You know you're in big trouble when you drive for more than three hours in the summer heat to your camping destination, only to discover on your arrival that you've left your tent poles at home.
I did that last month. I had reversed my Ford Ranger XLT Super Cab into the entrance of our car shed, rejoiced in how easily the big ute swallowed the truckload of camping gear 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 without the tent poles.
However, they say that every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, there were several silver linings. 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 up their tents and could help. Their beer was also sufficiently chilled in their tent fridges.
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.
A year ago, this vehicle was named Car of the Year by Fairfax-owned New Zealand Autocar magazine, which caused plenty of controversy among members of the New Zealand Motoring Writers' Guild, whose rules precluded utes from being considered for New Zealand Car of the Year, because officially they are commercial vehicles.
Thankfully, those rules have been changed and utes can now be considered.
Maybe there is no better way to demonstrate their versatility and comfort 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. Truckload of space for gear.
Those who go 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 1.8 metres long, which is 300mm more than the deck behind a double-cab model. The deck is also a substantial 51cm deep.
Tent, carpets and mats, tables, chairs, fridge, chilly bins, barbecue, golf clubs, fishing rods, bedding and clothing all piled in.
There would even have been ample room remaining to take the tent poles, if we had remembered.
My only criticism of the load space at the rear of the Ranger is that it only has four tie-down points, and they are at the bottom of the inside of the wellside.
This means that once you have loaded the ute, it's almost impossible to access those tie- down points to secure the load.
I don't think I'd ever own 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 turbodiesel that offers 147 kilowatts of power and, more importantly, 470 newton metres of torque. That torque is from just 1500rpm too, which means this ute has real grunt.
In fact, so much low-down torque is 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 automatic, so I couldn't try that stunt, but I have done it before.
The torque also means that the Ranger is lovely to drive on the open road. It offers long-legged and lazy performance, so it wasn't much of a strain to head back home to pick up those tent poles.
Fuel consumption was good too, at about 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres.
3. Good ability off 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 four-wheel-drive models also have an electronic locking gear differential for the real down-and-dirty work, activated by a button on the dashboard.
All this meant the Ranger proved very useful. The power and torque available from the engine offered plenty of muscle for on-road operation, and it offered grunt of a different sort when it was time to get away from the campsite and find rough stuff to traverse in Tainui country.
4. Comfort up front.
The Ranger Super Cab is comfortable for those in the front seats. Even though there are back seats available, they are there only to carry additional people for short periods.
But up front it's a different story. Since the Ranger is intended as a world ute and therefore on sale in the United States, where plenty of big men drive pickup trucks, the front seats are big and comfortable.
Its specifications are also very good, with standard items including dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, rain- sensing windscreen wipers, a 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.
If they were opened while the vehicle was moving, the slipstream could pull them wide open and fling the 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 setup very useful, because the design allowed me to store under lock and key on the back seats 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 the pegs holding the important guy ropes in position, but also so it offered shelter from the wind.
7. Playpen for kids.
The wellside deck of our Ranger was covered with a sturdy plastic liner, and it wasn't long before Beau, the grandson of one of the couples on our camping holiday, discovered it was the perfect playpen.
He could safely crawl around in there and play peek-a-boo with anyone who was nearby.
Maybe that was the best proof of all that modern-day utes such as the Ford Ranger are ideal for all sorts of uses.
- © Fairfax NZ News