The friend who conveyed her opinion of the Ranger parked outside my house by texting, "Nice Jeep!" may not have endeared herself to Ford's marketing department, but at least her view was positive. So was that of a chap who owns a previous-generation Ranger and came over at a petrol station to sniff around this one. And so - not to keep a secret from you any longer than necessary - was mine.
I quite liked the previous Ranger, last updated in 2009, but the new one is as if from a different world. Relatively minor details such as a proper handbrake in the right place (rather than an umbrella handle buried somewhere in the footwell) and a cabin which can easily seat four large adults are merely the start of it.
This is also a very large pickup, by rest-of-the-world standards if not North American ones, with a loadspace that's nearly 1.6 metres long and just over 1.1 metres wide between the wheelarches. And a towing limit with a braked trailer of 3350kg puts it in the premier league for vehicles of this type.
If you need to do serious off-roading, you can. I spent an hour taking this Ranger over a friendly hill farmer's land, the most challenging route I'm prepared to attempt without expert supervision, and the Ranger just lapped it up. Okay, it stalled twice, but that was down to me. If you are better at this sort of thing than I am - an entirely possible state of affairs - you wouldn't have stalled at all.
The very friendly nature of the 197bhp 3.2-litre diesel engine was a big help here, and it was also a plus on tarmac. It performs so well at low speeds that to rev it beyond 2000rpm seems a wilful extravagance in most circumstances (except on the motorway, where 70mph in sixth requires it to turn over at about 2200).
If you drive the Ranger that way, fuel economy can be surprisingly good. On the official EU combined cycle, an unladen example with this engine manages 28.3mpg, which happens to be exactly the same as a Ranger using the alternative 147bhp 2.2-litre diesel, but my average for this test was 33mpg. And although I wasn't revving it, I didn't feel I was going particularly slowly either.
That's largely because I didn't need to. Not many years ago, I would have been wary of even sitting in such a powerful pickup, suspecting that it would jump sideways every time I put my foot near the accelerator pedal. But the Ranger never showed any sign of doing this, even under such provocation as I was prepared to give it.
It would be unwise to carry the experiment too far, of course, but I reckon it took me only about a minute longer to drive along a familiar 25-mile A-road than would have been the case with a regular family car.
Aren't pickups horribly dangerous, though? Well, you do have to be careful with them, certainly. On the other hand, Euro NCAP gave the Ranger an absolutely glowing review, giving it five stars overall (a thing it has never done with any previous pickup) and rating it at 96% for adult occupant protection, 86% for child occupant protection, 81% for pedestrian protection and 71% for safety assist, which covers safety technology.
Euro NCAP always makes it clear that its ratings for one type of vehicle can't be directly compared with those for another, but this is none the less a very fine performance. And that's as it should be, since the Ranger is itself a very fine piece of work.
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