|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Forgoing the coat-and-tie in a ballroom setting launch, Ford decided to go to the deep end of the experiential game and let people experience an adventure in the new Ranger. Without much of a peep in terms of details and specifications, the contingent of Indiana Jones wannabes took off in seaplanes and landed at the shores of the remote Caramoan Islands in Camarines Sur. The take-off point could serve as a warning shot across the bow of the Ranger’s competitors since Caramoan was the venue for Survivor. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
Driving into the tight confines of the resort in Gota Village in Caramoan, twelve new Rangers, all in Wildtrak trim, stood proud ready for the challenging 175-kilometer journey ahead. Seeing the new Wildtrak in the flesh makes one appreciate the details in its new design. Opinion is really split on the new bedazzling chrome nose, but people seem to agree: the liquid metallic elements make the entire front-end look much meaner. Together with the reshaped headlamps with projector-elements (daytime running lights on the 3.2 Wildtrak), it widens the appearance without going overboard. The side and rear are far less changed though, with the exception of a new wheel pattern for the Wildtrak’s 18-inch rims.
Assigned a 2.2 Wildtrak 4x2 and hopping aboard the cabin reveals a world of difference from the pre-facelift Ranger. Like its sculpted front-end, opinion is split on the Ranger’s cockpit. Some prefer the old one’s Casio G-Shock/Power Tool inspired chunkiness; some though have gravitated towards the new one’s car-like execution. Calling the new Ranger’s driving quarters a refresh simply does it injustice because almost every panel has been changed or modified.
The theme is now horizontal, with a thick graphite strip running the length of the dashboard. There are also convincingly executed metallic trim bezels as well. The top part features a leather-stitched dash topper with bright orange stitching, matching the cloth inserts in the new seats. The gauges are new, now similar to Ford’s other SUV offerings with a central analog speedometer flanked by a LCD screen on both sides. The four-spoke wheel features no less than 22 buttons commanding the screen, the infotainment, and vehicle functions like cruise control. And while there are more buttons now on the wheel, there’s a noticeable scarcity of them on the center console. In fact, it’s dominated by an 8-inch touchscreen.
Familiarity with Ford’s operating system is key to getting comfy. There are a lot of customization options available from displaying the tachometer as a bar or simulated analog gauge to changing the color of the ambient lighting to even the sensitivity of the park sensors. Suffice to say, to the untrained person, it does feel like a technological overload.
From Gota Village, it’s a drive through a zig-zag road that traverses five mountain ranges en route to the first stop: Balay Cena Una in Legazpi. The first 50 kilometers or so felt like the most severe test of any vehicle because of the terribly sharp concrete cuts mixed with unpredictable chunks of gravel and dirt piles. Without mincing words, the Ranger passed, but just barely. Designed as both a cargo hauler (3,500-kilogram towing and 1,000-kilogram payload) and active lifestyle vehicle, the suspension tuning gravitates towards the firm side. The firmness aside, there’s noticeable shudder in the cabin. It clearly doesn’t like these kinds of roads, but neither will any other vehicle. Plus, no other pickup probably would handle this better than the Ranger. It’s only because of a disconnect with the car-like cabin and truck-like ride that heightens the issue. When encountering cabin shudders, always remember: the Ranger is still a truck.
Just when you’re about to dismiss the roads to be rough the whole way, things started to smoothen out. From this point, the entire drive played to the Ranger’s strengths. The 2.2-liter 4-cylinder features only a slight bump in power, but feels more than that. The throttle pedal seems to have been recalibrated, offering a surge of power instantaneously after just a jab. In tandem, the 6-speed automatic almost always downshifts amplifying this power surge. This sensation requires you to change your driving style else you risk discomfort to your passengers. There’s also less parasitic power loss from the power steering as well, since it’s now on an electric assisted setup. In-gear acceleration is still somewhat sluggish, but is still considerably better than before. It’s also quieter; easily the quietest among pickup trucks. Fuel consumption hovered around 9.52 km/L despite the brisk pace.
After the late lunch in Balay Cena Una, it’s time to try out the new Ranger’s off-road chops. Everyone swapped to the 3.2 Wildtrak, solely available in 4x4—to tackle the volcanic ash and sand surrounding the slopes of Mount Mayon. This marks the first time any car company has brought a vehicle through this kind of terrain usually reserved for purpose-built ATVs and dirt bikes. The black sands on the trails around Mayon present a unique challenge. Unlike the lahar beds around Mount Pinatubo, the black sand here is granular and loosely packed resulting in far less available traction and grip. Running on stock tire pressure, the Rangers drove head on with the 4WD set to 4L and the stability control turned off (traction control stayed on). There were some hair raising moments for sure, but everyone made it through. It made even the most off-roading novice feel like an expert.
With the success they’ve had with the current Ranger, Ford didn’t need to develop a new one. They could have simply stayed put and things would still work out in their favor. Even with the slew of new offerings out in the market, they still remained at the top of the game when it comes to creating a truly balanced offering. Of course, in the game of Survivor, you can’t simply stay still; you’ll risk elimination if you do. Building atop the solid foundations of the Ranger’s already formidable package, they’ve made the 2016 model tougher, smarter, and smoother.