Ranger gets sporty from the bottom up - XL Sport Pack expands Ford's bakkie offering in SA

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• Ford added a new model to its Ranger lineup, called the XL Sport Pack.

• The Sport Pack is only available with the 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine.

• The Sport Pack carries a R16 500 premium and offers a comprehensive level of kit.

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With two new Ford Ranger derivatives launched within a space of four months, Ford South Africa is determined to not rest on its laurels at a crucial time when the bakkie segment is dripping with newcomers and alternatives.

This time around, and in contrast to the Ranger Thunder, Ford has aimed its latest addition to the lower-end of the Ranger line-up, thereby promising better value and functionality throughout the existing XL range. After spending a few minutes behind the wheel, the Ranger XL Sport Pack doesn't feel like yet another superfluous cosmetic makeover with a hyperbolic name coined by the marketing department - one is immediately conscious of the fact that Ford has beefed up the specification in tangible ways.

However, there are a few caveats…

Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack
2021 Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack

Obsession with black

Firstly, this current obsession, particularly in the bakkie segment, with the colour black, which ostensibly represents characteristics such as performance and ruggedness. Other bakkie manufacturers have been down this route before (Amarok Dark Label, Isuzu D-Max Black, Mitsubishi Triton Extreme), but they tend to apply to premium special editions, or in the case of the Isuzu, only available as 4x2.

There's something to be said for the way Ford has approached it - not only does Sport Pack add a premium flair to the XL's pared-back slant but it arrives at a time when the market is experiencing an economic contraction, emphasised by Covid-19.

The exterior's visual accents are fairly formulaic, meaning they're exactly what, where and how you'd expect. It's also reassuring to know that they're all factory approved, unlike those ubiquitous aftermarket accessories which can compromise the vehicle's efficiency and performance. The Sport Pack is identified by a gloss black grille, tubular sports bar, new decals and a black rear bumper that unfortunately removes the option of rear park distance sensors.

Other equipment includes unique (black) 17-inch alloys wrapped in chunkier 265/65R17 rubber and side steps that were initially listed as an option but are likely to become standard in early 2021.

Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack
2021 Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack

Upgrading the system

Ford was also never going to allow us to experience the Sport Pack without upgrading the standard 4-inch SYNC1 system to the eight-inch Connected Touch Radio, now available as an R6000 option. We initially thought that might result in a double jump to Ford's flagship SYNC3 software, but it doesn't come with the navigation or voice recognition. 

Mitigating that to nearly the full extent is the ability to connect using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto which, even for the non-tech-savvy, greatly modernises the Ranger's day-to-day convenience and technology.

Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack
2021 Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack

Familiar engine

All derivatives of the Ranger Sport Pack are powered by Ford's 2.2 turbo diesel, which is one of the firm's most versatile engines in the commercial range and feeds power through either a 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrain. Despite a leaner cubic capacity compared to some rivals, its output of 118kW and 385Nm remains competitive. When you're required to crawl over tough terrain, as we did, it'll do so at a tickle above idle, and when steered back on the open road it provides plenty of smooth overtaking grunt whether shifting via the six-speed manual or six-speed auto.  

Final verdict

With some innovative box-ticking, there are many ways that the latest Ranger XL can meet your personal needs as well as your budget. 

For R16 500, the Sport Pack does offer some compelling value and exclusive attitude - particularly the 17-inch wheels - but it is not a requirement if your only desire is to have the bigger eight-inch Connected Touch Radio.

This somewhat piecemeal approach will broaden the Ranger XL's appeal… Sport Pack or not!

Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack
2021 Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack
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