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Highly evolved: Ford Ranger M-Sport review with lifted suspension and 200hp 3.2-litre auto

  • Maximum attitude for M-Sport version of Ford's best-selling pickup
  • Improved ride from off-road suspension, mad looks, full leather
  • 200hp 3.2-litre diesel auto tested - the ultimate lifestyle truck?

If you’ve ever wanted a real-life Tonka Toy, the Ford Ranger M-Sport might well be for you.

Launched in September 2016, this is the latest of Van-Sport’s wild Ford-based commercial vehicle upgrades – following on from the Transit Custom M-Sport and Transit Connect M-Sport – and it gives the Ranger the kind of presence Ford’s own high-performance Raptor version of the all-American F150 pickup would be proud of. With the added bonus that it’s still small enough to drive down a British high street without relieving every parked car of its door mirrors.

All it really needs to complete the Raptor association is about 200 more horsepower and a suitably scary-like-Jurassic-Park name. Maybe the Motorious Rex or something. But as it is we’re stuck with the regular Ranger’s 200hp 3.2-litre turbodiesel five-cylinder and the M-Sport designation.

No bad thing really, given the useful blend of 30+mpg and 470Nm the big diesel engine delivers, and that the moniker speaks of Van-Sport’s association with the motorsport firm of the same name: Cumbria-based M-Sport builds all of Ford’s rally cars and runs Ford’s World Rally Championship team.

>> Click here for a Ford M-Sport overview and to read reviews of the rest of the range

What exactly has Van-Sport done to create the Ranger M-Sport?

We’re struggling to think of a complete vehicle you can currently buy that comes with greater visual punch than this pickup. A Mercedes Unimog perhaps? And make no mistake, while this isn’t an official Ford product, you buy the Ranger M-Sport as the finished article – it’s fully assembled on Van-Sport's own production line and sold through an ever-growing number of UK Ford dealers.

Ford Ranger M-Sport review - white, rear view

Compared to the regular Ranger Limited 2 model it’s based on, the M-Sport gets a complete front bumper replacement (including the chunky integrated grille surround), an extension to the leading edge of the bonnet, wider wheelarches, side grille mouldings with M-Sport badging, a tailgate spoiler and taillight covers – all finished in an OEM-grade black plastic that exudes a kind of no-nonsense menace.

Complementing these add-ons, there are a number of matt black exterior details – including the door mirrors, door handles and side steps – plus 18-inch matt graphite wheels with BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres, mudflaps and a sports exhaust system.

You also get upgraded suspension developed by Australian off-road brand Pedders and a full-leather interior by high-end exotic car customiser Carlex Design - who also finish a specially re-moulded steering wheel in leather.

On top of which, Van-Sport includes a number of Ford factory options as part of the price: 230v invertor, front parking sensors, rear parking camera, satellite-navigation, spare wheel lock and a tow bar.

How much does the Ranger M-Sport cost?

As indicated, it’s currently only available with the 3.2-litre TDCi engine – though Van-Sport is considering plans for the new 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel – and if you go for the standard six-speed manual gearbox it’s £35,145 (plus VAT and road tax). Another £850 gets you the six-speed automatic gearbox; either way it’s equipped with four-wheel drive.

That’s nearly £10,000 more than the regular Limited 2, which costs £25,345 basic for the manual and £26,195 for the auto (at the time of writing).

But before you reach for the smelling salts, consider the additional standard kit, the upgraded components – that is a particularly comprehensive set of bodywork modifications, the leather interior is really something, and the suspension upgrades aren’t cheap – and the workmanship that’s gone into the finished product. Which is first class.

What’s the Ranger M-Sport like to drive?

The version we tried had the automatic gearbox and 1.75-inch lifted suspension; also by Pedders, this last comes as part of an £1,399 Off Road Option Pack that also includes a Laser Lamps lightbar on the roof (using the same LED lighting technology as the latest rally car illumination), underbody protection and extended mudflaps.

Ford Ranger M-Sport review - white, front view, lights on, driving along country lane

You might expect all this to turn the Ranger into a lazy, roly-poly handful on regular roads, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the extra height and the knobbly all-terrain tyres, the M-Sport feels surprisingly precise and biddable, with well-controlled body movements in the corners.

Better yet, the suspension upgrade dramatically improves the regular Ranger’s ride comfort, getting rid of much of the overly-bouncy fidgety-ness exhibited by the standard version, especially when driven unladen. Combine this with the leather-trimmed interior and the result is a vehicle that seems far better suited to comfortable longer-distance travel.

The six-speed auto isn’t the last word in responsiveness and the 3.2-litre engine isn’t shy about making its presence felt – refinement is acceptable rather than spectacular. But it’s equally clear that the torque will make short work of towing your boat, jet ski or any other lifestyle accessories.

How practical is it?

Although we can’t imagine too many customers buying these as conventional working trucks, the only impact on the Ranger’s practical capabilities come from the minimal increase in kerbweight as a result of all the add-ons ­– which will in turn eat into the standard payload allowance for the Limited 2 Double Cab of 1,050kg for the manual gearbox and 1,033kg for the auto.

Ford quotes the Ranger Double Cab’s maximum loadbed dimensions as 1,549mm long by 1,560mm wide, with 1,139mm between the rear wheelarches and a side-wall height of 511mm (amongst the best in class). However, the Limited 2’s standard bedliner, which comes complete with a useful 12v socket, will reduce this capacity slightly.

Ford Ranger M-Sport review - white, towing racing car trailer

All 3.2-litre Rangers are rated to tow 3,500kg.

Verdict

Perhaps the most impressive thing about all these M-Sport Fords is how factory-finished they feel – while the wild looks won’t be for everyone, from behind the wheel there’s no nagging aftertaste of the aftermarket here. The Ranger M-Sport is better to drive than the standard pickup, is very well finished inside and out, and looks like nothing else on the UK’s roads.

Sure, it’s expensive – but that in itself is part of the appeal, and we doubt many M-Sport customers will question the value they’re getting for their money. This is an unusual, distinctive and well-executed machine.

>> Click here for a Ford M-Sport overview and to read reviews of the rest of the range

>> Read the full Ford Ranger review on Parkers Vans

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