With the release of the Ranger Wildtrak X, Ford has introduced another bakkie to the R1 million club in South Africa. But, distinguished from other competitors by its comprehensive off-roading capability, the Wildtrak X is a unique vehicle, well worth its price tag. Oliver Keohane got an exclusive first drive through the mountains of Central Otago, New Zealand.
What are we driving?
The Ranger Wildtrak X falls just below the revered Ranger Raptor, in pricing, size and capability. The Ranger Wildtrak is a familiar model to the South African market, offering customers for the last few years a sporty ruggedness and off-roading prowess to match at a price point more manageable than the R1 094 000 Raptor (with its V6 engine, Fox suspension and so on).
The Wildtrak’s popularity has seen the introduction of the Everest Wildtrak which launched earlier in 2023 and now the Wildtrak X, a vehicle built specially for the overland enthusiast. The Wildtrak X, priced at R1 013 000 differentiates itself from the rest of the Ford range – and other brands – in that is manufactured with one of the most comprehensive off-roading packages on the market, not as an optional extra, but as the standard build to hit the showroom floors. The Wildtrak X is a unique vehicle and one which cannot be pinned to a direct competitor in the current market. If you want to know why, carry on reading.
Why is the Wildtrak X significant?
The Wildtrak X is the first bakkie on the South African market built essentially just for the off-roading enthusiast, and to have been manufactured with such awareness of the aftermarket culture that is synonymous with bakkies and SUVs.
On our recent trip to New Zealand with Ford South Africa, I was lucky enough to chat with two of the head engineers involved in the Wildtrak X; David Grice – Chief Program Engineer on Ranger and Everest – and Tim Postgate – Off-Road and Towing Attribute lead for Ranger and Everest. Both reinforced that the Wildtrak X was built with the intention to save customers seeking top-tier off-road capability from having to modify their car aftermarket.
Outside of the phenomenal off-roading technology available in the car, improvements include a suspension upgrade, stock All-Terrain tyres, increased ground clearance and Ford’s new Flexible Rack System. Upwards of R100 000 can easily be spent aftermarket making these upgrades yourself, so what makes the Wildtrak X special is that it fills a gap that has been missing for a while when it comes to traditional trim and spec levels offered across manufacturers in the bakkie market.
What’s new on the Ranger Wildtrak X?
More than meets the eye! Although what meets the eye is pretty promising too. I’m going to quickly touch on what’s not new; the tried and tested 2.0L Bi-Turbo diesel engine, but we’ll get to the reasoning behind that later.
Let’s dive into what most people look at first in off-road rigs… 17-inch alloys and 265/70 R17 General Grabber AT3 all-terrain tyres are the wheels that the Wildtrak X sports straight off the factory line.
Add to the off-road tyres a 30mm broader stance and a 26 mm suspension raise and you’ve got a Wildtrak that is sized nearly identically to the Raptor. As I mentioned, I was lucky enough to spend some time with the men behind the project, and actually do a large off-roading section with Tim in the back seat of the Wildtrak X. He mentioned that a lot of people immediately lift the suspension or put a new suspension setup into their cars if they intend to do serious off-roading, so the Ford team decided to build the Wildtrak X with tuned Bilstein Position-Sensitive Dampers.
The Wildtrak X also comes with the “4A” mode, an optional on-demand four-wheel drive system that can be engaged both on the road and on the trail.
Outside of the various off-road modes available, the Wildtrak X also comes with two new features: Trail Turn Assist and Trail Control. Trail Turn Assist improves your turning circle for tight off-road manoeuvres by applying the brake on the inside wheel, allowing for up to a 25% reduction in the car’s turning radius. Trail Control is essentially cruise control for off-roading. The drive mode allows you to select a speed while driving in low range (or high range) off-road, meaning that the throttle modulation is taken care of by the car.
It’s a game changer for tackling technical obstacles off-road, with problems often coming when one eases off the accelerator and gets stuck, or floors it too hard and overshoots the obstacle and damages the car. It was such an epic experience to engage Trail Control, pick my line and then drop my feet off the pedals and just steer my way to the top of a rocky hill in Central Otago’s mountain range.
Another fantastic feature unique to the Wildtrak X is the Flexible Rack System. Sports bars on bakkies have always just made them look cool. Ford decided to intervene in that narrative and make the sports bars on the Wildtrak X a fundamental utilitarian feature of the car. What looks like aesthetic enhancement is actually an adjustable roof rack that slides back across the load bed and slots in at various points. I found the mechanics of it to be so intuitive, as there is minimal material cost and weight addition to the car, but a massive increase to the carrying capacity and general utility. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing similar designs introduced by other manufacturers in the coming years.
Outside of some really well-thought-out technological and mechanical additions, the Wildtrak X is not without some cosmetic enhancements too. The exterior has been upgraded with a new grill featuring built-in auxiliary lights and is fortified by a steel bash plate. Moving further along the sides, you find sturdy cast aluminium steps and unique Wildtrak X insignia. Black Ford oval emblems are displayed prominently, with an Asphalt black finish accentuating the bumpers and wheel-lip mouldings – a small but impactful aesthetic enhancement.
What does the Wildtrak X cost?
R1 013 000. Let’s contextualise that within the Ford range. The Raptor, which offers similar off-road capabilities, but with a more powerful engine, front differential lock and a Fox Suspension system, costs R1 094 000. The 2.0L Bi-Turbo Diesel Wildtrak costs R925 000, while its 3.0L V6 sibling comes in at R1 026 000.
Here’s the key question, if you are buying a car with the intention to undertake serious over-landing trips or off-roading expeditions, do you need a V6 engine? Yes, it may be nice to have, but realistically, fuel economy must take preference over engine bragging rights. What distinguishes the Wildtrak X is that Ford has stuck with the trusty 2.0L TD engine – which still churns out a healthy 154 kW of power and an impressive 500 N.m of torque – for that very reason, as confirmed by Dave Grice when we chatted. What you pay for – still at a lower price than the Wildtrak V6 – is both technological and mechanical adjustments that make the Wildtrak X a more capable off-roader than any of the other Ford bakkies, bar the Raptor, and a more intentional over-landing vehicle than even the Raptor is.
What are the Wildtrak X’s rivals?
As I said earlier, the Wildtrak X pretty much sits in a category of its own as a specialised off-roading bakkie. One could venture to say the new Isuzu D-Max AT35 Arctic Trucks collaboration could be a competitor, it’s certainly priced similarly! The new D-Max doesn’t quite shape up with the same off-roading technology though, nor is its engine as refined as the Wildtrak X. But time will tell as both vehicles are brand new to the market.
On the trip to New Zealand, I got to drive nearly every trim level of Ranger, including the Sport and Platinum, which are not currently available in South Africa. I can comfortably say the Wildtrak X was my favourite, and it is certainly one of the nicest bakkies I’ve driven. I may be biased as an off-road enthusiast, but I am a massive fan of Ford’s latest addition to the Ranger family.
Yes, you pay a premium, but you pay for specialisation and sound, intentional engineering to meet the requirements of an over-landing customer. I believe the Wildtrak X will comfortably find a market in South Africa, and help forge a new sub-category in the bakkie marekt for those looking for more utility and capability without the aftermarket hassle
Ford Ranger Wildtrak X Fast Facts
Engine: twin turbo-charged, 2,0-litre, four cylinder, diesel
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Power: 154 kW
Torque: 500 N.m
Driven wheels: Selectable Four-wheel drive