Dual Cab Utilities (DCUs) have been included in Australia’s Best Cars rankings for the first time this year, due to steadily growing popularity. DCUs were the third largest-selling vehicle category last year, having grown 25% over the previous year, and now sell in higher numbers than any of the SUV categories. Once the vehicle of choice on work-sites, a five seat DCU these days is just as likely to be a family cross over vehicle, towing a caravan or carrying camping equipment rather than sand and cement, yet with sales remaining predominately 4WD they’re also serious work horses.
With this new buyer profile in mind, the most recently launched DCUs are better targeted to cross over usage. Our three finalists, the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT50 and VW Amarok are all significantly easier trucks to live with on a daily basis than their forebears, but in keeping with their 4x4 work ethic we also tested them with a half-ton load and four occupants on second class roads and hills.
The Ford Ranger was literally all-new in September 2011, the result of Fords “global compact pickup truck platform,” and along with the new engines, gearboxes, chassis, suspension, steering, brakes and sheet-metal came a more considered approach to design and function. Ford took the opportunity to study its dual cab competitors in such things as shifting the center pillar position for improved vision and rear seat space, wider opening rear doors for access and multiple storage compartments, resulting in the Ranger’s more integrated and accommodating cabin. As a result, Ranger is comfortable in each of its seating positions and notably spacious in the rear, reflected by solid scoring in all areas of living with the vehicle.
Ranger’s 3.2 litre five cylinder turbo diesel engine mated to a conventional six speed automatic transmission forms the backbone of the best performing vehicle in the dual-cab lineup. This engine is also matched to a six speed manual. With 470 Nm of torque on tap from just 1,500 rpm it delivers more pulling power than Toyota’s 70 series 4.5 litre V8. Ranger’s hill climbing power when loaded, smart 4WD including switchable low range, and long wheelbase stability make it an ideal vehicle for towing. It has a 3,500 kg rated towing capability and includes electronic trailer sway control as standard. In rough terrain the Ranger also offers excellent ground clearance at 237mm, an 800 mm wading depth and good wheel articulation for traction. The official combined fuel economy figure of 9.2L/100km is consistent with the class average, although our test figures are closer to 11L/100km meaning the 80-litre fuel tank will provide a range in the region of 800km.
The entry XL model Ranger is well priced in this company and has a more purposeful, tough and robust look which we preferred over its sister truck the Mazda BT50, where there is a more stylized approach and opulent features. In addition to the Ford’s basic comfort and commanding driving position, all twin-cab models are equipped with dual front, side and full length curtain airbags for a five star ANCAP safety rating.