Ford Ranger Wildtrak

It was one of those typical Western Cape rainy, mostly overcast days – cool to the point of almost being cold. But nothing was going to put us off our weekend trip to Strandfontein high up the West Coast, near Vredendal.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak

Before setting off I was worried that our bedding would get soaked but the slightly funny looking cladded rollbar gave just enough protection.

We headed north on the R365 via Porterville to the N7 as we wanted to experience the Clanwilliam Dam sluices in full flow. From there we went on the R364 as far as Graafwater where we headed north on an interesting gravel road. We wondered why the local looked at us a little strangely when we confirmed the route. But not for long. Wild, wet and… well, fun.

Cruising on tar is a cinch. The cruise control even has distance control and a reminder to take a rest comes on every 90 minutes. There really is power to spare, especially when that second turbo kicks in. It makes passing so quick and easy. The Wildtrak simply absorbs all the road imperfections, its like riding on a magic carpet. The bakkie is equipped with most of the tech you may want, from automatic wipers and headlights to the very good Synch 3 infotainment system to top notch safety systems.

Wildtrak at Strandfontein beach.

Hit the gravel, or in this case mud on the road between Graafwater and Doornbaai just before Strandfontein. Turn on 4H, which you can do while driving, and enjoy the trip. This bakkie is steady and its tail does not wag the body like some other bakkies. What a pleasure.

Parking at the mall in Vredendal was easy. I did not even have to use the park assist (City Park Steering), although I found the rear camera useful, once I had cleaned the lens. The town impressed me, providing all the services and retail outlets you may need on a short trip to the area. The coffee shop in the mall serves a good coffee but their serving sizes are a bit… different.

A very civil bakkie this, with heated seats, combination fabric and leather seats, 2x USB outlets, 3x 12v sockets, a 230v inverter outlet, “A”-pillar grab handles, soft touch where you are likely to touch, very good multi-function steering wheel, climate control and more.

The 2.0 Bit 4X4 D/cab Wildtrak At gives you 157 kW and a mighty 500 Nm of torque through a silky smooth 10-speed automatic box. The loadbay is good for 860 Kg. The standard wheel size is 265/60 R18, which is quite a good balance. If you are going to spend a lot of time offroad think about changing to 265/65 R17s.

All the normal safety, passive and active, kit is included.

On the Strandfontein weekend I averaged 9.1L/100km. I think that is pretty representative of general driving, but in town it will be higher.

Of all the double cab bakkies I have driven over the years I think the Wildtrak comes closest to being the real thing, delivering comfort, performance, safety, drivability, space and economy.

Yes, the Raptor is better on a fast gravel track, yes the V6 Amarok is the ultimate highway cruising bakkie, but as an all round package Wildtrak delivers better than all the rest.

The warranty is for 4 years or 120000Km, 5 Year Corrosion, 3 Year Roadside Assistance and a 6 year or 90000Km service plan is included.

Also look at the VW Amarok Dark Label 2.0 BiTDI (R742 600), Mercedes Benz X 250 d Auto (R724 202), Toyota 2.8 GD6 GR-S (R750 300), Isuzu D-max 3.0 Auto (R679 900) and of course the Raptor.

Mazda BT-50 review

Mazda BT-50

The new BT-50 carries on in the tradition of ‘lekka’ tough, comfortable Mazda bakkies. Although based on the same platform as the Ford Ranger the BT-50 is a very different beast.

People are going to ask: Does the BT-50 have Zoom-Zoom? You betcha. It also has go,go,go. And, it goes well too. Drives and handles like an SUV.

BT-50 program manager Takasuke Kobayashi said of the BT-50:“I wanted to move into uncharted territory. I wanted to create a completely different kind of pick-up – one with the personality of a passenger car. So my team developed innovative, dynamic styling and equipment levels that match high-specification CD-segment cars. We re-engineered the technologies in the powertrain, steering system and frame to deliver the Zoom-Zoom driving pleasure that is Mazda’s greatest brand value.”

The BT-50 looks very different to the Ford Ranger. Brighter and softer. More car-like than the Ranger.

Driving impressions

The BT-50 sits well on the road, any road. It drives like a car. My wife found it very easy to drive, except parallel parking. That is a mission due to the sheer size. It is broader and longer than most cars and all previous generation bakkies except the likes of the Ford 150 and the Cruiser double cab. A similar size to the Amarok and Navarra.

The 3.2 turbo diesel engine fitted to the BT-50 we drove will only be tested if you are towing a big boat, large caravan or heavy trailer. It has oodles of power. The 3.2-litre inline five-cylinder diesel with six-speed automatic transmission pushes out 147kW/470Nm.  I think the 2.2 is more than enough for normal use. Its the one I would buy.The 2.2 litre in-line 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC intercooled turbo diesel produces a useful 110 kW @ 3,700 rpm and torque of 375 Nm @ 1,500 – 2,500 rpm. More than enough normally.

The short distance I rode on gavel it seemed very settled and stable.

Acceleration, especially in gear, when overtaking for example, is excellent.

Cornering for such a tall relatively heavy vehicle is very good. The brakes on this truck are to be felt to be believed. they are really good. Steering is very good. Light at low speeds and progressively more stiff as the speed increases.

This is a great bakkie to drive. Parking, though, can be an issue.

Interior

The seats are really comfortable and highly adjustable. The driver’ s seat also has adjustable lumbar support.

The cabin has practical finishes and is well designed. It would put most large sedans of ten years ago to shame. It has all the nooks and crannies and storage places you would expect.

All the important controls are within easy reach and work intuitively. Switchgear feels solid. Audio controls are on the lest of the steering wheel, cruise control on the right.

The climate control is very effective.

The radio, CD, MP3 player works well and the speakers sound good. There are aux and USB points in the box between the seats.

The rear window has a brilliant little window.

Weak points

Loading or getting something off the loadbay is quite a mission, simply because she stands so tall. For normal use the loadbay is a little high. It is impractical. The same applies to getting in and out of this truck. It is quite a heave up into the cab.

I do not like the fake chrome trim around the lights, but I am sure many others will like it. Its a little “sudden” for me!

The fiddly little button used to control the ‘computer’ display is totally impractical and bordering on unsafe.

Fuel consumption is a lot better than older generation tricks but it is still stiff. At best I got 10litre per 100km unladen at 120km/h, while the big mill purrs at 2 000rpm. In town it shoots up. My average was 8.9l/100km.

I would have preferred a soft touch finish on a few surfaces. It just feels a little hard.

Summary

This is a bakkie to easily get used to living with in spite of the odd little niggle. Just remember she is big and high and wide.

Cost

The double cab range starts at R340 480 for the BT-50 2.2 (High Power) MZ-CD SLX 6MT 4×2 D/Cab Diesel. The Top of the range BT-50 3.2 MZ-CD SLE 6AT 4×4 D/Cab Diesel costs R462 210.

The vehicle we tested, the BT-50 3.2 MZ-CD SLE 6AT 4×2 D/Cab Diesel costs R414 890.

Air conditioner and slip rear axle is an extra option at R10 870.

Warranty: 4 year/120 000km

Service plan: 5 year/90 000km, 15 000km service intervals