From $57,890 MRLP* (Wildtrak Manual)
Let me be absolutely clear about this. I don’t like diesels. I don’t like 4 wheel drives. And I certainly don’t like pick-up trucks. I know, this all sounds very negative but just bear with me for a moment. I’m a petrolhead. I like burning petrol through 8 cylinders and smoking tyres at the back of the car. And I like utes. Proper utes. The kind we started building in Australia 93 years ago.
But my tastes are no longer valid, since Ford Australia stopped manufacturing Falcon’s in October, and Holden will stop their local assembly line in 2017. No more utes. No more V8’s. We live in sad, sad times. But not all hope is lost.
Ford Australia has vowed to continue their Design, Research and Development and testing local. As such, the latest iteration of the Ford Ranger may not be built here, but it is as Australian as any car can get… nowadays.
Let’s go back to basics though. The Ranger is a 4×4 Pick-Up truck, designed as part of Ford’s new ‘One Ford’ global business plan. The Focus, Fiesta, Transit Van and even the Mustang are all part of the same program. This means that they can save millions of dollars every year by making cars that can be sold all over the world, not just in one region.
This is brilliant thinking on Ford’s behalf, but it’s not like they’ve reinvented the wheel. Toyota, Mazda, BMW, Audi and countless others have been doing this for years. So welcome to the present, Ford.
Where Ford has attempted to reinvent the wheel though, is their approach to the lucrative Australian ute market. Whilst Falcon’s and Commodore’s have always had luxury versions of their utes, not many 4×4 Pick-Up’s have (I should say, not many available in Australia have offered luxury versions). This is where the Wildtrak comes into play.
When the PX Ranger Wildtrak came on the market back in 2012, it redefined what a luxury Australian Pick-Up could be. Comfortable seats, loads of bling and an Automatic Gearbox that actually worked. Something Toyota had been chasing for years.
Now, the 2016 PX MkII Ranger Wildtrak is here – and boy is it a doozy! But we’ll get to that soon.
Engine and Drive Train
Until recently, the Ranger had the biggest engine available in the Australian 4×4 Pick-Up market (the recently released VW Amarok V6 now holds that crown). But the Ranger’s no slouch. Buried beneath the bonnet is a 3.2 Litre 5-cylinder turbo-diesel. At full stick, it spits out 147kw and 470Nm of Torque. Like I said, it’s no slouch.
Ford have done a lot of work to ensure the Engine bay is as clever as it can be. Because they wanted the Wildtrak to have an 800mm wading depth, they had to weave some magic to protect the important components. The air box has a special water catchment system that allows water to drain out through a one-way valve and not be sucked into the throttle body. The alternator as been raised, as too have the Engine Management systems and fuse boxes.
They have designed special breathers for the diff and transmission that sit high up and allow the components to breathe easy, but not allow water into them. The electrical connections have been double sealed so your lights still work under water and the grille is specially designed to suck as much cool air into the intercooler, radiator and condenser.
The big engine has been mated to a brilliant 6-speed Auto or a not as appealing 6-speed manual. Our test car was the Automatic, but I have driven numerous manuals and as much as I love shifting gears, the old school way is lost on this car. It feels out of place in a “truck” as clever as the Wildtrak. The Auto however, is truly brilliant. It never feels rough or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Its smooth and quiet and saved me from a couple of sticky situations – something I don’t think the manual would have been as capable of.
I’ve said to many people over the years of PX Rangers, but I always felt the manual had been taken out of a WRX – it feels like a short shift, with snappy selections that require precise revs to get into each gear. A 4WD should be a lazy gear change. It’s producing big torque and when you’re b*#!ls deep in mud and the sun is setting, you don’t want to be struggling to find your gear.
Then there’s towing. Anyone who wants to tow these days is mad if they buy a manual. It’s not 1982, automatics aren’t unreliable. In fact, they are more reliable than the components in a manual setup. There’s no clutch to wear out, no thrust bearing to snap and they are governed by a computer that is so smart it could even offer a sensible answer whilst still being funny on “Family Feud”.
You can throw a tonne in the tray and tow 3.5 tonnes for a combined 6 tonne mass. If that doesn’t impress you, the trailer-sway assist sure will. It reads any sway from your caravan or trailer and counters it, utilising the brakes and accelerator to try and avoid an accident.
The 4WD system is pretty good too. Then again, you would expect it to be on a pickup that costs the better part of $60,000. It’s easy to select – gone are the days of trying to reef a lever into 4 Low. It’s now just a dial that you can switch between. Doesn’t get much better than that. You also get rear diff-locks – a great asset when bogged on the standard highway-tread tyres.
The Wildtrak features a “Hill Launch Assist” that allows you to conquer slopes of up to 45 degrees. And the oil pickup works up to that degree of incline too. But what if you need to go down a hill? Well Ford thought of that too. “Hill Decent Control” works kind of like a retarder in a truck. You can hear the engine working to keep the vehicle at a steady pace down a steep decent and you don’t even need to touch the brakes.
Ride and Handling
This is where the Wildtrak falls over for me. It’s pretty comfortable, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not as smooth as a $60k european car is. It’s nowhere near as comfortable as the Amarok or even the Hilux for that matter – but it redeems itself with some pretty neat technology.
Built on a “ladder frame” style chassis, Ford claim it is twice as stiff as it’s previous generation Ranger chassis and 10 percent stiffer than the Hilux. Big call. This has positive and negative effects. For instance, the ride is stiffer, but it is also tougher when asked to work hard.
Ford haven’t just relied on their fancy new chassis design to do all the hard work either. They have added U-Shaped “Ribs” into the tray as added reinforcement. Then, they created little joiners to hold it all together – something they called “Tie Fighters” due to their remarkable similarity to a Tie Fighter from ‘Star Wars’… Clever!
These allow the vehicle to twist from loads in the tray or from rough terrain, and evenly distribute the energy throughout the skeleton of the Ranger to minimise the possibility of asking your mate to exercise his Cert 3 in Welding.
For such a big vehicle, the lack of body roll is noticeable. Compared to a Hilux, this sits like a sports car. It does roll a bit, but much less than you would expect. Possibly thanks to it’s smart chassis, it sits very level on the road. If you come across a twisty piece of tarmac, I would strongly advise slowing down, but it will soak it up enough that you aren’t forced into a game of corners with your rear seated passengers.
This is really one of the winning features or the Wildtrak. Our test car only had the SYNC2 system in it, but that hardly let it down. From the sporty feeling/looking seats to the “high-tech” dash cluster, the Wildtrak is bling’d very well.
You’re constantly reminded that it’s a Wildtrak every time you get in it. From the decals on the front doors, to the stitching in the seats, everything is designed to scream top-spec. The seats have what Ford call “Caliber Fabric with Trak Orange trim”. There is a little bit of leather dotted about the place but this is to an advantage. After your 4×4 has been in the sun all day, the last thing you want to do is sit on a frying pan. The seatbelt is a branding iron as it is – so I’m glad the seats are draped in fabric.
They only feature a heating function, but the dual-zone climate control cools fast and thanks to the small cabin found in a pickup, your pits will be comfortable within about ten minutes. The drivers seat features 8-way power adjustment including lumbar support – but the passenger seat is completely manual.
Thanks to the SYNC2 system, you get an 8-inch touch screen complete with navigation, climate control settings, bluetooth, audio entertainment and a reversing camera. You can connect your phone or iPod through a multitude of USB inputs and if you need to charge your mobile device or in our case, camera equipment – there are 2 230V inverter outlets – one in the back of the centre console and one in the tray.
There and front and rear parking sensors and moving guidelines on the reverse camera to help even the worst of us park. These are incredibly handy when reversing a trailer.
The steering wheel has enough buttons to command a space shuttle launch, but they are all functional and as I found out, required more than you would realise. Aside from your usual volume and audio mode buttons, you also have your hands-free phone buttons, an arrow pad to control your multifunction screens and cruise-control controls.
The cruise-control is one of the best parts of this car. Our test car had the optional “Tech-Pack” added, which features Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist and Driver Impairment Mode. The Lane Keep Assist I would use with great caution, it has a tendency to throw you across the lanes, but it is designed as an alert function rather than an assistance function. The standout feature is it’s clever limiter function.
Allow me to explain. Say your youth is doing some of their practice driving. Your are on the highway and you don’t want them to exceed their 90km/h speed limit. Set the limiter to 92km/h and if they hit that, the car will simply cut the fuel to stop the car accelerating further, but will maintain it’s same speed.
Limiters that warn you aren’t new, but one that actually governs the speed certainly is something new on a blue-collar car. I’d love to see this integrated elsewhere in Ford’s lineup.
The digital dash is a treat too. The speedo stays old school, taking centre-stage on the dash. But nestled either side are two little LCD screens that give you a variety of information. In the left, you can see your music, navigation and phone whilst on the right you can view your fuel economy, tacho, oil temp and a multitude of other readouts.
My personal favourite feature inside the cabin was the ambient lighting. Now a standard feature on all your higher-spec Ford models, you can select the colour you want the ambient lighting to display from a range of colours. I chose blue, because it’s a Ford.
It’s bold. And Orange.
And the roller shutter tonneau cover is still a pain in the rear end… But it looks good.
This is where the Wildtrak becomes a little less attractive. Starting at $57,890 MRLP* for the manual, and jumping up to $60,090 MRLP* for the automatic, the Wildtrak is on the higher end of the price list for a pickup truck. But you do get a lot of bang for buck. The Hilux is priced similarly, but I’d have the Ranger any day. If you want prestige paint, add another $500 and if you want the tech-pack as mentioned earlier, add another $600.
I hated the idea of the Wildtrak before I got in it. By the end of the week with it I was sad to hand it back. It is genuinely a brilliant vehicle.
A number of people have asked me whether it’s worth getting the Wildtrak over the XLT and optioning the latter up. Before I drove it, I would have said save your money and get the XLT. After driving the ‘Trak for a week, I can’t take that back fast enough. Even optioned up the XLT is still around $5,000 short of the Wildtrak, but that extra $5,000 gets you so much more that you simply can’t option onto the lower spec.
With no more Falcon, the Wildtrak is, in my opinion, as close to fitting as any vehicle could possibly be. Hell, we will probably see these racing in the Superutes category in the next couple of years.
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak is truly great vehicle. It’s tough, well presented and most of all, great to drive.
My opinion, take the $60k you were going to waste on an SUV and get this instead. There’s room for three in the back and you can fit the house in the tray.
Overall Rating: 8/10
*MRLP – Manufacturers Recommended List Price. Includes GST. Does not include any on-road costs, government taxes, dealer delivery charges or registration fees. Please see your local dealer for pricing to suit your situation.