REVIEW | 2020 Ford Ranger Thunder feeds the modifying fad

Denis Droppa hits the open road in Ford’s tarted-up one-tonner

01 October 2020 - 08:16
By Denis Droppa
Red and black accents give Ford’s limited-edition Ranger Thunder more attitude.
Red and black accents give Ford’s limited-edition Ranger Thunder more attitude. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Children play a car game called “Punch Buggy” to while away long road trips, which involves calling out those words whenever someone spots a VW Beetle first and punches the other participant on the arm.

Nowadays one is tempted to play the game whenever an unmodified Ford Ranger is spotted on the road, given the relative rarity of such a sighting. The blue-oval one-tonner seems to lend itself to extravagant plumage and many Ranger owners have taken to tarting up their bakkies with all manner of aftermarket cosmetic tweaks.

To feed this fad, Ford has released the new limited-edition Ranger Thunder. Based on the Ranger Wiltrak double cab, the factory-fitted visual package includes a new honeycomb-style front grille with red accents for the side “nostrils”, red inserts on the sports hoops and three-dimensional "Thunder" nomenclature at the base of the front doors and on the rear tailgate.

The Ranger’s dark side is brought out with black side mirrors and black 18-inch alloy wheels. Ranger Thunder models are exclusively available in Sea Grey, Frozen White, Absolute Black and Moondust Silver.

Inside, the leather upholstery gets red contrast stitching and the front seats have “Thunder” decals embroidered in red.

The upgrades aren’t all cosmetic, and a practical enhancement in the Thunder package is a lockable roller shutter load bay top, and a cargo area management system with dividers for securely holding different-sized items. Accessing the load bay is made easier by an EZ lift tailgate that requires 70% less force to lift.

The high-specced Ranger Thunder has many modcons, except for reach-adjustable steering.
The high-specced Ranger Thunder has many modcons, except for reach-adjustable steering. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Thunder is available with two engine options: the 147kW 3.2 turbo diesel 4x2 six-speed automatic and the 157kW 2.0l Bi-Turbo turbo diesel engine mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0 is available in a choice of 4x2 or 4x4 versions.

At last week’s media launch we drove a Frozen White Ranger Bi-Turbo 4x4 from Joburg to the North West province. On a route that was almost entirely open-road cruising on smooth tar, the hours slipped by in smooth-sailing comfort.

There was no gravel to test the vehicle’s offroad ability or bump-soaking prowess, though my previous ventures on such terrain proved the Ranger 4x4 to be a very capable adventure vehicle. With its selectable four-wheel drive, low range, diff lock, 800mm water wading depth and 230mm ground clearance, the bakkie is equipped for pretty much any off-road scenario.

Those 157kW and 500Nm outputs should also deliver sufficient momentum to get this bakkie up steep sand dunes, though I find this four-cylinder engine to be a mixed bag. It cruises easily and delivers reasonably sprightly overtaking performance, but doesn’t pack a real knockout punch like VW’s Amarok V6.

The Ranger’s a smooth operator though, and that applies also to the 10-speed auto gearbox which snicks through its many gears without feeling frantic.

The turbo diesel bakkie was impressively frugal on the long road trip too, averaging 8.6l/100km. I spent a lot of the long journey using the adaptive cruise control which automatically keeps a safe following distance to the vehicle in front. This feature comes standard in the Ranger Thunder, as does a lane-keeping aid which vibrates the steering wheel when you drift out of the lane.

Parking the big bakkie is made easier by Semi-Automatic Parallel Park Assist (SAPPA), which automatically steers the vehicle into a bay with the driver needing only to operate the throttle and brake.

Along with a touchscreen infotainment system, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, seven airbags, tow bar, trailer sway control, tyre pressure monitoring and LED daytime running lights, the Ranger Thunder is comprehensively specced.

I do wish its steering column, which adjusts for height, was also adjustable for reach though. It’s a surprising omission for a vehicle in this price range and means long-legged drivers such as myself have their knees squished up against the dash.


Ranger 3.2 TDCi double cab Thunder 6AT 4x2: R711,600

Ranger 2.0 Bi-Turbo double cab Thunder 10AT 4x2: R736,000

Ranger 2.0 Bi-Turbo double cab Thunder 10AT 4x4: R787,000