Belfast Telegraph

Crocodile Dundee in the city

Designed to survive Australia's Outback, the 2012 model of the Ford Ranger Wildtrak offers unexpected refinement and car-like handling with executive-car provision in both accomodation and equipment levels, says Jim McCauley

Developed in Australia for a global market, Ford’s new Ranger sets the standard for the pickup market with its balance of tough looks and seducing elegance. Offered with three cab bodystyles and suspension specifically tuned to each market area, test choice was the range-topping Wildtrak version biased towards leisure and lifestyle pursuits rather than the agricultural or industrial market.

The 2012 Ranger is all-new, topping its predecessor in size with a choice of two turbo diesels, the larger of which is the driving force in the Wildtrak. This 3.2 litre five-cylinder unit is rated at 200PS and outputs drive to all four wheels on selection via its six-speed automatic transmission.

The vehicle is intimidating in size, but refined in appearance, the front end detailing not far removed from that of Range Rover. Inside, the leather-clad cabin offers Mondeo proportions in the double-cab body with spacious seating for five adults. Driving position is commanding in the high cab and the luxury appointments continue with eight-way adjustment on the driver’s seat and both front seats enjoying the benefit of selective heating.

Snuggle in, fire up the engine and the response is in total contrast to expectations. There is no harshness, no pitching ride, no upsetting gear changes, no heavy steering.

In this top-trim model, the lifestyle market is the clear target and the Ranger Wildtrak delivers like an executive saloon.

The ride is surprisingly settled with the newly developed steering providing very precise handling and excellent on-road stability.

With 90% of its massive 470Nm of torque available from 1700 to 3500 rpm, the sheer power of the vehicle can be felt as the automatic box eases through the gears with car-like refinement.

Manoeuvring such a large vehicle on-road can have its problems, but excellent steering lock, parking sensors and rear-view camera with guideline graphics on screen all contribute to the top-line model’s desirability. And for those towing, it can handle up to 3,350kg braked towing weight, making it best in class.

Going off-road, the all-wheel drive system can be switched in on the move with the added option of low-range selection for particularly difficult terrain.

The Wildtrak also comes with a traction control system incorporated into its electronic stability programme, (ESP). This maintains vehicle stability by maximising traction at each driven wheel and unlike a limited slip differential is able to reduce the level of engine torque to the exact amount that can be safely delivered to the ground though the wheels. It also completely brakes a spinning wheel, allowing all the available engine torque to go to the wheels with the most grip.

The ESP also incorporates hill descent control, which maintains a safe descent speed on steep slopes without having to touch the brakes and trailer sway control, which provides stability control when towing a trailer.

For loading up, the fully lined load box is deeper than in the previous model and its 1.21 cubic metres capacity puts it among the top of the double cab competition.

On the safety front, the model features twin front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a driver’s knee unit, while a five-star EuroNCAP crash test rating makes it the first model in its segment to achieve the maximum rating.

Equipment levels continue to be on par with a luxury saloon and include dual-zone climate control, cruise control, satellite navigation with five-inch colour screen, Bluetooth connectivity and interface connections for external audio devices.

Overall, the Ranger Wildtrak is a contradiction in expectations. Its size, load carrying capability and towing potential suggest heaviness and harshness in the pursuit of practicality.

But this is a vehicle that offers unexpected refinement and car-like handling with executive car provision in both accommodation and equipment levels.

The model undoubtedly sets a new benchmark for the sector and this range-topping Double Cab Wildtrak specification is priced at £25,000 excluding VAT.

Ford Ranger Double Cab

Engine: 3.2 litre, turbo diesel, 200 PS @ 3000 rpm. 470 Nm torque @ 1700 to 3500 rpm.

Drive: Front and Selectable 4-wheel drive with low range option and electronic support packages

Performance: 0-62mph (100km/h) in 10.4 seconds; max, 109 mph (175 km/h)

Fuel on combined cycle: 26.7 mpg (10.5 l/100km)

CO2: 274 gms/km; VED Band M for annual car tax of £460 from second year

Trim: Wildtrak

Price: £25,000 (ex VAT)

Insurance: N/A

Warranty: Three-year/60,000 miles

Benefit-in-Kind: Maximum, £3,000

Euro NCAP: Five-Star

Available extras: Metallic Wildtrak Orange paint, £480.

Belfast Telegraph