Which changed first; the ute or the ute market? With so much on offer to so many, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak 4WD could be the answer to arguments both for and against. By Cameron Officer.
Talk about a shake-up. No, I don’t mean in the seismic sense, although in the three years since the Canterbury earthquakes, that province more than most has been overrun with well-spec’d utes.
The shake-up I’m referring to more specifically is that which has occurred in the light commercial segment of the new vehicle market.
Part economy-driven, part societal shift, the humble work ute has all of a sudden become the sort of calling card of success that only a German sports sedan could have ably represented a couple of decades ago. The company director of 2014 is more likely to be driving a double cab ute with all the fruit than they are something with ‘RS’ or ‘AMG’ suffixing the nameplate. As a result, the ute market has expanded dramatically in recent times. Among the large volume distributors, the battle for tradie bums on seats has heated up considerably.
While tried and true stats like power, torque, off-road prowess and towing ability are all still worth crowing about, the real headlines come in the amounts of lavish technology and convenience items even utes at the Billy Basic end of the
spectrum receive as a matter of course these days. Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mazda and Holden have all expanded model lines and specification offerings for their utes, putting up attractive pricing and ‘car-like’ levels of kit in equal measure. But the really interesting battle has been between light commercial stalwarts Toyota and Ford.
For Toyota it has been an emotional fight at the top of the sales charts. Their iconic Hilux not only helped seal the brand’s reputation for reliability in early-‘80s New Zealand, it effectively invented the private ute market in this country by teaching farmers first, tradies second, that the work ute could offer as much performance on tarmac as it could practicality in the paddock. Ford? They’ve been building pick-ups for as long as they’ve been building cars. The company continues to make their home market’s best-selling vehicle, the F150, to this day. Here in New Zealand the Courier was a popular 1990s option and many are now finding second lives as lowered boy racer-mobiles; coupes without boots, so to speak.
But with the drawn out decline of the Falcon (and flagging sales of the ute version bottoming out even faster than the sedan upon which it was based) it became imperative at the start of the decade that a new sort of ute was needed. Enter the Ranger. One of the FoMoCo’s increasing number of ‘World Cars’ (same platform, same engine, different steering wheel position depending on where it is being sold), the Ranger ticked the boxes right from the start.
Good looks, solid performance figures and no fewer than 16 different versions to choose from in our market; the Ranger hit the ground running and has been tussling with Toyota at the top for sales dominance ever since.
Hop aboard the Double Cab 4WD Wildtrak iteration and you can see why it has proven so popular.
Solid instruments, clear gauges, leather trim, dual zone climate control air conditioning, a five-inch multi-function display screen, standard Bluetooth hands free calling capability, a standard satellite
FORD RANGER WILDTRAK 4WD AUTOMATIC
Engine 3.2-litre Duratorq turbo-diesel
Transmission Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy 9.6L/100km
Tow rating 3500kg (braked)
Max speed N/A
navigation system, cruise control, a centre console replete with a cooler box for your lunchtime fruit juice, exterior roof rails and side steps… the list goes on. Dimensionally, the Ranger is a big beast.
It boasts a supremely comfortable cabin, with rear seat passengers enjoying decent levels of leg, shoulder and head room. Of course, the other side of the coin is that, with many Rangers also pressed into service as weekend transport for the family, it’ll fill to bursting even the biggest car park in town. Thank goodness the Wildtrak comes with a standard reversing camera and parking sensors then; with so much sheet metal to see over, the technology is a welcome addition when backing out of a car park, entrance way or between those stationary excavators at the work site.
The wellside tray, framed by standard chrome sports bars on the Wildtrak, features a retractable sliding cover. It’s an elegant-looking addition, although perhaps comes at the compromise of practicality; even a hard tonneau (something which in itself has built-in limitations) would allow slightly taller loads to remain hidden from prying eyes. Still, with a 1549mm long, 1560mm wide (1139mm between wheel arches) and 511mm deep cargo area, there remains a decent amount of space to fill.
The gutsy 3.6-litre turbo diesel is a serious performer, offering 147kW of power for the highway and an all-important torque figure of 470Nm; handy when towing or plugging your way up a metalled access road in 4H. The Wildtrak also features a locking rear differential and a towing capacity of 3.5 ton (braked).
All this stuff does come at a price. Sitting at the very top of the Ranger line-up, the Wildtrak we sampled asks $67,140 of its potential owner. Mind you, that’s on par with top models from many of Ford’s competitor brands in the ute segment; more expensive than a top shelf Volkswagen Amarok or Toyota Hilux, cheaper than the comparative Nissan Navara. And mind you again; for the owner director looking to stand out a bit in the field, $67,140 will only get you a base level BMW or Audi and won’t even get you in the door with Jaguar or HSV. Sure those are all premium brands, but you wouldn’t take them to a work site. In Ross. In July.
The Ranger would still afford the driver as much comfort and performance in getting there as it would sure-footed ability once you leave the bitumen.
If you’re surveying just how much vehicle you’re getting for the money, the Ranger wins hands down.