Some of the earliest memories I have are of my dad and me loading up the bakkie and heading into the mountains for the weekend. Growing up in Jozi, any chance we had to get out of the city was nothing short of pure bliss. To be out in the bush, under the stars, talking late into the night, sitting next to a crackling fire. There is nothing more relaxing.
Since COVID-19 hit and the country went into lockdown the closest I could get to set up the tent was in our yard, but let’s face it, it’s just not the same. So, when Uncle Cyril announced that intra-provincial travel was re-opened we did a happy dance, dropped everything, and loaded the Ford Ranger Wildtrak for a weekend in the famous Cederberg Conservancy.
HIT THE ROAD
On the open road, the Ranger Wildtrak is a breeze to pilot, pretty obvious when it’s got Ford’s latest 10-speed automatic gearbox. Paired with adaptive cruise control the tar section from Cape Town to Citrusdal went by like a breeze, the average fuel consumption hovering around 9.0 l/100km. While it’s short of Ford’s claimed 7.8 l/100 km it’s impressive when considering the size of this beast, and that it was fully laden.
Once we hit the dirt road the Ranger Wildtrak came alive, this was its natural habitat. The steep Nieuwoudt Pass started out in 2H, though laden bakkie and recent rains meant 4H was engaged bringing all four wheels to the party; the Ranger tore up the pass like a bobsled team would fly down it. The word ‘responsive’ gets thrown around loosely when it comes to cars, it needs to be noted that in the Ranger Wildtrak case this is true and not just lip service. Loose gravel from thousands of grip destroying small stones scattered everywhere and deep corrugations can be a traction nightmare, the Wildtrak cut its way through it all, this is what it’s built to do.
The 10-speed gearbox is its normal drive mode could be perceived as frustrating; the gear changes are rather timid and quite slow, especially in the changing terrain. Shifting the gearstick over to ‘S’ the gearbox brought it’s a-game, from then on it was like the Wildtrak had already selected the gear just before it was needed. I’ll admit I probably spent 90% of the time in ‘S’; standard mode on the open road was a bit drier than a dog biscuit. For general town driving, though, I will say it is fantastic. Instead of ‘D’ and ‘S’, it should be called ‘Town’ and ‘Open Country’.
The engine powering this Wildtrak is a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder bi-turbo diesel. While the engine is bi-turbo in name, it does far more than what bi-turbo badging implies. Unlike a traditional bi-turbo engine, it has two turbos of varying sizes (like a twin-turbo). The smallest turbo works first for low-speed torque, followed by the bigger one for decent mid-range acceleration and power. From there to the higher range the two-turbos run together at the same time, like a traditional bi-turbo. This technical design means that all 157kw and 500 Nm of horses are at the races, and turbo lag has been minimized. When overtaking and accelerating hard with the gearbox in ‘S’ mode you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you’re in something smaller and faster from Ford’s stable.
There are an incredible amount of features in the Ranger models, some new to this segment. The addition of the Pre-Collision Assist is one such feature, which uses a front camera and radar to detect pedestrians or obstacles. If the system detects that the vehicle is not slowing down enough for the obstacle an alarm on the dash sounds. If the driver doesn’t respond the brakes are automatically applied, significantly reducing the reaction time needed by the driver in an emergency situation.
Other convenience features include Lane-Keeping Assist, where if the driver drifts out of the lane the vehicle will correct the steering to keep the Ranger in a straight line. It’s quite something driving down the highway and seeing the steering shift by itself, maybe we aren’t as far away from self-driving cars as we might think. Cruise control, Speed Limiter, Key-less entry, Traffic Sign Recognition, parking sensors, and reverse camera all come standard on the Ranger Wildtrak.
It wouldn’t be a proper weekend in the Cederberg without some 4×4 action and river crossings. The Ranger Wildtrak has a mammoth wade depth of 800mm, we came very close to topping that through one particular river, but the Wildtrak didn’t skip a beat. No snorkel, no problem. We took the road from Sandrif to Wupperthal which is by no means an easy pass but with 4L engaged it honestly felt like the Wildtrak could drive up the face of a building. With 237mm ground clearance, we didn’t hit a single rock or ditch, it felt like the beast was finally let out of its cage.
Gone are the days when you had a vehicle for weekend adventuring, and a more comfortable ‘town’ car for the week. The new Ranger Wildtrak models are so refined, comfortable, and packed to the roof rails with features it’s easy to forget that you’re inside a bakkie.
Break out of the city, and into the mountains, and you’ll quickly remember that you’re sitting in one of the best 4×4 bakkies in South Africa.
Text and images: Rae Trew-Browne