During the 1980s movie screen hard-man Sylvester Stallone taught the men of the world how to be macho. His blockbuster film franchises of Rocky and Rambo provided a two-pronged tutorial on how to be purposeful yet one-dimensional. The lesson didn’t go unnoticed and men everywhere bought aviator sunglasses, tore the sleeves off their T-shirts and communicated only with grunts and wolf-whistles. Sadly, by the end of the eighties the Rocky and Rambo movies had been played out and had lost their way. This left the men of the world without guidance and like a rudderless boat they drifted into discussing their feelings and actually caring about their appearance. Into the 1990s, and men found themselves in a position where they were still expected to take out the trash but also look sharp, and be intelligent to social issues.
What does all this have to do with utes? Quite a lot actually. Utility vehicles have followed a similar transition from being macho work hacks into good-looking, adaptable and comfortable multi-purpose vehicles. Want proof? Look at the new Ford Ranger Wildtrack.
The Wildtrack plays host to a full house of stylish eye-catching cues making it a much more interesting and rugged looking vehicle than the standard Ford Ranger. Priced at $59,490 the Wildtrack commands a $5000 premium over the Ranger XLT on which it’s based. For the extra admission price you get 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome three-bar front grille, colour-coded trim, aluminum side steps, roof and tray rails, a lockable retractable hard tonneau cover and those ‘special’ Wildtrack graphics. The masculine Ranger shape lends itself well to the larger wheels and silver rails to give the Wildtrack a unique stage presence.
The VIP treatment pushes into the cabin with ‘Wildtrack’ logo alcantara seats and floor mats. The seats are well bolstered and comfortable in the front, at the rear the seats offer generous room but have less support and an upright recline angle that may compromise comfort on longer trips. Interior materials are solid and switchgear is logical and well placed. There are no strange angles and the contrasting silver trim draws the eye to areas of interest. A three-ringed instrument cluster is easy to read and illuminates well. The Wildtrack receives extra dash-mounted gauges that display pitch and roll, internal and external temperature and a compass. Other special features include a leather-clad steering wheel and gear knob, six-disc CD stereo with aux input, power windows and mirrors, cruise control and remote central locking.
The only issues with the Wildtrack’s interior are the absence of a sash-belt for the middle seated rear passenger and the use of an under-dash umbrella type hand brake which isn’t ideal. Otherwise the cabin is class leading offering good comfort for the front passengers, decent space for the backseat, commanding visibility and a hardy fit and finish.
Working behind the scenes on the Wildtrack is Ford’s Duratorq diesel unit, it has a DOHC in-line four-cylinder layout and is a stellar performer. With 16 valves, common-rail injection and a turbo with intercooler it has Rocky punching power but is smooth like Apollo Creed. It can be a touch noisy when cold and at idle but once warmed up and on the road it ‘s free spinning and hums a mellow tune. Step on the go-pedal and the Wildtrack thumps out 115kW of power and 380Nm of torque from 1800 rpm. It’s a steady cruiser on the open road but is also well mannered around town, helped largely by its usable low-range torque.
The engine on our test vehicle was matched up with the 5-speed manual transmission that was easy to use. The clutch pedal was light and the throw short enough to make it a total breeze.
In terms of handling the Wildtrack doesn’t have any excessive body roll and is well served by independent double wishbones up front with a torsion bar and a semi-floating axle with multi-leaf springs at the back. When its time to play Rambo and go bush the Wildtrack is armed with a Borg Warner transfer case, a low-ratio 4WD setting and shift-on-the-fly capability between 2WD and 4WD-high. If conditions turn bad a torque-sensing limited slip differential at the rear is ready to push the Wildtrack along.
Overall ride quality is excellent on the Wildtrack and road-roar and wind-noise are well neutralized. While the ride is firm, only the most uneven of roads will have occupants bouncing around.
The Wildtrack can offer a 1016kg carrying capacity in the tray and is good for towing 750kg unbraked and up to 3,000kg braked. The double cab shortens the Wildtrack’s cargo tub but it’s still got plenty of room for toolboxes or bazookas.
If your mission doesn’t go to plan the Wildtrack has your back with dual-front airbags, side airbags and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution. Disc brakes work up front but the Wildtrack makes do with drums at the rear.
There’s no doubt times have changed in the competitive ute segment and expectations have shifted towards a vehicle that can both function as a commercial vehicle and double up as family transport. The Wildtrack is targeted squarely at buyers looking for a ute with this genre blurring capability. It has competence off road and on, is packing a modern but macho powerplant and has movie star good looks. The price of admission is on the high side for a commercial vehicle but those looking for something distinctive and practical should take a closer look.
Price: from $59,490
What we like:
- Extra gear
- Smooth diesel engine
- Quality interior
What we don’t like:
- Rear centre lap seatbelt
- Drum brakes
- Overdone ‘Wildtrack’ graphics
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo