Comparison test: Triton VGT vs Ford Ranger 2.2 XLT
It has been almost 20 years since pick-up trucks started to be popular among Malaysian motorists and during this time we have seen how they have evolved from lowly beasts of burden to become swaggering lifestyle symbols.
This transition can be said to have taken place over three distinct epochs. The “First Generation” began with the coming of the original Courier/Ranger, Storm and Invader in the 90s. Then in mid 2005 onwards we saw the Triton, Hilux Vigo, Frontier and D-Max marking the “Second Generation”.
This was a time when creature comforts began to creep in and styling became softer and less utilitarian. With the recent introduction of the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger T6 and Mazda BT-50, the “Third Generation” has come forth. This new breed offers even more car-like interiors and mod cons, together with new engines and safety technologies.
In this playoff test, we pitted two opposite ends of the scale: on one hand the most expensive incarnation of a Gen2 truck – the Triton VGT; and the other the baseline version of a Gen3 candidate – the Ford Ranger 2.2 XLT.
How then does one of the best incarnations of a vehicle of the second era perform against an entry-level machine of the third?
THE OLD HAND - Triton VGT
When launched nearly seven years ago, the Mitsubishi Triton caused a stir among Malaysian pick-up fans. It was (and still is) one of the most distinctly styled trucks on the road and the trademark half crescent rear door and unmistakable Storm trooper face have become design icons in their own right.
At RM103,888 OTR, the VGT variant comes in as the most expensive Triton in the range.
This upscale variant is virtually indistinguishable from its standard brethren. Apart from the extra badging at the rear, the changes are subtle but tasteful. There is a new front bumper underguard, and the faux rollover bar is now black. The rear bumper has been tidied up and is now a solid chrome item compared to the strange circular reflectors of old.
New 17-inch rims and lower profile 245/65 tyres complete the package. The overall effect is a sort of elegant machoness, and in this context the styling certainly still holds its own.
It is fascinating to note that the engine is coded 4D56 – a design that was first introduced way back in the 1980s in early Pajeros. It has been successively upgraded with a DOHC head, direct injection and now the variable geometry turbocharger.
This is by no means a new engine, just an old faithful that has been kept going for developing countries to keep costs down. Also seen in the Pajero Sport VGT, it offers 178hp/350Nm – trouncing the standard Triton by 42hp/36Nm, and surprisingly even betters the 3.2-litre version by 18hp/7Nm. It is a testament to the soundness of the original design that it has stood up to these numerous upgrades over 30 years.
No information is given on Euro emission compliance, while consumption is stated at around 9.6 litres/100 km. In contrast the 2.8 Colorado (180hp/470Nm) offers 9.2/100 km while the 2.2 Ranger comes in at 8.1/100 km.
The Triton’s poorer numbers relative to capacity/output are a reflection of the age of the underlying technology. There is only one choice of tranny – a five-speed Invecs auto controlled by a huge square shifter that feels awkward under the palm. There is a two-speed transfer case, selection is done with a lever which works exactly in the same way as the Storm and LO series Pajeros of old.
The suspension is coil sprung independent upfront, and rigid beam axle with cart springs at the rear. There is a limited slip diff unit on the rear axle. Clearly Mitsubishi have carried over many legacy mechanical components from previous models.
The cabin is undoubtedly spacious and well put together, with very good plastics quality and fit. The fascia design is still attractive and has worn the years well, but can no longer be regarded as avant-garde like it once did. Seats are fabric covered, have manual adjustment and are fairly comfortable front and back. Climate control can be set to fully automatic, an upgrade over the existing model. Storage space is adequate, although there is no convenient space to dump your phone and other favourite gadgets. The central armrest/compartment is particularly impressive and solidly built.
There is a central information display that shows things like fuel consumption, exterior temperature and even a barometer, a party trick once upon a time but nothing special now.
On the downside, there are none of the expected mod-cons for this price bracket – steering buttons, seat power adjustment, leather upholstery, cruise control or integrated ICE.
The stereo unit looks positively dated, a DIN Kenwood unit with Bluetooth and I-pod compatibility that lives forlornly under the dash and sounds as bad as it looks.
Another gripe is the forward parking sensor that is stuck to the windscreen, replete with visible wiring. Safety equipment is the basic expected – two air bags, side impact protection and ABS/EDB. No crash test data is given. One cannot help but feel that while the interior was ground breaking back in 2006, the addition of “cut and paste solutions” to drag it up to date does it no favours.
DRIVING – ON ROAD
The 4D56 engine is admirable in how it has been boosted in performance relative to older versions. However, it is still below par relative to modern truck engine standards. Turbo lag is significant, and more seconds than expected elapse between putting your foot down and actually getting any response.
Not that the Triton is sluggish, far from it, with the auto box it is just slower getting into action – meaning that a bit more thought has to be put in to anticipate when you need the power. Once the turbo spins up, the 350Nm of torque makes itself felt and the speedo creeps to 160 km/h easily. The transmission is smooth in action and works without fuss, and has a sensitive kick-down to keep the engine in the turbo band. With five speeds, cruising at 110 km/h shows 2000 rpm on the counter.
It has been written elsewhere that the soft suspension leads to more body roll than usual. In my view, the amount of roll is acceptable for a vehicle of this sort, given its high centre of gravity and simple suspension geometry. Most users complain about the stiffness of pick up suspension, but in this case Mitsubishi have found the right balance between comfort, load carrying ability and handling.
On tarmac, the suspension is actually quite supple for a truck – giving a comparatively smooth ride. Steering is sharp, and has a good turning radius that helps when negotiating tight spots in an urban setting. The brakes are powerful, with just the right pedal feel.
DRIVING – OFF-ROAD
Performance in the rough is well proven and actually quite impressive. The softish suspension allows good ride quality over broken surfaces for such a simple set up, being well damped without the teeth shaking qualities seen in some trucks.
Similarly, articulation is better than others we have tested and the limited-slip differential helps traction in cross axle situations. Approach, ramp over and departure angles are pretty decent, even with the long rear overhang. Gearing in low range is excellent; using the manual selector on the gearbox would be the preferred way to drive in the rough. Despite some hard bashing, the interior, body fittings and mechanicals held up well.
THE NEW KID – Ford Ranger 2.2 XLT
Launched with much hype just a few months back, the eagerly awaited T6 Ford Ranger is an entirely new vehicle. It was designed from the ground up at Ford’s global design centre in Australia, unlike the older Ranger that was in fact based on the Mazda B series.
This meant that the new model would start from a clean slate with more European/ American inputs, while still remaining relevant to Asian consumers.
For this test we got a 2.2 XLT manual. This is the lowest spec version of the Ranger offered in Malaysia, coming in at just below RM90,000.
The styling of this vehicle has been written in a previous edition of this magazine. The Ranger is arguably the most handsome and tastefully designed truck in the market right now. After years of having to live on a (bland) Japanese styling diet, prospective buyers now have an alternative that offers a Continental look and feel for once. There are no overkill avant-garde styling elements that will date quickly, but plenty of subtle and beautifully incorporated design cues. Even the doors shut with a satisfying “thunk”.
It proved to be a head turner when driven around KL, indicating the “wow” factor is actually quite high for a truck. This is no doubt enhanced with the range of colours available – the deep metallic Ford blue is particularly fetching. The final effect is a good blend of being tough yet classy.
While the Ranger uses the same underlying set up as the Triton (diesel engine, part time 4×4, ladder frame, coil spring independent front leaf spring beam axle rear), what is clear is that Ford has managed to wring out as much potential as possible out of this most basic of chassis designs. The Duratorq 2.2 TDCi engine firmly trounces the 4D56 and just about all other competing 2.5 litre units now on the market. Its superiority is seen in practically all
parameters, dispelling the myth of being “disadvantaged” due to the fewer cubes.
Offering 150 hp and 375 Nm of torque, this is a chain-driven twin cam common rail unit with a now mandatory Variable Geometry Turbo. The same unit is well proven in other Detroit/Dagenham stable mates such as the
Mondeo. The gearbox is a six-speed manual, with one of the most delightful shift gates I have encountered in any truck. Transfer case operation is via a rotary switch and there is a limited slip differential in the rear axle. Fascinatingly, the Wildtrak version comes with an automatic locking diff.
When testing a truck, it is important always to keep the comparative in the right perspective. These are not saloon cars or SUVs and never will be. But as far as pickups go, the Ranger shows how Gen3 has taken the game much further. Eve n in its lowest XLT form, the interior is a great place with an outstanding blend between form and function. Seat design is excellent, and offers very good support front and back with generous amounts of leg, elbow and headroom. Rear passengers can actually sit in comfort for once.
The fascia design is bang up to date – no cut and paste here but rather full integration of all controls. The choice of materials, textures and colours gives a high end feel to the interior, at the same time it turned out to be robust and well put together. It shrugged off the abuse of wet clothes and muddy boots in off-road conditions easily.
One of the key things about the Ranger as a whole is the sheer thoughtfulness of the designers. Instrument legibility and layout is excellent, and switchgear is well placed and easily reached. There are multiple cup holders, storage spaces and power points, all designed to be in the right place and ready for use at the right time. Little padded cushions line the door armrest to rest your elbow while driving.
At night, an up-market touch is tiny LED lights that cast a dim blue ambient glow in the cabin. Gadgets are aplenty, in fact almost unbelievable for a baseline model truck. Among others there are steering mounted
controls for the auto-cruise and Bluetooth integrated sound system, a voice command system for key functions, automatic headlights and a full colour display screen. The ICE is excellent, with a fullbodied sound that can be further fine tuned with DSP modes. The driver’s window incorporates an anti-pinch mechanism, meaning one touch up/down control. The wing mirrors have power folding and there are follow-me-home lights at night.
Safety is well taken care of, with twin front airbags and the braking setup has ABS/ EBD/EBA as standard. The top spec version in fact achieved a rated five-star EuroNCAP rating, the first ever for a pick-up.
DRIVING – ON ROAD
The first thing you notice is that the Ranger cabin is superlatively quiet, even at speeds way beyond legal limits. Ford says that the quietness of a vehicle interior is a mark of quality, and at 110 km/h, wind noise is hardly noticeable as is the engine that’s dawdling just below 2000 rpm in sixth gear. NVH control as a whole is very good, there is no vibration at idle and the diesel clatter only audible once you drop a window.
The Ranger’s 2.2 engine is an absolute gem, and makes the competition seem positively prehistoric in responsiveness and drive-ability. It is happy to pull from very low revs and then easily wind all the way to the redline just below 5000 rpm with little turbo lag. The clutch is light and together with the lovely shift action and eager engine, the driving experience actually turns out to be rather exhilarating.
There is of course the natural stiffness in the ride inherent in all pick-ups, but Ford has chosen the damper and spring rates well. Road undulations are soaked up nicely with no jarring and bucking commonly seen in vehicles of this type. The seating position is higher than usual, giving a commanding view and the long sweep of the bonnet gives a sense of substance and solidity.
The rack and pinion steering is sharp and well weighted, with a smallish wheel that makes you want to throw the car about. It corners well enough and any over steer is predictable and easily corrected. I find it refreshing that there has been actually been some thought to make the Ranger handle in a “fun” way: this is normally not one of the major considerations in truck design.
In town, the roof mounted radio antenna tended to clout the ceiling of two-metre car parks – some care is needed. The Ranger’s sheer size also makes parking trickier, but this initial difficulty is soon overcome.
DRIVING – OFF-ROAD
In the rough, this Ford performs with equal aplomb. Switching into low range brings the full 375Nm under the right foot. Such is the response of the engine that third gear in low range is good enough to do most things; in fact the gearbox is almost superfluous. On the whole, gear ratios have good spread as a proper truck tranny should be – the first is very short, and the top very tall. Ride quality over ruts and broken surfaces is well damped, with steering kickback negligible. Suspension articulation is in line with other pick-ups and the limited slip diff works as advertised in cross axle situations.
Body angles are adequate, indicating good design of the bumpers and side steps. Ford claims a class leading maximum wading depth of 800mm that we found seems about right on test. Towing capacity is a solid three tons – although disappointingly there is no recovery eye at the rear. As a load lugger, the cargo bed can take up to 1.2 tons. These are key parameters of any working truck and Ford has not compromised on them.
Things have indeed come a long way since the early days. For a vehicle that debuted way back in 2006, the Triton has aged gracefully. The underlying chassis and suspension set-up remains competitive, the engine is well proven and the body styling can still stand up to modern day scrutiny. Along with the strength of the Mitsubishi name, these qualities have kept sales strong over the years. It remains one of the finest examples of a Gen2 pick-up truck.
Despite these strengths, the Ranger drives home the point that Gen3 has upped the ante significantly. Ford’s almost fanatical attention to detail in making its truck a world-beater has paid off.
The result is a something that actually has class. Even in its most basic form, used both as a daily drive or working rig, the Ranger comes across as a very convincing package indeed. Throw in the Continental flavour and you can even pretend it’s an Amarok. There is a six- speed auto version of the 2.2 for not much more money, and the full works comes in the 3.2 Wildtrak for RM116,888. The value for money proposition speaks for itself and so does the waiting list – three months for the smaller engine, and an incredible one year for the Wildtrak.
The hard conclusion is that taken purely on performance and specification terms, the results here indicate even a baseline Gen3 truck can see off a full spec Gen2 one. One must note, however, the matters of brand perception, after sales support, parts prices and resale value will all affect the final outcome. In its first face-to-face encounter with the competition, the Ranger has convincingly proven it has the mettle to reclaim the crown it once held.
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