Ryan Bubear has a taste of the latest Ford Ranger 3.2 Double-Cab 4x4 Wildtrak auto...
The battle at the very top of our regular list of South Africa's best-selling bakkies has never been closer, with a certain pair of bruising bakkies swapping places seemingly every month.
Yes, the perennially favoured nameplate — now represented by an all-new version of the Toyota Hilux — has its hands full thanks to the impressive resurgence of the Ford Ranger.
Of course, a handful of months before the recent local launch of the eighth-generation Hilux, the folks at Ford gave the Ranger a nifty facelift. And it's this model — in range-topping Wildtrak trim, no less — that we evaluate here.
Before this mid-cycle refresh, the Ranger was rather an imposing pick-up (read our pre-facelift Wildtrak test from way back in 2012). And the tweaked styling up front only adds to its on-road presence. In short, it's a mean-looking thing. But it's inside where the latest Silverton-built Ranger has changed most.
Yes, the new Ranger's cabin is even more car-like than before, with this Wildtrak variant boasting all sorts of clever kit and numerous creature comforts. There are also all manner of driving aids one wouldn't expect to find stuffed into a bakkie, including a lane-keeping system, adaptive cruise control, a driver impairment monitor, and (very useful) parking sensors front and rear.
The in-car connectivity system, which can be manipulated either through the centrally mounted touchscreen or by using the multi-functional steering wheel, also features a voice control function, but it seldom correctly deciphered our instructions (even when we whipped out our best American accents). The reversing camera, meanwhile, now feeds its footage to the eight-inch touchscreen rather than to a section of the rear-view mirror.
Along with the extensive list of standard features and smartly cleaned up fascia (gone are the multitude of buttons that plagued the earlier model), the Ranger boasts a level of on-road refinement that was unheard of just a few short years ago. The suspension is surprisingly pliant, too, and shifts via the six-speed automatic transmission are entirely unobtrusive.
That said, the hefty 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine makes a fair din under even moderate acceleration. But this is a small price to pay for impressive (though unchanged) peak outputs of 147kW and 470Nm. The latter is available from 1500rpm through to 2750rpm, which allows for useful in-gear acceleration on tarmac and decent low-speed oomph off the beaten track.
Ford says its engineers have convinced the burly five-pot to consume up to 18 percent less fuel than before, with a revised claimed combined consumption of 9.0 litres per 100km. Our final return — thanks in part to plenty of relaxed open-road driving — came in at just 9.2 litres per 100km. Mighty impressive for a vehicle this size (and for an engine this responsive).
That figure may have been a little higher had we spent more time off-road, but the Ranger has little to prove in this department. The transfer case is still electronically controlled via a rotary switch next to the gear-lever, allowing for fuss-free shifting between 2H, 4H, and 4L. In addition, the Wildtrak features an electronic locking rear differential as standard.
Space, naturally, is one of this 5354mm-long double-cab's strong points, with oodles of leg- and head-room on the rear bench. The maximum payload, meanwhile, comes in at 938kg, with the braked towing capacity pegged at a hefty 3500kg. Safety, too, is a strength, with seven airbags, ABS with EBD, off-road ABS, traction control, hill launch assist, hill descent control, trailer sway control, IsoFix child-seat anchors, and a tyre-pressure monitoring system all standard.
Other standout features we've not yet mentioned include an electrically adjustable driver's seat, automatic Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a towbar, 18-inch alloys, partial leather upholstery (including atop the dashboard), climate control, Bluetooth, and a handy 230-volt power socket (in addition to a trio of 12V sockets).
So, what don't we like? Well, while the new dual-TFT instrument cluster is highly configurable, there are perhaps too many options from which to choose. In fact, select the layout that feels most useful to you, and you'll likely find yourself without a tachometer. In addition, the lack of reach-adjustment on the steering column will irk users who are particular about their driving position.
Then, of course, there's the price. At just short of R600k, this particular model is the fifth most-expensive double-cab bakkie in South Africa at the time of writing. But, of course, it is absolutely crammed full of big-car equipment, and is about as close to luxurious as modern bakkies get.
And that's what makes it so very appealing to the leisure market, where lifestyle-orientated consumers seek a balance between work and play, with perhaps a little more emphasis on the latter.
Ultimately, the Wildtrak represents all that has made this generation of Ranger so very successful in South Africa of late, and that which has allowed it to step fearlessly into the ring with the unfailingly popular Hilux.
It offers a heady mix of bakkie ability, SUV-like comfort, and big-car features that is tough to beat in the double-cab segment. Add the updated styling, and it seems certain that the ding-dong battle between the Hilux and Ranger is set to continue.
And this sort of competition is handy for the segment in general. And terrific for the customer in particular.
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See page two for specs and pricing.