Impressive off-road and doubles as a family car
Would a family-friendly double-cab ute fit two motorbikes on its tray? There's only one way to find out. Enter stage right, Ford's XLT double-cab diesel auto, with wellside tray and - oops, an after-market $2200 hard tonneau.
It's lockable, and great for securing chainsaws and other valuables, but not too good with motorbikes to carry.
So let's start by saying it's a fiddle to remove, and not easy without two people. The brackets holding it on aren't fixed to the tray rail either, but slide off, so putting it back's just as fiddly. It's also too easy to scratch the wellside rim as you lift the lid on or off - not that worrying when you see how much it's rubbing the paint anyway. Shame the fit doesn't come with a protective layer of plastic for the wellside top, but there we go.
Loading the two bikes - big trailies - was a cinch, though the tray liner was a lot more slippery when wet than expected. Four sturdy tie-down hooks are standard.
We could have put the rest of the gear in the back, but with no kids for the weekend we folded the rear seatback down. There are predrilled holes for tether bolts back there, and a luggage-friendly surface that turns the rear seat into a boot without dirtying the cushion.
Heading north, we were initially impressed with the torquey, 115kW/380Nm 3.0-litre diesel motor which pulls well from 1400rpm and on up. It's smoother than expected on the open road, the variable vane turbo cutting lag, the five speed auto keeping it in the sweet spot.
Four-wheel-drive high and low range are available at the twist of a dial, and previous experience reminds me the Ranger is impressive off road, where its ladder frame chassis, limited slip diff and low-rpm torque come into play.
On-road handling is still very much truck-like, but not unacceptably so, and not surprisingly the XLT felt more planted with a load aboard.
Meanwhile the cabin layout eased our trip. The document drawer was great for tucking iPods out of sight when we stopped, and they plug in next to a cubby and power socket (one of two) when you're using them. There were more than enough storage places to accommodate travel detritus, plus four cupholders. And the seats, which look basic, proved sufficiently comfy not only for our long drive north, but for the equally long drive home with bike-stiffened muscles.
Spec is lineball with many cars - including ABS brakes, four airbags and air con. You pay for it of course, with a retail of $54,490 at time of writing. A lot? Not if you need a family car that can double as a workhorse and head into the rough, while carrying this much gear - and towing 2.5 tons.
Really my only reservation was that tonneau; handsome, if a tad pricey, and undeniably useful if you carry valuables and don't mind the rubbed paint. But it's a fiddle otherwise - motorbike nuts like me will stick with the soft tonneau at $677 plus one hour fitment, or save some money and go without.