Driven: Ford Ranger Thunder Review

After getting on for ten years on sale, the current Ford Ranger is close to retirement, but you’d never know by looking at it, especially with the new Thunder model we review here.

The Thunder name has graced the Ranger before, in each of the previous generations, and has always been a popular version of the pickup truck. Now it’s back, with everything that makes the Ranger such a popular model, as well as some cosmetic and trim updates that make it as appealing as it’s ever been before.

There’s no soulful V6 engine option, or Raptor-esque lifted suspension; it’s the same Ranger as before, based on the Wildtrak model, with the same 2.0-litre 213hp motor, the same suspension and the same four-wheel-drive underpinnings. But, somehow, the Thunder adds so much more. For some, at least.

Ford Ranger Thunder branding

Ford Ranger Thunder: Exterior

The Wildtrak version of the Ford Ranger is already a bold piece of kit, and the Thunder adds a large sports bar, Thunder logos all over the place, and red highlights dotted around the truck (including red ‘nostrils’ on the grille) set against Sea Grey paint.

Some 18-inch alloy wheels, finished in black, with gloss black bumpers, skid plates, grilles and light surrounds, and door handles. Even the headlights have darkened bezels rather than bright chrome work.

Despite all of those changes, it’s more subtle than the Wildtrak, and looks a lot classier.

Subtle is relative, of course. The Ranger is the longest pickup on sale – bar the SsangYong Musso LWB – with the longest load box, so it’s never going to fade into the background. It also retains the regular styling cues of the Ranger, such as the eight-sided grille and clamshell bonnet.

Ford Ranger Thunder: Interior

A facelift in 2016 saw the interior of the Range transformed, from having a dated and overcomplicated cabin to something closer to what you’d expect in a Ford road car. That means that an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen dominates the dashboard, but it’s a neat system that uses Ford’s easy-to-use Sync 3 software. It’s got all you’ll need but, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in place, you might find you plug in your phone and use that more often than not.

Below that are some heating and ventilation controls. While it’s nice to have physical buttons and knobs, they’re small and poorly located, making them particularly difficult to operate, so you’ll still have to look away from the road to work them.

In contrast to that, the selector for two, four or low-range drive is as simple as it gets; a single rotary knob selects the mode you want.

There’s plenty of space in the Ranger, especially in the front seats. It’s comfortable, too, with wide seats that are reasonably supportive and, in the Thunder, heated and covered in leather. The driver’s seat is adjustable electrically, too.

It’s much as a Ford Ranger usually appears, so is generally well-equipped, roomy and hard-wearing, but the Thunder spec adds some red stitching around the cabin, a glossy black panel on the dashboard and, of course, more Thunder logos dotted around.

Ford Ranger Thunder interior

Ford Ranger Thunder: On the Road

There’s just one engine option to review for the Ranger Thunder, and that’s the Ford 2.0-litre, 213hp diesel unit. There’s 500Nm of torque on tap, so it gets off the line quickly (0-62mph takes just 9.0 seconds) and continues to accelerate at a respectable pace right up to the speed limit. The 10-speed automatic gearbox shifts very smoothly through the gears as you go, although having that many to choose from means it can get confused from time to time.

That 2.0-litre engine is also quite a smooth motor, only being particularly vocal when pushed hard. Then it becomes unpleasant, but that’s true of most similar models. Sit on the motorway at a 70mph cruise and it’s quiet and refined enough to comfortably hold a conversation across any of the five seats.

There’s a definite focus on road-use for the Thunder, with all of its cosmetic accoutrements, and its road manners match the promises reasonably well. Like all trucks, it gets a bit bouncy over uneven surfaces, but the Ranger is one of the softer sprung models and absorbs most imperfections in the road with ease.

Handling – not usually a high point for pickups – is quite impressive too, with the Ranger happy to turn into corners smartly, with a well-controlled body making cross-country progress swift. It’s forgiving enough to accommodate clumsy and clunky manoeuvres without biting back, too.

That eagerness makes it surprisingly widely in town, although the sheer bulk of the truck holds it back slightly, as well as a hefty 12.7-metre turning circle. Still, huge mirrors and an impressive rear-view camera help when manoeuvring in or out of a tight spot.

Ford Ranger Thunder: Off Road

When it’s needed, switching the Ranger from rear-wheel drive to having all four wheels powered takes a few seconds, the rotary switch on the centre console making it quick and easy. It’s a small thing, but handy when you unexpectedly become unstick.

It’s perfectly capable of getting through most situations, with competitive approach and departure angles, although the ground clearance is a little low. If you find yourself in deep water – literally, not figuratively – then you can rely on the best in class 800mm wading depth.

Controlling the 500Nm of torque is easy enough thanks to a soft throttle pedal with lots of travel, although the gearbox can make the pickup feel like it wants to surge forward a little at times.

You’ll also find plenty of kit to keep you going. Especially useful is the electronic locking rear differential, providing increased traction when selected. That’s joined by electronic aids from hill start assist and hill descent control to roll stability control and traction control.

Even then, things can go wrong, so the Thunder comes equipped with the same off-road pack that the Wildtrak has. That includes engine and transfer case protection, as well as fuel tank protection, to reduce the risk of damage on uneven ground.

Approach angle (°)29Climbing angle limit (°)
Departure angle (°)27Ground clearance (mm)237
Ramp angle limit (°)25Wading depth (mm)800
Side angle limit (°)35

Ford Ranger Thunder: Payload and Towing

Given its size, it’s no surprise that the Ranger Thunder is anything but a lightweight, and the kerb weight of 2,246kg means you’d expect it to give something up in terms of payload. Happily, while the 1,024kg of payload available isn’t class-leading by any stretch, it’s enough for the HMRC to consider it a commercial vehicle.

The load box is amongst the largest in the class, though. It loses a little to the more industrial trim levels, but the 1,575mm length and 1,560mm width should accommodate most loads. The width reduces to 1,139mm between the wheel arches, but that’s still enough to slide a euro pallet into the back lengthways.

The sports hoop above the box, complete with A-Team-esque red stripe, includes illumination, letting you find those last bits and pieces. The tailgate is also sprung, so can be lifted and lowered with just a finger.

The Ford Ranger Thunder also includes a load bay bedliner and black Mountain Top powder-coated roller shutter, which gets a positive review from most, with a load bay divider to help keep things organised.

As is common now, the Ranger Thunder has a 3.5-tonne towing limit, with trailer sway control. This system slows the vehicle down by applying the brakes and reducing the engine’s torque if needed, helping to keep thing pointing in the right direction if you suddenly find yourself a little unbalanced.

Ford Ranger Thunder load box
Kerb weight (kg)2,246Load bay length (mm)1,575
Gross vehicle weight (kg)3,270Load bay width (mm)1,560
Payload (kg)1,024Load bay height (mm)541
Gross vehicle mass (kg)6,000Load bay capacity (l)
Towing capacity braked (kg)3,500towing capacity unbraked (kg)750

Ford Ranger Thunder: Verdict

There’s no doubt that Ford is aiming the Ranger Thunder towards the lifestyle end of the market, offering the Wildtrak model with a stylish paint scheme and some comfort-oriented extras.

It does that well, making it an appealing – although still flawed – alternative to an SUV. However, it’s not forgotten the commercial requirements and retains all of the Ranger’s capabilities and capacities, including economy officially stated as 30.7mpg. Our time with the truck all but matched that, with an average figure of 28.6mpg, which is competitive enough.

You’ll pay a little more for the Thunder pack, but not much – it’s just £195 + VAT more than the equivalent Wildtrak but adds a truck full of extra style and equipment.

It might not suit everybody, especially those needing something rugged that’ll take a beating (it will do that, although you’ll lose style points) but, for those needing a truck to cover light commercial duties as well as operate as a daily car, the Thunder could be a perfect balance and a perfect choice.

Ford Ranger Thunder rear

Model Tested: Ford Ranger Thunder

OTR Price£40,473CV OTR Price£33,781
Reclaimable VAT£6,692CV Price Range£22,361 – £41,961