2015 Ford Ranger PX Mk2 technical analysis
The 2015 Ford Ranger PX Mk2 is just about the most technically advanced ute on the market. Here’s what it’s got, how it works and why you should care.
Two types of traction control and a rear locker
“Traction control” is a broad term, often abused. We have fully explained the differences, but for the Ford Ranger there are two types of traction control system (TCS):
- B-TCS is the Brake Traction Control System. That detects when a wheel spins, then applies the brakes to just that wheel, which sends torque (“drive”) to the other wheel, thereby allowing the Ranger to maintain forward momentum, and it’s what you want when you’re offroad. This is more effective than a limited-slip differential, and often better than a cross-axle locking differential.
- E-TCS, which is the Engine Traction Control system. This is a mechanism that will reduce engine torque if the driven wheels are both spinning, thereby regaining traction as madly spinning wheels mean you’re going nowhere. It kicks in when the optimum wheel slip ratio is exceeded, which means when the computer decides there’s too much torque going to the wheels for the traction available.
Like any similar traction control system, B-TCS is a huge improvement for the Ranger’s off-road capability, but what about E-TCS? You don’t always want the computer reducing your power for you. Happily, that’s been thought of. In 2WD High (4×2 drive mode) both E-TCS and B-TCS work, but E-TCS has the priority as it provides more “refined intervention”, according to Ford. However, in 4X4 high mode the driver can press the DSC off switch on the dash to place DSC and E-TCS in offroad mode, which reduces the extent of the intervention and the speed of the intervention from them both. In 4X4 low both DSC and E-TCS are entirely disabled, leaving B-TCS to do its best work, and contrary to received wisdom that won’t slow you down.
Yet despite B-TCS, there’s the option of a conventional cross-axle locking rear differential, or “locker”. Why? Because B-TCS is reactive, whereas a locker is already locked before it gets to the obstacle.
Now the big question. Does E-TCS still work on the front axle when the rear locker is engaged? Well, nobody at Ford knew the answer at the launch, the question was asked and when I get an answer I’ll post it here. Or when I get an opportunity to drive the car on my own terms (not possible at the launch) I’ll find out in short order.
Transmission and throttle control
The Ranger’s auto shift points and throttle mapping are changed according to what the car is doing. In low range, Ford says “the throttle response is changed to an off-road setting which provides a less sensitive, softer pedal feel. This helps prevent unintentional acceleration due to the bouncing motion of the driver’s foot while moving over bumpy ground”. This is not unique to the Ranger, but it’s good to see it in a ute. Ford continues, saying: “the auto trans has a unique shift-map for low range. The emphasis here is on control, so there is more lock-up in the torque convertor, and it holds gears to higher engine rpm, instead of always seeking to upshift as early as possible for fuel economy. It will also downshift more easily”.
That’s fine, to a point, but sometimes you don’t want to hang onto the gear for longer, for example in smooth, slippery but low-drag conditions you’d want early upshifts and minimum throttle. What Ford describes befits rocky or very soft terrains. However, you could always override the auto and select gears yourself.
Hill descent control
Electronic Hill Descent control can be used at speeds below 40km/h, in high or low range, and in any gear, forward or reverse. It will deactivate above 60km/h and reactivate when you slow below 40km/h. The slowest speed possible is 2km/h, and that can be varied by pressing the cruise up/down controls which change the speed by 2km/h per tap. Or, press-and-hold to change speed quickly.
If you want to move off up a hill the Ranger’s electronics help too. Ford says that “when moving off up a slope either in forward or reverse gear, the Hill Launch Assist feature holds the brake pressure temporarily for two seconds, ensuring the pickup does not roll downhill. As the driver accelerates, the feature gradually reduces the brake pressure. It releases the brakes once the driving torque is enough to overcome the gradient, enabling the pickup to move up the slope smoothly. With this feature, a fully-laden Ranger, which weighs about 3200 kilograms, is able to stop and then pull away on a 60 percent grade – not a feat easily achieved by all trucks.” That’s all fine but I prefer to simply modulate the brake with my left foot and accelerate with right. Smoother and more effective.
A welcome change for the PX Mk2 is that Hill Descent Control now works when you have the rear locker engaged. This is now the best of both worlds for descending steep, rutted hills. The PX had the choice of locker in or HDC. The owner’s manual says the locker disables HDC… having driven it, I can tell you that’s incorrect for the Mk2.
Ford has yet to implement HDC systems that smoothly transition the car from rest to the target HDC speed, just means the driver has to do some actual work, doesn’t change capability. However, HDC does work effectively in reverse.
An interesting Ranger stat is the wading depth, an impressive 800mm. To pass Ford’s test the car must be stationary in the water at that depth – and then another car comes past to create a bow wave. That’s impressive, and good on Ford, but I’d still be wanting a snorkel! Ford have a factory snorkel which seems to be waterproof, if we accept the word of the product representatives.
Like most modern vehicles Ranger uses it sensors to figure out what’s happening and change its tune accordingly:
- Adaptive Automatic – Ranger has a nice modern adaptive one. This means it figures out you’re descending and will select lower gears to help with the braking, and will (should) always be in the right gear for any corner exit instead of acting all surprised as you accelerate before belatedly banging down a cog or two. The “adaptive” part also means the car will sense driver inputs and if you’re moving along smartly it’ll start to hold gears longer and shift down earlier for a sportier drive. Mythbuster – your wife/husband/father/mother cannot teach the car bad habits that you, hero driver that you are, will need to undo. The adaption is short-term.
- Adaptive Load Control – changes the DSC and other programmes if the vehicle is loaded, which it detects by various means including tyre pressures. Nice work, and an example of the evolution of electronics. Older vehicles had some sort of compromise that never really worked outside of a narrow range of conditions.
- Stop/start – manual Rangers have stop/start tech to shut the engine off when stopped to save fuel. Not yet available for the automatics.
- WiFi – your Ranger can become a WiFi hotspot. There’s three ways this works:
- You can simply insert a compatible USB Internet modem (sometimes known as an “air card”) and the vehicle will become a huge WiFi hotspot.
- Or you can connect your phone via Bluetooth tethering, and then use its broadcast its Internet connection via WiFi that way.
- The system can find an existing WiFi network and re-share it.
Many people already just use a normal phone in the car as a hotspot and it works well, so this feature is of limited value. However, if you had an aircard in the vehicle at all times that would be useful, wouldn’t need a phone at all in that case.
There’s also something to be said about using the vehicle’s power and transmitter for the WiFi signal instead of your own phone. Another factor is that people connect to the car not your phone so different phones could be used for the base Internet connection, but the WiFi people connect to is the cars so it remains the same access credentials regardless of the Internet-providing phone.
Security is WPA-2 so reasonably up to date. Or you could just drive off…
- Emergency Assistance – if there is a crash then your phone will (if set up) automatically call 000 for you, after checking to see if you respond. A crash is defined as whether the airbags go off or the fuel pump shutoff is activated, so it won’t call the authorities for a minor nose-to-tail.
- 230v inverter (dual and supercab) – plug your laptop or other device in and off you go. Intelligent battery management ensures the system does not deplete the battery.
Ranger has all the usual gear – stability control, advanced ABS, and a 5-star ANCAP safety rating:
- ABS, EBD & EBA – ABS prevents wheels locking when braking, EBD distributes braking force between the four wheels to best effect, and EBA assists with emergency stops. And this is the modern ABS which works better on dirt roads, permitting more lockup. Forget the old-school thinking about ABS.
- Stability Control, which in Ford terms is Dynamic Stability Control or DSC. This is often confused with traction control, but it’s not the same
- CBC – Corner Brake Control. Related to DSC, helps keep the vehicle cornering neutrally by gently applying brakes to individual wheels. You’d never know it was there, but it helps.
- Roll over mitigation – another DSC development. Detects situations likely to result in a rollover and takes avoiding action by cutting engine power or braking individual wheels.
- Trailer sway control – detects trailers, and if a side-to-side movement of the trailer sets in (sway) brakes individual front wheels to cancel it out. Humans can’t do that.
There’s some of the new proactive tech, not all of which is on every trim level:
- Forward Collision Alert – this isn’t true AEB. It will detect potential collsions, pre-charge the brakes (take up slack), and apply braking force up to 0.3g (which is a moderate but not emergency stop). The vehicle will also project red bars onto the windscreen in the driver’s line of vision if it thinks there is a danger of a collision.
- Lane departure warning – uses camera and radar to detect white lines, alerts driver if the car drifts over. Is cancelled by use of the indicator, and only works at higher speeds.
- Adaptive Cruise Control – follows the car in front maintaining a set time behind it, up to 2.1 seconds. 5 settings.
- Lane keep assist – if the car does drift over the line, the EPAS (see below) helps bring the car back into line.
- TPMS – tyre pressure monitoring system. The sensor is on the rim, is industry standard so could very likely be moved over to aftermarket rims. It measures pressure not rolling diameter. You set the chosen alert pressure from the driver’s instrument panel, so it can be changed for offroad use.
- Speed limiter – prevents exceeding a specific speed unless you floor the accelerator. That’s for those of us who don’t carry passengers for that reason.
The image below shows the display (at rest). There are 2 of the 5 bars set for active cruise control. The lines on either side of the icon vehicle change colour depending on whether you are drifting in or out of a lane.
Here’s the reversing camera, which is very good:
EPAS – Electronic Power Assisted Steering. Why you must learn to love it.
EPAS uses electric motors to assist the driver’s steering input instead of hydraulics. The advantages of EPAS mainly fall into two categories – efficiency and extra features.
Compared to hydraulic steering, EPAS uses a lot less power, is lighter, and is a lot more efficient. This can translate into fairly large fuel efficiency gains, around 3% according to Ford.
EPAS also allows lots of new features to be introduced because the driver’s input can be sensed by the car, and the steering wheel turned or just nudged. In the case of Ranger, one of the ways the car figures out the driver is not paying attention is by detecting whether or not the steering wheel is being turned, even slightly – so make sure you fondle that steering wheel otherwise the car will think you don’t love it. And if the car detects via the Lane Keep Assist system that the vehicle is drifting over a white line, then the steering wheel will be slightly nudged to bring the vehicle back in to line. The EPAS system also lightens the steering at low speed, and makes it heavier at higher speeds.
Older EPAS systems had issues with feel and feedback, but that’s no longer a problem for properly engineering systems. The likes of the Toyota 86 and some Porsches use EPAS, and nobody complains about how they handle.
UPDATE: an earlier version stated some models had Blind Spot Monitoring. This is incorrect. I guess Ford need to leave something for a mid-life PX2 update…