We’ve already waxed lyrical about the assets and abilities of the pre-update version of this ute, but the 2017 Ford Ranger Wildtrak takes a good thing and makes it even better.
The most recent changes see the flagship Ford Ranger model bring additional standard equipment, including increased safety and better connectivity. It comes at a slight cost, though.
The six-speed automatic version of the Ranger Wildtrak we have here now retails at $61,790 plus on-road costs, up from $60,090 for the 2016 model. The manual version is up too – it now costs $59,590 (was $57,890).
Previously you could option a Tech Pack for the Wildtrak at $600, which included the now-standard lane departure warning and steering assistance function, a pre-collision warning system (no autonomous braking though), and adaptive cruise control. No other ute has the same degree of safety tech available, even optionally, so bravo Ford.
Further, a recent update to Wildtrak models sees a change in seat trim to a more stain-resistant fabric, and the seats themselves have less piping and a shorter squab overhang to improve occupant comfort. The cupholders now have 'secure fingers’ to better grip bottles and cups, too.
As well, there’s the new Sync 3 media system with the latest in-car phone-mirroring tech, meaning Android Auto and Apple CarPlay will pop up when you connect your device via USB. There are two USBs to help keep your phone and/or tablet juiced up, not to mention a smattering of 12-volt plugs and a 220-volt powerpoint in the rear of the cabin.
You will or won’t like the orange trim highlights, but you have to admit it makes the Wildtrak stand out from the pack, where some competitor high-grade utes remain quite bland. As nice as an Amarok Ultimate is, it doesn’t have the fun factor or, dare we say it, ‘sportiness’ of the Wildtrak.
There’s a fake leather trim with orange stitching on top of the dash, and orange stitching abounds on the doors seats, gear selector and steering wheel.
You pay a high price to get into a Wildtrak, but you’re rewarded with plenty of gear. There’s electric seat adjustment for the driver, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated side mirrors, puddle lamps and a pair of digital displays for the driver that sit either side of a central analogue speedo. The two small screens can be configured in many ways, including displaying navigation instructions, managing safety systems, offering digital speed readout, a tacho, as well as displaying the stereo configuration.
That's one example of how much thought Ford has put into the cabin of the Ranger Wildtrak. Further, there are well thought-out storage areas in the front seats and the back, including a flip-down centre armrest with cupholders, bottle holders in all the doors, and a couple of little storage boxes under the rear seat when you fold up the base.
And there are elements like sun-visors that have slide adjustment for those long afternoon drives home, and retractable grab-handles all around.
We noted one or two fit issues with our tester, though. The tops of the pillars didn’t quite tuck away nicely into the black headlining, and the sill protectors were again a bit loose on the edges, just like we saw in our recent heavy duty ute test.
Along with all the electronic safety tech, the Ranger has six airbags – dual front, front side and full-length curtain, just like every other name brand ute out there except the Amarok (which misses out on curtain airbags). For parents, there are three top-tether rear child-seat anchor points and dual ISOFIX attachments, too.
The 3.2-litre turbo diesel five-cylinder engine continues to churn out 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm of torque at 2500rpm, with a six-speed automatic taking care of swapping between cogs.
The 2017 model saw some tweaks to the engine for better emissions, and as a result the claimed fuel use dropped from 9.0 litres per 100 kilometres to 8.9L/100km. We saw 11.2L/100km on test.
The engine feels more effortless in the mid-range than some competitor four-cylinder utes, however there is some noticeable turbo lag from standstill under hard throttle, and it runs out of puff as revs rise sooner than some four-cylinder utes.
Its refinement could be better, and while it can be a little sluggish if you flatten the throttle at a stop, if you’re considerate when applying pressure, it will offer good urgency due to its throttle sensitivity. In fact, that right pedal can be a little too touchy off-road, making it hard to even out progress up hills when things get a little slippery.
We've mentioned in the past the Ford drivetrain can be a little frustrating in that it is quite vocal under throttle, and when you’re sitting still it is more prone to vibration through the body than rivals. But we’d put up with that for the push the engine offers, because with a load on board – 750 kilograms, for example – it feels as though it's ready to work.
We’ve said it before, and the fact remains that the locally-engineered Ranger is arguably the best ute on the market to offer an SUV-like drive experience. Indeed, it’s better behaved over bumps than some SUVs, and it steers with better precision and accuracy than many, as well.
The suspension is convincing enough to make you think it isn’t a workhorse ute at all. Riding on 18-inch alloy wheels, it isn’t necessarily light on its feet, but it doesn’t stumble when the wheels hit a pothole, or buck when you contact a road join. And best of all, there’s hardly any shudder at the rear when there’s nothing in the tray and you find yourself on a bumpy track.
The steering is another example of Ford making its ute easier to live with than its rivals. The electric steering system possesses finger-tip lightness at low speeds, and though it requires quite a few turns from lock to lock, it is nicely weighted at higher speeds; precise and direct, and not very ute-like at all.
The ute-ness of the Ranger Wildtrak isn’t as pronounced as its more work-ready siblings down the range, but it still comes ready to be put to task, should you so choose. It has a tub-liner in the tray to stop you from scratching the paint, as well as a roll-top cargo cover that is lockable, making for good security.
On that note, you can tie down your load to four internal hooks, and there’s a 12-volt outlet in the tray as well. The tray is a good size for the class: 1549mm long by 1560mm wide (1139mm between the arches) and 511mm deep, but its payload is on the low side at 907 kilograms.
If you need to tow – and it’s a good ute to do that – there’s a 3.5-tonne capacity for braked trailers, or 750kg for the standard-fit towbar without brake attachment.
Ford covers the Ranger (and all of its models) with a three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty, and there’s a capped-price servicing plan for the life of the vehicle. It requires maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, and over the first five years/75,000km, the cost per visit averages out to $459 – not too bad.
It isn’t a cheap ute, but if you wanted a more affordable option from Ford, there are plenty to choose from – none of them are quite as passenger-focused as the Wildtrak, though.
It remains our pick of the ute segment for safety, comfort and convenience, one that is indeed made even better by the 2017 model year update.
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