PRODUCT EYE: Ford Ranger Wildtrak
The Ranger Wildtrak comes with 18" alloys, aluminium-effect roof rails and polished stainless steel side-protection bars
You hear a lot about the global alignment of car models under the One Ford philosophy of shared platforms. But what about light trucks? Having recently driven and been impressed by the latest Ranger pick-up, Glenn Brooks suspects there is a lot more to come from its T6 architecture.
The Ranger is one of those vehicles that ought to sell far better than it does. British buyers aren't nearly as keen on pick-ups as they were a few years back when there was a tax loophole that could be exploited by owning one. The previous shape Ranger and its then rivals, the Mitsubishi L200, Toyota Hilux and Nissan Navara, weren't exactly the last word in ride comfort or roadholding. Thankfully, that's all changed and the latest Ranger, launched in 2011, is one of the class leaders.
This vehicle's T6 platform is a body-on-frame design, with the word being that much of its engineering was done by Ford Australia. If a pick-up measures up down under, it's going to be pretty much indestructable and the Ranger certainly feels that way. The variant that Ford of Britain lent me was the top-spec Wildtrak, complete with burnt orange paintwork, big alloys and all-weather tyres, not to mention a shiny metal-look roll-top for the cargo tray.
You don't have to spend a huge amount if you want one of these vehicles, the base XL model grade starts at £18,665 (or £14,832.63 excluding VAT), but it does look as though you've tried to save your pennies - the wheels are steel, the bumpers are grey and air conditioning costs extra. XLT trim gets you 16" alloys, body-coloured bumpers, stainless steel side steps and chrome-effect mirror housings, while the Ranger Limited brings with it 17" wheels, a chrome-plated rear step bumper and a few other niceties.
As well as the four model grades, there's also three body styles: regular cab (two doors), Super Cab (two doors but space behind the seats to store stuff) or Double Cab (four doors). The base engine is a 125PS 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, but the vehicle I tested came with a 200PS 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel. Including the £400 cost of the Wildtrak Orange paint, you'd pay £28,913.56 or £24,094.63 ex-Vat. Not bad, when you consider all the standard equipment.
One of the things that does tend to put off many potential buyers is the safety question of a vehicle that doesn't have to be engineered to car-like standards in many countries. Ford is more enlightened than some rivals as evidence of a five star EuroNCAP rating shows. The Ranger, incidentally, was the first in its class to gain that gold standard. Other safety gear includes ESP with traction control, Emergency Brake Assist and side curtain airbags.
If the Ranger's safety credentials measure up, so too do its abilities on tarmac. That was the second surprise for me, especially when there's leaf springs as part of the rear suspension and drum brakes back there too. Don't expect a ride that's anything like as good as the Focus but for a pick-up with an empty load tray, it's amazingly good. Likewise, I felt no high-speed sway on the motorway, which was another pleasant surprise.
The first time you shift this vehicle into gear, you're under no illusions as to it being a small truck: it's like being in command of a Transit. The throw is long, the clutch is heavier than you might be used to in a car and the noise is pure old-school diesel. But somehow I didn't find any of this to be unpleasant. The steering isn't anywhere near as sharp as a Mondeo's or Focus' either, but it's a long way ahead of the old Ranger's. Bodyroll is also there in abundance if you push hard through the bends but there again, why would you do that in a vehicle that is so obviously fairly top heavy?
I enjoyed driving the Ranger Wildtrak around town as you sit up high and it's not nearly as big from behind the wheel as it looks to other drivers. Parking can be tricky, as it's too long for most supermarkets' standard spaces. But it's not as wide as most similarly sized SUVs such as the Land Cruiser that I had a few weeks back.
Some of the novelties of ownership include the boot, which of course isn't a boot at all but a tray with a ribbed plastic liner. An optional (£1,380.00) aluminium covers it all up if you want some security. This rolls itself up like a garage door - you simply push it back. But how to get it to cover your cargo? Simple, grab hold of a cord and pull it towards you, then lock it in place. The hinged tailgate is heavy to drop down and pull back up, so if you're used to a car's hatchback or boot, this will all come as a bit of a shock.
It's not just the tailgate that needs a good push to shut, the doors are also heavy affairs. Inside, it's the opposite to what you might have been expecting: it's all soft touch materials. You also get ice blue lighting which makes everything looks very car-like. The interior mirror has a handy in-built monitor on its left side which appears automatically when you select reverse, so backing into parking spaces is a breeze.
I mentioned the Ranger's T6 platform earlier. My sources tell me there will be another model on this architecture to supplement the Ranger in the same way that the new Chevrolet TrailBlazer is derived from the Colorado pick-up. This is unlikely to come to Europe but in Asia, where such models sell well, it will serve as the replacement for the Everest/Endeavour SUV.
Europe's Ranger comes not from Thailand, as you have thought, but from the Silverton plant close to the South African capital, Pretoria. This model, project P385, is that facility's only vehicle, but the Ranger is also made at AutoAlliance in Rayong (Thailand) as well as at Pacheco (Argentina).
Ford South Africa said at the time of the vehicle's production start-up in September 2011 that it planned to build up to 110,000 units a year of the Ranger at Silverton. The Duratorq four- and five-cylinder diesel engines for the Ranger also come from South Africa: they're made at the Struandale powertrain plant in Port Elizabeth. This facility, which has a capacity of 75,000 diesel engines as well as 220,000 components per annum, also exports the latter to Thailand.
I mention the manufacturing and powertrain details as examples of how the One Ford system continues to standardise components, platforms and vehicles across regions. Who would have thought that an African-made pick-up, designed in Melbourne mainly for places such as Thailand and Argentina, could be such a convincing niche-filler in Ford of Europe's line-up?
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