Wednesday, November 7, 2018

First Drive: 2019 Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-Turbo 4x4


We all know the drill with the Ford Ranger—for years, perhaps decades even, they’ve inculcated it into our heads of how it’s “Built Ford Tough”, of how it’s so capable off-road that it can probably outwrestle Dwayne Johnson with both arms tied behind its back while also doing “The Rock eyebrow.” So, we’re not talking about any of that—we’re not going to question its trail prowess. Instead, I’m going to focus on its more sophisticated side and that way prove once and for all, this truck isn’t a one-trick pony.

My newfound love for the Ranger, surprisingly, doesn’t reside in the way it looks. It’s pretty much the same truck refreshed way back in 2015 (for the 2016 model year). For sure there are new elements here and there like the Everest headlight clusters, LED front fog lights, and revised grille, but they’re minor in the greater scheme of things. After all, why fix if it isn’t broken? This here is still the best-looking pickup out there.



Ditto the interior: it’s largely unchanged from before—the same mix of serious straightforwardness and playful contrasting highlights. Ergonomically, it’s an easy setup to understand and get used to—well, maybe except the button fest of a steering wheel. Still, things get even better for 2019 with the integration of a push start/stop system and a Ford infotainment system that actually works: SYNC 3.

Now, if all this minor nip and tuck sounds mildly disappointing to you, don’t worry. See, the secret to my, and very likely, your love for the 2019 Ranger isn’t found in the aesthetic; it’s what you find inside. Okay, that bit sounds like a line from a self-help book, but let me explain.



For this update, Ford has thrown out the 3.2-liter inline-5 in the big kahuna Wildtrak 4x4 in favor of a 2.0-liter bi-turbo inline-4. It’s a move that may give Ford engineers “The Rock eyebrow”, but there’s a reason to their madness: 213 horsepower and 500 Nm of torque. And because it’s the same engine found in the Ranger Raptor, it’s tantamount to saying that there’s some Ford Performance DNA in the Ranger Wildtrak too.

If that’s still enough to convince you, consider this: it’s managed to shed some weight too. Tipping the scales at 1,880 kilograms, it’s lighter than the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Navara, and Isuzu D-MAX; it’s actually within striking distance to the smaller-engined Mitsubishi Strada and Toyota Hilux 2.4 now. And that’s pretty much like prime Conor McGregor squaring off against someone a weight class down.



With less weight to pull around compared to the Ranger Raptor, the Wildtrak 4x4 feels quicker, spritelier, and more responsive. A tip of the throttle is all that’s needed to surge this truck forward with immediacy. Power delivery is effortless—delivering gobs of power any time it’s needed. Ford reckons the century mark arrives in around 10.5 seconds, but it feels faster than that. Plus, this new engine is mighty refined. Aside from the telltale gravelly note towards the end of its rev range, quiet and smooth.

Married to this bi-turbo engine is a new 10-speed automatic. Found also in the Ranger Raptor and Mustang, the Ranger Wildtrak makes good use of the four extra gears to keep the engine in its happy zone. Plus, highway fuel mileage is impressive—resting at an ecocar-like 14.92 km/L. In terms of shift quality, upshifts are imperceptible, but the gearbox can be aggressive with the downshifts. There’s a lot of engine braking whenever the throttle’s let go, leading to a slightly perturbed feeling.



Ford says that the Ranger’s chassis has also been improved for 2019 too, but without a back-to-back drive with the previous model, it feels largely the same as before. Sticking to the pavement during the whole duration of this drive, the Wildtrak 4x4 is quiet and smooth at high speed, but still choppy at low speeds. However, given it has to balance providing a hospitable ride with a generous 1,320-kilogram payload, I’d say its job well done.

Job well done too in maintaining the Ranger Wildtrak’s position as a tech leader in the pickup segment. It’s now the most expensive 4x4 pickup truck, but it does come with a dizzying array of standard creature comforts. Powered driver’s seat? Check. Dual zone climate control? Check. Keyless entry with push-start? Check. SYNC 3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Check. Adaptive Cruise Control? Check. Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Aid? Check. Forward Collision Warning? Check. Autonomous Emergency Braking? Check. Active Park Assist? Check. Auto High Beam Control? Check. It’s not so much a pickup truck as it is a luxury SUV now.



There’s no doubting that Ford is going to stick with “Built Ford Tough” with the all-new Ranger. And while tough is good and appreciated, especially for a go-anywhere, do-anything truck, what it does when not being pushed to the extremes is also equally important. A vast majority of Ranger owners won’t be bringing their trucks trailing, and those who do will likely stick to something tame. And this is where the 2019 Ranger truly shines. It’s still going to be every bit the tough badass you expect it to be, but it’s also just as refined. It’s Dwayne Johnson but with Academy Award-level acting skills.



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