Review: Ford Ranger Commercial

We find out whether the Ford Ranger Commercial pickup has what it takes to challenge Toyota’s all-conquering Hilux

SPECIAL REPORTS, Projects

In terms of simplicity, the Ranger Commercial is a site truck par excellence. It’s a stripped-down, clean-looking, fundamentally-basic piece of engineering that specialises in one thing and one thing only – getting the job done.

To be clear, this observation applies specifically to the Commercial model. If simplicity isn’t your thing, there are plenty of fancier Rangers available to suit your tastes. The XL, the XLT, the Limited, and the Wildtrak are all replete with the types of mod con that today’s drivers have come to expect from their pickups. But make no mistake, the Commercial isn’t.

It has no remote locking, no electric windows, no CD player… We could go on. You even have to adjust the wing mirrors by hand. And by hand, we don’t mean that you have to fiddle with plastic toggles because there are no plastic toggles. No, we mean that in order to set a mirror to your preferred position, you have to physically wind down your window and press your fingers against the reflective surface. The only thing the Commercial has that its counterparts don’t, is a clutch.

To the casual observer, it might appear that the Commercial’s design team took inspiration from a Mk3 Transit, circa 1994. Surprisingly, this strategy has paid off. And in a big way.

Let’s start with the cost, or lack thereof. For review, we were given a 4x4 high-rider version with a 2.5-litre petrol engine, a double cab, and a manual transmission. Fleet customers can purchase a Commercial model in this configuration for a mere $21,000 (AED78,000). Even if your budget won’t stretch that far, Ford has you covered. Its cheapest regular-cab version is available from just $16,000 (AED60,000).

If you’re a fleet customer, the most you’ll pay for a Commercial is around $23,000 (AED85,000), and for that, you’ll get a 3.2-litre diesel engine and an automatic gearbox. Whichever option you choose, this pickup isn’t going to break the bank.

But what about the pickup itself? These price tags may be modest, but they’ll start to look a lot less appealing if the truck doesn’t perform on site.

In its double-cab format, the Ranger Commercial offers room for five adults, with full-sized doors at the front and the rear. As you’d expect, the additional personnel capacity does come at the cost of some rear bed space. The length of the four-door version’s cargo box is 1.55m, over half a metre shorter than its regular-cab counterpart. Nevertheless, with a width of 1.56m, a 1.18m3 volume (to the rim), and a maximum gross payload of 1,435kg, it’s no weakling.

With four tie-down hooks on its interior and six on the wings themselves, the cargo box offers plenty of points to secure your load or to fit a piece of tarpaulin. It can also be augmented with a bed protector to prevent damage to the metal, but this does have to be purchased separately. The indents that accommodate the rear wheels do eat into the flat-bed space a little, but there’s little else present that will hinder loading.

In contrast, the cargo box of the regular-cab Commercial is slightly more generous, with a length of 2.32m, a volume of 1.83m3, and a maximum gross payload of 1,620kg. The petrol-powered Commercial models – whether in a regular- or double-cab format – are able to tow 3,350kg in conjunction with a 4x4 braked trailer.

If there’s a chink in the Commercial’s armour – and in truth, it’s probably more of a scratch – it’s Ford’s 2.5-litre petrol I-4 engine. There’s nothing wrong with the engine per se, but for a truck that weighs the best part of two tonnes, it can sometimes feel a little sluggish on the highway. It also runs a touch louder than you might expect from a petrol unit.

Even so, ‘sluggish’ is probably the strongest criticism that could be levelled at the petrol-powered Commercial model, which isn’t bad considering the starting price. And if power is a major concern for you, there are several other options for you to explore.

If you’d prefer not to wander from the Commercial stable, for example, you could opt for the aforementioned diesel version. Alternatively – although this might be a tad over-the-top for a site truck – you might want to consider the Ranger Wildtrak with its five-cylinder, 3.2-litre diesel inline engine. It will, of course, come at a premium; prices for fleet customers start at around $28,500 (AED105,000). Nevertheless, we were recently given an opportunity to take Ford’s top-end Ranger around an off-road course, and it was anything but ‘sluggish’.

Failing that, you’re probably going to have to venture into F-150 territory, but there’s really no need. Ford’s 2.5-litre petrol I-4 is perfectly capable; it can just feel a bit overworked at times. It delivers 164hp and approximately 226Nm of torque. Bear in mind also that you’re provided with a five-speed manual gearbox, so it’s not as though you’re going to be outsprinted by cyclists when the lights turn green.

One place the Commercial feels perfectly at home is away from the tarmac. In fact, it’s is surprisingly fun to drive off road. One of the few gizmos that the pickup does possess is an electronic shift-on-the-fly (ESOF) dial that allows the driver to switch from 4x2 to 4x4 while the wheels are still in motion.

Once all four wheels have been engaged, the Commercial becomes a handy little dune basher. Its manual gearbox provides an additional layer of control, its ride remains impressively stable, and – as its name suggests – the high-rider version offers generous ground-clearance proportions.

All in all, we spent a couple of hours in the sand, and not once did the Commercial stumble. In the interest of transparency, we did accidentally punch a hole in the nearside front bumper (apologies to the understanding folks at Al Tayer Motors), but this was due to a well-concealed crater and some over-zealousness on our part.

Even after this setback, the Commercial proved sturdy and sure-footed. Good news, because if you plan to use the truck on a work site, it will no doubt be dealt heavier blows. With its underside guard plate and tough plastic bumpers, the pickup looks like it can take some punishment.

Incidentally, the vehicle’s looks haven’t been compromised by its robustness. True, the Commercial isn’t as pretty as its flashier, more-expensive siblings, but its clean lines and no-nonsense styling lend it a certain charm. Dubai’s early-morning sun might have been flattering, but as you can tell from the opening spread, this workhorse is easy on the eye.

As we already mentioned, the Commercial’s interior is fairly sparse, but again, it’s a pleasant place to be. The relative dearth of bells and whistles also left the truck’s design team with lots of space to integrate storage areas. There’s a glove box, four cup holders, two door pockets, and a plethora of trays: three in the dash, one between the driver and front passenger, and another at the rear.

In terms of creature comforts, there’s air conditioning, two 12V auxiliary power outlets, an FM/AM radio, and a digital litres-per-100km display. Standard features on the Commercial also include driver and front-passenger airbags, an 80-litre fuel tank, rack-and-pinion steering, central locking, and a collapsible steering column and pedals.

Put simply, the Ranger Commercial is a capable pickup at an extremely attractive price. This vehicle is as effective as it is straightforward. It’s clean cut, robust, and compared to premium-end models, there’s an awful lot less to go wrong.

In terms of both price and design, Ford has done everything right with the Commercial. The main challenge that the manufacturer will face – and it is a big one – is that the Ranger is up against the stiffest competition that the Middle East’s automotive market has to offer. It sits within the same class as Toyota’s all-conquering Hilux; the best-selling vehicle – of any kind – in the region.

Ubiquitous though the Hilux may be in the Middle East (it’s the most popular vehicle in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman) the Ranger might just have what it takes to mount a title challenge. The fleet price for an entry-level Commercial is more than $1,000 lower than that of the equivalent Hilux, and with the rugged quality on display, Ford’s offering could well prove capable of turning the heads of some of Toyota’s less-loyal customers.

Competition aside, the Ford Ranger Commercial is a site truck that is deserving of your attention. It’s robust, effective, and comes with a tantalising price tag. Yes, the Commercial is a basic animal, but taken within the context of the Middle East’s construction sector, simplicity represents one of the pickup’s greatest strengths. In short, if you’re looking for a vehicle that’s going to transport you and your tools from point A to point B with the minimum of fuss, you’d be hard pushed to find a more suitable alternative.

The Ford Ranger Commercial might not offer much in the way of luxury, but whichever way you look at it, this truck screams value.

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