The new Ford Ranger was launched to the media late last year and while everyone’s attention is likely on the newcomer’s off-road and four-wheel drive potential, there’s another model that hasn’t been designed to take you to the ends of our earth and back, but which garners no-less, if not, more attention.
Drawing heavily on Ford’s marketing slogan of ‘Built Tough’, the new Ford Ranger is bigger and bolder than ever before. The Wildtrak model exploits the new styling to its full potential with a number of exclusive highlights over the rest of the range. Apart from the bright orange paintwork, the Wildtrak boasts a unique grille; contrasting titanium-look insert on the front bumper; unique ‘sports hoop’; roof rails; as well as 18-inch alloy wheels. The Wildtrak’s cosmetic enhancements lend the Ranger ‘urban chic’ appeal, which does not go unnoticed.
With a more lifestyle and luxury oriented approach to the utilitarian market segment, the range-topping Wildtrak is loaded with surprise and delight features to give it genuine car-like feel. The interior features leather covered seats with orange stitching; an 8-way electronically adjustable driver’s seat; heated front seats; auto on/off headlights; dual-zone climate control; park distance control (PDC) with the image from a rear camera displayed on the rearview mirror. Other nice-to-haves include rain sensing wipers, a 12-volt power socket in the load bay together with four tie-down points that can handle 500 kg each, as well as ‘puddle lamps’ housed beneath the side mirrors that light up the ground around the vehicle at night. Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming for mobile phones and music players is also standard kit, as are USB and Aux-In connections.
Riding 237 mm off the ground, the Wildtrak can require a slight stretch to hop into, but passengers are rewarded with an advantageous view of the road. Up front, the driver has good all-round visibility considering the vehicle’s bulk, with the PDC system proving handy in and around town. Having grown by 62 mm in width and 279 mm in length over the previous generation Ranger, interior space is very good and will easily accommodate four adults, with rear legroom surely being best-in-class, or at least very close. Ford say the dashboard’s design has taken its cues from consumer products and power tools, but whether inspired by the latest mobile phone or the solidity of Table Mountain, what’s important is the result – an uncomplicated and easy to work with layout.
The driver’s instrumentation is clear and legible, featuring blue back lighting at night, which ties in with the ambient light of the same colour around the cabin. A multi-function steering wheel provides control over an above-average sound system, voice-activated commands, as well as cruise control. Oddly though, the steering wheel is adjustable for height only, which is unexpected in a vehicle of the Wildtrak’s rank.
The interior plastics, while appearing durable to the touch, did not offer a convincing fit in some areas, most notably along the transmission tunnel towards the dash, which can be unsettled with not much effort. Another interior idiosyncrasy was the backlight of the dash-mounted digital display that remained on even after the display had been switched off.
Interior storage space is excellent, with a glove box that can swallow a standard sized laptop, a cooled storage area beneath the centre armrest, large door pockets, as well as hidden storage bins below the rear seats. Behind the cab lies a 533 mm deep load bay, with 1 139 mm between the wheel arches and a maximum load carrying capacity up to 965 kg.
Beneath the macho and adventurous exterior styling lies a brand-new chassis, steering system and suspension. The Ranger is built on an all-new frame that is longer, stiffer, and has been equipped with new coil-over-strut suspension in front and leaf spring suspension in the rear, for improved ride quality. In addition, the cabin is mounted on ‘hydro’ mounts (hard rubber filled with hydraulic fluid), which help to isolate vertical and horizontal movement. Across the Ranger line-up, the spring and damper rates are specifically tuned for each model’s weight, centre of gravity, engine torque and drive layout.
The rear-wheel drive Wildtrak, with electronically operated diff lock, rides comfortably, requiring little steering input to keep it on the straight and narrow, as well as offering positive levels of body control in the corners. There’s no escaping the familiar feel of the leaf sprung rear end, with rear passengers being the first to notice. At the same time, ride comfort in this leisure lifestyle bakkie segment is moving on and the Ranger is on-pace in this regard. Interior NVH levels are generally acceptable, considering the vehicle’s bulk, but it quickly became apparent that Ford engineers hadn’t tested the Wildtrak in a Cape South Easter. From 110 km/h in a blustery headwind, the roof mounted radio aerial became an instrument of affliction, resonating with all the appeal of a screaming baby. Thankfully this issue isn’t a permanent one because the Wildtrak is comfortable travelling much faster.
Powered by a new 3.2-litre, 5-cylinder, turbo-diesel engine, the Ranger is not short on motivation. Having driven the four-wheel drive model at launch, the rear-wheel drive Wildtrak feels marginally quicker on the move, which is thanks to less mechanical drag and 275 kilograms fewer drivetrain components to haul around. Incidentally, the weight reduction also means the Wildtrak’s suspension is more compliant, as Ford engineers have stiffened up the 4×4 models to counter the heavier running gear.
The 3.2-litre engine delivers 147 kW at 3 000 r/min and 470 Nm of peak torque between 1 500 and 2 750 r/min, making it one of the strongest diesel engines in its class. Performance is by no means eye-watering, but if you keep an eye on the speedo while planting the accelerator, you’ll find the Ranger picks up its proverbial skirt quite readily. Use all the power and the fuel consumption will pick up too. While Ford claim as low as 8.4 L/100km, our test unit averaged closer to 11 L/100km and rose to 12.6 L/100km when driven hard.
It’s at this point that I’d like to praise the Ranger Wildtrak as offering a driving experience to match its bold, adventurous and luxurious leisure vehicle image. Sadly, however, the Wildtrak is let down by a crude drivetrain that can’t be ignored. While the clutch works in a predictable and linear fashion and the gear lever sits well within the palm of ones hand, the crunchy shift action through the gates of the H-pattern ‘box and free play on the driveshaft as power is sent to the rear wheels, make for a discordant drive. Delicate throttle input does little to mask the clunk that’s felt throughout the cabin and, combined with notchy gear changes, make for a frustrating experience.
The only positive is that the mechanicals feel strong, despite their disjointed actions, but for a vehicle that should shine as a comfortable and effortless range-topping double-cab, the Wildtrak falls short by virtue of its unpolished drivetrain, taking the edge off what could arguably be the most desirable lifestyle bakkie available.
What we like…
- Bold, confident and cohesive styling.
- Standard specification level.
- The burble and torque of the 5-cylinder engine.
- Competent steering and body control.
What we would like…
- A smooth gearshift and uninterrupted throttle action.
- More resolute fitment of select interior trim.
|Base Price||R402 600|
|Warranty||4 year / 120 000 km|
|Service Plan||5 year / 90 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||3 198 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||5-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||147 kW @ 3 000 r/min|
|Torque||470 N.m @ 1 500 – 2 750 r/min|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel Consumption||8.4 l/100km (claimed combined)|