+ Generous equipment list
+ Comfy for a pickup
+ Decent carrying and towing capability
- Limited numbers
- VW Amarok feels plusher inside
- Cheaper Rangers make more sense
Verdict: The Ford Ranger continues to be one of the most complete pickups you can buy. In Thunder spec, it brings a sharp look and a generous standard kit list – although if you can leave the looks there's better value further down the range.
Pickup trucks are a common sight on UK roads and the Ford Ranger is the best selling of them all. Why? Probably its combination of a keen price, tough looks and impressive load carrying and towing specs.
But another thing we suspect may be helping is the fairly recent addition of the Ford Ranger Raptor – the toughest looking (and going) version of the Ranger there is.
However, the Raptor comes with compromises; its trick off-road set-up means it can't carry much in its load bay or tow much behind it. In fact, it doesn't even qualify as a commercial vehicle, and in turn, for any tax breaks.
So, what if you want a Ranger that looks like a Raptor, but can still do the business down at the building site. And, err, save you some tax. Well, the Thunder is pretty much the closest to that you'll get.
The Thunder comes with gloss black 18-inch alloy wheels, a black grille with red inserts, black sports bar with a red stripe, chunky black side steps and comes in just one shade of paint - a dark grey. Oh, and plenty of Thunder badging.
Inside, there are leather seats with more thunder emblems and red stitching on the seats and dashboard. Everything inside feels extremely hard-wearing, but if you prefer a plusher interior, a VW Amarok might be more your bag.
You get Ford's highest level of infotainment possible on a Ranger – its 8-inch SYNC 3 touchscreen system with sat-nav, Bluetooth, Apple Carplay and Android Auto as standard. As pickup truck systems go, it's responsive and easy to follow but not the nicest to look at.
The Ranger can be bought in three different body styles, but the Thunder comes only in the largest double-cab form. That means five seats inside and decent space for four adults. Behind that sits a load bay that'll shift a little more than a tonne.
The Thunder will also pull a 3500kg braked trailer, thanks in part to its strong Raptor-matching twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine that produces 213hp and (more importantly here) a stout 500Nm of low down pull. All that gets to the road via a 10-speed automatic gearbox and switchable all-wheel drive.
The Thunder feels more than fast enough, with its sprint to 60mph taking around nine seconds. It's also one of the better pickup trucks to drive, with predictable steering and relatively good comfort despite its leaf-spring rear suspension. A VW Amarok is comfier still, mind, and quieter when pushed hard.
So, the Ranger is still one of the best pickups around, but this Ford Ranger Thunder is being limited to just 4500 models across Europe, so you'd better be quick. Plus, if you aren't bothered about how your Ranger looks, there are cheaper versions further down the range that have exactly the same capability and hence look better value.
The Ranger's interior is very basic at the lower end of the model spectrum, but the Thunder is near the top of the tree and it feels that way inside.
OK, so it's no Rolls-Royce, but its partial leather seats, red dash stitching and soft plastics do help make it feel moderately plush. More importantly, everything is rock solid inside and feels like it'll stand up to years of abuse.
It's all very simply laid out, too, with separate controls for the climate adjustment and large chunky switches for most things.
You get Ford's highest level of infotainment possible on a Ranger – its 8-inch SYNC 3 touchscreen system with sat-nav, Bluetooth, Apple Carplay and Android Auto as standard.
As pickup truck systems go, it's responsive and easy to follow, although an Amarok's system does have sharper and more modern graphics that are easier on the eye.
The Ford Ranger Thunder comes in Double Cab form only, so you get seating for five people. Three adults across the rear seats are likely to complain a bit on a long journey, but four adults will sit very comfortably.
There are Isofix points on the outside rear seats and getting a seat inside is easy thanks to the wide-opening rear doors and the fact that the Ranger rides so high from the ground.
Storage inside is good, too. You'll find four generous door bins, a large glovebox and a usefully large cubby beneath the front armrest that includes a handy tray.
Behind all this is a load bay that will easily handle a standard Euro Pallet and carry up to 1024kg. That's not the most a Ranger can carry, but it's enough for commercial status, comparable with other trucks and probably more than most people require anyway.
There are various load covers and dividers available through Ford for added convenience and security too.
The Ford Ranger Thunder comes with just one engine choice: a twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine that produces 213hp and (more importantly here) a stout 500Nm of low down pull.
All that gets to the road via a 10-speed automatic gearbox and switchable all-wheel drive, offering two-wheel drive for most of your driving but also high and low-geared all-wheel drive for when the going gets tough.
That's the same engine and gearbox as the Ranger Raptor, but the Thunder will tow an impressive 3500kg – 1000kg more than the Raptor.
With a 60mph sprint time of nine seconds, the Thunder feels fast enough for its size and its gearbox does a great job, but it does make more noise getting there than a VW Amarok with its smoother six-cylinder diesel options.
You sit just about as high up as anything on the road in a Thunder, which offers good visibility, but doesn't keep the Thunder from feeling massive in and around town. Standard sensors and a rear camera do help a little though.
The Ranger is one of the better pickups to drive on a country road too because its steering is more precise than most and its body doesn't lean too far in tight bends. Of course, it's no sports car, and will quickly get out of shape if you push it too far.
The Thunder manages to remain pretty comfortable despite its old-school leaf-spring rear suspension, and that comfort gets even better on the motorway, even if the noise levels from the engine and tyre roar increase with it.
All-told, you can't expect much of the Ranger on road, but it does a decent job. Only a Volkswagen Amarok is quieter and more comfortable on Tarmac.
The Ranger holds its own off-road too, with a better than average wading capability, great ground clearance and the standard-fit high and low gearbox modes for greater precision.