Pure driving pleasure

The updated Ford Ranger devours dirt with delight

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Anyone who has driven to Bothaville from Bloemfontein or Johannesburg will know that the Free State’s roads are unforgiving in the extreme. Where tarred surfaces exist, drivers have to contend with pot-holes, while the dirt roads are often extremely rutted to the point that they resemble 4x4 tracks. Nor is the Free State the only province where such conditions are the norm.

Consequently, as a farmer, one’s choice of vehicle will have a tremendous impact on one’s quality of life. Fortunately, Ford’s may just offer the ideal solution. Harvest SA reports back from the recent launch of the updated Ranger bakkie series.

Apart from showcasing some of the attractions particular to the city of George and environs, the launch provided an opportunity to test-drive the latest Wildtrak and XL models, featuring brand new engines, a 10-speed gearbox, new driver assist technologies and important chassis refinements. Space does not permit to enter into a lengthy examination of the technical specifications (just Google it!) so I will focus here on the driving experience – and what an experience it was! The morning drive out on the tarred road from the Oubaai Hotel saw the Ranger simply purring as it ate up the distance with consummate ease. The ride is so smooth, comfortable and quiet that it feels as though the car is driving itself – all you have to do is point it in the right direction. (The sound system is also excellent, and our cell phones connected with the SYNC multmedia and navigation platform like a charm.) We tested the cruise control and the auto-braking feature and can confirm that the vehicle will adjust its speed and following distance to the vehicle ahead and come to a stop automatically should the need arise. Think of the safety advantages on those long night drives!

Next came a section of relatively smooth dirt road as we set off uphill for the Duiwelskop Pass. Again, the chassis refinements allowed the Ranger to fly effortlessly along the road. Even when the going got rougher and we had to engage 4WD, the smooth feeling persisted.

It was only when the road became steeper and the rocks and ditches began to appear that we had to engage both low-range and our driving intelligence. The Ranger proved more than equal to the task, negotiating severe gradients and obstacles with cat-like agility. Ordinarily, one expects one’s guts and bones to be jarred and rattled by extreme off-road driving, but we were surprised to find that the Ranger remained relatively comfortable and remarkably quiet. This made the drive much more of a pleasure than an ordeal!

From the top of the Duiwelskop Pass, we were able to reflect that we had driven up a mountain in a quite a short space of time. I would be fibbing if I said it wasn’t absolutely exhilarating! The drive down offered more challenging conditions, until conditions improved to the point that we could engage descent mode, which allowed the vehicle to descend at a constant pace until we rejoined the tar road and drove to our final destination, Louvain Guest Farm, with its 4x4 trails, hiking and excellent accommodation set in the beautiful upper Langkloof Valley. The sun had passed the yardarm by this point and was pouring down a molten glow that made us appreciate the benefits of a finely-tuned air-conditioning system (and well-earned lunch). The fuel consumption averaged 10km per litre.

Of the two models, the Wildtrak had more oomph where it counted, with slightly superior 4x4 performance. However, either model would be a tremendous asset to any farmer’s vehicle fleet.

The only possible disadvantage I could think of was that the vehicle’s size tends to make you forget that there are other vehicles on the road!

Greg Penfold

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