While most people probably think of pickups as a fairly simple creation – a few bits of pig iron, a solid axle, and a box perched on some cart springs – these days buyers expect something more from their working vehicles: like all-day comfort, for one.

That makes designing the modern pick-up a rather more delicate balancing act than it used to be, one that some manufacturers seem to struggle with.

Buyers want a blend of utility, style, tech and power, but it’s that last one that’s been proving somewhat elusive lately, with more than one recently-launched ‘ute arriving onto the market while, shall we say, significantly under-engined.

Thankfully, there is an answer in the form of the Ford Ranger, and with the option of a 3.2-litre five-cylinder it’s currently the most powerful pickup on the market.

the 3.2 makes the Ranger the most powerful pickup currently on the market

For a start, it sounds like a truck should, with a reassuringly deep-chested growl that hints at the 200PS and 470Nm of torque within.

As standard, it drives the wheels through a six-speed manual transmission, although we opted to spend a week with the six-speed auto, during which it demonstrated its ability to smoothly blend one ratio into the next as well as an eagerness to make the most of the engine’s not inconsiderable torque.

From a standstill, the Ranger picks up speed quickly (Ford quote a 0-62mph time of 10.6 seconds), although accelerating for an overtake on the motorway seems to take a little more effort.

Random Fact: Nearly 65% of all Ranger buyers opt for the 3.2

It looks like a truck should, too, with recently refreshed chunky styling cutting an imposing swathe through traffic.  The range-topping Wildtrak replaces the chrome grille of the Limited with a more aggressive look all of its own, but if you want something even more assertive, most dealers will happily fit a Raptor-style grille for you.

So, since it looks like a truck and sounds like a truck, presumably it drives like one too, right?

Not so much.  Because we think the Ranger is perhaps the smoothest-riding of all the pickups on today’s market.

the Ranger is perhaps the smoothest-riding of all the pickups

Sure, it can get a touch bouncy over large undulations when unladen – as do all pickups – but it’s certainly nothing to cause upset.  Pot-holes, drain covers, and even cat’s eyes are all dealt with calmly and quietly, and combine that with decent wind- and road-noise suppression and the Ranger becomes surprisingly adept at chomping through the miles.

It’s comfortable, too, the leather seats of our Limited model offering plenty of support and a good range of adjustment, although it’s a shame the steering wheel only adjusts for height and not reach.

In a move we’ve been crying out for, Ford have ditched the conventional hydraulic power steering in favour of an electric set-up.  That means – at last – we have a pickup that’s easy to manoeuvre at low speed without having to work up a sweat.

What we appreciate most about the Ford, however, is that somebody clearly spent time thinking about the details, because the Ranger is full of little touches that all make living with a pickup that much easier.

That starts with simple things like the tray on top of the dashboard that’s perfectly sized for a mobile phone, but continues with the heated windscreen, the 12v socket in the load bed, the multiple USB and charging ports, the cooled storage bin under the central armrest, and the LED bed lights that can be activated by a button on the dash.

Tick a couple of boxes and you can have a full set of skid plates for engine, transfer case and fuel tank, a locking rear differential, a built-in 230v power inverter, and a full complement of driving aids such as lane keeping assist, automatic high beam, traffic sign recognition, trailer sway control, collision mitigation, and even adaptive cruise control.

Throw in the part-digital instruments and Ford’s Sync3 infotainment and navigation system – which is now pretty decent bar a few minor bugs (see Tester’s Notes) – and the Ranger is without question the most up-to-date pickup you can buy.

without question the most up-to-date pickup you can buy

True, some of the interior plastics aren’t great, and for all the Ranger’s thoughtfulness there are still a couple of things missing – the tailgate doesn’t lock with the doors, for instance, and there’s no easy way to hold the rear seats folded up.  And while we’re nit-picking, we’ll observe that the auto’s tiptronic function is backwards, requiring you to push forward for downshifts and pull back for upshifts.

But then the Ford makes up for it with decent off-road credentials: an 800mm wading depth, 230mm of ground clearance, 28-degree approach angle and 25-degree departure angle – although the latter was severely limited on our car by a low-slung tow bar.

The Ranger backs that up with Hill Descent Control, Hill Launch Assist, a 3.5-tonne tow rating, a rear-view camera that includes a zoom function to make hitching up easy, and a 4×4 shift-on-the-fly capability of up to 75 mph.

At the end of a week’s testing, two things had happened: firstly, we’d notched up a respectable average of 30.6 mpg.

And second, the Ranger had completely won us over with its blend of power and capability, comfort and technology.

Exactly what we’d been waiting for in a pickup.

Tester’s Notes

  • Lots of useful tech kit – heated windscreen, adaptive cruise, etc – although surprised not to see LED headlights
  • Thoughtful touches – multiple USB ports, places to store a phone, load bay lighting
  • Dash-top space would benefit from rubber inlay; an extra USB port would be useful here, too
  • Comfortable seating position, although door grab can feel hard against driver’s right leg
  • No steering wheel reach adjustment
  • Central speedo not the clearest, but separate displays either side are useful, i.e. nav display
  • Some low rent plastics in places
  • Auto tiptronic function is backwards: push forward for -, pull back for +
  • Sync3 much better than Sync2, although did occasionally report USB device not responding, and kept resetting iPhone to max ringer volume when unplugged
  • Light steering at parking speeds
  • 3.2 growls like a truck engine should, although perhaps not quite as quick as 200ps would have you believe
  • Rides the best of all the pickups
  • Good noise suppression in terms of suspension, road and wind noise
  • Reversing camera shows the tow bar for easy hitch-up, complete with zoom function
  • Tailgate doesn’t lock with doors
  • 30.6mpg on test
Entry-level Price £26,204.64 Price as tested £38,054.64
Engine 3198cc 5-cyl turbodiesel Transmission 6-speed auto
Power 200ps @ 3,000rpm Torque 470Nm @ 1,500-2,750rpm
0-62 10.6 secs Top speed 109 mph
Economy 31.7 mpg CO2 234 g/km
Dimensions 5362 x 1860 x 1815 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 2167 kg