Big and bold, the cute ute has a stack of smart tech and the style of a luxury sedan. Pleased with its urban and suburban manners, Alvin Thomas takes the beast to the wadi for the ultimate test
When you boldly name your car a ‘Ranger’, it would be best to assure the buying public that your vehicle is indeed worthy of its nametag. But that’s exactly what Ford has been doing for the last three decades with its Ranger pickup truck.
Sitting in the lineup as an underdog to the much-acclaimed F-150 pickup truck, the Ranger may be glossed over as a buying alternative to its larger sibling, but it still offers as much – and maybe even more – grunt for those looking to eke the most out of their utilitarian truck.
Introduced to the world sometime in 1983, the Ranger originally took on a more blue-collared approach than the F-150.
The latter pickup went on to star in movies, pack shiny and chrome-wrapped V8s under the hood for added jauntiness and then eventually formed the part of an alternative sports-utilitarian lifestyle for the emerging America.
But the Ranger remained humble and somewhat subdued… until recently. The current iteration of the Ranger took to the showrooms in 2016 after it received a host of much-needed fascia upgrades to differentiate it from its commercial cousins.
And for the first time since I can recollect, Ford brings the ‘WildTrak’ moniker into the picture – albeit, I couldn’t be more pleased to see it take shape on the Ranger.
This goes to show too. For instance, the heavily revised front end now poses with a blacked-out grille that also extends its way to the extreme ends of the bumper. As expected, the lights – including the foglamps and the Ford logo – are large to add to the truck’s workhorse persona.
The WildTrak upgrade includes heavily retuned suspension, which raises the ride height and provides about 237mm of ground clearance. The engineers weren’t messing about when they were designing the elements, either. Look carefully underneath and you’ll find a steel-reinforced skid plate to protect the engine.
Despite the addition of a low-lying side step, the side profile remains buff. My bold fiery orange tester also received thick and black faux-aero elements on the sides with the engine capacity etched on it. The ‘WildTrak’ badging also makes its way to either side of the front doors.
The rear now poses with new and gallant tail lamps, thereby getting rid of all the displeasing commercial elements from its predecessors. The rear step is also finished in the same dark black paintjob that is seen on the front. But look closely and you can find the parking sensor buttons and the rear camera too.
A sliding metal bed cover and a sail pillar round off the exterior of this quirky looking pickup truck.
Albeit, there’s nothing quirky about the interior – and weirdly, that should make the Ranger more appealing to the audience across all age groups. Stepping inside – which will require you to heave yourself in using the side step – you’ll find yourself doubting whether you’re in a full-fledged pickup truck or a fusion sedan; it’s uncanny.
Everything is where you would expect things to be. The steering is straight from the Ford Focus, while there are 22 buttons on it to control everything from your music, to the dual 4.2-inch infotainment screens on the instrument cluster and even the radar-guided cruise control or the speed limited functions.
The interior in my tester was finished in a mix of fabric and leatherette, with the dual-tone stitching matching the exterior colour tone of the truck. Stitched leatherette also makes its way to the top of the dashboard and also parts of the trim on the door – but hard plastics comprise all else.
The centre console also harbours Ford’s class-leading 8-inch touchscreen running on the SYNC3 interface. The screen is receptive to touches and is incredibly easy to navigate through. The three-dimensional maps are also a breeze to use, especially in comparison with what you would find in other trucks from Japan and even Europe.
The seats are comfortable during normal driving on the highways and supportive when the going gets tough. The sides are moderately bolstered to keep you within the seats while off-roading, and the lumbar support is quite admirable for a vehicle in this class.
Space is available in plentiful in both the front and rear, with good legroom and headroom. Of course, the bench-type seats in the rear can come across as a bit too upright for some – but it is light years ahead of other commercial-oriented vehicles in this segment.
Where the WildTrak scores, though, is in creature comforts: It comes with an array of tech such as blind-spot monitoring, auto a/c with dual-zone climate control, automatic headlamps and wipers, six airbags, a 12-volt power outlet, and even 110/240-volt power sockets for rear passengers. However, I can assure you that you will not be bothering with any of that; not when you’re in control of the buttons that control the differential, the traction control and so on.
Powering the Ranger WildTrak is a 3.2-litre in-line five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that puts down 197hp and an impressive 470Nms of twist. The powertrain is furthermore completed by a six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to either two (rear wheels) or four wheels, when asked.
While the power may not seem as much, it is the torque that takes control of the wheels from about 1,500rpm. The torque band is quite small, and the engine is – almost always – out of steam after 3,800rpm. However, under normal circumstances the gearbox does a great job in switching gears to give you a mix of power and torque, and fuel efficiency (keeping in mind that diesel is the most expensive fuel in Oman). As is now the norm, you also get a manual shifting mode that will allow the engine to hit the redline without changing up.
The engine and tranny combination is good enough to power the truck from 0 to 100kph in about 9.8 seconds – and turbo lag is now kept to a minimum thanks to a newer and smaller high-pressure turbocharger that replaces the older turbo system.
To test out the true capabilities of the truck, I took it off the tarmac and onto the wadis in Al Amerat. While there weren’t any surprises on the capabilities of the truck, I found the Ranger taking on all forms of terrain without any hitches. A complete switch to four-wheel-drive mode with a differential lock was only required when I encountered soft and mushy sand on the wadi bed.
But, simply keeping the engine revolutions at 1,500rpm on first gear was enough to allow the Ranger to haul itself from the sand.
For a pickup truck, the Ranger WildTrak handles quite well, taking corners (even on sand) without much slippage or drama. But, with the power sent only to the rear wheels (in ‘4×2’ mode), you will come across some oversteer action in corners – especially when the torque kicks in.
The electric-assisted power steering offers decent feedback, which can aid in countering any form of oversteer you may encounter. This, coupled with the all-around visibility of the truck, makes it a breeze to manoeuvre in city traffic.
The Ford Ranger WildTrak may not be as sophisticated as, say, its larger sibling – the Ford F-150. But, as far as entrants in the entry-level luxury pickup truck segment goes, this may very well sit atop any other contenders that currently flank the market. For that very reason – and the fact that Ford is gutsy enough to power the truck with a solid diesel engine that is robust enough on our roads – the Ranger has risen to become one of my most-favoured vehicles of the year.
• Engine: 3.2-litre in-line five-cylinder turbo-diesel
• Transmission: Six-speed automatic
• Horsepower: 197hp
• Torque: 470Nm
• Top Speed: 175kph (limited)
• Four-wheel drive
• 8-inch touchscreen with SYNC3
• 18-inch alloy wheels
• ABS, ESC, BA and EBD
• Electronically-locking differential
• Low-range gearing
• Dual 4.2-inch gauge screens
• Radar-guided cruise control