Some brands make 4x4 trucks and SUVs knowing they're just destined for urban jungles and posh, gated villages. That's fine, really.
Well, nobody told Ford that, as here we are, welcoming the new Ranger Wildtrak the right way... the off-road way.
About a month prior, I got a call from the guys over at Ford about an upcoming drive. In the years that we've joined Ford's events, needless to say, there's nothing Mickey Mouse about what they do.
They demonstrated the Focus's racing capabilities on the track and on the dirt, the latter a true challenge given that it's front wheel drive. They had us drive the previous Ranger around the country on all kinds of surfaces. We took to Baguio in the Everest through the megadikes and lahar beds. We even drove from Sorsogon to Pagudpud in the Focus TDCi for an eco drive to log over 1400 kilometers on a tank of diesel, and that was no easy feat.
So when the phone rang, I heard three clear words: Ranger, Wildtrak and Pinatubo.
“Oh, yes” was my reply.
Setting off from Ford Balintawak, we got reacquainted with the all new Ranger, this time in Wildtrak form.
For one, it looks really good. Too good, in my opinion. They've taken the basic Ranger design and stepped it up two or three notches with the blacked out grille, the different rims, stepboards and roll-bar.
Inside, again, it looks too good to be a utilitarian truck. There's a fair amount of plastic, but overall, the cabin has enough buttons and functions to rival and even exceed most D-segment (executive) cars. It comes with cruise control, climate control, Bluetooth, voice control, USB, aux-in, iPod connectivity, leather seats (with the orange stripe), a multi-info display, multiple power outlets and a lot of other things.
This is the 4x4 version, and there's a selector knob for the 4x4 transfer case, as well as a few more buttons for other off-road specific functions... more on that later.
Ranger on the road
The previous Ranger Wildtrak we drove really wasn't meant for comfort, though it'll do if you're into turning milk to butter. Well, if that Wildtrak was night, this new one is day.
Pick ups have never been known for comfortable rides, but this new Ranger Wildtrak is very different. The suspension actually soaks up the road considerably well both on rough city streets (particularly EDSA) and offers confident roadholding on the significantly smoother NLEX (which, by the way, is getting a bit bumpier every time I drive on it).
Wind noise is significantly improved over the old model, and in terms of fuel economy, we were able to achieve 15.217 kilometers per liter in the 2.2L TDCI with the 6-speed manual, while the 3.2L TDCI with the 6-speed automatic got a best of 14.49 kilometers per liter.
Lahar: easy peasy... kinda
Off the pavement and onto the seemingly endless lahar river beds from the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo.
Driving on the lahar bed actually looks easier that it actually is. We were on 4x4 Low in the Wildtrak, and still the lahar manages to catch us off guard in a few places because, while the bed seems smooth and flat to drive, it has the consistency of sand and that means you'll have to maintain considerable momentum. It's really best to keep in mind that we were still on street tires (H/T) and should we slow down too much, we'd get stuck.
There were some parts where you really had to slow down, given a river/stream crossing or two. No problem for the Wildtrak as it has the same 800mm wading depth as the Ranger, and the excellent approach and departure angles to head back up the ramp onto the lahar.
There were plenty of opportunities to have a bit of fun in the dirt given the room we had to play with, and some of us were pitching the trucks to get the tail out even for just a bit... yeah, the joys of a little hooliganism.
Onto the rough stuff
Up until this point, we've had smooth roads and smooth lahar, but to head back onto the trail to Sapang Uwak, a short but tricky bouldered path lay in our way.
A modified 4x4 (like the classic Land Cruisers our instructor crews were using) wouldn't even break a sweat (or an axle) on this, but we were in showroom-stock trucks, and I really didn't want to take home a stepboard sheared off its mounts as a souvenir.
We went through it, carefully crawling our way over the rocks. Damage can't be helped, but Ford was eager to prove the mettle of the new Wildtrak. After a few minutes, several scrapes and thuds, we made it up, and proceeded to the trail.
A climb too far
About halfway up, we stopped at the barangay and picked up our guides who stood on the trucks' beds, ranchero-style.
We continued on the path up, with the instructors demonstrating the 4x4 toys in the Wildtrak such as the hill hold system (prevents the car from rolling back while the drive lifts his foot from the brake to the accelerator) and the hill descent control (automatically crawls the vehicle down a tricky trail).
Just when we got familiarized with the trail that would take us to the viewpoint over Mount Pinatubo, the lead cars stopped. As it turns out, to our right was the real trail to head on up there, and it was easily 40 degrees up, with deep ruts on either side. Make a mistake, and disaster could happen.
Our lead instructor, Beeboy Bargas, suddenly got down from the passenger seat of the lead car to take over driving duties from Inigo Roces; given the extreme nature of the ascent, Inigo elected to hand over control.
The instructor then asked me if I want to try it and, well, given that I didn't really want to relinquish control and look like a pansy in front of the rest of the guys in the Wildtrak with me, I simply said: “Dude, I got this.”
Upwards the lead car went, driven by our lead off-road specialist. I can clearly see the Wildtrak dancing about, trying to find every bit of traction it can while avoiding the deep tracks on either side. It seemed to be all under control until...
It was loud. Maybe it was Anika's (Ford's AVP for Corporate Communications) reaction from inside the lead Wildtrak or maybe it was the sound of the truck's undercarriage beached on the high center island, I really couldn't tell. What was clear was that the lead truck was stuck, its tires looking for enough traction to get out, but to no avail.
I looked to the instructor to my right and said “Bro, ikaw na lang.”
Back to Base “Glamp”
The climb really was one step too far for the stock Wildtrak with highway tires, and the support trucks had to go on up to retrieve the vehicle.
As they were doing that, we headed on back to basecamp some 300 meters back for some burgers and drinks. Maybe we didn't make it up there for a view of Mount Pinatubo in the new Ford Ranger Wildtrak, but that's one minor detail.
I'm surprised at how easily we got here and how comfortably we did it. Sure, we'll get a chance to bring the Ranger Wildtrak up there later on, but for now -sitting up here on this ridge with a commanding view, a nice meal in hand, some good company and good tunes from the portable speakers we put on the Windtrak's bed- perhaps a taste of glamping is just what the doctor ordered.