The Ford Ranger T6 redefined the midsize pick-up segment with a slew of first-in-class features when it was first introduced in 2011. What was traditionally used as a tool has now become more of a plaything, its arrival opening up the segment to a broad new range of audience who are more… free spirited, let’s just say.

Over the course of its life, the Ranger T6 received two midlife updates (one in 2015, and then 2018), one of which saw the platform get upgraded to a more sophisticated single-piece ladder frame structure, as opposed to the more rudimentary three-piece design of the original. This platform also became the base for the Everest, and later heavily modified for the first Ranger Raptor.

Having been on active duty since 2011, the Ranger T6 is admittedly a little long in the tooth. Rivals like the Isuzu D-Max, Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara and perennial adversary Toyota Hilux, were all very recently updated (the D-Max an actual full model change), so Ford has some work cut out for itself.

Enter the next-generation Ranger. Its lineage – dating as far back to 1983 – can be a little confusing, because officially, this is only the second-generation model to sit on the T6 platform (known internally as the Ranger T6.2). The new pick-up has been in development for half a decade, and the T6 architecture it sits on is completely new, with little carried over from before.

This time, the Ranger will be a true global model, one that will be sold – in various trims and configurations – in over 180 markets, including the United States. The stakes are high, and everyone is watching. Can the new Ranger once again be the most desirable midsize pick-up truck? We flew to Thailand to find out.

First, a pre-qualifier. We were only handed the keys to the Ranger Wildtrak 2.0 Bi-Turbo 4×4, which at the time was the sole engine option for the variant in the Kingdom. Ford didn’t go overboard with the specifications, so Thai customers don’t get the new 3.0 litre V6 turbodiesel, full-time four-wheel drive, the fancier e-shifter or 20-inch alloy wheels.

Those are likely reserved for other markets such as Australia and the US. Besides that, though, Ford didn’t really whittle down the Wildtrak’s equipment list, and it remains to be seen if Sime Darby Auto Connexion will be introducing the 3.0 litre oil burner. In any case, there’s a lot to look forward to, so we’ll kick things off with design.

It’s muscular, eye-catching and has incredible presence

The Wildtrak in its signature Luxe Yellow paint is a sight to behold in the flesh. The golden yellow colour is quite a few shades paler than the Saber of yore, but does plenty to contrast the Boulder Grey accents on the grille, bumper, side mirrors, fender garnish and 18-inch dark alloy wheels.

It’s more masculine now thanks to the raised bonnet line and bulging fenders, plus the dual projector Matrix LED headlights with C clamp-shaped LED daytime running lights help give it a more distinctive edge. Yes, that’s right – the Ranger now ships with Matrix LED technology, which is a first-in-class. The squared fog lamps are also LED projector units.

Further down. you’ll find dual recovery tow hooks just below the “aluminium” skid plate, but curiously, there is still none at the back. This unfortunately means off-road enthusiasts will again have to resort to aftermarket solutions, but don’t worry, Ford says there will be over 600 factory-backed accessories that you can purchase, including specialised equipment from ARB 4×4 Accessories. Would have been nice if it was standard, though.

Quality-of-life updates

In terms of utility, the new Ranger is a big step up from its predecessor, and quite a literal one at that. The integrated rear box step just aft of the rear wheels is one of our favourite exterior enhancements, which means you no longer need to step on the tyres to load or unload items. It’s structural and wide enough for an ogre’s feet, even when wearing chunky safety footwear.

Speaking of loading items, the cargo box is now 50 mm wider, which means it can finally accommodate full-sized European pallets right off a forklift. The new plastic-moulded bedliner is nicely textured and feels durable, and the rear box caps can be removed to reveal tie-down points for a variety of accessories, such as a canopy or roller shutter. Also, the third brake light has been moved to the tailgate for better visibility.

The loading bay also features two integrated power sockets (both rated at 240 volt, 400 watt), as well as C-clamp pockets in the tailgate for the occasional woodworking. Thai models don’t seem to ship with the metric ruler, but the tailgate remains assisted with tensioners, just like before.

Fanciest cockpit in its class, by far

At a glance, the Ranger’s cabin feels like it doesn’t belong in a pick-up truck, because the toys you get are practically unheard of in this segment. Taking centre stage is a slab of glass that measures 12 inches diagonally, and this one comes equipped with Ford’s SYNC 4A operating system as standard.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available for the first time on the Ranger, and a built-in e-SIM (carrier plan yet to be determined) enables over-the-air software updates, plus a WiFi hotspot as well as the FordPass smartphone app. Lesser variants will settle for a smaller 10-inch display, but comes with the same aforementioned functionalities. Insane.

The user interface is uncluttered and quite easy to get used to, and touch response is good. The bottom-most section of the screen is reserved exclusively for extended HVAC controls, but thankfully, there are still physical buttons below the display for direct AC adjustments.

The same can’t be said for activating the rear differential lock, though. This is done solely via the display, and Ford says it works just as well as a dedicated switch (they both send an electronic signal to activate a solenoid in the diff). That is until the display blows, of course.

Instrumentation has gone completely digital this time around. While it isn’t the most graphically impressive unit on the market, the eight-inch screen is still plenty fancy for a pick-up truck. The smaller binnacle is a great example of simplifying digital instrumentation, putting emphasis on function over flair.

It provides only the most useful driving data, so there’s no novel rounded analogue gauges to fill up the screen. Instead, you get a speedo readout, ADAS graphics, and a tiled section for four of your preferred driving data. The vertical rpm gauge is fixed on the left, while the fuel and temp gauges sit outside of the display. Simple.

The front seats are slightly more comfortable (better bolster and thigh support) thanks to a full redesign, and the Wildtrak gets a Qi wireless charging pad to go with the USB-C and USB-A ports.

There are rear air vents for the first time, as well as two more USB ports (also USB-C and USB-A) and a three-pin power socket. The rear bench is fairly similar in terms of seating angle and comfort to the previous Ranger, but spatial gains are negligible.

Is it really more car-like on asphalt as Ford claims?

The Ranger T6 set the bar high for on-road driving qualities when it came out, so it’s not surprising for the Blue Oval to double down on exactly that with the new model. This time, the pick-up gets twin-tube dampers (monotube previously), and the front shocks are moved to the outboard to improve ride comfort.

The dampers soak up undulations and road humps much more gracefully this time, and you can lean into corners more confidently. It’s still a tall chap (it’s a pick-up, after all), so expect the usual lateral roll, but it’s right up there with the best.

There’s no escaping the occasional thumps from the solid beam rear axle with leaf springs, but the new Ranger does feel noticeably more composed and pliant at higher speeds. Quieter too, in fact, with observably better NVH levels.

The 2.0 litre bi-turbo diesel is more refined and delivers power more linearly than before, but output is slightly down. It now makes 210 PS at 3,750 rpm and 500 Nm of torque at 1,750 to 2,000 rpm, as opposed to the older tune of 213 PS. The difference is insignificant in the real world, but what’s important to note is the engine is claimed to be more reliable now, and that the oil leak issue has been resolved with better gaskets design.

Gearshifts on the 10R80 10-speeder feel more seamless this time thanks to a brand new torque converter and tighter gearing, the latter resulting in better responsiveness off the line. Ford also made sure to beef up the gearbox for better durability, but at the same time managed to make it weigh less.

Off-road? No sweat

The Ranger’s impressive duality is mostly what seals the deal for customers, and what they wanted this time is for the pick-up to offer even better off-road performance. First, the front wheels have been moved 50 mm forward, increasing its approach angle from 28.5 to 30 degrees and departure angle from 21 to 23 degrees. All four wheels are also pushed 50 mm outwards, improving high-speed driving and cornering stability, as well as promoting greater axle articulation. Wading depth remains unchanged at 800 mm, by the way.

Further conveniences are afforded by the 360-degree surround view camera system (replete with an aerial frontal view), and the 4WD Terrain Management System features upgraded logic to make light work of your off-road endeavours. We drove the Ranger through thick silt and clay without breaking a sweat, and it did so on regular street tyres.

The lack of a full-time four-wheel drive mode on our tester means the Triton continues to be uncontested in the segment, though that could change with the arrival of the Ranger Raptor, or the higher-spec Wildtrak with the 3.0 litre V6 turbodiesel. Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for the good old 2H, 4H and 4L modes.

The new Ranger is right back at the top of the game

Objectively, the all-new Ranger has been improved in nearly all aspects as a pick-up truck. It looks better inside and out, drives more competently on any terrain, and now matches the D-Max with regards to advanced driving aids and safety systems.

The Wildtrak bi-turbo gets seven airbags, front and rear AEB, intelligent adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, lane keeping assist with road edge protection, blind spot monitoring system, as well as rear cross-traffic alert with auto brake. These features may seem pointless for hardcore off-road enthusiasts, but are actually great to have for urbanites, especially for a vehicle of this size.

Personally, it’s the complete package, and the top Wildtrak is likely as good as it gets. There won’t be a fancier pick-up than the Ford Ranger to come to Malaysia anytime soon, so if you ask us, the Ranger is once again the most desirable model in its segment.

UPDATE: The 2022 Ford Ranger has been officially launched in Malaysia, and arrives in XL, XLT, XLT Plus and Wildtrak variant forms. Read the launch report here.