Utes may be the most quintessentially Australian vehicles on sale at the moment. What else could survive the outback, get the kids to school, keep a business running and even go racing on the weekend?
As some sort of all-purpose miracle car, the ute has mobilised Australian tradies, miners and families for decades, becoming an icon of the country's transport and automotive manufacturing industries in the process.
Naturally, the two manufacturers responsible for keeping this industry ticking over, Ford and Holden, have also always had a rivalry in this market. For years, both manufacturers produced ute versions of their most popular cars, the Falcon and the Commodore respectively.
These battles weren't only fought on the construction site, with the V8 Utes series ensuring both marques could duke it out on the track as well.
Aside from these ute variants of family sedans, Australian manufacturers have also always crafted purpose-built utes to tackle any terrain that comes their way. These vehicles are a little bit further away from traditional Aussie utes in terms of size and stature, and more closely resemble vehicles produced by the one other country that loves these vehicles – the USA.
The most noticeable difference for these utes – or 'trucks' as our American brethren refer to them – is that they're closer to off-road vehicles, giving them further advantages when the going gets tough.
With that in mind, it's time to turn our attention to Ford's latest offering in this segment, the 2015 Ranger.
Tough done smarter
That's how Ford is describing its latest grown up ute, with the Ranger towering over the Falcon-based utes of yesteryear.
The slogan wants drivers to stop judging the book by its cover, and Ford is determined to prove that just because the Ranger is a large off-road vehicle, this doesn't mean it can't include a certain degree of refinement that motorists expect from their vehicles.
Because of this, the 2015 Ford Ranger is packed with all sorts of gadgets, gizmos and devices to surprise hardened tradies that are used to nothing more than a column-shifter and a tape deck.
These aren't just for show however, and most of the technological wizardry Ford has packed into the Ranger will be of use to busy blue-collar professionals trying to run a business on the go. The updated SYNC 2 system is a communication device designed for the modern employee.
By pairing your phone with it, SYNC 2 can make calls for you and even read text messages aloud – keeping you on the right side of the law. On top of this, the whole thing is voice-activated, allowing drivers to keep both hands on the wheel while taking calls and arranging jobs at the same time.
Don't worry though, it's not just the boring stuff that's controlled in this way. Fancy changing tunes or radio station to drown out your calls on the drive home? Simply speak up, and the SYNC 2 will manage the rest.
And yet, that still isn't the end of the fun you can have with it. The SatNav and climate control systems are also voice activated. Whether or not it can detect the phrase "maybe we should ask for directions" remains to be seen, however.
Outsmart the wilderness
Back in the day, utes and other off-road vehicles had to conquer the wilderness with sheer power and brute strength. However, now that the Ranger is promising to be smarter, will it leave owners stranded in the outback?
As it turns out, this is far from the case, with the Ranger bringing technology in to the fight against nature.
Not only has the vehicle realised what it takes to survive, it knows what the modern human requires when it's forced out of its comfort zone. Unlike almost any other vehicle, the 2015 Ford Ranger has a 230 volt outlet installed in the cab, allowing people to charge phones and other electronic equipment to keep nature at bay.
Continuing with the smart theme, the ute also sports both automatic wipers and headlamps, so you can keep your hands on the wheel when conditions take a turn for the worst.
Ute purists don't have to worry about the Ranger completely leaving tradition behind thankfully, as both engine options are still resolutely diesel to ensure it's capable of hauling the heaviest loads without breaking the bank.
Builders on a budget will survive with the 2.2 litre turbo-diesel option that produces nearly 120 kilowatts of power and just under 400 newton-metres of torque. On the surface this seems capable enough, but, as always, there's a much more powerful option for those who they think they could do with the extra grunt.
By blowing the engine out to 3.2 litres, Ford raises the power to just a smidge under the 150 Kw mark. While they aren't necessarily the highest power numbers in the world, it's the torque figure that really illustrates what the ranger is capable of.
With the 3.2 litre turbo-diesel option, the Ford Ranger delivers what seems like just enough power to flatten Ayers Rock. The scientific result? 470 newton-metres of torque.
There's not a lot that would hold you back with that amount of power, and it's hard to imagine needing to replace the Ranger as a work ute anytime soon if that's the amount of power it's outputting.
Surely that's the end of it right? Ford have proven that a ute can have gadgets that rival a car and can outpower a good chunk of them. What else is there to prove?
Not content to provide an off-road vehicle that isn't fun to drive, Ford has matched the aggressive looks of its exterior with handling prowess.
Like the new BMW M3 and various models in Porsche's range, the Ranger has electronically-assisted power-steering. If it's good enough for Stuttgart's finest, it'll be more than enough for Australia's tradies and adventurers to navigate the construction site.
Of course, no modern off-road vehicle would be complete with fancy differentials. Unlike road cars, these machines have to contend with all manner of surfaces and inclines. In the past, mechanical know-how would be enough to shift the Raptor up and over tricky terrain. However, a 21st century problem demands 21st century solutions – technology.
The new e-Locking Rear Differential takes the fuss out of these situations and puts the Ranger's computers in control. Hill descent control is added to these systems. Whether drivers are coming up or going down, the Ranger ensures these maneouvres are carried out quickly, safely and easily.
Why is this the ultimate ute?
There are a number of reasons why the 2015 Ford Ranger can be considered the ultimate ute for the country's roads and construction sites, with the number of options meaning even the pickiest of car buyers can get the option they want.
Whether it's dual cab or single, all-wheel drive or two-wheel drive, there's little that drivers can't change to suit their needs. It's this flexibility, along with Ford's promise of a tougher, smarter ute that's ready to embrace new technology that is tempting buyers.
This alone separates the 2015 Ford Ranger from being just another ute. While spartan options such as the Hilux have succeeded in the past, new car buyers want technology, even in a vehicle designed to tame the great outdoors.
These gadgets don't feel out of place in the Ranger either, with both in the interior and exterior design still managing to paint it as one of the more hardened vehicles on the market.Google+