The Ford Ranger is widely regarded as the nation’s one-tonne royalty, in what is consistently the most hotly contested vehicle segment in the country.
There’s a natural symbiosis at play here – the Ranger is important to Australians (just look at the sales data, where it accounted for 71 per cent of Ford’s total 2022 sales volume), but Australians are important to the Ranger, too.
Ford’s local engineering hub, the largest left in Australia in the wake of our local car-making industry's manufacturing exit, played an integral role in developing the latest T6.2 platform. It underpins the esteemed Ranger XLT V6 and demented Raptor, as well as the pair of Everests we have here in attendance.
WHEELS CAR OF THE YEAR 2023
Developed in Australia and bound for 180 markets globally, it’s Ranger and Everest that arguably achieved what our homegrown heroes never could, as our local engineering talent finally finds success on the world stage.
Ladder-frame vehicles have not previously been eligible for COTY, but decades of popularity have seen real development put behind these once-humble workhorses. As Inwood put it, the latest Ranger “resets its own benchmark”.
“The best dual-cab ever by a long shot” echoed John Law, while the discerning ‘ride & handling Jez’ even conceded that this new and improved Ranger is “ridiculously likeable to drive for a ute”.
The Rangers kick further goals when you consider the sheer bandwidth the models are built to cover, with impressive body control and roadholding on bitumen, conceding little speed on Lang Lang’s ride and handling circuit in comparison to the more conventional unibody SUVs in attendance. Of course, the Ranger shines brighter again once it hits the dirt section, too.
Some caveats exist, however, those being simply unavoidable shortcomings inherent in this vehicle’s ladder-frame construction.
Over fast corrugations, the XLT’s ride becomes terse with moments of body shudder, while the pair’s all-terrain tyres did neither the XLT nor Raptor any favours in the dry-brake and emergency lane-change test where they consistently finished near the bottom of the pack.
The Raptor, too, is an oddity.
All judges agree that it’s a blast, but that fun is tinged with a sense of guilty indulgence in this day and age.
Everybody enjoyed it, but opinions differed. Editor Enright reckoned it “hugely fun but hugely profligate” while Inwood was more of a fan. “The Raptor is so childish and unnecessary but so bloody awesome!” he said.
“Took to the dirt like a bird does to air,” noted Campbell. “Shame the ride quality isn’t quite as plush as the old one though.” And that was a common refrain, many judges feeling that in giving the Ranger Raptor so much engine and having to tie it down accordingly, it had lost the inimitable magic carpet ride of the original.
Any model in the Ranger line-up, however, simply radiates an overwhelming feeling of Australian optimisation, offering huge value in terms of off-road ability, genuinely useful technology and admirable passenger packaging for its class.
Considering how adept they are off the road, it’s a testament to Ford’s depth of engineering that these utes are as competent as they are while on it and it’s easy to see why they’re so aspirational.
But through the gruelling lens of Car of the Year, Ranger’s coil-sprung SUV sibling shone measurably brighter, and Ford’s utes were left honourably discharged at Lang Lang.
Now that you're done reading about these COTY 2023 contenders, you should go back to catch up on anything you might've missed. Check out the links below, or find it all at our COTY page.