Tow test: Ford Ranger XLT 2.0L dual cab 4x4

Tow test: Ford Ranger XLT 2.0L dual cab 4x4

Written by: Tony O’Kane; Photography: Ted Airey and Tony O'Kane

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Tony O’Kane takes a Ford Ranger XLT 4x4 dual cab ute out for a tow test to see if it has the muscle to pull a heavy van.

‘More with less’ — that’s the credo of the modern ute. As displacements descend from the hairy-chested V8s, V6s and big-cube fours and fives of years past, the modern paradigm of low-displacement, high-boost turbodiesels is one that appears to be serving the segment well.

But when time comes to hook a few tonnes to the rear and go make some memories on the open road, there still seems to be a certain degree of angst about small powertrains and their ability to handle big loads for long distances. Is a low-displacement engine that leans heavily on its turbo really more efficient than a big-n-lazy V6 or V8 equivalent? Does it have the muscle to lug a heavy van up a grade?

We grabbed a 17ft Jayco Starcraft and connected it to an auto-equipped Ford Ranger XLT dual cab 4x4 to find out.

What was on offer

The XLT grade straddles the line between the workhorse XL/XLS and the luxe-truck Wildtrak/Platinum grades, priced at $63,640 in 2.0L diesel dual cab 4x4 form. (A more powerful 3.0L V6 diesel engine is available for an additional cost of $5200, while a 2.0L Space Cab option trims $2000 from the dual cab’s asking price if you don’t need a full-sized back seat.)

The Ranger XLT has a well-rounded feature set, with all of the expected must-haves covered. You get carpet rather than vinyl flooring, a leather-wrapped steering wheel instead of bare urethane, an electronic parking brake that frees up some centre console real estate, and though the seat upholstery is cloth, it feels durable and has a two-tone fabric with contrast stitching to break up the otherwise dark cabin.

And while the Ranger XLT misses out on the massive 12in infotainment display of the Wildtrak and Platinum, its 10.1in display nevertheless has plenty of screen space to present maps, music and the like clearly and legibly. Mercifully, Ford has also resisted the urge to cluster the ventilation controls and volume knob in the screen, instead putting those controls on a physical switch block below the screen. This also makes it a lot easier to adjust temperatures and volume by feel alone.

Other standout features include dual zone climate control, intelligent adaptive cruise control with traffic sign recognition, lane keep assist with road edge detection, LED headlamps, wireless smartphone mirroring and an 8in digital instrument cluster.

In the tub, you’ll find a bedliner and plastic box capping on the top edges to protect the steel against damage, sturdy tie-down points to secure cargo, captive nuts on the sides to mount accessories, while an integrated box step on the rear corners helps you step up into the tub. A black powder coated sports bar is standard, as is a towbar with integrated brake controller.

How did it tow? 

At the time we did our test, Ford was in the midst of changing its Ranger portfolio over to the updated MY24.5 spec. As such, our ute was missing one feature in particular that might make a tower’s life easier: Pro Trailer Backup Assist. Introduced to Australia with the arrival of the 2023 Ford F-150, Pro Trailer Backup Assist allows reversing a trailer to be done almost entirely via a jog wheel on the dash, with the driver simply telling the car what direction they want the trailer to take with the car figuring out the correct steering input. Handy, though maybe don’t tell your friends that it’s the reason you nailed your last precision parking manoeuvre.

Out on the road, the Ranger XLT felt perfectly at ease pulling the 1880kg (tare) Jayco Starcraft, utilising just 54 per cent of its maximum towing capacity and leaving plenty of headroom in the GCM (gross combined mass) for people, fuel and other cargo. A nice quality-of-life feature in the Ranger XLT is its factory-fitted integrated trailer brake controller, which not only means there’s one less accessory to buy, but that there’s also no need to dig into the guts of your dash to fit one.

It’s clear that Ford understands what its Ranger customers like to do, and towing is definitely something the Ranger XLT excels at. Does the 154kW/500Nm 2.0L get wheezy when a heavy load is attached? The Starcraft certainly didn’t faze it. The Ranger XLT might have a small displacement, but its twin turbo setup blows enough boost to generate that stout 500Nm figure between 1750–2000rpm which, in combination with the sheer ratio spread of its 10-speed automatic transmission, means it has an abundance of at-the-wheel torque to work with.

Yep, prolonged grades, even mild ones, saw it drop a couple of ratios to sustain a 100km/h cruise, but it rarely ever felt like it was pulling more than it could handle. Furthermore, the shift mapping is intelligent enough to give driver’s few reasons to start selecting gears manually — which is good, because the tiny rocker switch on the side gear knob is one of the worst interfaces for a manual mode on an automatic.

Tyres

Fitted with Bridgestone Dueler all-terrains in 255/70 R17, the tyres of our tester were arguably over spec for our entirely tarmac-bound test drive. Nevertheless, grip was abundant on sealed roads and should perform well on rural roads and different weather conditions. Road noise was never an issue — the diesel grumble of the 2.0-litre up front was more audible than the tyres were.

Fuel consumption and driving

The Ranger XLT is a fan favourite for many reasons, but chief among them is its docile, car-like handling. It’s so easy to pilot around town and feels even better suited to road driving than some unibody SUVs. Those easy-going attributes remain when a heavy caravan is coupled to the towbar — obviously with the additional heft blunting straight-line acceleration, extending braking distances and giving the gearbox logic more shifting to do — but the Ranger XLT copes with it very well.

And, over a 600km route that encompassed plenty of highway but also a lot of elevation change and twisting low-speed B-roads along the Great Ocean Road, the four-pot Ranger XLT managed to deliver a remarkable 13.8L/100km average fuel burn. That’s a stellar result. Granted, lower average speeds along the coastal part of the route would have helped reduce the drag’s influence on the fuel figures, but the substantial climbs arguably would have balanced that out.

Whatever the case, that’s a hugely impressive economy number for a heavy ute/van combo to achieve, and if you were wondering whether to spec your XLT with the 2.0L or the 3.0L V6, the four-pot’s efficiency may well be the deciding factor. When we tested the Ranger V6, the best we saw on highway running with a caravan in tow was 16–18L/100km. Considering the 2.0L feels so amenable and has a substantial fuel economy advantage, it begs the question — why bother with the V6?

Safety and comfort

Being the XLT grade, the front seats are manually adjusted but offer good support with the driver also receiving height and lumbar adjustment. The driving position is also superb, with a great wheel–pedal–seat relationship and plenty of adjustment margin to cater to pretty much any body size. Clip-on mirrors were needed to see past the flanks of the Starcraft, but that would be true of pretty much any other ute in this size class.

Safety equipment is generous, and comprises nine airbags, active cruise control (which also works right up until a dead stop), lane keep assist, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), a rearview camera and blind spot monitoring. The blind spot monitoring system also deserves a specific mention, as it’s able to cover the distance occupied by a trailer, provided the trailer is no more than 2.4m (7 ft 9in) wide and extends no further than 10m (f32ft 8in) from the rear bumper, and a profile for it has been created within the infotainment system’s ‘towing’ sub-menu — a very handy feature that dramatically improves safety on highway driving.

The wrap

It’s not hard to see why the Ranger XLT is a favourite tow rig, but what’s truly impressive is just how suited the ‘small’ engine is to the task of lugging a big caravan. Displacement isn’t everything, and it feels every bit as muscular and tractable as big-cube four-pot turbo diesels while also delivering incredible fuel economy figures. Do you really need the extra 30kW and 100Nm of the optional 3.0L V6? Maybe try the 2.0L first and see if it’s up to the task — it may very well surprise you.

MEASURING UP

Hits

  • Strong performance
  • Even stronger economy
  • Heaps of tow-specific features

Misses 

  • $63k is a fair bit to pay for a mid-spec ute

FORD RANGER XLT 2.0L DUAL CAB 4X4 RATINGS

Value for money 7/10
Considering this isn’t even close to the top of the Ranger tree, $63k for the XLT 2.0L is on the steep side

Towing performance 6/10
It might not feel as lazy and relaxed as the V6, but the Ranger’s 2.0L still shrugs off a big load. The integrated brake controller is a win too

Hitching up 8/10
Not a challenge with the high-mounted reversing camera. Integrated remote trailer light check is fantastic too, as is the ability to store trailer dimension profiles in the computer

Creature comforts 6/10
More utilitarian than the Ranger Wildtrak, but all of the basics are there.

Accessibility of spare parts 10/10
With a massive dealer footprint and the sheer popularity of the Ranger, getting parts should be no challenge

Fuel economy 10/10
Achieving 13.8L per 100km while towing is so staggeringly good we forgive you if you don’t believe it

Solo performance 8/10
Car-like driveability is a Ranger hallmark

Engine power 8/10
It’s literally ‘the little engine that could’

Innovation 8/10
Integrated brake controller, trailer-compatible blind spot monitoring, built-in height limit GPS routing and now a reverse towing assist mode — the Ranger’s suite of towing aids and driver-assist features is commendable.

X-Factor 8/10
The fact you get all of this capability in a mid-range ute is deeply impressive

FORD RANGER XLT 2.0L DUAL CAB 4X4 SPECS

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

Length  5370mm (5.4m / 17ft 6in)
Width    1918mm (1.9m / 6ft 2in)
Height   1886mm (1.9m / 6ft 2in)
Wheelbase  3270mm (3.3m / 10ft 7in)
Ground clearance (at kerb weight) 234mm (9in)
Kerb mass 2276kg
Gross vehicle mass 3230kg
Gross combined mass 6350kg
Towing capacity Unbraked: 3500kg
Braked: 750kg
Towball (max) 350kg


DRIVETRAIN

Engine   2.0L I4 turbocharged diesel
Transmission  10-speed automatic with two-speed 4WD transfer case
Power   154kW at 3750rpm
Torque  500Nm from 1750–2000rpm


GENERAL

Fuel capacity  80L
Suspension  Front: Independent, coils, sway bar
Rear: Multi-link solid axle    
Brakes  Front and rear vented discs
Wheels  17in alloy with 255/70 R17 Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tyres
Warranty  Five years / unlimited kilometres


More information
Ford Australia
P: 13 3673

Ford Ranger XLT 2.0L dual cab 4x4 price $63,640 (approx.)

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Don't miss the next towing vehicle focused feature in this series focused on all things tow vehicle: A guide to choosing a dual cab ute

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