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Wheels of the Week: Ford Ranger XLT gets the job done

It’s not intended to be the most luxurious of the next-gen Ranger series, but brings high-tech to a workhorse, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The Ford Ranger XLT is not intended to prance around looking pretty, but rather to get serious jobs done. It is one of the true workhorses of the next-gen Ranger series, yet is not short on high-tech features.

The on board technology is striking from two perspectives. To start, the infotainment system is housed between two distinctive air vents made of satin aluminium, with a design that echoes the grill of a truck. It is almost  as if Ford wants to reassure the driver that, just because the car embraces the digital revolution, it is still intended to be a tough and uncompromising slogger.

Having said that, the portrait format of the infotainment screen, which has been embraced across all next-gen Ranger and Everest models, is generally more practical than the landscape style that is standard on most high-end vehicles (aside from the Volvo).

Because its shape mirrors that of a smartphone, it offers an air of familiarity to first-time infotainment users. With even the most technophobic Ranger driver probably having a smartphone, it won’t be a culture shock.

Interestingly, when we had passengers in the car who happened to be iPhone users, they commented on it having the feel of an iPhone, while a Samsung user made the same comment about Android. Both Android Auto and Apple Car Play connected wirelessly – and seamlessly – to the system. That meant we had ready access, via the car, to anything from Google Maps and Waze to Spotify and WhatsApp.

The system comes with Ford’s Sync 4 built in, so one can get by without Android and Apple, but it suffers from the same drawback as every other infotainment system on the market, namely its inability to keep up with what a smartphone can deliver.

It must be said, however, that voice integration has come a long way, and the voice control button on the steering wheel actually works. Ford has learned from the smartphone folk, and introduced a wake word, so that one does not inadvertently activate it. The wake word can be set inside the Settings/Ford Assistant/Preferred Wake Word menu, so that one can “Hello Ford” as readily as “Hey Google” or “Hey Siri”.

That in turn allows one to control Sync 4 features by voice, including setting climate controls, navigating to an address, or making a call. The recognised phrases have expanded and can be customised.

The driver instrument cluster can also be customised, depending if one prefers to monitor navigation, fuel efficiency, off-road status, or the trip computer, for example. The extensive steering wheel controls include the ability to set one’s own shortcuts to these preferred views.

The vehicle itself is a heavyweight, easily demolishing anything in its way, but also tough to manoeuvre in tight spots. This makes it useful – even essential – to have reverse cameras and rear park distance control.

Front collision warning worked especially well when a car ahead suddenly braked for an “informal points-man” at an out-of-order traffic light. That makes it surprising the vehicle does not include adaptive or active cruise control, which relies on similar technology. It also does not have lane-departure warnings, which probably are not needed on construction sites or farms.

Aside from the infotainment screen and instrument cluster, tech is kept to an absolute minimum. A solitary pair of USB-A and USB-C ports offer plug-in power, with a wireless charging pad a surprising nod to the future.

Oh and about getting the job done? Not being in the construction or farming business, we chose instead to go to a farm market with the XLT. Aside from it fitting right in alongside all the bakkies and 4X4s, it also proved to be a solid choice for transporting produce in the back.

A durable plastic bed with a grip texture and wide grooves meant that everything remained firmly in place during a one-hour-ride from farm road to dirt road to tar road. Even an open box of tomatoes did not suffer a single spillage. One could put that down to good driving, but there’s no doubt the XLT would want some of the credit for a job well done.

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