4×4 competition FORD RANGER CHALLENGE
Text and photography: Anzet du Plessis, GG van Rooyen and Danie Botha
If you wanted to test the strength, toughness and off-road ability of a vehicle, how would you do it? This is the question that Ford asked South Africans in preparation for the launch of the all-new Ranger. Ford, you see, was confident that its latest double cab could handle any obstacle, and wanted to prove it, so the company asked typical bakkie buyers to come up with challenges that would test the Ranger’s capabilities. The company wasn’t looking for silly little tests that would make the bakkie seem impressive. It wanted hardcore challenges that could show that the Ranger truly was impressive.
More than 500 people sent in their suggestions, and after careful consideration, three tests were chosen that could gauge the Ranger’s performance in real-world conditions. The three challenges would be recorded by a film crew, and each challenge would be uploaded to the web. The public would then have a chance to vote for their favourite test. And the winner would receive his very own Ranger.
The first test selected was a 48-hour farm challenge devised by Klaus Wassermann, an irrigation farmer from Hammanskraal. Klaus wanted to see if the bakkie could cope with the day-to-day demands of life on the farm by putting it through a host of farming-related trials.
The second challenge was created by Rickard Nell, and was dubbed “Ranger versus the rock”. The “rock” in question was the steep, rocky hill on the infamous Moegatle 4×4 Trail. Moegatle is known as one of SA’s three Terror Trails, and with good reason, as many 4x4s have met an untimely end on this trail. Rickard wanted to see if the Ranger could scale the 45-degree rock face that forms part of the trail.
The final challenge was suggested by Gerhard Koekemoer, a property negotiator for a cellphone company. Now, don’t let his job title fool you. Gerhard isn’t some swanky real estate agent who drives around in a soft-roader. He has to deal with technical issues at cellphone towers. And as you’ve probably noticed, these towers aren’t always in the most accessible spots. Gerhard wanted to see if the Ranger could reach a tower on a steep hill by traversing a rocky track – while towing a 1,6-ton generator.
With the gauntlet thrown down, it was time to find out if the Ranger could live up to all the hype that had been created around it. Its first destination was an irrigation farm near Hammanskraal, just outside Pretoria.
THE LIFE OF A PLAASBAKKIE
Ah, the plaasbakkie – that trusty workhorse that is as robust and reliable as it is loud, basic and unrefined. You can’t kill a plaasbakkie, says traditional wisdom. Yes, it boasts ancient technology. Yes, its suspension is so harsh it’ll make your teeth clatter. Yes, it has about the same top speed as an asthmatic mule. But it’s tough. Regardless of how badly you treat it, it will just keep chugging along.
Modern bakkies, on the other hand, can’t cope with life on the farm. They have refined engines, car-like interiors and all sorts of electrical gizmos that just don’t mix well with the harsh environment of the farm. At least, that’s what many bakkie fans believe. But is it true, or can a bakkie be modern and comfortable, while still being able to act as a hard-working plaasbakkie? This is what Klaus Wassermann wanted to find out. He wanted to use Ford’s new Ranger to complete all those daily chores that are part of life on the farm.
“A bakkie is probably a farmer’s most important tool,” said Klaus during the 48-hour challenge. “My bakkie truly is my right-hand man, and because of this it needs to be tough, reliable and comfortable. And, of course, speedy as well.”
Klaus started the challenge by testing the Ranger’s towing capability. How did he do it? By towing cattle – a hefty load of about 1,8 tons.
“On the farm you tow a lot, and transporting cattle is particularly difficult. Five cows weigh around 1,8 tons. Moreover, they’re restless and move around while being transported, which means that the weight of your load is shifting the whole time,” explained Klaus.
The Ranger, however, impressed him with its ability to handle the jittery cows. Thanks to its Trailer-sway Control system, it was able to keep the cow-carrying trailer nicely in check. Its five-cylinder 3,2-litre oilburner was also more than up to the task of providing power.
“It doesn’t even feel a two-ton load,” said Klaus. “The brute power is remarkable!”
The second test he had lined up for the Ranger was a trip down to the Apies River where he regularly switches on a water pump that feeds the farm’s centre-pivot irrigation systems. Why was this such a challenging task? Because the road leading to the pump was very muddy and slippery.
“It is one of the worst tracks on the farm. I can’t use my bakkie to travel to the pump. I usually take the quad bike,” said Klaus.
Once again the Ranger impressed him by showing that it could meet the challenge. With its Hill Descent Control system, rear diff lock and four-wheel-drive system, the Ranger managed to gain enough traction to traverse the slippery slope.
Next up for Ford’s bakkie was an impromptu turn as a fire truck. Fire poses one of the greatest threats to a farm, and dealing with a fire the moment it breaks out is crucial. Klaus wanted to see if the Ranger could handle racing to the scene of a fire while carrying fire-fighting equipment and 1000 litres of water.
“The Ranger did incredibly well,” said Klaus, once the fire had been put out. “It carried the 1000kg fire-fighting equipment with ease and allowed me to put out the fire quickly and easily.”
The bakkie’s toughest farm test, however, was still ahead. It would be used to tow one of the centre-pivot irrigation systems.
“This isn’t something I would try with my own bakkie,” said Klaus. “We normally use a tractor to tow the irrigation system.”
There was no doubt that the Ranger had the oomph to tow heavy equipment. Klaus had already used to it to tow the two-ton cattle trailer, but this was, well, different. The irrigation system was 170m long and weighed about 6000kg, so it posed just about the toughest towing challenge one could throw at the Ranger.
Klaus engaged low range and put his foot on the accelerator pedal. To his surprise, the massive irrigation system started to move forwards.
“I was very stressed in the beginning,” said Klaus at the end of his 48-hour challenge. “But the Ranger did it. It was amazing! I towed the piece of equipment 170m to its next location.”
So, having put Ford’s double cab through some very gruelling challenges, was he convinced that the thoroughly modern Ranger could act as a workhorse and plaasbakkie?
“I am very impressed by this bakkie,” said Klaus. “It definitely has what it takes to survive life on the farm. If I don’t win one in the Ranger Challenge, I’m going to buy one!”
RANGER VERSUS THE ROCK
Rickard Nell, an IT storage engineer from Pretoria, is a Ford man. He owns a Ranger Supercab 3.0TDCi 4×2, which he uses as his daily runner and as his weekend toy. He makes no secret of how he feels about his Ranger: He loves it, finish and klaar.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Ford, and my Ranger justifies my belief in the brand. Wrong perceptions about the brand are probably Ford’s biggest single challenge to overcome, never mind any 4×4 challenge,” says Rickard. “Once people look past the perceptions of a badge, and focus on the bigger picture, they soon realise what a Ford Ranger really offers them.”
Rickard is talking to us at the Moegatle 4×4 trail, about 30km north of Brits in the North West Province. We’re here because Rickard is one of the three finalists in the Ford Ranger Challenge.
“I was convinced that the all new Ranger would be an amazing 4×4. With 147 kW of power and 470 Nm of torque, nothing should be able to stop the 3.2TDCi and its five-cylinder turbodiesel engine. So I went out and searched for the most challenging 4×4 test I could find, which turned out to be Moegatle’s notorious rock,” says Rickard.
We’re standing at the base of this monster. They call it Koos se Klip (Koos’ rock). It’s a 45 degree climb, during which wheels invariably lift into the air. You need horsepower and horsepower, grip and traction from a reliable and fail-safe 4×4 system – and a good helping of bravery, it seems. A number of 4x4s have met their premature end on this rock.
The American director in charge of filming the action for the Ford Ranger Challenge website arrives on the scene.
“So Rickard, are you up to it?” he asks.
Rickard looks at the rock, looks at the director, looks at the red Ranger parked nearby, and looks at the rock. “I’m going to catch a ride with Alex first, if you don’t mind,” he says.
It is agreed that Moegatle 4×4 guide Alex Fullard will be first to drive the Ranger up Koos se Klip. Alex has been up the rock countless times, so if he can’t do it, it probably can’t be done. Once he is satisfied that it’s safe for the Ranger to tackle the obstacle, he and Rickard will practise on some less dangerous inclines – and then go for it.
So Alex, with Rickard in the passenger seat, lines up for the first attempt at the steep ascent. The tension is palpable.
Although the Ranger, with its 237mm ground clearance and ability to forge through 800mm-deep water, had conquered mud and intimidating ruts earlier in the day, this 45-degree climb is something altogether more menacing, intimidating and dangerous.
Following strict safety regulations for the camera crew and the handful of spectators, Alex edges the Ranger forward with low range and the standard rear differential lock engaged.
The Ranger’s nose starts climbing up the rock, and the moment the rear bumper is clear of the level ground, Alex lets the 470 Newtons do the talking.
The left front wheel lifts, halfway up the climb, but Alex keeps his foot planted. The Ranger climbs, and climbs… and reaches the zenith of Koos se Klip!
While the Ford men phone the office to tell their colleagues that the Ranger has successfully completed the climb, Alex tackles the steep descent. With the Ford’s hill descent control system engaged, it makes light work of this task. After a brief round of congratulations, it’s time to get serious again, as Alex coaches Rickard in the ways of Koos se Klip.
Finally it is Rickard’s turn. With the cameras rolling, Rickard starts the climb, delicately. But he is too slow, and when that front wheel lifts into the air the combination of insufficient momentum and 470 Nm of torque sees the Ranger spin up plumes of blue smoke. But it ain’t going up no more.
With Alex guiding him from the passenger seat, Rickard slowly reverses the double cab down and, with a more suitable amount of momentum he boots the Ranger up the rock. And he, too, reaches the summit.
Rickard and the Ranger have conquered Koos se Klip!
Later, while Rickard is being interviewed by the film crew, the Ford men decide to also take the Ranger up the rock. With a former racing champion behind the wheel, the Ford Ranger 3.2TDCi XLT 4×4 automatic scales the rock again – only this time with the transfer case in high range!
The new Ford Ranger is clearly not intimidated by any so-called “Terror Trail” obstacles, and it proved to be everything Rickard Nell thought and dreamt it would be.
“Wow! Driving the new Ranger on the road, the ride quality, which is more like a passenger car than a bakkie, had me slightly apprehensive about its 4×4 ability,” says Rickard. “Now, I have no doubts anymore. This new Ranger is the real deal.”
SEARCHING FOR A SIGNAL
The third and final contestant had the Ranger team travel all the way to Lydenburg. Why? Well, because there’s an area just out of town that is missing something that has become vital in everyday life – a cellphone signal.
Gerhard Koekemoer is a property negotiator for a large cellphone company. He may not be the one erecting the tower, but he knows what he wants.
If you’ve ever used a cellphone tower as a landmark, you’ll know that the reason they work so well is that they are usually situated on top of a hill, or even a mountain. The higher the peak, the better the signal. So, the higher the peak, the better the bakkie needs to be to get there!
Gerhard, who is the only finalist who has never owned a bakkie, wanted to see if the Ranger was up to the job. Not only did it need serious 4×4 capabilities, as there often isn’t even a road up to the chosen spot, but it had to traverse the rough terrain while towing a rather expensive, 1,6 ton generator.
The day began early, with a long drive to Lydenburg from Pretoria. This may seem like the easy part for the Ranger 3.2TDCi 4×4 XLT Double Cab, but for Gerhard, it was important. The Ranger may be tough as nails, but if it’s not comfortable and forgiving on the fuel bill, it does not fit the bill. “I can do up to 3000km a week,” Gerhard says.
With the cruise control set at 120km/h, Gerhard and the team were at the site in no time, and with fuel consumption of XX, the bakkie was not only comfortable on the long road, but reasonably gentle on the budget, too.
Gerhard, who misses his family when he’s out in the country, was impressed with the “toys” in the Ranger’s cabin. “I love the Bluetooth — being able to have both hands on the steering wheel while talking is great,” Gerhard says of one of the Ranger’s many luxury gadgets that make the long road that little bit shorter.
Leaving the tar road at the farm where the mast is being erected, Gerhard is impressed with the Ranger’s power. The 147 kW and 470 Nm ensure there is no problem towing the generator along smoothly. But power is not everything — Gerhard also needs a bit of versatility. The biggest challenge he faces day to day is not a specific rock, or a specific task, but rather the unknown. “Going to the sites, I don’t know what obstacles lie ahead of me. Things can be quite tough.”
Gerhard encounters everything from steep inclines to loose rocks, narrow pathways and non-existent roads. For the job, he needs a bakkie that is prepared for anything — a bakkie that makes a road where there isn’t one, and does it all while towing that “genny”.
The purpose of the generator is to supply power to existing towers when there are outages and he is called in, or if there is a problem which needs to be diagnosed. No property negotiator had ever towed a genny up to a site, and Gerhard was keen to be the first to do so, and show off to the boys a bit.
He need not have worried. From the loose, slipping plate rocks to the narrow gorge-like road that curls up this mountain, the Ranger took everything in its stride
“I felt in control the whole time,” Gerhard said, after the traction control kicked in while the Ranger traversed a pile of slipping rocks.
There was no high revving, no spitting of rocks from under the tyres, no reversing and trying again. A brief second of tyre slip prompted the traction control to engage, after which the Ranger quietly glided over the rocks with the genny in tow.
It wasn’t even necessary to engage low range, despite the Ranger’s heavy load. “My fear was that the generator might drag the Ranger off course, but it actually pulled the generator on course. The power is awesome.”
Towing the generator is always a tricky challenge for Gerhard. Apart from anything else, it would be costly to replace — something that has Gerhard constantly on edge. The Ranger’s “trailer sway control” function ensured that he was aware of the trailer’s orientation at all times, allowing him to breathe easy for a change.
For this site there was a road to the top, but that doesn’t mean it was vehicle friendly. The Ranger often encountered parts where the side wall of the road had collapsed, making it more rocky than usual, or narrow stretches next to steep slopes – there are no safety barriers up here!
Three-quarters of the way up, a large fallen tree blocked the road entirely, and had to be moved. There was little space to manoeuvre, but Gerhard hooked the stump to the Ranger’s tow bar, and pulled it out of the way. The Ranger, which has a 3,3-ton towing capacity (braked trailer), looked a bit like an elephant clearing the way for its herd.
At the top, Gerhard could barely believe what the Ranger had achieved. Looking out over the beautiful landscape, he grinned from ear to ear. “I made it,” he said. “It’s a story to tell to the guys for years to come.”