Over the past couple of years, we've become accustomed to the Ford Ranger. After all, it's been in the market for quite some time already. It's had facelifts, updates, and even heart transplants but despite that, we actually haven't tested the entire lineup yet. What's missing, you ask?
We've never actually had the chance to try out the base model, the XLS.
See, base models tend not to be activated in press fleets. A shame, really, because I reckon people would like to know what the most affordable version of the car they want feels like. Ford finally let me have a go in one, and it's quite the surprise...in a good way.
As mentioned, the XLS is the most basic Ranger you can have, slotting below the XLT. So how can you differentiate an XLS from an XLT? The XLS gets most, if not all, of its chrome trimmings deleted, replaced by unpainted plastic moldings. Also, the bumpers are body-colored and not chrome. It also doesn't come with a step board, at least in the one I drove, and it has a narrower wheel and tire combination.
I do have to say that I rather liked the fact that it has little to no chrome. It makes the Ranger look even tougher, with a lot more blue-collar appear. Maybe it's just me, but the work truck look makes it look even cooler. Of course, your opinion might be different. The Ranger has always been a good-looking pick-up in our book, but those unpainted moldings make it look the business.
But while the Ranger XLS looks more suited to a job site than a hotel lobby, you might be pleasantly surprised when you climb on board. That's because you get just about the same equipment levels as the XLS, and that's already pretty well equipped. I was surprised to see audio controls on the steering wheel, and even cruise control. It may look basic on the outside, but it's far from it inside.
You also might have noticed that this particular Ranger comes with a manual. It was actually a pleasant surprise when I drove it, but more on that later. As for the rest of the interior, it looks similar to the XLT, sans the silver trim on the dashboard fascia. The infotainment is the same, so too are the seat trimmings and door panels. You're given the impression that you didn't miss out on much with this XLS variant. One thing it doesn't have are automatic headlights, but it's not that hard to twist a knob, right?
Of course, I still wish the Ranger came with a telescopic steering wheel adjuster, something lacking in all variants of the pick-up. That would make it much more comfortable behind the wheel. While we're at it, I always found the arrangement of the audio controls and cruise control buttons peculiar, since cruise would typically be on the left and audio on the right. Perhaps Ford should take these things into consideration for the next-gen model.
On to the engine and it uses the same 2.2-liter TDCI mill that's been powering the Ranger for a big chunk of the decade. You're probably familiar with its stats by now, but let's have a recap for those who aren't. Power is rated at 160 PS while torque is at 385 Nm, exactly the same as the XLT and the pre-facelift 4x2 Everests. It's paired to a six-speed manual and part-time four-wheel drive. Yes folks, you can get pair the manual transmission with four-wheel drive, which is great if you're the type who needs to haul a lot.
When I typically drive a manual pick-up, I already expect the vibrations from the gear stick. After all, these are work trucks after all and I don't really mind the rattle. But the XLS didn't have that at all, and shifting was a delight in this truck. Not only does it elevate the driving experience, but it also adds a touch of refinement too. Props to Ford for adding extra dampers on the shifter. I almost felt that I was driving a crossover.
Even more surprising was the shift action. It wasn't vague and notchy and it's the smoothest I've felt in a pick-up. The throws were short too, again, making you feel that you're driving something car-based and not truck-based. Clutch was light and had a precise engagement point, albeit on the high side, but you won't have that sensation of stalling it out. It was so light that I wouldn't even mind driving it in traffic.
With more command over the engine, I could say that I would much rather have the base Ranger with a manual than an automatic. You can spool the turbo quicker with a quick downshift, and there's that extra bit of confidence when you're overtaking. Mind you, there is lag when you catch the engine napping and it takes a while to wake up. The 2.2-liter has been around for quite some time already and the age is starting to show when it comes to response. Then again, it's nothing a quick downshift can't overcome.
It's easy on fuel too. Out on the highway, it logged 14.1 kilometers per liter. Around city traffic, that figure drops down to 9.2 kilometers per liter, which still isn't bad at all. In fact, it's almost the same automatic XLT we tested a few months back.
As for the rest of the truck, the classic Ranger traits remain and that's a good thing. It's one of the nicer riding ones in its class, and the steering is light. As this uses a hydraulic power steering set up, the XLS (and XLT) don't suffer from the same 'overboosted' feel in the Wildrak variants. Again, I wish these trucks had telescopic for an even comfier drive.
The Ranger XLS 4x4 starts at Php 1,181,000. It sounds like a deal as you get four-wheel drive thrown in for that price. There are other entry-level four-wheel drive pick-ups out there, and they're priced around the same ballpark as the Ranger XLS. But the difference is, the Ford packs features you'd typically find in higher-spec models, whereas the competition doesn't. With that, the Ranger XLS is a good value proposition. If you don't need four-wheel drive, that price drops to Php 1,032,000.
You get four-wheel drive, loads of kit, a five-star safety rating, the largest payload and towing capacity in its class, and a slick-shifting manual gearbox. What's not to like?
If there's one thing I want Ford to do, it's them putting this gearbox in the Raptor. Now that's a proposition right there.