The Ford Ranger is a ute on the rise, leapfrogging some well known models to become the second-biggest seller in 2014.
While it still falls short of the big-selling Toyota HiLux, the gap is narrowing - and with good reason, because the current Ford Ranger model line-up consists of almost 40 different variations for buyers to choose from, including the range-topping four-wheel-drive, dual-cab Wildtrak model we’re testing here.
This top-of-the-pops version is more aimed at the kind of buyer who’ll use the tray and towing capability of the Ranger occasionally rather than on a day-to-day basis, with a sporty bent and unique styling that sets it apart from the more affordable models in the line-up.
It’s priced from $59,930 plus on-road costs – making it one of the most expensive utes on the market.
The Wildtrak is easy to distinguish thanks to its 18-inch alloy wheels, side steps, and a unique grille. There are also unique stickers that signify this is the top-of-the-pops Ranger, while the tray sees the addition of sports bar, steel rear bumper and a roller lid.
There are some nice touches inside the cabin including a leather gearknob, electric front seats and front seat heating.
The materials used in the cabin fulfil the Wildtrak’s sporty promise with nice textures and finishes for the most part, including seat trim that appears to be based on basketball shorts, or wetsuit material… or maybe both.
On top of that, storage throughout the cabin is excellent, with huge door pockets front and rear, big bottle holders and decent centre stowage for loose items.
The Wildtrak is also the only Ranger you can buy with a standard reverse-view camera, which displays through the auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Wildtrak also gets rear parking sensors.
The infotainment system is controlled via a chunky-style button layout, with a small blue screen sitting atop the dash. I personally love the way the buttons look (sort of like cogs in a machine, and the dashboard instruments mirror that aesthetic, too) but using them is a bit of a pain.
The navigation and all major controls take a bit of learning – namely due to the “tab” style menus that can see you fiddling with buttons more than you should be.
Thankfully, the updated version of the Ranger due here late in 2015 will see a new touchscreen media system that promises to be far more simple to use – and it’s a certainty for the range-topping Wildtrak model, if the images we’ve seen are anything to go by.
As for connectivity, the current model has Bluetooth phone and audio streaming as standard, and there are auxiliary and USB inputs, too. The voice control system works well most of the time, and the steering wheel mounted controls make it a little easier to adjust things on the move.
The back seat is one of the Ranger’s strong points.
There’s easily enough room for three large adults across the back bench, and the levels of head- and leg-room on offer are excellent. Sadly, though, there are no rear seat air vents.
All dual-cab Ranger models are fitted with six airbags, including dual front, front-side and full-length curtains.
At the business end, the Ranger dual-cab pick-up model’s tray measures 1549mm long and 1560mm wide, with 1139mm between the wheel arches meaning the box is big enough for a Euro pallet but not as copious as the class-leading Amarok (1555mm long by 1620mm wide, with 1222mm between the arches).
The cargo box also includes a handy 12-volt outlet, but the load space is hampered a bit by the chunky roller lid. On top of that, there are limited tie-down access points when you need to secure a load.
Those are minor qualms when you consider the Ford Ranger Wildtrak’s braked towing capacity is class-leading at 3500 kilograms, and its payload is bang on a tonne – exactly 1000kg in this spec, and up to 1291kg in the more affordable XL cab-chassis dual-cab variant.
Under the bonnet of the Wildtrak is a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel engine which produces 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque – well and truly enough to make for effortless progress with a load on board.
It’s a refined, grunty thing that is at its prime between 1500-3000rpm, where peak power is hit, with some low-speed lag from a standstill and a tendency to run out of puff once it revs beyond the maximum torque band (1500-2750rpm).
When the tray’s empty, the Ranger offers plenty of wallop, and it is surprisingly quick when you plant your foot.
Shifting gears is a six-speed auto, which generally offers quick, smooth shifts, though we have noticed it can be a bit abrupt when the car’s just been started up. In almost all other areas, though, the transmission keeps things moving nicely, using the right cog without fuss during hill climbs and generally acting cleverly under sudden acceleration.
Dual-cab utes are designed to haul a heap of stuff, and when we tested it with a tray full of timber – about 300kg worth – it felt utterly unfazed. Having driven a dual-cab Ranger with a tonne of concrete in the back I can say this ute never feels like it's struggling for grunt.
Thankfully when there isn’t a load on board the Ranger Wildtrak is generally pretty comfortable. The ride can be a little jittery, which in part comes down to the big 18-inch rims which tend to transmit little irregularities in to the cabin, but over big bumps, though, it’s nicely composed.
Ranger 4x4 models also get a proper low-range four-wheel-drive system, as well as a rear locking diff which help it make rough tracks look and feel like child’s play.
There’s excellent traction on offer, and while the Wildtrak doesn’t have the best approach and departure angles because of its low-hanging sports bumpers, it offers up to 800mm of wading capability and an impressive array of tricks for when the going gets tough.
The Ford Ranger is covered by the company’s capped-price service program which spans the life of the vehicle and is due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. The average annual cost over the first seven years or 105,000km is $490 – not cheap, but the longevity of the plan offers some peace of mind. The warranty for the Ranger is three years or 100,000km.
The Ford Ranger deserves all the success it has seen over the past few years in Australia, and the Wildtrak is a worthy range-topper.
It isn’t outselling the HiLux – well, not yet – but it is a considerably more rounded and passenger-friendly offering than that ute.
It offers refinement, class-leading towing and excellent load capacity, all wrapped up in a convincing package. There’s good reason it’s catching up to the Toyota.