Seven good things about your Ford Ranger

Facets of a Ford Ranger ute: Capacious, comfortable, capable and convenient.
Facets of a Ford Ranger ute: Capacious, comfortable, capable and convenient.

You know you're in big trouble when you drive for more than three hours in summer heat to your camping destination, only to discover on your arrival that you've left your tent poles at home.

I did exactly that in January. I'd reversed my Ford Ranger XLT Super Cab into the entrance of our carshed, rejoiced in how easily the big ute had swallowed the truckload of camping stuff loaded onto its wellside deck, and accelerated off to the Waikato harbour township of Raglan to enjoy a fortnight in the family tent.

About four hours later, I was driving home again, because I had journeyed to Raglan sans the tent poles. Pretty important items, those - it's impossible to erect a tent without them. And so there was no choice, but to climb back into the Ranger and, fuming, head back to base to collect those damned poles.

The Ford Ranger ute: Plenty of room for the important things in life.
The Ford Ranger ute: Plenty of room for the important things in life.

But they say that every dark cloud has a silver lining. In this case, there were several silver linings, in fact. For example, the big delay meant we could erect our tent in the cool of the evening rather than the heat of the day. By then, our camping buddies had already put their tents up and could help. Their beer had also sufficiently chilled down in their tent fridges.

And the return journey also meant several more hours behind the wheel of a very good ute. In fact, the Ford Ranger is so good that it has just won the International Pick-Up Award 2013 after an extensive testing programme in England - and the points it received from the judges were more than the combined number of points garnered by the second- and third-placed Suzuki D-Max and Volkswagen Amarok.

Remember, this is a vehicle that 12 months ago was named Car of the Year by Fairfax-owned New Zealand Autocar magazine. That caused plenty of strife among members of the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild because guild rules precluded utes from being considered for New Zealand Car of the Year because officially they are commercial vehicles.

Thankfully, those rules have now been changed and utes can now be considered. That's just as well, because thousands of Kiwi motorists are now choosing modern-day utes as their vehicles of choice for everyday family motoring, primarily because they are so versatile and comfortable.

Maybe there's no better way to bring this versatility and comfort into sharper focus than by taking a ute on a camping holiday. So let's look at Seven Good Reasons why the Ford Ranger XLT Super Cab proved ideal for the job.

1) A truckload of load space.

Those who do camping - particularly the husbands among us - will know that while in theory it should be a minimalist exercise with little paraphernalia required, the reality is nothing like that, and heaps of equipment needs to be taken along.

All this means that the more vehicle load space on offer, the better.

This Ranger has plenty of that. Being a Super Cab model, which is a cab-and-a-half, means that the wellside deck is more than 1.8m long. That's 300mm more than the deck behind a double-cab model. The deck is also a substantial 51cm deep.

All this meant the Ranger just kept swallowing up the family car. Tent, carpets and mats, tables, chairs, fridge, chilly bins, barbecue, golf clubs, fishing rods, bedding and clothing all just piled in. There would even have been ample room remaining to take the tent poles - if we'd remembered.

My only criticism of the load space at the rear of the Ranger XLT is that it only has four tie- down points - and they are located at the bottom of the inside of the wellside. This means that once you have loaded the ute, it's darned near impossible to access those tie- down points to secure the load. I don't think I'd ever bother owning a ute that didn't have tie-downs on the outside of the wellside.

2) Oodles of Grunt

Under the Ranger's big bonnet is a 3.2-litre in-line five-cylinder turbo-diesel that offers 147 kilowatts of power and, more importantly, 470 Newton metres of torque. That torque is from just 1500 rpm too, which means this ute has real grunt.

In fact, there's so much low- down torque available that it is possible to take off from a standing start in sixth gear in the manual transmission models. My camping vehicle was an auto so I couldn't try out that little stunt, but I have done it before.

The torque also means the Ranger is a lovely ute to drive out on the open road. It offers long- legged and lazy performance, which meant it really wasn't too much of a strain to head back to pick up those tent poles. Fuel consumption was good too, at around 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres.

3) Ability off the Road

Under normal circumstances, the Ranger operates in rear-wheel drive, but this can be changed into four-wheel drive - both high and low ratios - while the ute is still moving. It's all done by dialling in a rotating knob located on the centre console.

The 4WD models also have an electronic locking-gear differential for the real down-and-dirty work. This feature is activated by a button on the dashboard.

All this meant the Ranger proved very useful. The power and torque available from the engine meant it offered plenty of toe for on-road operation, and it offered plenty of grunt of a different sort when the times came to get away from the campsite and find some rough stuff to traverse in Tainui country.

4) Comfortable, too

Well, the Ranger Super Cab is comfortable for those in the front seats. Even though there are back seats available, they're only there to carry additional people for short periods of time.

But up front, it's a different story. Since the Ranger is intended as a "world" ute and therefore on sale in the USA where plenty of seriously big men drive pickup trucks, the front seats are big and comfortable.

Specification is also very good, with standard items including dual-zone climate-control air conditioning, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, leather steering wheel and gearshift, and even a centre console with a compartment that can be used as a cooler. Just the ticket for keeping the beers cool!

5) Cabin Security

The rear doors in the Super-Cab version of the Ranger used to be known as "suicide" doors because they open backwards - people used to call them that because if they opened them while a vehicle was moving, the slipstream could pull them wide open and fling the poor old door-opener out onto the road.

But intelligent design means this is now not the case with the Ranger.

Pillarless cabin design means the front doors cannot be closed until the rear doors have been closed first - and obviously the rear doors can't be opened until the front doors have been opened first.

It's all so access to the little rear seats can be made easier. During our camping holiday, I found the whole setup very useful, because the Super Cab design allowed me to store under lock and key on the back seats really valuable items such as golf clubs.

6) Ute Protects Tents

It's impossible to go on a two- week camping holiday on the west coasts of either of our main islands and not have at least a couple of days of rough weather. It happened to us - on a couple of occasions a powerful wind blasted through the Raglan Harbour entrance and seriously buffeted the tents.

No trouble, though. We simply parked the big slab-sided Ranger so that not only did its wheels sit on top of pegs holding important guy ropes in position, but also so it offered some shelter from the wind. And then it was a matter of covering our ears with a set of those flash new noise-cancelling headphones, and go to bed with a good book.

7) Play-pen for Kids

The wellside deck of our Ranger was covered in a sturdy plastic liner, and it wasn't long before Beau, the grandson of one of the couples on our camping holiday, discovered it to be the perfect play- pen. He could safely crawl around in there, and play peek-a-boo with anyone who was nearby.

And maybe that was the best proof of all that when it comes to lifestyle, modern-day utes such as the Ford Ranger are ideal for all sorts of uses!