Ford Ranger Wildtrak: long-term test review

Ford Ranger Wildtrak: long-term test review

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There’s little wonder that the Ford Ranger is our favourite pick-up. Towcar, removal van and mobile product test centre, it’s a great all-rounder that earns its place on the drive even when it’s not pounding up and down the motorway.

There’s no doubt that the Ford Ranger is the workhorse of the Auto Express fleet, because even when the weather makes long trips less appealing and our pick-up is only notching up a few hundred miles a month, it’s still earning its keep.

As you can see in the pictures, the Ranger is not in its usual showroom finish, because this report falls in the middle of my annual car-care product testing. And the last thing I need during this period is a clean car. So the few miles I’ve done since the turn of the year have added a much-needed layer of winter grime. Those big side panels will be playing host to a snow foam test in the run up to our Product Awards.

Shifting dusty kitchen appliances and all kinds of building debris has also made the load bed liner the ideal surface to check out interior trim cleaners, alongside our usual tests, which involve removing chocolate, grease and dried fruit juice.

And finally, those grimy Boulder Grey rims will be used to validate our wheel cleaner benchtests. Only at the end of all that will the Ford get the thorough hosedown it so desperately needs.

Although I haven’t been doing many miles, the Ranger has been continuing its role as builder’s transport, moving shelving to my new home. This gave me the chance to try out the load bed anchorage points. These can be positioned anywhere along the length of the bed and, with a ratchet strap, easily held the shelves in place. Dead handy. At in-town speeds the rear window could also be left open, although I would have strapped that down if I planned to go faster.

When you live with a vehicle like this, it’s easy to forget how big it is. A new neighbour said he’d be wary of driving something like the big Ford, let alone parking it. And yes, you certainly do have to pay attention when manoeuvring. But there are sensors all round and a rear-view cam to warn you if something is getting too close for comfort. The set-up works well, but I’ll admit that a camera-aided bird’s-eye system would give an extra layer of protection.

While parking is usually okay, you do have to take in to account that the Ranger is longer than most cars and parking bays, so it pays to leave it away from corners where it might be clipped in multi-storeys.

One aspect of low-speed manoeuvring that still catches me out is the limited lock. Although the steering is geared well, with no excessive spinning of the wheel from lock to lock, turning into tight spaces sometimes requires two goes, because I run out of space. This happens more frequently when I’m trying to leave room for my trailer to make the turn as well. It’s just another reminder that you need to keep your wits about you when you’re negotiating tight spaces in the Ford.

This report comes at a busy time for the Ranger as the competition season starts to kick in to life – and practice track days with it. The Ranger has already been pressed into service collecting a new-to-me track car – a Honda-engined Lotus Elise S1 – and putting my Caterham into storage for a few weeks in the run-up to my recent house move. 

After a short break from towing, the Ranger impressed me all over again with just how little fuss it makes when it’s got a racecar trailer behind.

Yes, the ride is a little choppier, particularly when the trailer is empty, but the ride smooths out when the trailer is loaded and the Ford never seems stressed, unlike some rivals.

That ability will be put to the test over the next month or so because I plan to take the Ford abroad for the first time with my track car behind. At the moment I can’t think of a vehicle better suited to the task.

Ford Ranger pick-up is carrying everything we need the truck to, including the kitchen sink

Choosing a pick-up as a cost-effective alternative to a big SUV makes financial sense, particularly if you’re a business user, but it kind of misses the point.

Truck cabins have improved massively in recent years to the point where you wouldn’t complain about getting into one after a hard day on a building site, but they can’t match a SUV’s passenger space. It’s the load bed that sets a pick-up apart and it needs to be used for more than the odd muddy bike or supermarket shop to make up for reduced creature comforts elsewhere.

Which is exactly what I’ve been doing. I’ve recently moved house and have started on improvements. While professionals are doing most of the work, I’ve used our Ranger to dispose of old kitchen appliances. 

And there are few better vehicles for the job. I know we often see pictures on these pages of colleagues showing the versatility of their long-term cars with all manner of furniture and kit stowed in the back, but none can swallow stuff like a pick-up.

While some may have similar load spaces, there’s none of the fretting about damaging trim panels or ripping leather upholstery. Just flip down the tailgate and the tough bed liner can take everything you care to throw at it. I’ve proved it can take everything, including the kitchen sink.

Apart from a full complement of kitchen appliances taken to the recycling centre, we’ve packed it with the leaves from a massive chestnut tree in our garden and helped move our daughter to a new flat – including shifting a double bed. And when it was emptied there’s no sign it has been used for hauling heavy loads.

I’ve also taken to keeping a garden broom in the bed, because it is ideal for pushing bags and the like to the bulkhead, making space for more at the back. It is also good for retrieving them when unloading without having to crawl over the tailgate. That tough plastic liner may be great at protecting the load bed, but it is not at all good for knees.

I’ve also tackled a couple of long runs in the Ranger without towing a trailer, as I often do, from my home near Cambridge to Leeds for the Auto Express bulb test.

The three-hour trip, primarily on the A1, exposed my major moan with the otherwise excellent Ranger. The traffic-clogged route meant I used the adaptive cruise; it’s good for taking the stress out of maintaining progress in a long line of cars constantly changing speed. It could be a bit quicker off the mark when the traffic speeds up, but worse is the clunk as it downshifts and accelerates at certain speeds. It’s wearing on a long trip with multiple downshifts as traffic slows and speeds up. Part-throttle acceleration around town can also be less than smooth. Plus, I’ve learned to wait a few seconds after selecting drive before setting off when the Ford has been parked overnight. It needs a little while for the system to get the fluids moving and hook up the drivetrain. 

Transmission apart, the package is good. There may be quieter motors but I’m fond of the four-cylinder turbodiesel and it is never intrusive. I also like the power delivery that always feels like the engine isn’t really trying.

Economy has settled at just over 28mpg, which is better than I’ve experienced in other trucks doing a similar mix of towing and motorway driving. I’ve also had to top up the AdBlue tank twice, and am getting about 3,000 miles between 10-litre fills.

The ride continues to impress. At some point in most other trucks, you get beaten up by one pothole too many and just want to park and get in pretty much anything else.

I’ve not even come close to that point in the Ranger, which makes a good job of damping the worst bumps and potholes.

And that’s just as well since I’ve got several long trips planned for the spring, including one to Germany towing a trailer. I can think of no vehicle I’d rather be in and will be packing the load bed with my track-day kit, without worrying about scratches or tears.

Ford Ranger pick-up is proving its worth day to day and as a track-day support vehicle

Two of the certainties when I’m running a long-term test car are that it will tow a trailer, and that it will become a test bed for the various products I put through their paces for Auto Express.

The Ranger is no exception, because its rear window has been used to create some baked-on debris in our bug-cleaner test and, more recently, I’ve been doing my best to turn the Sea Grey Wildtrak white. Not that I don’t like the metallic grey, but rather I was testing snow foam lances.

So multiple coats of Autoglym Polar Blast were sprayed on, left to work to assess foam thickness, then pressure washed away. The large panels were ideal to monitor run-off and it also gave me a chance to test the hard-top’s leak prevention. While other tops I’ve tested let water in quite easily, none made it in to the big Ford’s load bay.

And I’ve been putting that load bed to regular use ferrying tools, tyres, and other kit to various track days and competitions. It’s where a pick-up comes in to its own, with driver and passengers kept separate from the smelly, dirty bits. It also means I can carry fuel in the tow car without filling the cabin or track car with the dubious whiff of super-unleaded.

As the days have got shorter those track visits have often started and finished in the dark, so I’ve come to appreciate the powerful bi-xenon headlights with their automatic dimming. Trouble is, they were a fair bit too good for oncoming drivers, who regularly thought I’d not dipped the headlights. At first I thought the trailer was causing the front of the Ford to rise and point the headlights high, but a test minus trailer revealed the problem was still there.

The minimalist handbook left me none the wiser, but careful inspection of the light switch revealed a small control that could be released with a push. Twist and there’s a choice of headlight positions.

The only other niggle is the 10-speed automatic transmission. It always seems to find the correct gear, but the changes are not always seamless. I also need to wait a few seconds when first starting the car before I can engage Drive.

Still, the engine is a gem whether it’s towing a car on a trailer or trickling around town. Delivering 210bhp and, crucially, 500Nm of torque, it is more than able to tow my track cars, and you need to keep a keen eye on the speedo when accelerating on to a motorway to stay within the law.

There’s no getting away from the Ford’s size, however. There’s a rear-view camera and warning sensors, but reversing in to my driveway and alongside the house seems to set all of them off. I also keep getting caught out by the large turning circle.

Despite the size and spending a lot of the time towing, fuel consumption has been 28.6mpg. Not ideal, but better than I have seen in other pick-ups doing the same mix of driving. The onboard computer was fairly near the figure, too, which is useful.

The cabin is a pretty good place to be, with Apple CarPlay, DAB radio and effective heating and air-conditioning. Plus, the Ford’s heated seats have been very welcome indeed on cold, early morning starts.

So far, I’ve only made day trips in the Ranger, but an upcoming week’s break in Wales will reveal how it fares over a longer period. Based on the first three months with the Ranger, I’m looking forward to it.

Our award-winning Ford Ranger truck has been thrown in at the deep end

Sod’s Law was truly in play over the past few months, because, after years of running pick-ups on the Auto Express long-term fleet, when I moved house recently I was between trucks. As a result, all those trips to the recycling centre with the clutter built up after decades of product testing, motorsport and living in a house had to be tackled in the family SUV, and the interior trim is still bearing the scars.

For load lugging there is little to beat a pick-up, with its near-indestructible load bed and car-like interior for more delicate items. So collecting our Ford Ranger, the magazine’s current pick-up of choice, from dealer manager Simon Lewis at Gates of Harlow FordStore in Essex couldn’t come soon enough. And even though the house move has been completed, I’ve a packed programme of track days and speed events planned for the rest of the year.

I wasted no time putting the Wildtrak to work hitching up my trailer and Caterham Seven racer for a track day at Brands Hatch after less than 24 hours on the fleet.

Even before I hit the road, I was appreciating the advantages of a pick-up for this sort of activity. All the dirty, smelly bits are carried in a separate space designed to be knocked about a bit. So spare wheels and tyres are not on the back seat, but in the load bed and they don’t need to be kept in bags to protect upholstery. Fuel and filling kit is also out of the way, keeping the interior free from the whiff of super unleaded.

Loading isn’t so easy with the high-set load bed, but once everything is in and pushed to the bulkhead, there’s a fair bit more space to play with than in most SUVs.

On the road there’s a really solid feel to the Ranger. The steering is well weighted, but not heavy, although the tight confines of where my cars and trailer are stored has exposed a pretty large turning circle.

Our Wildtrak is fitted with the 210bhp 2.0 EcoBlue twin-turbo diesel, so it never seems like it is working hard, even when towing. While less-powerful trucks can do the job, they always need lots of throttle and high revs. This isn’t the case in the Ranger. My relatively lightweight trailer and cars keep the braked towing weight below the Ford’s 3,500kg maximum, and the truck purrs up hills with a touch of extra throttle, usually without the need to drop a gear.

The 10-speed automatic transmission sorts itself out pretty well, and I’ve yet to find it hunting for the correct gear. While not bad for a truck, the transmission isn’t the smoothest, as on a light throttle the up changes can just be felt. Ratios can also be selected via a button on the side of the shifter, but I’ve not found the need to use it yet.

The cabin spec is largely as you’d find on many SUVs. I’ve still to explore all the features, but it has Apple CarPlay, which delivers what I need from an infotainment system – sat-nav, sounds and phone. There’s a mass of features to still discover, but Ford’s system is one I’m not that familiar with, so navigating around it has been less than intuitive.

Apart from the standard kit, we’ve added a few options. According to sales executive Noel Quinn, our truck’s £600 Sea Grey metallic paint is the most popular for the Ranger. It certainly looks good with the £120 Boulder Grey 18-inch wheels. With plenty of experience of pick-up truck accessories, a hard top is essential, so the Ranger has one fitted at a cost of £1,920, while the essential Trailer Tow Pack is £480. We added a hitch drop plate, too, so that the trailer runs level with the tow ball height, rather than nose-up.

There’s also the Driver Assistance pack with park (£1,380) that brings adaptive cruise control, driver alerts and auto high beam. It also adds active park assist. The adaptive cruise works well on motorways, but it could be quicker to respond when traffic speeds up.

The first few days with a new car usually brings an “I’m not keen on that” moment, but I’ve yet to have one with the Ranger. Let’s hope that continues.

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