This will be an exciting year for the pick-up truck segment. Malaysia will get the Chevrolet Colorado, which we recently drove in Thailand, and Mitsubishi’s Triton VGT should be coming real soon. Already starring in roadshows, mid year will see the launch of the all new Ford Ranger, our topic of discussion here.

We first laid eyes on the handsome new Ranger (code named T6) in March last year, when Ford gave it an ASEAN debut at the Bangkok Motor Show. Production of the Ranger is ongoing as we speak, having already had a Job 1 Ceremony at the AutoAlliance Thailand (AAT) Rayong plant.

Thailand, as one of the few production hubs for the model (others are South Africa and Argentina), will naturally get the first batch. Our turn, according to Sime Darby Auto Connexion, will be the middle of this year, but the company has already started promoting the truck. There’s also the Malaysian leg of the Global Ranger Challenge, where you can win one for yourself.

How does the new Ranger fare against the current crop of trucks? Does it slot in or above? Full report after the jump.

As mentioned, we first saw the T6 Ranger in the metal at last year’s Bangkok Motor Show, where many in the regional press pack were wowed by the T6’s modern good looks and macho style. It’s much bigger than the old one, too, and with the hardware to bring Ford back to the top of the pickup pack.

At 5,359 mm long, the T6 is a substantial 186 mm longer than the old Ranger. And to maximise cabin size, the double cab’s wheelbase now measures a class-leading 3,220 mm, which is 220 mm longer than before. This can only be a good thing, since the ageing Ranger’s rear quarters has been exposed to be tight and hard to access by newer, bigger rivals such as the Hilux and Triton.

When it arrives, the Ranger will be the biggest truck in town, eclipsing current big guy Nissan Navara for size. But Ford designers have made the most of the bulk on offer – instead of appearing big and clumsy, the T6 is handsome and imposing, retaining the customary ‘Built Ford Tough’ machoness of the name despite being more rounded (check out the rake of the windshield) and thoroughly modern in outlook. To these eyes, it’s easily the best looking truck on sale today.

Good looks aside, let’s not forget that many still use trucks as workhorses or dual purpose machines. Along with the larger cab, the T6 boasts a bigger bed as well – L x W x H dimensions are 1,549 x 1,560 x 511 mm, versus 1,530 x 1,458 x 465 mm, so it’s a gain for all.

The truck class may be ‘one-tonne,’ but the Ranger can haul up to 1,333 kg, and the vehicle’s maximum tow rating tops out at 3,350 kg. Ford says the Ranger’s frame is twice as stiff as the previous model.

More importantly, the T6 Ranger is a great truck to drive, and the experience behind the wheel is significantly different from the truck it replaces. For one, the driver’s seat offers a much higher and commanding view than in the old Ranger, and there’s no escaping the feel that you’re driving something really big. And as usual for Ford, the seats are good in terms of position and support, which is not a “standard feature” in this segment.

Speaking of comfort, the old Ranger’s small rear door and tight rear quarters handicap has been eliminated. With the new shape, access is so much easier and head/legroom is good, even for the tall.

The truck’s height mean that it’s quite a climb for the less mobile, but the Ranger is now finally on par with the Triton and Hilux in this. I also like the fact that the bench isn’t set too low, hides two “secret compartments” and has a pouch in the middle for mobile phones.

Back to the driver’s seat, it doesn’t take long to notice the crisp, more direct steering. This more “connected” rack combines with a much firmer ride to give the Ranger surprisingly good handling. It doesn’t feel nervous when you turn up the wick and body control is better than expected. The Ranger is a more precise tool than before, without a doubt. The stiffer ride works well on tarmac, but not so much off road, where jolts pierce harder than before.

Of the two coming soon trucks, the Chevrolet Colorado is the hooligan – brash, but great fun in the right mood – whereas the Ranger is the polished performer, at least that’s what I felt driving both on the hilly roads around Chiang Rai.

If the handling has seen a change for the better, the NVH (that’s noise, vibration and harshness) has taken a quantum leap. The Ranger T6 is by far the most refined pick-up truck in town, and highway cruising is as serene as you’d hope for. We consciously tried to pick up noises by turning off the stereo and going pass the highway limit, which says it all.

By the way, achieving good NVH in a truck is much harder than in a car, since they have to fight a brick like shape, diesel engines and knobbly off road capable tyres. A great achievement, this.

After the handling and NVH, the 150 PS/375 Nm 2.2L Duratorq TDCi engine itself doesn’t stand out so much for me, but it’s quietly competent. The VG Turbo equipped mill provides good take off acceleration, is flexible enough and works smoother and quieter than many rival diesels we can think off – and because it’s 0.3 litres smaller than the regular truck engine size, you pay less road tax as well.

The 200 PS/470 Nm 3.2L five-cylinder TDCi powering the Wildtrak is much stronger, but the 2.2L is all the engine you need, really. My dream combo will be the Wildtrak’s visual appeal with the 2.2L engine.

The automatic transmission is similarly inconspicuous, which is a good thing for a self-shifting gearbox. More outstanding is the six-speed manual gearbox we sampled, which has an unusually short throw and nice snick snack action for a truck. We didn’t expect such a “sporty feel”, but hey, no complaints! Nice knob, too.

No complaints on the cabin as well. While the Colorado tries harder to be modern and flash at the expense of ease of use and legibility, the Ranger’s dashboard is more clear and cohesive, while maintaining the sport/tough (think G-Shock) theme. There’s some cool detailing going on too if you look harder, on the right dial’s cowl, for instance.

Storage is a strong point here, since the glove box can swallow up a 16-inch laptop flat. The door pockets can fit 1.5 litre bottles and if you have more stuff, the 8.5 litre centre console bin will do the job. Plenty of cubbies too, and there’s a handy tray below the air-con controls and two power points.

I’m not much of a truck guy, but this is one truck I’d consider owning (800 mm water wading capability good to fight flash floods), more than any other one-tonner on sale today. It’s so complete, we can’t think of anything to find fault with except for the overly hard off road ride. The clincher is the five-star rating from Euro NCAP in a segment lagging behind in terms of safety.

In terms of sales – as great as the T6 may be, we doubt that it will unseat the Hilux as the top selling truck in Malaysia. But product-wise, you’re looking at the new class leader!