New Zealanders love utes, no question. They are some of the biggest-selling new vehicles in the country and highly sought-after in the secondhand market. The appeal extends way beyond their ability to work and go off-road.
So it's a genre Kiwis can't get enough of, but if you had to point to one single model that's brought the one-tonne pickup into the mainstream and made it, well, "cool", it'd have to be the Ford Ranger T6.
The Australian-developed T6 was launched back in 2011 and has really captured car the Kiwi imagination, especially with "lifestyle" models like the Wildtrak and the Hi-Rider 2WD versions (which was what really helped Ranger overtake Toyota Hilux in the new-vehicle sales charts from 2014).
The 2015 facelift model (above) sealed the deal, with a host of upgrades and frontal styling much more akin to Ford's US-market pickup trucks than anything in the one-tonne segment.
So what to look for used? We're going to focus on the T6 up to 2018 here, just before Ford introduced the 2.0-litre biturbo engine as an option and of course the high-flying Raptor.
Those were both watershed moments for the Ranger but they're also a good place to draw a line if we're focusing on the used market, as the bulk of the bargains will be pre-2019 3.2-litre and (less common) 2.2-litre entry models.
When Ranger T6 was launched in 2011 it was a partner model to the Mazda BT-50 - pretty much the same mechanical package underneath, although the Mazda sported controversial car-like styling inside and (especially) out. Ford was the lead partner for the project and when the Ranger's 2015 facelift came along, the Blue Oval kind of left Mazda behind.
Point is, if you're considering a 2011-15 Ranger (pictured above) on the basis of quality and ability, the Mazda BT-50 of the same generation (essentially 2011-2020, when the Japanese brand moved to a new ute developed with Isuzu) might be worth a look.
The core Ranger T6 lineup spans workhorse XL, mid-grade XLT and Wildtrak versions, as well as many factory and dealership editions along the way. The Hi-Rider 2WD is a popular choice for urban drivers, although it's worth noting that the Wildtrak has always been 4WD only.
The post-2015 model is more sought-after and more expensive as a result, but it's a much more sophisticated truck. Aside from the glamour styling, the powertrains were fettled and Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) was added - a first for the one-tonne segment at the time. It allowed Ford to fit lane-keeping technology, as well as improving fuel economy (albeit by less than 1l/100km) and refinement, because the EPAS can filter out vibration felt through the wheel from the road (or off-road) surface.
The facelift Ranger Hi-Rider also gained a rear-axle eLock, which fixes the torque split left-to-right and endows the 2WD model with a surprising level of off-tarmac ability.
With any used T6, keep a look out for off-road damage and accessories that indicate a hard working life. Inspect for underbody scrapes or mud caked into hard-to-reach places - not a deal-breaker for a tough ute, but certainly something to be aware of. Check the tub to see whether it's carried concrete blocks... or the weekly grocery shop.
The good news is that Ranger's "lifestyle" appeal means many have had a pampered existence. One-owner, pristine XLT and Wildtrak models are something to aim for.
Any Ranger should have a complete service record - no self-appointed backyard mechanics. The variable-displacement oil pump in the 3.2-litre engine is one common pitfall for the "tinkerer": if the oil is drained during a change and left for more than about 10 minutes, the pump will be completely dry and unable to self prime, meaning the engine is effectively running on no oil pressure.
On a test drive, be aware of nasty vibrations, harsh gear changes, rattles, knocks/misfires from the engine or excessive smoke from the exhaust. For 4WD models, test in high and low-range off-road too; some owners report the transmission popping back into 2WD.
Among known flaws are aircon failure and electrical gremlins. If adaptive cruise control is fitted, test it out, along with Bluetooth and the infotainment screen’s functionality. Later facelift models had Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, so bring a cable and check that's all working too.
Ranger has had its fair share of recalls in NZ, so check on those depending on the vintage of your prospective purchase.
Mechanical issues include 6R80 automatic gearbox output shaft sensor failure (2011 models), transmission fluid pump gear failure (2018-19), manual-gearshift retaining cable clip malfunction (2015-16), front brake hose malfunction (2016-18), brake caliper material not to specification (2018), the addition of heat shielding around the exhaust to prevent fires when parked on dry grass (2016-17) and faulty door latches (2011-15).