While the exact outcome will most likely be reflected only with the release of the monthly NAAMSA sales figures come early-February, the rather unavoidable saga has somewhat unfairly also blighted the reputation of other models in the Blue Oval’s line-up, despite them not being implicated at all.
Either way, the brand’s introduction of an automatic gearbox on the 2.2 TDCI version of its smash-hit Ranger in July last year, came at a pivotal moment as the ease of two-pedal motoring combined with the convenience of a large load bay became the latest must-have in the burgeoning leisure oriented bakkie segment.
Combined with the availability of self-shifters on many of its rivals’ range topping models only, the built-in-Pretoria Ranger 2.2 TDCI still holds the distinction of being the only entry-level engine bakkie to offer an auto 'box on double, single and extended cab models.
The recent arrival of a Performance Blue double cab XLS 4x4 therefore made for an intriguing proposition as previous encounters with the six-speed auto 'box in the daddy 3.2 TDCI had been effortless and without much hassle.
On first glance, the Ranger’s F150 derived looks and stance continues to be a winner. Although initially sceptic when Ford introduced the new look as part of a mid-life refreshment in 2015, the darkened headlights, pronounced plastic grille, chunky side steps and sheer size makes for an intimating looking thing, although the standard issue 16-inch alloy wheels appear lost in the bulging wheel arches.
As it slots in between the mainly workhorse orientated XL and “everything included” XLT, the XLS takes up an evenly split modus operandi in theory, with load box volume being rated at 1.18m³ and the claimed payload at 976 kg. A series of tie-down hooks inside the box and a nifty LED light located underneath the high-level brake light completes the exterior touches, with our tester also being fitted with a heavy duty tow bar.
Tug open the black plastic door handle, the interior is a so-so affair with the obvious difference being the lack of luxuries found on the XLT and Wildtrak. Although hard plastics are the order of the day on most surfaces, the fit-and-finish is suitable with an element of robustness being displayed throughout.
Less impressive though was the static 4.2-inch infotainment display which, despite being easy to use with familiarity, appears outdated with a plethora of buttons and graphics lifted from the pre-facelift Ranger. In addition, the small display also serves as visual reference for the reverse camera, which becomes more like peering through a mailbox slot and requires the driver to instead use his head and eyes when going backwards.
On the plus side though, the system does feature the first generation of Ford’s SYNC media interface with Voice Recognition, Bluetooth USB jack, making reliance on the buttons and switches less of a hassle.
Up front, space is at a premium with the comfortable cloth seats featuring eight-way manual adjustment for the driver together with lumber support, while a sizable slot underneath the air-conditioning switches, capacious cubby doubling up as an armrest between the front seats, tray on top of the dashboard and numerous cupholders provides ample storage space.
Usually the downfall of many double cabs, space in the back is impressive with my 1.84 m build not only seated comfortably behind the driver’s chair set in my preferred position, but with generous levels of head room and more than enough leg room to spare.
What rates as perhaps the biggest head scratcher though is the drivetrain with the much vaunted automatic 'box being the culprit. Despite being a highlight of the 3.2 TDCI, the box underwhelms when mated with the 118 kW / 385 N.m 2.2 TDCI, being slow to respond when accelerating and taking its time to shift down.
Although this can be averted by clicking the gear lever into Sport mode, which admittedly made for crisper shifts with less lag, it simply does not make for the perfect soulmate to the Port Elizabeth-built engine, which despite not being the smoothest or quiet initially, does settle down at highway speeds with limited cabin noise intrusion.
Where the Ranger clawed back some ground however, was on the rough stuff. Mid-way through its weeklong stay, a 600-odd-km trek to the Free State culminated in a series of bouts off-roads which it not only sailed through with aplomb each time the low range dial fell on 4Low, but also impressed when going downhill with the standard Hill Decent Control activated.
Perhaps the biggest attention gatherer though was the combined fuel consumption which came to rest at 8.8 L/100 km, not far from Ford's claimed 8.3 L/100 km but not bad considering the drivetrain’s quirks, the journey out of the concrete jungle and venturing off the black stuff.
Although a black cloud, no pun intended, resides over the Blue Oval's products at present, the seven day stint behind the wheel of its cheapest double cab 4x4 automatic was an enjoyable one in spite of the obvious blip in the form of the box.
Look past this however and the fact that the upscale XLT cannot be had four-wheel drive, the XLS auto makes for a truly hard to ignore proposition that does exactly what it says on the tin.
|ENGINE LAYOUT||DOHC 16v Inline 4|
|MAX POWER||118 kW @3700 rpm|
|MAX TORQUE||385 N.m @1500-2500 rpm|
|DRIVE LAYOUT||Front engine; Front-wheel drive / Four-wheel drive|
|ACCELERATION (0-100 km/h)||n/a|
|FUEL CONSUMPTION*||8.8 L/100 km*|
*As recorded during tenure