REVIEWS
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OVERALL
VERDICT

The Top Gear car review:

Ford Ranger Thunder 2.0BiT 10AT 4x4

R811 900

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Factory-fitted differentiation from the popular Wildtrak after-market bakkies.

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OVERALL
VERDICT

For:

Loaded with tech and all-round capability.

Against:

Be sure that you’ll need that roller shutter as it eats into some load box height.

What is it?

Ford Ranger Thunder. What is it exactly? Essentially it’s another trim level derived from a Ford Ranger Wildtrak, offered with 3 drivetrain options that are incidentally also offered on the Wildtrak. The 3,2TDCi 4x2 and then the 2.0-litre BiT in 4x2 and 4x4 guise. The car we’ve reviewed here is the top-shelf 4x4, 2.0-litre, bi-turbo diesel edition.

What Ford has done here is take a Wildtrak and kit it out with some slight styling tweaks and added a bit more kit some of which is optional on the Wildtrak. So it’s more car for slightly more money. It’s Ford’s answer to the raft of customers who want to differentiate their bakkies from others and to attempt to retain the business of a customer who may want to buy a standard Wildtrak and then spend some extra money at an after-market outfit to add a new grille and a few stickers.

Ford has gone a few better, and would you believe it, the only stickers on the Thunder are the ‘4x4’ sticker on the flanks, the actual RANGER sticker on the rear tailgate and then the red accent on the black roll over hoop. The rest is done in some tasteful red and black 3D lettering added to the top right hand side of the tailgate as well as at the bottom of the front doors. Ford continues the red and black application on the revised grilled that stands out in a big way compared any other Ranger from the factory.

Black mirror caps and black 18-inch alloy wheels finish off the Ford Ranger Thunder treatment. It looks good, perhaps the best application of ‘edition’ packaging in the Range.

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Layout, finish and space

You guessed it. Red and Black treatment has been applied to the interior as well. Greeted by the red-illuminated door sills, we like the Ranger’s interior treatment. It’s car-like cabin is loaded with tech and presents an ergonomically sound cabin. The 8-inch SYNC3 infotainment system is an excellent device. It’s fast, intuitive and well within reach of the front occupants. Apple CarPlay and the Android equivalent are available in addition to all the other functions.

The driver’s multi-function display is equally easy to operate, a wealth of info available at your fingertips.  Red stitching now adorns the dashboard, steering wheel, gear shifter, doors, centre storage bin and the seats.

It’s a comfortable cabin, made so by its ease of use and its insulation. The engine noise is well subdued and the feeling of refinement is experienced from within, one of the best in terms of NVH levels and comfort. The seats are a little harder than some counterparts and I’d add that as really the only negative observation.

Given the lifestyle and working orientation that many Rangers have, the Ford is fitted with 2 x 12V plugs on the interior as well as a 230V/150W power converter. The load bin too has a 12V power point.

Speaking of the load bin, the Thunder comes with a fitted roller door storage box that is lockable and relatively easy to operate. In theory, for those who require this specific fitment it’s a sturdy integration into the load bin, but it does lose some of the practicality of a tonneau cover offered on other bakkies. This is simply because you lose the height and width at the rear of the area where the roller stops and ‘rolls’ into the rear compartment. In the same way that a convertible roof eats up space in the boot of droptop cars, this suffers the same. And this is important for certain bakkie uses. We loaded a little bit of furniture into the Thunder and lost at least 5% of the load space had the car been fitted with a tonneau cover – so consider it carefully.

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What is it like on the road?

The Thunder is fitted with the same engine that does work in the Ranger Wildtrak and the Ranger Raptor. It’s been thoroughly driven by us on a few occasions in these other applications so we’re not surprised to commend its use in the Ranger Thunder.

The 4-cylinder diesel engine delivers 157kW from 3,750rpm and 500Nm of torque between 1,500 – 2,000rpm. The Ranger sends this power to the desired wheels through the 10-speed automatic transmission.

Open road use is perhaps its best environment simply due to its refinement and frugal nature. We managed 10,0l/100km throughout our test which included some low-range off-roading for a spell. The auto transmission is excellent. It delivers smooth almost unnoticeable gear changes.

I found the Adaptive Cruise Control to be a handy feature, something that is uncommon on even the highest offerings from most competitors. It’s combined with Lane Keeping Assistance which buzzes the steering wheel as you veer off and even can turn the car back into the lane. These systems are good in principle but can get a bit irritating and I found the ease of disengaging this function on the right side stalk to be a welcome thing. Other convenience and safety technology on the Ranger Thunder is the parking assistance system as well as the front and rear PDC and rear camera. At over 5,1-metres long, the Ranger isn’t the smallest thing in the parking lot and these systems make life a lot easier and safer.

Whilst we didn’t test its towing capacity in this test, the Ranger Thunder can haul 3,5-tons and is fitted with the electronic eye of trailer sway assistance that counters the dangers of sway by applying brakes to individual wheels to slow down the car to safer speeds. It’s part of a package of driver assistance and safety features in the Ranger Thunder. From Ford’s Electronic Stability Programme, Brake Assist and Hill Launch Assist, to more passive safety features such as 7-airbags and 3 x 3-point seatbelts in the rear, the Ranger really is fully equipped.

On gravel roads too, I have to commend the ride quality of the Ranger. It’s balance of comfort and real-world usability over the dusty stuff is excellent. It’s not as hard and jittery a ride as previous Rangers were or as other bakkies are and its quick-selecting 4H switch in the centre console adds a welcome peace of mind to the occasion, not to mention the safety of ESP too.

And then in full on 4x4 environments, the ease of use is admirable. The Ranger Thunder can easily be switched to low-range mode and it is fitted with Hill Descent Control too. For those who are a bit more serious about the 4x4 hobby, I’d recommend fitting more fit-to-purpose tyres but it’s a comprehensive 4x4 package here.

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Running costs and reliability

It’s slightly more expensive than a Wildtrak or even a Toyota Hilux flagship which at the time of writing this was the facelifted new Hilux Legend RS at around R39000 more money. The Ranger Thunder 2.0BiT 10AT 4x4 is a fully loaded DC bakkie and comes with all of Ford’s warranties and service plans. You may not like the red on Frozen White exterior colour scheme featured here but Ford sells the Ranger Thunder in 3 other colours too: Sea Grey, Absolute Black and Moondust Silver.

There’s no doubt that among the other choices out there the Ranger stands out in many respects as the better all-rounder and a leader in technological outlay where convenience, safety and infotainment features are concerned.

You may want to consider that the locally-built Ranger remains a firm 2nd-place as far as sales are concerned and there is good reason for that. Also consider the plethora of other bakkie options that are set to make Mzansi landfall in the next 12-months. Do you want to wait? Do you want to try something brand new and untested? And do you want to play the risk of a higher price tag next year as we all know that car pricing continues to rise?

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Final thoughts

The Ford Ranger Thunder ticks many boxes in this new, more standout package. More expensive than a Wildtrak but with more kit, it’s worth a good look should you like its design and should that extra kit be to your need. Don’t discount the value of the loadbox should it suit your lifestyle, but be sure it’s what you want.

It’s a Ford Ranger - abounding in technology and a well-balanced blend of comfort, safety and bakkie practicality

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