For those familiar with pick-ups, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak will need no introduction. The more upmarket version of Ford’s ever-popular workhorse has been a big hit with consumers who want the utility of a pick-up truck with the creature comforts of an SUV. But now there’s a new model, offering fresh underpinnings, fresh looks and fresh technology in a bid to ensure it remains a front-runner in the market.
But the Wildtrak has suffered something of a demotion in the process. What was once the most luxurious model in the Ranger range is now simply a more high-specification option, usurped at the top of the tree by the forthcoming Platinum version. But is the Wildtrak likely to do enough to remain the pick of the Ranger family, or will the more luxury-orientated newcomer be the one to beat?
Ford Ranger range
As before, the Ranger line-up includes something for everyone, and those who just want a utilitarian truck can still have the basic Single Cab model in XL trim. Moving up to the Double Cab adds the option of the slightly more luxurious XLT trim, as well as the more upmarket Wildtrak and the top-of-the-range Platinum model.
Every version – no matter how many doors it has – will come with Ford’s new portrait-orientated touchscreen infotainment system, as well as a digital instrument cluster, but the Wildtrak gets two-zone climate control, a larger 12-inch touchscreen and smarter exterior styling, not to mention heated, leather-trimmed front seats, a heated steering wheel and black alloy wheels. However, the Platinum versions will add to that with ventilated front seats, smarter upholstery and a 10-way electrically adjustable driving seat with memory functions.
The Wildtrak also offers customers a choice of two engines. The entry-level 170hp diesel is only offered with the lesser variants, but the 205hp 2.0-litre biturbo diesel engine (tested here) is featured as standard, while a 3.0-litre V6 engine with 240hp is also in the offing. The latter unit is the only one offered on Platinum models, and it’s also seen in the new Amarok.
Ford Ranger Wildtrack interior
As well as overhauling the Ranger’s exterior design, Ford has made great strides inside, giving the vehicle a new and more modern dashboard, as well as extra technology. Chief among those upgrades is the new touchscreen, which is offered in 10- and 12-inch sizes, depending on the version chosen. In the Wildtrak, it measures 12 inches from corner to corner, and it comes with Ford’s latest Sync4 software. That means it’s cleaner and more responsive than ever before, although some of the menus are a bit confusing at times and the portrait orientation doesn’t always suit it. Nevertheless, it’s a notable step forward compared with the old system.
The new touchscreen is joined by the digital instrument display, which also does a great job of modernising the interior. With customisable displays and clear graphics, it shows you everything you need with the minimum fuss, and we suspect most customers will simply find a display they like and leave the rest alone. Either way, it’s another improvement on the old Ranger.
But just as notable as those two headline acts is the general improvement in quality. The Ranger’s cabin never felt too cheap and nasty, but the fit and finish of the new model is even closer to that of a passenger vehicle. The dashboard is wrapped in smart materials, the steering wheel feels soft and even the plastics are largely very tactile. Even the grab handles on the A-pillars have a kind of rubberised feel to them. In short, it all feels as rugged as it looks, and that bodes well for longevity.
However, there are one or two notable exceptions to that rule and they need to be flagged, not least because they contrast so strongly with the overall sense of quality. Chief among these is the rotary dials at the foot of the touchscreen. There to control temperature and volume, they are a welcome addition in a world increasingly dominated by touchscreen tech, but they feel quite flimsy and rattly. There are also issues with the door pulls, which are hidden in the arm rests and feel decidedly cheap and plasticky. It’s as though they exist to constantly remind you this isn’t a Ford SUV.
And that’s a shame, because without those issues, the Wildtrak would feel very premium indeed. Yes, the upholstery is a bit agricultural, but the design is perfect for a modern 4x4 and the new technology has elevated the feel as much as the improved material quality. By and large, it’s a great place to spend time, but those irritating foibles almost make it feel as though the cabin isn’t quite finished.
Still, it feels slightly more spacious than before, with plenty of space in the back for two adults to sit side-by-side. There aren’t many toys to play with back there, and the dark headlining makes it feel a little dingy, but the overall space is good and the rear bench is more comfortable than you might expect.
Driving the Ford Ranger Wildtrack
The old Ranger’s real selling point was the way it drove, and the same is true of the new model. Perhaps the greatest compliment we can pay the new Ranger is that it’s very easy to start comparing it with a rufty-tufty SUV, rather than other pick-up trucks. Admittedly, it isn’t perfect, and there are some SUV creature comforts that would be nice to find inside the Wildtrak, but the fact it’s in the same ballpark is quite some accolade.
Part of the reason for this comparison, though, is the engine. Or should that be engines? Ford offers customers a choice of two diesel motors – a 2.0-litre four-cylinder and a 3.0-litre V6 – and it’s the former on test here. Whereas the old Wildtrak’s 2.0-litre diesel engine offered 213hp, the new version only comes with 205hp, but you’re unlikely to notice the difference on the road. The new engine is punchy enough for most customers’ needs, and it’s smoother than before, which makes the Wildtrak feel more relaxing on the road.
As before, the Wildtrak still handles remarkably well, with suspension that curbs the body roll more effectively than you might expect, and steering that feels a bit sharper than in the old Ranger. Admittedly, it’s still a big, heavy lump, but it feels more like a car (well, a 4x4) than ever before, and that’s what will really draw those lifestyle-led customers in.
However, the Wildtrak doesn’t feel quite as comfortable as a ‘normal’ off-roader, particularly when there’s nothing in the load bed. It isn’t as crashy as some pick-ups, but there’s a definite jiggle over broken surfaces. Of course, it’s a natural by-product of building suspension that can cope with more than a tonne of payload, and in the world of pick-up trucks it’s still smoother than many, but it might put off some customers heading here from a conventional 4x4.
Few are likely to be turned off by the Ranger’s off-road credentials, though. With selectable four-wheel drive on all Wildtrak models, as well as an ample 500Nm of torque, the Ranger will go pretty much anywhere you like, particularly if you fit some proper off-road rubber. And it’ll tow pretty much anything, too, with the same 3.5-tonne maximum braked trailer weight as the old Wildtrak.
Ford Ranger Wildtrack alternatives
The pick-up truck market has become slightly truncated in recent years, with the Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi L200 and Mercedes-Benz X-Class dropping out of the race. But there are signs that the industry is – if you’ll pardon the pun – picking up, with the new Ranger set to share much with the forthcoming VW Amarok as part of the two companies’ joint venture.
For the time being, though, the biggest thorn in the Ranger Wildtrak’s side will be the Toyota Hilux, which is also available in some more upmarket trim levels. The Japanese truck was already competing with the old Ranger for the class honours, but the arrival of the new generation of Ford is set to move the game on slightly.
Ford Ranger Wildtrack summary
The new Ranger is certainly an improvement on its predecessor, offering better technology and refinement, as well as more modern styling and the same impressive levels of road-holding. Perhaps the quality leaves something to be desired in places, but it’s generally solid and stylish in equal measure. For those who liked the old Wildtrak’s SUV-like handling and cabin, as well as its commercial credentials, the new Wildtrak will be a smash hit.
Admittedly, we’re yet to try the new 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, which we expect to be the money-no-object pick of the Ranger Wildtrak line-up, but the 2.0-litre engine will be more than tough enough for most people’s needs. After all, those who want performance might always be tempted by the Raptor.
But there’s more riding on the Ranger than just Ford’s future in the pick-up truck sector. The new Ranger shares its underpinnings with the forthcoming VW Amarok, and the early signs bode well for Volkswagen’s return to the pick-up truck market. The Ranger, Amarok and Hilux look set to fight it out for the best-in-class title.