PRETORIA, Gauteng - The Ford Ranger has had a stellar past few months. It was the best-selling bakkie in South Africa in November 2014 and May 2015, beating the perennial top dog: Toyota's Hilux, though the Japanese will trade punches with a new Hilux due in 2016.
But let's get back to what Ford calls its 'ultimate' model in the Ford Ranger line-up: the new Wildtrak.
Trevor Worthington, vice-president of product development for Ford Asia Pacific, said: "The new Wildtrak takes the Ford Ranger to the next level with an assertive exterior, a premium sporty, interior, the latest driver assistance tech and capabilities that ensure it's up for any adventure.
"Building on the bolder, smarter and more refined new Ranger, the new Wildtrak is a perfect fit for customers who want to combine genuine 4x4 ability with stand-out styling and premium features."
Enough PR talk already, what exactly does the Wildtrak offer that sets it apart from the rest of the range?
DARK AND MOODY
As the flagship of the Ranger, er, range, it receives design tweaks to emphasise (how much tougher could it look?) its tough, sophisticated, design.
On the face of it, projector-style headlights add an upmarket pizazz and the trapezoidal grille with strong outboard nostrils is finished in a dark, liquid-metallic grey that also has a place on the external mirrors, door reloeases, side air vents, load-bed rails and tail lights, which is more Dark Knight than Bruce Wayne.
IMAGE GALLERY:2015 Ford Ranger Wildtrak
Ford says the Wildtrak's design elements are a fusion of premium and functional. Rectangular fog lights and a unique sports hoop are bespoke to the flagship along with exclusive 18" alloy rims with bold (tacky?) Wildtrak graphics. Even the Wildtrak's signature orange color has been tweaked.
KING OF THE JUNGLE?
Dave Dewitt, exterior design manager for the Wildtrak: "We wanted to push the Wildtrak's orange further, to give it a fun, tough feeling. We (Ford) call it Pride Orange, not just because of our pride in the new Range, but also because it calls to mind a pride of lions - it conjures up the Wildtrak's potential and adventurous spirit."
If you're not into being the king of the urban jungle, the Wildtrak is also available in Cool White, Black Mica, Aluminium Metallic and Metropolitan Gray.
Moving inside and orange is a strong accent to add a sense of sportiness to the car-like cabin. A strong horizontal beam spanning from driver to passenger door houses a dual-TFT instrument cluster, a 20cm touchscreen and aircon buttons.A soft-touch instrument panel top with a orange accent stitching offers perhaps more vitamin C than one can handle?
The Wildtrak also has a new eight-way, power-adjustable, driver's seat - with (yes, you guessed it!) orange stitching.
Design manager Dewitt concludes:: "From a design standpoint, everything on the new Wildtrak is very tough, inspired by tools and machinery. But the execution - the dark environment, the soft instrument panel top, the orange stitching punching through - is very modern and more like what you'd see in a top-end hot hatch.
"It's tough, but it's refined and sporty."
IMAGE GALLERY: 2015 Ford Ranger
The Wildtrak brings a full array of technology not seen on bakkies in this segment and its main focus is to assist drivers in staying connected and in control. SYNC 2, the latest generation of Ford's in-car connectivity system, is available in the Wildtrak. Ford says owners can use voice commands such as "temperature 20 degrees", "play Motorhead" or "I'm hungry" allowing the driver to control the car's climate controls, entertainment system and navigation system more easily than before.
Workaholics rejoice! Ford has included a handy power socket in the front binnacle which can be used to power a laptop or tablet computer anywhere.
Notable driver assist technologies:
• Lane Keeping Alert and Lane Keeping Aid: Work together to prevent the driver unintentionally drifting out of lane by vibrating the steering-wheel. If the driver fails to react the system will correct the bakkie itself.
• Adaptive Cruise Control: Uses radar to maintain a set speed and set distance from vehicles ahead, the latter despite the set speed. An adjustable speed limiter helps to avoid speeding tickets.
• Forward Alert works with Adaptive Cruise Control: Gives the driver a visual and audible warning when the gap to a vehicle ahead drops below a safe distance and charges the brakes should a fast stop be needed.
• Front and Rear Park Assist uses radar to detect obstacles and provide audible warnings when the vehicle approaches an obstruction at low speeds, such as when parking. A rear-view camera gives a clear view behind the vehicle, also handy when hitchinga trailer.
• Tyrep Pressure Monitoring alerts the driver when a tyre's pressure is too low.
vElectronic Stability with rollover mitigation and trailer sway control helps to keep the vehicle under control even in adverse conditions.
• Driver Impairment Monitor uses the forward-facing camera and on-board sensors to detect if the driver is drowsy and alerts with a gradually louder signal.
• Other tech boons on the new Ranger include Hill Launch Assist, in forward or reverse; Hill Descent Control, which uses the traction control system to help you descend steep slopes at a constant speed; Adaptive Load Control, which adjusts the Electronic Stability Control system based on vehicle load; and Emergency Brake Assistance, which provides additional pressure to the brake system to increase braking force when you apply the brakes quickly in an emergency situation
TOUGH AS NAILS
The Wildtrak retains the Ranger's core values: it's one helluva tough bakkie. It boasts a class-leading ability to wade through water up to 800mm deep and 230mm ground clearance.
A electronic transfer case allows drivers in 4x4 models to shift on the fly from 4x2 to 4x4 high with a knob on the centre console. For low-speed torque or additional downhill braking, drivers can also engage low-range 4x4, while an electronic locking rear differential helps to improve traction in difficult conditions. Add a towing capability of up to 3500 kg to that already impressive list of 4x4 features.
Ford says the Ranger's steering becomes light and easy when low-speed maneuvering, such as parking is required. The electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) system becomes precise at higher speeds - with assistance varying as necessary based on speed, steering wheel angle, cornering forces and acceleration or deceleration.
The latest generation of Ford's globally-used 3.2-litre Duratorq five-cylinder TDCi diesel engine powers the new Wildtrak. With figures of 147kW/470 Nm, Ford says the engine features upgrades including an updated exhaust gas recirculation system help to improve fuel efficiency by up to 18%. Gears are shifted via a six-speed automatic 'box.
The new Wildtrak will be launched in South Africa in the fourth quarter of 2015. Prices nearer the time.
SOPHISTICATED ADVENTURE: The new Ford Ranger Wildtrak's interior boasts orange-tipped seats and high-tech driver systems like adaptive cruise control. Image:Quickpic