In the world of bakkie battles, every hero needs an arch-nemesis. The Ford Ranger Wildtrak V6 is that American-with-a-South-African-accent challenger to the Hilux's throne. For good reason too: The new Ranger is big and bold, and the unapologetic styling lends a sense of hesitance at simply calling it a "bakkie" in such a diminutive, cutesy way – this is a compact truck with more on-board tech than a science fiction novel.
On the face of it, you must commend its progressive design. A double-cab LCV design must be tough to innovate but Ford has done more than enough to not just ensure strong brand genes but also to cause onlookers to admire and owners to feel adequately proud at a good-looking purchase. We’re beyond the workhorse era here, lifestyle bakkies must draw some street cred and design prowess is part of the deal. Our test unit was finished in Agate Black with the aluminium cab and roof rails contrasting well with the colour. The Cyber Orange exterior colour seems to be a hit on our roads too, taking the baton from the previous-generation Ranger’s Sabre Orange.
The interior of the Ford Ranger is where most of the technological goalpost-shifting takes place. You’ll immediately notice a strong marriage of car-like interior qualities, yet still within a practical and robust layout. Being the Wildtrak, orange stitching abounds surrounding the steering, dash trim and seat backs with strong Wildtrak branding following suit. 8-way adjustable electric seats must be expected at this level as well as a space-saving eShifter in place of a regular gear shifter. The centre stage is the portrait LED 12-inch screen that really houses most of the vehicle control functions. It’s quite intuitive in use with vivid graphics and a multitude of information on display. The functionality includes settings for all of the driving assistance features, of which there are plenty in this car. You can read more as you get to the Driving section of this review. The off-road settings too, are all beautifully and graphically displayed including all of the camera views for 360-degree assistance.
On the negative side, we did experience that the screen does get quite hot at times, especially in the glaring summer heat and whilst we can’t pinpoint screen glitches specifically to the heat, it’s our opinion that this sort of large-screen technology may require smarter cooling infrastructure to keep the control surfaces at good temperatures.
As far as interior practicality goes, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak also scores highly. A wireless charging pad under the screen in conjunction with USB-C and A connectors right next to it allow use and charging of various devices. Storage for such devices can also be within a number of compartments in the cabin including dual compartments on the passenger side, side pockets, centre console and even under the rear seats. Another handy hint of practicality is the 230V, 150W power socket in the rear seat compartment. Complemented by further power sources in the loadbin and a 400W inverter this is something that has become increasingly more popular in the segment.
At the heart of this Ford Ranger Wildtrak beats a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel delivering 184 kW and 600 Nm of torque, making the Ranger a victor in the power race. Towing capacity is 3.5-tonnes and with a 10-speed automatic transmission, the Ranger Wildtrak really piles on the acceleration from fairly low down in the rev range. It’s a case of being in the right gear at the right time and for the most part, the end result is powerful and refined. One can become a little annoyed with the gear shifts in certain conditions, ours being when climbing up a slow, gravelled mountain pass. We opted to use the manual mode buttons on the fly-by-wire gear selector. This odd bit in the cabin is perhaps an area of criticism where the idea of a chunkier lever is more fitting to the purpose. The small shifter works, but seems very sensitive to snapping into neutral at the slightest touch. It may free up space in the centre console but I’m less of a fan.
That aside, the Ranger shifts the goalposts of what lifestyle double cabs can be when it comes to ride quality. Nothing in the segment rides with as much comfort, refinement and poise, making it so much more versatile in its appeal. A key standout suite of features in the Wildtrak is Ford’s assistive functions. The adaptive cruise control is top-draw with full adaptive cruising ability. It’s easy to manage, though takes a bit more trust simply because of the vehicle’s size. Then add pre-collision braking, reverse braking assist, parking assistance and lane departure warning and you see a bit of why the Ranger is in this price category.
Its off-road credentials are equally impressive, with front wheels adjusted for a 30-degree approach angle and drive modes – 2H, 4H, standard 4L, and 4A – adjusting traction for and torque delivery dependant on conditions and need. For added traction, the rear diff can be called into action from the dedicated off-road screen that also shows different camera angles during trail driving. Putting it to the test, the front-view camera was vital, given the large size and obstructed front view, making manoeuvring the Wildtrak akin to wrestling a crocodile into a straitjacket. Yet with a bit of finesse, guidance, and assistive tech, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak easily overcame anything resembling an obstacle.
Towing capability must also be mentioned. That engine and transmission does well for towing but despite being equipped with a trailer-sway feature, we found that it consistently interrupted cornering when towing, creating a subtle but somewhat unnerving shudder on the rear axle. Nothing to warrant you not opting for the Ranger but it is something to take note of.
In a market that is fiercely contested, Ford has over-achieved with the Ranger. Within the market it has managed to outshine all of the competition in the most important areas of consideration. Pricing is north of R1-Million and with a few extras that price can creep into the R1.1M territory but this is the state of play in the segment. It is the new bakkie on the koppie now and, next to its Volkswagen Amarok cousin will enjoy the novelty for a time before the new bakkies come charging in over the following years. Hilux continues to take the sales glory but it is an old product with far less in the way of technology, on-road appeal and the big one, power.
Should you be in the market, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak is the flagship offer amidst a fairly strong list of other options in the blue-ovalled stable including a lesser powered 2.0-litre bi-turbo option. Ultimately, the V6 is the sweetest one unless you’re considering the mighty Ranger Raptor as an alternative. Considering that price tag, note that accessories such as roller shutters and compartment spacers are additional items that will hike the price. 20-inch wheels over the standard 18’s are also going to add to the price tag.
The Ranger Wildtrak is sold with Ford Protect, a 6-year/90 000 km service plan.
The essence of vehicle improvement is that it must be clearly and unmistakably observed over the previous version. With the Ranger, no one can argue that what they have brought to the table in the way of refinement, technology, and real-world practicality is significant for the segment.
The Wildtrak is a pleasure to look at and to drive and when things do get a little wild, it has enough in its arsenal to get out of trouble. It plays the role of lifestyle bakkie in winning fashion. The questions surrounding its reliability, its underlying build quality over time and its ability to really stand firm in tough environments are yet unanswered but so far it’s a standout product in the South Africa LCV landscape.