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Ranger Thunder goes self-riding

The new Ford Ranger Thunder, unveiled in a virtual event yesterday, points to pick-ups joining the evolution to a self-driving future



The Ford Ranger, already known as one of South Africa’s most popular vehicles, is not often mentioned in the same breath as the most high-tech vehicles.

But the new limited-edition Ranger Thunder, launched in a virtual event on Thursday, includes a raft of design and functional enhancements, including the ability to park itself. Until now, we have seen that functionality mainly in top-of-the-range luxury sedans. However, during the launch, radio presenter Angie Khumalo demonstrated autonomous parallel parking, initiated while the Thunder was slowly driving past the parking spot that was as good as anything seen in the sedan world. 

This comes courtesy of Ford’s Semi-Automatic Parallel Park Assist (SAPPA), which uses ultrasonic sensors on the front and rear bumpers that search for parking spaces that are big enough to park the vehicle, and alerts the driver when a suitable spot is found.

The system calculates the trajectory and steers the vehicle into the slot using the Ranger’s electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) and sensors. The driver only operates the accelerator and brake, and selects the appropriate gear indicated by Park Assist.

It suggests that pick-ups will join the evolutionary path to autonomous driving that has been largely the domain of sedans on the one end of the scale and buses and delivery trucks on the other.

Ford has also bolstered the standard specification on most of its Ranger line-up, introducing LED headlamps with LED daytime running lights and front fog lamps as standard on the new Thunder, and on all XLT, Wildtrak and Ranger Raptor derivatives.

The controls on the Thunder and other Ranger models have also been upgraded: Ford’s Connected Touch Radio (CTR) is incorprated into an eight-inch touchscreen, which replaces the smaller four-inch display and entry-level SYNC1 system previously fitted to XLS models. The CTR infotainment system is available as an option on the XL derivatives, which also gain practical side steps as an optional extra.

“As the winner of the 2020 International Pick-up Award, the locally assembled Ford Ranger continues to set the benchmark for style, luxury and a vast array of technologies that enhance driving convenience as well as safety,” says Doreen Mashinini, general manager og marketing at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA).

“There are also several enhancements to the already impressive list of standard features on XLS and XLT models, which gives customers even greater value for money, as well as improved driving safety.”

Derived from the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, the Ranger Thunder introduces distinctive design features, such as a revised honeycomb-style front grille incorporating red accents for the side “nostrils, and 18-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels finished in black.

The load compartment includes a lockable “Mountain Top” black roller shutter to secure goods being carried. A cargo area management system features a bed divider, which allows the owner to compartmentalise the available space for securely holding different-sized items.

Ranger Thunder models are exclusively available in Sea Grey, Frozen White, Absolute Black and Moondust Silver. As with the Wildtrak and Ranger Raptor, the Thunder is powered by a 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo engine, which produces 157kW and 500Nm, and is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. 

This combination, benefits from the transmission’s Progressive Range Select (PRS) function by giving the driver the ability to lock out gears from the automatic shifting range. This makes the Ranger Thunder ideal for towing or when driving in slippery conditions or climbing steep gradients. The Ranger’s exceptional towing capacity of up to 3 500kg remains unchanged in the Thunder, as do the 800mm water wading depth and 230mm ground clearance.

On the Ranger Wildtrak, the list of factory-fitted options has been expanded to include the roller shutter for the rear load box, along with the new black finish for the 18-inch double-spoke alloy wheels.

Ranger Thunder further benefits from a raft of technologies that debuted in the current generation Wildtrak, including Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) that uses a combination of radar and camera systems, along with new software to detect pedestrians, as well as stationary and moving objects.

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Forward Collision Alert gives a visual and audible warning if the gap to the vehicle ahead falls below a critical distance. The brake system is pre-tensioned and the servo boost assistance system is modulated to provide immediate brake performance if required by the driver. The system is also able to brake the vehicle independently of the driver in an emergency if the accelerator pedal is released, helping avoid a collision or reduce the impact speed.

Lane Keeping Alert and Lane Keeping Aid are also standard on the Ranger Thunder. The Lane Keeping Alert function is designed to warn the driver by means of a vibration in the steering wheel when the forward-facing camera detects that an unintentional lane departure is likely to occur. The Lane Keeping Aid goes a step further by temporarily steering the vehicle back into the current lane. Additionally, a Driver Alert System informs the driver by means of visual, audible and vibration warnings if fatigue is detected.

Lighting upgrades for XLT, enhanced audio system for XLS

Ford has enhanced the standard lighting, and resulting driving safety, on all Ranger models from the XLT model and above with the fitment of LED headlamps across the board. The new lights incorporate LED daytime running lamps for improved visibility, as well as LED front foglamps.

The Ranger XLS line-up receives a significant upgrade to its built-in infotainment system, with the current first-generation SYNC with four-inch LCD display also replaced by a Connected Touch Radio (CTR) system, which provides improved connectivity at the lower end of the infotainment line-up.

Incorporating an eight-inch full-colour touchscreen, CTR is largely equivalent to SYNC3, with the exception of embedded navigation and voice recognition. It offers two USB slots and full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity for smartphones – including the ability to use a paired phone’s navigation functions – along with text-to-speech.

The CTR infotainment system is available as an option on Ranger XL models, which also now offer practical side steps as a factory-fitted added-cost item.

* To view the Ranger Thunder launch video on Ford South Africa’s YouTube channel, click here.