Ford has moved to renew the appeal of its well-respected Ranger pick-up in the face of enhanced competition from Mitsubishi and Nissan, with more coming from Toyota, Fiat, Renault and eventually Mercedes in what is the most vibrant shake-up the pick-up market has ever seen.

What Van? was given an exclusive opportunity to drive the revised pick-up, and this mid-life enhancement of the model launched in early 2012 brings a range of enhancements, although none are particular obvious or overt.

The interior is the clearest indication that you’re in a revised Ranger, at least on the higher trim levels, where the Sync2 connectivity system is standard on Limited and Wildtrak specifications, and incorporates satnav on the top trim.

The system means the arrival of the eight-inch colour-coded touchscreen system that drivers of many of Ford’s passenger cars will well recognise. A redesigned instrument cluster is also evident, and on the top-spec Wildtrak in particular, Ford has added a soft-touch instrument panel top with orange stitching, designed to add what it describes as a “premium feel” to the cockpit.

The Wildtrak also gains new seats with new graphics and orange stitching, and an eight-way adjustable, powered driver’s seat.

On the outside, new headlights and what Ford calls is a more muscular bonnet, mark out the revised truck, but it’s not that obvious a change unless you see the old and new models side by side.

What Van? was granted exclusive early access to the new pick-up at Ford’s test centre in Lommel, Belgium, and sampled the new 200hp Wildtrak manual both on Tarmac and on a challenging off-road course.

The first observation is a reminder of the pleasantly light steering that makes manoeuvring a doddle, but manages to impress because, unlike most rivals, that lightness doesn’t also mean an absence of feel. In fact, the Ranger has much more engaging feedback than most of its rivals, some of which offer little more than the presumption that what you’re doing to the steering wheel is actually transferring to the road.

That helps the Ranger maintain Ford’s long-standing position of producing fine-driving vehicles across the board. Also contributing on that score is the great body control, although there was a lumpy ride quality evident on our unladen test vehicle, even on the smooth roads of our test route.

The gearchange is decent, and refinement seemed fine on our fairly brief drive, while power delivery and performance of the 200hp 3.2 is plentiful, although it will be interesting to try the new 160hp 2.2-litre diesel when we get a chance in the next few weeks (see What Van?, March 2016) because there may not be too much between them in performance terms but a  significant amount in efficiency.

Speaking of which, there’s an impressive improvement in terms of the Ranger’s miles per gallon figures. Revised engines feature stop/start technology, new final drive ratio options, and the introduction of electric power-assisted steering, a trio of measures that make a difference of up to 17%, depending on model, according to Ford.

On the Wildtrak driven here, it adds 4.9mpg to the official figure, which jumps from 29.1mpg to 34.0mpg, whereas the auto version of the 3.2-litre engine goes from 28.2mpg to 31.7mpg.

The other engine in the range is the 160hp 2.2-litre, which will be interesting because it is the new unit replacing the 150hp and 125hp engines in the pre-facelift Ranger. That means a higher entry point for the range, which previously kicked off at £15,333 but now, without the lower-powered single cab 4×2 model, begins with the super cab 4×4, which costs just under £18,000 at £17,795, £300 cheaper than the single cab four-wheel drive model (all prices are quoted excluding VAT).

But despite being more powerful, the new engine is also more efficient than what came before, with double cab models at 39.8mpg, and even higher with Ford’s option of an eco axle that’s not rated for such a good towing capacity, but is more efficient as a result. With this no-cost option fitted, an official 43.5mpg is quoted across regular single cab, super cab and double cab body styles.

It still can’t match the most frugal of its rivals – Nissan’s new Navara manages a maximum of 44.1mpg for its least thirsty king cab, while the Mitsubishi L200, the reigning What Van? Light Commercial Vehicle of the Year, is at 42.8mpg – but with a higher towing capacity that is more comparable to the Ranger’s 39.8mpg figure.

Pricing goes up across the range by between £409-£645, depending on model, with this Wildtrak increasing by £545 over its predecessor. For that money, as well as the styling, efficiency and interior improvements, there are also spec upgrades. The previously mentioned Sync2 touchscreen system is the obvious one, but there’s also the addition of a choice of seven colours of ambient lighting.

The lower trim levels also receive changes. The whole range now gets a DAB radio as standard, while the entry XL specification gets heated windscreen and body-coloured bumpers, and the XLT is now sold with standard tyre pressure monitors, a USB and an aux input, and illuminated sunvisors.

The Limited 2 trim has been upgraded to add loadbox illumination, overhead console with sunglasses holder, and 12V power socket in the loadbed, as well as the Sync2 system.

New technology is also available as an option for the first time, including lane-keeping alert, adaptive cruise control with forward alert, and traffic sign recognition.

This brief test drive showed that the Ranger becoming more efficient has done nothing to numb its driving qualities, and that the interior improvements, including the Wildtrak’s comfortable, new bespoke seat and the switch to the attractive Sync2 multimedia system, make it a more competitive proposition.

The exterior rework is subtle rather than dramatic, but the Ranger didn’t struggle in the looks department previously, enjoying a butch Tonka toy styling. The efficiency improvements are particularly helpful in keeping the Ford up towards the top of the class.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak 3.2 TDCi 200hp double cab manual
Price (ex VAT)                                                             £25,395
Price range (ex VAT)                                    £17,795-£26,245
Insurance group                                                                12E
Warranty                                                          3yrs/60,000mls
Service intervals                                              2yrs/20,000mls
Load length                                                                1560mm
Load width                                                   1139mm/1560mm
Gross payload                                                              1024kg
Engine size/power                                             3198cc/200hp
On sale January                                                               2016
Combined fuel economy                                            34.0mpg
CO2                                                                            218g/km