it did so admirably. If the Ranger is a focused off-road vehicle, the Hilux’s performance potential is spread over a wider range because it excels both on the road and off it.
NOTE: This article first appeared in Top Gear Philippines' June 2016 issue.