Pick-up head to head

It’s been a long time a-coming. The new Ranger – with a 2.5-litre common rail diesel, more power and a re-style inside and out – marks Ford’s determination to grab more of the 1t pickup market.

And if 3t towing capacity is a must-have on your farm, it’s the only alternative to an Isuzu Rodeo.

What more excuse do we need to bring the two together?

Ford reckons 70% of the Ranger is fresh. Headline claims centre on the engine – power up by 24%, torque by a thumping 46%, fuel consumption chopped by 20%, service intervals stretched to 12,500 miles – and a completely revamped cabin.

Overall length has grown a tad and the nose is bolder, but the major proportions stay the same. In doublecab form (the best seller by far, says Ford) there are seats for five and a 1.45m load bay rated to haul 1100kg.

Chassis, suspension and steering have all been tweaked though not replaced. And the prices? From £14,345+VAT for a basic 4×4 single cab, rising to £18,095 for the Thunder-spec doublecab featured here.

That’s £500 up on the old model, comparing well with Nissan’s highly popular Navara Outlaw (£18,392).

The Rodeo has been around since 2003. Priced lower in principle at £16,990 in Denver Max autobox form, the test truck’s 3.0 conventional turbodiesel came brawn-boosted to 155hp and 258lbf ft by an optional £760 ProDrive pack. Stack that against the Ranger’s 143hp and 243lbf ft and there’s the prospect of first blood to Isuzu.

Performance, noise, transmissions

When throttle pedals find the metal, expectations stand on their head. The new Ford hits 60mph in an unofficial 12.2sec, leaving the autobox Denver gasping.

The story is replayed in B-road liveliness and in the punch from an 80mph cruise; the Ford has eagerness and bite, the Denver feels as though someone forgot to put in its false teeth. Weights are within 10kg of each other, suggesting the Isuzu’s optional autobox is the likely culprit.

And the gap is just as clear in refinement – as the Isuzu winds up it roars like wind howling under a door, while the Ford runs calm and collected to the red line. The Isuzu does settle down at part-throttle, but its manners are rooted in an earlier era.

We didn’t tow, but would put money on the Ford turning in the better result. Engine performance potential aside, the brakes have more bite and less sponge. And its five-speed manual transmission produces effective engine braking where the Denver’s auto delivers comparatively little, despite its ability to sense a descent and drop down a cog.

Speaking of gearboxes, the Ranger’s revised transmission package is quiet and clean-shifting, the Rodeo’s four-speed automatic rather fussy – though buttons for power mode and a traction-grabbing third-gear start are useful.

For sticky times on and off the road, uncomplicated, part-time, shift-on-the-fly 4wd comes from pushpads in the Isuzu and a lever in the Ford. For it to take effect in the Ranger you must also flick a switch to lock the front hubs, which is a strangely old-fashioned thing to do.

Standard limited-slip rear diffs add traction away from tarmac and bring the potential for tail-wagging fun on it, especially in the wet. Low range reductions are sensibly low. We drove just the Ranger off-road, finding a controllable powertrain, good wheel travel and reasonable clearance.

Comfort, space

Prize for the most car-like cab goes to the Ranger. Alongside this avalanche of silvered plastics and varied textures, the Rodeo’s beige, plain-Jane trim is war-effort utilitarian; yet on function and space there’s little between them – and the Isuzu scores with a most open-plan feel.

Ford edges the quality contest with better switchgear, firmer materials and more tactile stuff on the steering wheel and gearknob, both key contact points for the driver.

Where the Rodeo puts a small centre cubby, Ford fits a sizeable double-decker box – though the trade-off is an irritating, old-timer umbrella handbrake buried in the dash.

Spec levels weren’t equivalent. Aircon is standard, along with headlamp levelling, alloy wheels, rear screen heating and twin 12v sockets. But the £300 more expensive

Thunder-level Ranger adds side airbags, parking sensors in the rear bumper (a first for pickups and possibly short-lived), leather seats and a singularly pointless inclinometer pod on dashtop.

Bigger differences lurk in the rear. For a start Isuzu provides proper seatbelts for three, then puts the boot in with substantially more legroom and slightly easier access. If carrying three or four adults often, the Rodeo is the tool of choice.

Both trucks miss a trick on flexible storage when the rear seats are empty – the backrests fold, but don’t reveal useable space or open up the footwell area.

A tape measure shows one reason why the Rodeo has more space for passengers, despite giving away 177mm (7in) in overall length – its load bed is shorter by 120mm (4.7in). Yet it still takes a standard Europallet.

Ford adds practicality to the Ranger’s bigger bay by extending the sides upwards and slotting them so a horizontal shelf can slide in behind the cab – a shame, then, that the plastic bay liner (standard on both trucks) masks them. Roping points are reduced to four fold-flat rings inside the beds.

Ride, steering, handling

Basic beam back axles, leaf springs and ladder chassis feature on both. The Ford makes best use of this blacksmith technology. It’s still no paragon despite revised springs and damping; the soft front/hard rear mismatch hasn’t gone away and it bucks through potholes, though ride is firm rather than unyielding.

Either way it’s a better compromise than the jelly-on-a-plate experience served up by the Rodeo which, although more comfortable at low speeds, heaves, trembles and rolls its way along bumpy lanes.

While neither pickup demands much by way of steering effort, only the Ranger gives anything back by way of reward. Pile into a sequence of bends and it rises to the occasion; the steering may be slow but the Ford shows a confidence that the Rodeo can’t match.

Power Farming verdict

You’d think from the above that the Isuzu is a poor choice. It isn’t; all that’s happened is progress. The new Ford falls down on rear passenger space, but beats the Denver on performance, refinement, load bay length and ride.

So: One scalp harvested by the Blue Oval, two to go. Soon we’ll see how Henry’s bouncing new baby stacks up against the latest from Mitsubishi and Nissan.

Want to get info from the manufacturers’ websites?

Find out more about the Ford Ranger pick-up

Find out more about the Isuzu Rodeo pick-up?


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