Ryan Bubear hops into the "king of bakkie bling": the new Ford Ranger WildTrak.
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Pop quiz, dear reader: What was the best-selling vehicle in South Africa for the month of December 2011?
The entry-level Volkswagen Polo Vivo, perhaps? Toyota's ever-popular Corolla? Or maybe Ford's budget-beating Figo?
No, no and no again. The model that sold the most units in this particular month was the Toyota Hilux. South Africa truly is the Land of the Bakkie, where farmers merrily bounce down rocky tracks, builders lug around heavy equipment (and employees), and urban warriors, well, tackle the traffic-infested tarmac, with the occasional off-road jaunt thrown in for good measure (and no, parking on the pavement doesn't count).
Sure, pickups are popular in places such as the US, but can the Yanks compete with our bakkie culture? Not even close. In fact, it's pretty safe to say we're the undisputed bastions of bakkiedom.
So, while Toyota SA gleefully gorges on a rather large slice of the pie that is this significant market segment (and who could blame 'em?), other manufacturers are trying their best just to get a spot at the table. But Ford's latest attempt has the potential to do more than just that. If anything is going to give the fan-favourite Hilux a bloody nose, it's the Ranger.
Bigger, and better
Make no mistake, this is no mere facelift. This is an all-new, South African-built Ranger, with very little in common with its predecessor. It's bigger, more powerful, and safer (thanks to multiple air-bags and even ESP on some models). New engines and gearboxes are employed. Suspension, brakes and steering have been up-rated. And, of course, it looks more than just a bit different. From the ground up, it's brand spanking new.
Of the 23 Ranger variants available to South African bakkie-lovers (the list stretches from the base 2.5-litre petrol single-cab at R174 000 all the way through to the 3.2-litre diesel double-cab at about R430 000), we had the chance to test the WildTrak — the range's unashamedly "blinged up" offering, crammed with gadgets and unique features. And it certainly garners attention wherever it goes.
To call it a head-turner would be an understatement. On my first 20km trip home from the office, I received countless looks, at least four thumbs-ups, one photograph (I was asked to keep the Ranger stationary as a teenager with a cellphone snapped away), and one query about the beast's fuel consumption. And that was just day one...
Not long after that, the owner of an older Ranger stopped dead at the entrance to a traffic circle — in peak hour, no less — and proceeded to waddle over to ask me about the WildTrak. Needless to say, the motorists behind me were less than pleased, and I ended up leaving the admirer standing there, jaw on the ground. So, it's a traffic-stopper, then...
Indeed, the WildTrak is imposing, thanks mainly to the sheer size of the thing. You'll struggle to find a parking bay able to cope with this double-cab's grand measurements: it's nearly 5.3 metres long, almost 2.2 metres wide and over 1.8 metres tall. Threading it through an underground parking lot can be a touch nerve-wracking, and the stubby aerial takes quite a beating.
So, what sets the WildTrak apart from its Ranger siblings? Well, in terms of the exterior, it gets a unique grille, sports hoop and roof rails; heated mirrors featuring puddle-lamps and blind-spot elimination; a bed-liner (complete with a 12-volt power socket); 18-inch alloys wrapped in massive 265/60 rubber; and, of course, that unique, bright orange paintwork.
Inside, the WildTrak pulls off a remarkable impression of the plush cabin of an upmarket sedan. Dual automatic air conditioning, heated front seats, power adjustable driver's seat, full leather with orange stitching, automatic wipers and headlights, cruise control, Bluetooth (with voice control), audio (CD/MP3/USB/Aux), steering wheel controls, rear park assist and a rear-view camera are all standard.
That last feature is perhaps my favourite of the lot. Slap the WildTrak into reverse and a section of the rear-view mirror magically displays the rear-view video image (the camera is hidden under the oversized Ford badge on the tailgate), complete with overlaid marker lines to help you not ding your shiny new truck.
Interior space is generous, with six-footers enjoying plenty of leg- and head-room in the rear, even with similarly tall folk up seated up front. Thanks to the length of the Ranger though, the load-box on the double-cab doesn't suffer all too much, and is capable of dealing with your average leisure-oriented cargo, and then some.
The 4x2 WildTrak makes use of a five-cylinder 3.2-litre turbo-diesel and a six-speed manual transmission. Short on power, it most certainly is not. Churning out 147kW and an impressive 470Nm, the Duratorq powerplant does a fine job of hauling along the weighty pickup, which has a staggering GCM (Gross Combination Mass or maximum authorised mass) of some 4725kg.
The gearbox can be a touch notchy and the clutch action does take a bit of getting used to — both attributes common to large, diesel drivetrains — but that mountain of torque just doesn't get old. Of course, this is what makes the Ranger adept at carrying and/or towing massive loads. And the steering is pleasantly light, and allows decent manoeuvrability of what is a truly large vehicle.
Ford claims that the WildTrak can deliver a combined fuel consumption of 8.4 litres per 100km, and with an 80-litre tank fitted as standard, this results in plenty of happy miles between trips to your local fuel station. As with any vehicle though, drive it hard and this figure will climb, and climb fast...
At lower speeds, the WildTrak makes plenty of noise, and I found myself driving with the window down and air-con off to listen to the robust five-cylinder converse with the turbo — an ever-so-slightly addictive and far more pleasant interaction than I had expected. At highway speeds, the heavy double-cab is surprisingly civil in terms of aural output (thanks in part to that sixth gear), with wind-noise hardly a factor at all. Refined is a word not often associated with bakkies, but at cruising speeds anyway, it describes the WildTrak well.
The WildTrak is aimed squarely at city dwellers (unlike most of the other Rangers on the list), with Ford admitting that it is intended for "users who mainly utilise their vehicles on sealed roads [that's tar to you and me]". Now, this doesn't mean the 4x2 would struggle off-road, but if you are planning to spend more of your driving time off the black stuff than on, one of the alternative Ranger variants would likely serve you better.
There's good news for those of you wondering about warranty and service plans: all Rangers come standard with a four-year or 120 000km warranty, and a five-year or 90 000km service plan (intervals of 15 000km). Peace of mind? Check.
So, if you aren't prepared to sacrifice style, but you're looking for a striking bakkie that can quite willingly play the role of workhorse and leisure vehicle — and double as your daily drive around the city — the WildTrak is right up there.
And along with its utilitarian Ranger siblings, it has surely made the Hilux sit up and take notice.
Keep an eye on those monthly sales figures, folks. You may be in for a surprise.
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.