The roots of four-wheel drive are in working vehicles, with a history that stretches all the way back to the first military Jeeps and trucks that needed to access places ordinary cars simply couldn’t reach.
Today, pick-up trucks like the Ford Ranger are a lot more refined and comfortable than their ancestors, but they still use the most basic mechanical all-wheel-drive systems. Unlike the other cars here, the Ranger has no clever electronics to help its suspension cope with rough surfaces. Instead, the huge, 5.4-metre-long body sits on top of a separate ladder frame, with simple leaf springs at the rear.
Despite this basic approach, everything about the Ranger has been tailored to hard off-road use, and the Ford’s styling makes its intentions clear. It stands nearly six feet tall, towering over the other cars here, while the bluff front end and chunky tyres make it look like it would be unstoppable off-road.
Under the skin, the Ranger’s drivetrain is as rugged and unsophisticated as its looks. There’s a simple switch on the dashboard that allows the driver to choose which of the four wheels are being driven by the 2.2-litre engine at any given time. The 4x2 setting drives the rear wheels for normal road conditions. The 4x4 high-range mode is for tackling loose surfaces and muddy tracks, while the 4x4 low-range setting is reserved for when the going gets really tough: it shortens the ratios and damps throttle response to allow for more careful progress on steep hills.
Each change is carried out electronically by a transfer box, not a locking differential, but the fly-by-wire controls mean you can switch between modes at speeds of up to 70mph. This makes it easier to respond to changing surfaces. However, using 4x4 mode on the road increases steering weight and makes the Ranger harder to drive in normal conditions.
Other systems such as hill-descent control and switchable traction control ensure that the Ranger stays on the right path on slippery slopes. But as we discovered on our off-road course, the Ford has so much mechanical grip that it rarely needs any electronic assistance.
The 2.2-litre diesel produces just 148bhp, but only the Audi A6 Allroad has a higher torque output. Plus, the Ranger’s 375Nm arrives from as low as 1,500rpm, which really helps the pick-up to haul itself over obstacles. We put the Ford through its paces on a very muddy and rutted course, and it barely lost traction. Ground clearance of 229mm and a maximum wading depth of 800mm also helped.
However, long overhangs mean the Ford’s approach and departure angles (for climbing hills and traversing ditches) are half those of a Land Rover Defender. A 12.7-metre turning circle also limits its manoeuvrability somewhat.