Wildtrak Raises the Bakkie Bar

Offering more features and more refinement than its predecessor, Ford’s newest Ranger Wildtrak tends to raise the stakes in South Africa’s bakkie sector

Wynter Murdoch

Having recently undergone a series of cosmetic and engineering changes, Ford’s Ranger Wildtrak looks set to consolidate its position as a leading contender for top honours in South Africa’s bakkie stakes.


With a reputation for utility, versatility and durability having contributed to the previous version’s success in the sales charts, the revised, Pretoria-built model adds the option of a new engine and gearbox combination, trendy technological features, styling upgrades and, thanks to modifications to its suspension system, SUV-like refinement to its ride.


In terms of new technology, Semi-Automatic Parallel Park Assist (SAPPA) is likely to prove a popular adjunct. Adopted from the Wildtrak’s Everest stablemate – which is also built at Ford’s Silverton plant in Pretoria – the system relies on ultrasonic sensors at the front and rear of the vehicle to identify parking spaces that are big enough to accommodate its size, automatically steering itself into place with the driver operating gears, accelerator and brake.


Other useful driver aids include adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert; lane-keeping assist and lane-keeping alert; as well as automatic control for the HID headlights’ high beam. Also, there is a keyless entry and start feature which allows the driver to unlock the vehicle and start the engine without removing the key fob from a pocket or bag.


Ford’s high-end SYNC 3 technology remains the cornerstone of the Wildtrak’s infotainment system. Linked to an eight-inch, touch-screen colour display, the system boasts fully-featured navigation and responds to voice commands as well as to gestures such as swipe, slide and scroll. Smartphone integration is provided through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, with Waze users able to project the traffic app’s service onto the touch screen and control it through voice commands.


The vehicle’s safety package is impressive, too, incorporating airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, trailer sway control, hill start assist, hill descent control, adaptive load control and roll over mitigation among its features. A Category 1 Thatcham-specification alarm is now standard, complemented by a spare wheel lock.


Also new to the Wildtrak is an easy-lift tailgate, facilitated by a torsion rod that is hinged to the vehicle’s body. Ford’s spokesmen claim it provides a 70 percent reduction in lift force, as well as operating as a damper which controls the movement of the tailgate when it is opened.


Other new features include acoustic laminated front side glass to reduce noise inside the cabin, bolstered by a specially designed B-pillar seal, as well as an active noise control system, again adopted from the Everest.  “The improvements and new technologies have improved the acoustic index inside the Wildtrak’s cabin by a significant margin, making it easier for occupants to have a conversation even when the vehicle is moving at speed,”  says a Ford spokesman.


Changes under the bonnet include the company’s all-new, four-cylinder, 2,0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine mated to a sophisticated, 10-speed automatic gearbox – the powertrain fitted to the test vehicle. Though Wildtrak customers still have the option of the previous edition’s five-cylinder, 147kW, 3,2-litre Duratorq TDCi engine, it’s my bet that the new unit – which is similar to that which powers the high-performance Ranger Raptor – will be the powerplant of choice.


It’s quiet but powerful, smoother than its counterpart and more responsive thanks to its ability to produce 157kW and 500Nm – the latter figure about 30Nm more than that delivered by the Duratorq engine.


What’s more, coupled with the intelligent new gearbox, the unit offers better fuel economy than the old, its twin-turbo system – which incorporates a high-pressure, variable-geometry turbine along with a fixed-geometry, low-pressure equivalent – working to maximise torque output at low engine speeds. At higher revs, the smaller turbo is bypassed and the larger turbo provides boost to deliver high power.


The 10-speed gearbox – similar to that fitted to Ford’s Mustang sports car – offers high-tech features such as real-time adaptive shift-scheduling, which enables optimal cogs to be selected for performance, fuel-efficiency or refinement.


Additional innovations include Progressive Range Select (PRS) operated by a button which locks out selected gears from the automatic shifting range – a useful tool when towing a caravan, boat or trailer, or when driving in slippery conditions or climbing a steep gradient.


Though the gearbox swaps cogs quickly and smoothly, engaging sport mode speeds up gear changes, and there’s the option of full manual mode controlled via a button mounted on the gearshift lever rather than through paddles located on the steering wheel – a bit quirky at first, but easy to get used to.


Exterior styling of the Wildtrak appears to have been configured with a view to delivering an even more powerful presence on the road – and to provide greater differentiation in the Ranger line-up. While lesser models sport a front end design that tends to accentuate horizontal lines, the Wildtrak’s grille emphasises vertical aspects, with trademark twin nostrils retained but supplemented by additional venting holes.


Equally, the lower bumper surface is more chiselled than before – helping to reinforce the tough truck image – with a wide, lower grille, large fog lamp bezels and a silver-accented skid plate adding visual muscle. A striking new Saber Orange exterior colour makes its debut on the Wildtrak, matched to a unique dark, titanium-effect finish for the trapezoidal grille and distinctive outboard air intakes. The same titanium-effect accent colour extends to the side mirrors, door handles, side air vents and load-bed rails.


The comfortable and car-like interior has been crafted with an Ebony Black theme, with painted surfaces polished for shine and depth. Dark-satin chrome elements, a gloss-finish decorative spear and upscale partial-leather covered seats embossed with Wildtrak graphics complete the picture.


Incidentally, the seats have been restructured not only to look sportier than before but, according to Ford’s spokesmen, to offer greater comfort. Carbon-like weave accents and Saber Orange stitching have been incorporated in the design.


In terms of ride quality, the Wildtrak appears to have benefitted significantly from modifications to its suspension system, one of the key changes being the relocation of the front stabiliser bar, which has been repositioned behind the front axle. According to Ford’s claims, the new set-up helps to optimise stabilisation, resulting in improved roll control which, in turn, enables a decrease in front spring rates – endowing the vehicle with better ride performance and comfort as well as better steering precision and control, especially over corrugated surfaces.


In my view, the model now feels more like an SUV than a bakkie in terms of ride comfort. Equally, it is far more responsive not only in terms of engine and gearbox reaction, but also in terms of dynamic ability. Put another way, the agricultural characteristics apparent in earlier renditions – though reduced in successive models – now seem to have been almost entirely eliminated. In that sense, the new  Wildtrak has raised the bar in South Africa’s bakkie sector.


All models are sold with a four-year/120 000km comprehensive warranty, three-year/unlimited distance roadside assistance and five-year/unlimited-kilometre corrosion warranty. A six-year/90 000km service plan is included. Service intervals are at 15 000km.