It's hard to believe but the current-gen Ford Ranger is now a decade old. That's 120 months or, and for some reason, I feel the need to lend it more credibility, give or take 3,650 days – depending on who you ask. "No," I hear you say, “I drive the muscle truck(ish) butch-looking Ranger and it was launched in 2015!” Well, yes, but no; that was just a facelift. An aggressive one, sure, but still just extensive lipo and rhinoplasty. Maybe someone should tell celebrities the knife doesn’t reset the clock – just a thought…
I’m getting off track, though, which as it turns out is also where the Ford Ranger Stormtrak likes to spend its time. More specifically, on a recent trek involving a convoy of about a dozen or so of these interestingly-named vehicles, (I guess one would normally call it the launch of Ford’s Ranger Stormtrak bakkie but that doesn’t seem to lend it its deserved description) we did exactly that.
The N2. Starting in Ermelo and concluding in Cape Town was built in 1984, Google tells us. Why it was built, however, we’d have to presume was to open more trade opportunities between SA's coastal cities. And, naturally, because people sought the shortest and fastest route between their points A, B and C. No smelling to stop the roses, sadly.
And so too we started from Gqeberha, formerly known as Port Elizabeth, where we joined the N2 to get to our first destination as speedily as possible – no plant sniffing of any variety here. Luckily it offered a kaleidoscope of different scenery from farmlands to coastal vistas and eventually dense forests, this wasn’t a bad starting point but it couldn’t possibly prepare us for what lay ahead, far, very far off the trodden path. More on that in a minute, though.
Does it have the look?
So, after an overnight recharge in the Stormsriver Village (I suspect the storm element isn't coincidental) we double backed in an eastern direction and through Hankey to enter the Baviaanskloof. Driving the N2, again, allowed us to reflect on the ride quality of the Ranger Stormtrak that still happens to be nothing short of stellar compared to the bakkie segment as a whole. Well, in part, this has to do with the fact that nothing has changed on the mechanical front for the Stormtrak since it’s essentially the identical sum of mechanical parts you’d find on the 2.0Bi-Turbo Ranger Wildtrak.
So, a spruced-up Wildtrak? Yes, but also no. Still present, as I mentioned, is the 2.0-litre bi-turbodiesel mill that produces 157 kW and 500 Nm of torque. This is still distributed to the wheels using the 10-speed automatic cog-shifter and yes, it still feels like an unnecessary amount of gears much like my usage of ‘still’.
The most dramatic changes, however, are on the aesthetic front with a choice of four colours with one, Lucid Red, making its debut on the Stormtrak. Also unique are some Mustang-inspired go-faster stripes on the bonnet Ford simply calls “black decals,” some more decals on the doors and an imposing, albeit not entirely unique, black mesh grille with red cosmetic inserts. And to drive home the limited-edition nature of this Ranger it wouldn’t be complete without some 3D ‘Stormtrak’ branding. A welcome addition on the practicality front is the electronically operated roller shutter that covers the load bed.
Ranking high on the scenic list
We concluded our initial tarmac stint and the consensus was that it’s still very capable in the light-duty bitumen and glue department where, sadly, many a Ranger has and will spend the bulk of its time. On a normal launch, this is usually where we'd call it a day and rush back to catch our homebound flights. This wasn't a normal launch.
The road from the N2 to the ‘Kloof was dispatched with quickly, followed by a snack break, and we were ready to enter the Baviaanskloof. If you’ve never heard of this place, here’s a short summary; a 192,000-hectare wilderness area that has largely been untouched by humans and their tendency to leave destruction in its wake. It’s also an area where a 4x4, which is also the Stormtrak derivative we were driving, is a must with an off-road grading ranging from one to four with several water crossings – especially during the rainy season.
It was easy going for the first stint with well-compressed gravel allowing us to take in this overwhelmingly beautiful place. If we had a "wow" counter going I'd have probably won a prize of sorts. It was just that pretty. But it wasn't exactly stretching the Stormtrak’s legs.
Then the scenery changes and you're not crisscrossing a river under a mountainside anymore. You're in a forest and soon a reasonably steady climb to reach the top of a mountain and here the Ranger was in its element. Dialled into 4-high, with the occasional use of the hill descent control function, it just got on with the job of doing the dirty. You could see the suspension doing its thing on the Ranger ahead and yet that constant reaction and correction effect didn't translate into the cabin, it was quite comfortable really.
The climb, as it turns out, was worth it. We soon gawked at what, personally, rates very high up on the beauty spectrum. Sheer roadside drops that make way for ravines and mountains as far as the eye can see. I couldn’t stop looking, I was mesmerised and at this point probably blew a fuse on the figurative wow counter. Needless to say, I’ll be back.
A time to reflect
We were chasing the sun, though, and still had a few hundred kilometres of driving left for the day so we needed to push on into the semi-desert Karoo that must also be one of the more sparsely-populated regions of Southern Africa. Hours would speed by without seeing any real signs of civilisation. And yet the scenery kept changing from forests, to desert-adjacent vistas to areas that, from what I’ve seen, resembles something akin to the Grand Canyon. And the Ranger took it in strides.
Badly corrugated gravel roads? No issues for the ranger with the combination of its 4-high system and host of electronic safety components that worked in the background to keep it stable, and I’m not talking about a miss-Daisy-paced 40 km/h.
After spending a night at the Karroo Theatrical Hotel just outside Steytlerville, it was time to head back to the airport with more gravel, more tarmac and more time to reflect on the Ford Ranger Stormtrak. It’s hard to believe but it has been a decade of the current-gen Ranger and this has been the final act as we know it, its crescendo, with just a Ranger Raptor update waiting in the wings. And it’s been a good inning for the Ranger with Ford SA selling 232,000 units locally over the last 10 years while this month also marked a titanic 500,000 exports wearing the Ranger badge.
Here’s to the next decade
I can’t think of a more apt time to use the polite version of the expression that “South Africa is bakkie-crazed". No matter the economic climate, they sell in their thousands. And the humble bakkie, be it a Ranger or some of its competitors, is about so much more than brand preference, load abilities or lifestyle offerings; it represents opportunity and employment for thousands of South African households.
Next year, it’s time for the new Ford Ranger and, with it, comes an unprecedented collaboration with Volkswagen and, well, we can’t wait. So here’s to the next decade!
Ford Ranger 2.0Bi-Turbo double cab Hi-Rider Stormtrak: R790 300
Ford Ranger 2.0Bi-Turbo double cab 4x4 Stormtrak: R846,500