Car reviews - Ford - Ranger - Wildtrak
Tough local engineering, best-in-class steering, handling, and safety, driver-assist tech availability, car-like comfort, dash layout, true 4x4 workhorse capability
Room for improvement
Gruff 3.2 diesel, no reach adjustment for steering, unladen ride a bit bouncy
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28 Apr 2016
Price and equipment
WELCOME to the future of the Australian vehicle industry. Or, at least, according to our oldest continuous car-maker (until production ceases in October this year), Ford.
Back in the late 2000s, the company announced the multi-billion dollar T6 project, that resulted in the world’s first Australian designed and engineered one-tonne pick-up. That it isn’t built at Broadmeadows, but in lower-cost Thailand, is just today’s economic reality. Bye-bye local manufacturing.
Of course, the PX Ranger has gone on to be a stellar success, both critically and commercially, to the point it is now Ford’s best-seller – even with Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo, EcoSport, Kuga, Territory, and Transit volume combined. This is a vitally important vehicle for the Blue Oval.
The PX II facelift that surfaced in the latter half of last year brings with it Ford’s corporate trapezoidal grille, a bigger bumper, projector headlights and squarer bonnet. A tougher truck look was the goal.
A completely redesigned dash (essentially the same as the related Everest seven-seater SUV), touchscreen multimedia connectivity, and better practicality completes the interior changes, while a host of engineering mods (including a switch from hydraulic to electric power steering) and segment-busting driver-assist tech bring improved efficiency and comfort. Just for the record, the Ford’s Mazda BT-50 cousin does not get any of these.
That’s the Ranger’s career up to date, but what’s it like to drive?Before us is the range-topping (and supply-stripping) Wildtrak 4x4 from $57,890 (plus on-roads) in six-speed manual guise, or $60,090 for the popular six-speed auto.
It features automatic projector headlights, foglights, daytime running lights, Sync2 voice-control connectivity, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with sat-nav, two USB points and an SD card slot, WiFi hotspot, DAB+ digital radio, tyre-pressure monitors, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, reverse camera, cruise control, chrome exterior trim, cargo area light, tinted windows, an integrated rear bumper step, power-folding exterior mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, a second battery, an expanded wiring harness and auxiliary inputs, towbar and a 12-volt outlet in the tray.
The Wildtrak also brings 18-inch alloys, brushed-look inserts for the sidesteps get brushed-look inserts and a blade-style sports bar, exterior puddle lamps, power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, floor mats, front parking sensors, ambient lighting and a roller-shutter hard tonneau.
Ours also had the $600 Tech Pack, bringing Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist and Driver Impairment Monitor for a total cost of $61,590 before on-roads.
Probably the most obvious and welcome change to the Ranger is inside, where the previous bulbous dashboard gives way to a very car-like (yet still reassuringly butch) fascia.
As this is the flagship Wildtrak, of course, there can be no going easy on it because it’s “just a truck”. Happily, in most cases, the Ford obliges.
Two big items of merit are the new instruments and the big central touchscreen, which are class-best by some margin. The instruments follow the latest Ford fashion in featuring a large central analogue dial, flanked on the left by an Entertainment, Navigation, and Phone screen, while the right-hand side window is for vehicle related activity. Controversially it includes a digital auxiliary speedo (in mph as well as km/h readings), or a small tacho and temperature gauge, but not at the same time.
The touchscreen, meanwhile, has Sync2 voice recognition and is divided into ridiculously easy-to-use Phone, Nav, Entertainment, and Climate Control quadrants. It’s all touchscreen, colour-coded, and very intuitive, with a massive camera screen which is extremely handy for parking such a behemoth.
Being a Wildtrak, there is some garish orange-stitched leather/fabric trim that is reminiscent of running shoes, along with mock carbon-fibre and a whole lot of black-on-gray contrasting plastic. This is of a hard-wearing variety required in a truck, so there’s no point complaining about the lack of soft surfaces.
Everything else inside the Ranger is first class for the breed – easy entry/egress, lots of space, excellent front seats, a surprisingly comfortable rear bench (with a useable centre-rear position), sufficient ventilation, heaps of storage, and good vision all around.
Both the rear backrest and cushion also fold down or upwards respectively, but only in one piece, for additional heavy cargo loads.
Along with the long list of standard items, Wildtrak offers heated seats, as well as a plethora of 12V charge outlets for phones and stuff.
Minus points? The steering column remains fixed in terms of reach adjustment (though it does tilt) any top-of-the-line vehicle costing over $60K ought to have keyless entry and push-start as standard and the rear glass is fixed (as opposed to a sliding window as found in some Nissan Navara variants).
All-in-all, then, the Ranger’s cabin update has been very successful. It now is among the class best inside (that means you, Volkswagen Amarok).
The tray’s sliding aluminium cover is a bit fiddly to use, but offers good protection against opportunistic theft.
Engine and transmission
More powerful and refined than before, revisions to the cylinder heads and injectors to cut down the cacophony of the ex-Transit engine means the latest 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre 20-valve in-line five-cylinder turbo-diesel feels a bit more civilised than before. But it still sounds like a truck engine.
That said, a huge well of low-down torque (maximum kicks in at just 3000rpm) a well-calibrated six-speed automatic transmission means that the Wildtrak is no slouch, leaping off the mark and maintaining a strong and steady pace of acceleration, pretty much for as long as you need it.
In fact, this is such a gutsy powertrain that it is really easy to spin those rear wheels – even in the dry (before the electronic stability and traction controls quell the tyre shredding), blowing away slower traffic in a most incongruous manner.
We never went off-road in our 4x4 pick-up, but we did tow a trailer and 1100kg car with a 3500kg capacity, the Ford pulled that along like they weren’t even there, so effortless is the Wildtrak’s torque.
Towing-enhancing measures to minimise swaying and sagging kept it all going without sweat. Very impressive stuff.
The PX II’s switch to electric power steering has helped improve fuel economy too, though all that oomph on tap meant we never went close to achieving the sort of economy Ford publishes – in the case of our Wildtrak, that would be 9.2L/100km.
Ride and handling
Even though it is a one-tonne pick-up, the Ranger inherits the modern Ford DNA of light yet connected and progressive steering, extremely predictable handling, controllable road-holding, and a well-modulated brake system. The Australian team’s many years of testing and calibrating on local roads is why.
This is what makes the PX II so unique in its class.
Though novice drivers will feel the sheer height and bulk of this circa-2200kg pulling machine, it behaves in a most benign and civilised way for something with a 3500kg towing capacity.
But the leaf-spring rear suspension system that allows the latter to happen means that the ride quality on 18-inch alloys can be a bit firm, and bouncy over bumps when the truck is unladen when this happens, it’s worth remembering that this is a commercial vehicle and not a passenger car. And for what it is, the Ranger is up there with the class best.
Safety and servicing
The Ranger is regarded as one of the safest vehicles of its type in the world, scoring a top five-star rating in the Australasian New Car Assessment Program.
Ford offers a three-year/100,000km warranty, with intervals at 15,000km or one year. And while there is no fixed-price servicing, a servicing calculator can work estimate the cost on-line, while a free loan car is part of the service at participating dealers.
Only one pick-up in the entire world has been bred for Australian conditions, and the Ranger is it. That this one-tonne ute can also drive with such civility, connection, and control is a real tribute to the local engineers and designers.
Even at nearly $62K, the Wildtrak is simply the most luxurious and advanced iteration of Ford’s thinking, combining a high spec with high style and go-anywhere capability.
That there is so little that’s wrong with it – no reach adjustment for the steering and noisy engine under hard acceleration are about the two worst – shows just how relevant Australians still are in the modern automotive landscape. Even when the vehicles created here aren’t necessarily built here.
That said, don’t buy a rival top-line pick-up truck until you’ve driven Australia’s Own.
Volkswagen Amarok TDI400 Dual Cab Ultimate 4x4 from $63,990
Look no further for the smoothest, comfiest, and most refined pick-up, with the dynamically capable Amarok sticking with brand values. Its full-time 4WD system also gives it sophisticated on-road manners. But high-tech repairs and servicing might work against it.
Nissan NP300 ST-X Dual Cab 4x4 from $54,540
Surprisingly comfortable, with many car-like features, the latest Navara has refinement, twin-turbo performance, efficiency, handling, ride, and towing capacity on its side (with the segment’s sole coil-sprung rear end). But the steering is remote and heavy.
Mazda BT-50 GT Dual Cab 4x4 from $53,790
A fraternal twin to the Ranger, the BT-50 shares most of its plus and minus points, but brings divisive styling, a very car-like cabin, and hydraulic steering that’s heavier around town. The suspension’s firmer than the Ford’s, for a sportier tune, affecting ride comfort.
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