First Drive: The Ford Ranger Thunder turns lifestyle appeal up a notch
What is it?
The Ford Ranger is one of the most popular pickup trucks around, because it manages to tread a fine line between being practical for those who need off-road utility, while also appealing to the ever-growing number of lifestyle buyers turning to trucks.
The new Thunder model is aimed decidedly at the latter, bringing a new blackout style and a more refined interior, limited to 1,400 examples for the UK and 30 for Ireland. Upon launching the vehicle, Hans Schep, Ford Europe’s general manager of commercial vehicles, said it ‘is as tough and versatile as it is charismatic’ – so let’s find out how true that is.
This is effectively a trim package rather than an altogether new model, so there’s nothing particularly new under the skin, and we’ll delve into those exterior and interior upgrades in more detail shortly.
That means the Thunder gets the same specification as regular Rangers, using the 2.0-litre diesel engine, standard four-wheel-drive system, Sync3 infotainment system and latest driver assistance systems. The only real limitation is the fact it can only be specified with the Double Cab body style.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Thunder gets the Ranger’s top-spec diesel engine, a 2.0-litre bi-turbo unit that makes 210bhp and 500Nm of torque – for those who want to travel off the beaten track that hefty torque figure demonstrates the benefits of diesel for this market.
It also utilises Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission, which has long proven to be an adept companion to both on- and off-road excursions. As for the engine, it’s definitely been tuned with heavy loads and muddy terrain in mind – the low down torque is impressive but out on the open road it can feel a bit noisy and lacking the immediacy of response you might want for, say, a motorway overtaking manoeuvre.
What’s it like to drive?
Aside from that, the engine is generally decent for everyday activities if you don’t mind a little gruffness, pulling pleasantly at lower speeds so inner-city driving is far from a chore. The high riding position of a truck means it has all the same benefits of an SUV in this regard, too.
Where it fails to match up to an SUV is on the open road, though. The lazy steering ratio means cornering takes a lot more input than a regular vehicle, and despite the improved refinement in terms of look and feel, there’s no denying it’s not as comfortable nor filters out road noise quite as effectively.
As far as pickup trucks go it’s very good, but those considering the swap from SUVs might want to bear this in mind – there are some sacrifices in exchange for that more rugged practicality.
How does it look?
The Ranger is already a handsome pickup, with real road presence and stylish details, but the Thunder trim adds a real upgrade in this department. The first thing you’ll notice is the Sea grey paint job – the only paint available – which is so dark it’s almost black, and works brilliantly with the matte lack badging.
The dark theme is offset though by red highlights on the grille and roll hoop that add a splash of colour – a combination that split opinion within the editorial team.
What’s it like inside?
The cabin is perhaps the most obvious place where the lifestyle appeal has been implemented, with leather upholstery on the seats, red embroidery and matching stitching used on various places in the car. There are also black floor mats and red illuminated sill plates, which look genuinely brilliant at night.
As is the familiar theme here, the Thunder feels like a big improvement over regular Rangers when it comes to quality and refinement, but if you’re considering it as a family car you might find the liberal use of cheaper materials disappointing compared with a typical SUV.
What’s the spec like?
Prices start at £32,965 for the Thunder, which builds on the well-specified Wildtrak trim. Aside from the equipment and upgrades listed above, it also includes LED front fog lamps, underbody protection, roof rails, leather steering wheel and interior ambient LED lighting.
The Thunder also gets black 18-inch alloy wheels and a front grille, rear bumper, skid plates and more all painted black, as well as the red highlights. The LED headlights get darkened bezels as standard with darkened taillights at the rear, while the load bay gets a Mountain Top roller shutter with an optional bedliner divider.
The Ford Ranger is one of the best pickup trucks on the market, and with private buyers increasingly turning to these trucks as alternatives to estate cars and SUVs, it’s no surprise to see Ford appealing to that market.
It feels like a great deal, too, with the minor upgrades doing a good job of elevating its quality just above the Wildtrak it’s based on, while only costing about £1,000 more. If you’re looking for a car to suit your outdoorsy lifestyle, it could be a great option.
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