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Australia leads the pack off-road

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Australia leads the pack off-road

Ford’s latest family of Ranger utes and Everest wagons is handsome and handy. BRUCE McMAHON ponders what could have been if other major manufacturers had established ute and SUV centres in Australia.

Imagine if, instead of building cars, manufacturers in the 1980s had dedicated Australian operations to engineering and designing workhorses and off-roaders. The talent’s obviously here, “real-world” testing conditions are here, and arguably the world’s most finicky customers are here.

Mitsubishi would be sorting out Tritons and Pajeros for the world, Holden could have kept on partnering with Isuzu, and Toyota Australia would be having a field day engineering that crowd’s long list of work and play horses.

Others, such as Mazda and Nissan, may have joined this mob; maybe Europeans would have piggybacked off the Australians, as Volkswagen has done with this new generation of Fords.

So, the 2023 Rangers and Everests are world-class, driven in the main by the demands of Australian drivers who want, if not always need, vehicles that can be driven to either kindergarten or Kalgoorlie with comfort and competence.

A little bit wider than predecessors and with revised suspension, fresh engine options plus a swag of modern technologies, these Ford utes and wagons are very much on the money – if a tad dearer than before.

Rangers start at $35,930 for a basic two-wheel drive ute and end up at $85,490 for the off-roading outlaw Raptor model, a four-door, four-wheel drive performance machine.

The very civilised 4WD Everest wagons start at $57,990 and work up to $76,880 for the Platinum version.

There are engine and transmission options plus a spread of trim levels for both utilities and SUVs. Most come with a full suite of safety aids such as blind spot monitoring and crash avoidance systems.

Head to the top of the range and drivetrains include an automatic four-wheel drive setting, allowing the Fords to be driven on any surface with the transmission left to decide to send torque to front wheels when necessary. This is a very welcome mode when out touring indifferent backroads.

The Everest is, yet again, a “must” on shopping lists if chasing a well-sorted family wagon with proper four-wheel drive ability. It has the chassis, clearance and 4WD system to tackle the roughest of tracks while maintaining excellent on-road manners and composure. Towing capacity remains at 3500 kg.

Among the utes, there’s a wide range of choice between variants and options, easy to custom-build your own Ranger.

While the increase in cabin and tray widths is much appreciated, Ford’s new drivetrains are smooth and rarely found wanting.

The revised suspension offers the most noticeable improvements. The previous ride and handling balance was good, but this time the ute’s composure on good or bad road is very good and makes for a safer road vehicle.

While these Fords continue to be excellent workhorses there is a very sporting outlaw at the top of the pile – the Ford Ranger Raptor is super quick, super capable. Super fun all round. There’s even a Baja mode to sort out mechanical settings to go scorching across the Sahara.

No question, Australians can design a world class ute or SUV.

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