FORD'S POPULAR range of pick-up trucks has undergone a revamp and the newcomers will be available in UK showrooms early in 2016.

A leading feature is a 17% increase in fuel economy, mainly using an auto-start-stop feature, altered final drive ratios and electric power assisted steering.

Advanced features will include a sophisticated connectivity package, lane keeping aid and adaptive cruise control, taking the Ranger into the 'smart' bracket as far as pick-ups are concerned.

Ford see this as a big market for them and even with the current model coming up against some pretty hefty competition from the likes of the new Mitsubishi L200, Toyota's estimable HiLux and the recent threat from VW's Amarok, Ranger sales have continued to accelerate in Europe, and are up 36% year-over-year in the first seven months of 2015.

It recorded sales of 21,600 vehicles in 2014 in Ford's 20 traditional European markets - more than double that achieved in 2012. In the UK, 4659 Rangers were sold in the first eight months of 2015 - a 36.5% increase for the same period last year.

The latest incarnation of the top of the range Wildtrak looks more like a luxury SUV than a workaday pick-up, with a liquid metallic grey finish for the new trapezoidal grille, with this accent colour continuing to the side mirrors, door handles, side air vents, load-bed rails and tail lamps.

Other exclusive design elements on the new Wildtrak include rectangular fog lamps, a unique sports hoop, machined 18-inch alloy wheels and bold graphics. Look out too for big changes inside, with a soft-touch instrument panel top with an orange accent stitch imparts a premium feel to the cockpit, while the rings around the air registers feature a distinctive shadow chrome finish on the Wildtrak.

It also features an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat and has distinctive seat design throughout.

On the hardware front, an improved diesel line-up across the range features a 158bhp variant of Ford's latest 2.2-litre TDCi engine - that's compared to the 124bhp and 148bhp engines in the outgoing model - and then there's the highly thought of towing capacity of the powerful 197bhp five-cylinder 3.2-litre, five-cylinder TDCi unit. All models have a tow capability of 3.5 tonnes (braked).

Both six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available and customers can select four-wheel-drive and two-wheel-drive variants, though the Wildtrak models only have four-wheel-drive.

The new 158bhp model will return a pretty decent 43.5 mpg, which is much better than the 36.2 mpg from the previous set-up. Emissions are also down significantly.

When the going gets a bit harder, it can wade up to 800mm deep, has 299mm of ground clearance and thanks to a 28-degree approach angle and 25-degree departure angle, should handle steep obstacles with some confidence.

It will electronically shift the transfer case to allow 4 x 4 selection on the move via a knob on the centre console. There's also a low-range four-wheel drive and an electronic locking rear differential gearing for tricky off-road terrain.