Launch Drive: 2015 Ford Ranger

Launch Drive: 2015 Ford Ranger
 

The bakkie is essential in keeping South Africa’s motoring tapestry together. It goes without saying that the people of Mzansi are mad about this category of vehicle — and manufacturers show no hesitation in pandering to the demand.

Lately you would have seen dramatic headlines about a looming bakkie war. Manufacturers that have never competed in the space are readying to launch their versions of the breed. Mercedes-Benz is planning to birth a serious double-cab bakkie and so is Renault. But as the Volkswagen Amarok showed, it takes time for a new entrant to speak to the hearts of shoppers in this segment.

The Toyota Hilux has managed a stellar job in this regard, perennially leading its segment in the monthly new car sales charts. That would be until November last year, of course, when the Ford Ranger trounced the stalwart. That must have been quite a sting for the people at the Japanese carmaker. At one point this year, the Ranger was deemed the best-selling vehicle in South Africa overall, even beating the Volkswagen Polo Vivo. Now you have to concede: that is an impressive feat, no matter which camp you are loyal to.

One of the factors the Ranger owes its success to is its broad appeal. Here you have a bakkie that does not only appeal to our two-tone-wearing friends in the agricultural sector. It finds favour among urban types and families too. The fact that Liané van Dyk, the winner of this year’s Ranger Odyssey Challenge, totally shatters the khaki-coloured template of the average bakkie owner proves Ford’s seriousness about appealing to a wider spread of buyers.

The upgraded Ranger was launched in the Western Cape recently, following the release of its SUV sibling, the Everest. Ford hopes that the raft of changes rolled out to its bakkie star will help it to maintain its stronghold on the market, amid the threat of forthcoming rivals — and of course, an all-new Hilux on the horizon. In the styling department it takes cues from the Everest, with new headlights and a shiny grille incorporating a pair of flared nostrils.

This is ideal for motivating obstinate BMW 320i drivers hogging the fast lane. In addition, there are new alloy wheel choices. Ideally, if finances allow, you want the top-tier Wildtrak version, which boasts all the cool aesthetic trimmings and is offered with an orange paint job that looks like a Sandton kugel’s spray tan. As standard the Wildtrak also features the sort of driver assistance systems you might expect in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. This includes adaptive cruise control with a frontal collision warning system that signals an impending crash with an alarming beep. There is also an intelligent voice command system that allows the driver to adjust the climate control, switch audio tracks and more. Smart stuff indeed. Ford throws in its SYNC 2 infotainment system, too, which is a bit fiddly to operate, as we noted when we sampled it in the Fusion and Everest. The new fascia looks a great deal smarter — especially in Wildtrak trim — with its leather finish on the top strip of the dashboard. The whole ambience is more carlike in terms of quality, and I think the only real rival in this regard is the plush Volkswagen Amarok.

Car-like has always been a popular description for the road manners of the Ranger. And that remains the same with version 2.0. Stacked against its counterparts, it is noticeably more refined — Ford has done as good a job as one can do when working with a ladder-frame foundation. Bounciness levels are minimal and it moves along with composure. There are about 33 derivatives to pick from in total. But on our test drive there were two models to sample: the 2.2-litre diesel and the 3.2-litre diesel featuring in the Wildtrak. Let’s focus on the latter: it is largely unchanged from the unit in the outgoing model, but with a few tweaks to boost economy. Those quoted figures appear healthy (147kW and 470Nm), but it feels like some of that grunt gets lost in the transfer of things.

Push the pedal to execute a quick overtake and the six-speed automatic drops a cog or two; the noise levels pick up, but the bakkie does not seem to move much faster. I think one will be amply satisfied with the 2.2-litre model, which appeared much fizzier with its 118kW and 385Nm, shifted through a six-speed manual transmission. It goes without saying that the Ranger is immensely capable on the rough stuff. And it is equipped with all the usual trappings essential for successful off-road endeavours. Just like the Everest, it flatters an outdoors novice like me. Engaging low-range gearing and the differential lock is done electronically — there are none of those clunky levers to embarrass those of us with limp wrists. In September the Ranger was knocked into fourth place overall on the sales charts, and the Hilux regained its top spot in the bakkie segment. So Ford’s release of the revised model is timeous.

It remains my top recommendation in this end of the market. But one will have to wait and see what happens when the latest iteration of its arch-rival lands on local shores next year. All models get a four-year/120 000km warranty. A five-year/100 000km service plan is standard from the Base version upwards and buyers of 4×4 derivatives receive a free off-road training course. Prices start off at R191 900 for the Chassis Cab, while the most you will pay is R596 900 for the 3.2 TDCi Wildtrak 4×4 automatic.

Brenwin Naidu