With his slick moves and overall toughness, martial arts expert Chuck Norris simply wowed me (and many others) throughout the ‘80s, however, it was his role as Cordell Walker in the 90s hit series Walker Texas Ranger that really impressed me the most. His dogged determination, ability to conquer all terrains, from the city to the wilderness, and even sometimes showing his softer side – brilliant. As it turns out, all of the above came to mind when I got behind the wheel of the Next Gen Ford Ranger, and it too is brilliant.
Once a cobra bit Chuck Norris’ leg. After five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died. Chuck Norris can do a wheelie on a unicycle. The dark is afraid of Chuck Norris. The flu gets a Chuck Norris shot every year. When Chuck Norris was born, the only person who cried was the doctor. Never slap Chuck Norris… the list of Norris jokes and memes goes on adfinitum. Actually, Chuck Norris counted to infinity… twice. Now replace Chuck with ‘Next Gen Ranger’ and you get a bit of an understanding of where I’m coming from.
‘Ford Tough’ is the message that greets you on the digital instrument cluster when you climb behind the wheel, a statement that hasn’t come lightly. During testing the new Ranger was ‘driven’ 1,250,000km with 10,000km of desert and 625,000km of off-road driving. It was also tested in temperatures varying from -50 degrees Celsius and up to 50 degrees Celsius, so take that Chuck!
The Next-Gen Ford Ranger takes its cue from Ford’s global truck portfolio with a bold new design, a wider stance (+50mm), more prominent grille and signature ‘C-clamp’ daytime running lamps with (in the Wildtrak’s case) LED technology. Looking out over the bonnet, the nose is squarer than before and doesn’t slope away, meaning that despite its bigger silhouette, I feel that it’s easier to drive.
The new Ranger Wildtrak looks more imposing, with its increased size made even moreso with the model’s distinctive roof rails and 18-inch alloys. The slats on the front wings come with what engine offering lies under the bonnet (mine was the 2L bi-turbo, but I did drive the 3L V6 too) and the big truck’s profile was topped off with a full cab side step, rear deck sports bar and a box step on the rear quarter to aid with loading and unloading.
The tailgate is as light as a feather, is embossed with RANGER (rather than decals), has a built in ruler and has inserts for clamps. Speaking of clamps, there are smaller C-Clamp LED lights on the tail, a power outlet and an auto retractable cover. PLUS 3.5-tonne towing for those with toys.
The interior has been remarkably improved too, with leather furniture complete with Wildtrak motif, portrait air vents that mimic the front grille and upgraded trim throughout. The large, portrait style infotainment screen features the latest SYNC 4A system is so easy and intuitive to use and connects to your smartphone faster than Chuck can do a roundhouse kick.
Wireless charging and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 360 degree cameras that come into their own either around the city or out in the wild, and a raft of apps, driver and safety aids to keep the whole family safe and entertained.
The same screen comes with an off-road menu that would rival some of the most respected all-terrain Euros, with virtually all the dials and ‘eye’s’ you need to venture well into the bush.
The centre console boasts the eShifter that’s attached to Ford’s 10-speed auto box, downhill descent and diff lock buttons and a drive mode/2-4WD selector dial, together they provide more moves than Norris on his best day.
When developing the next gen Ranger, Ford began their research with current Ranger owners, gaining an insight into how to really make things better, and it shows. The driving position is both comfortable and natural, with the window ledge fitting the right arm perfectly and the aforementioned eShifter and console are a nice place for your right arm to sit (obviously not both at the same time).
The cabin itself is much quieter than before, with minimal road noise and very little coming from under the bonnet (the V6 being the quieter of the two engines though). The new Ranger sits well on the road too, as mentioned before, the more abrupt nose makes it easier to navigate with and there are more beeps and assists to keep you in lane and inform you of anything entering your blind spots.
The suspension is firm but not rock solid and even in 2WD, which I spent most of my time in (no off-road treks for me this time), the new Ranger seemed less prone to slipping traction with the rear tyres.
The EPAS steering offered up just the right amount of weight and feedback, without feeling too removed from what was going on at tarmac level and the lane keep assist wasn’t too intrusive, so more ‘assist’ than take control.
My time with the new Wildtrak was more city based and as such, included more chores. As expected, it was a big hit with the soccer dads, with plenty of oohs and ahhs as I did the obligatory walkaround, plus the enclosed deck meant that I could throw my son’s stinky boots in the tray, which was a hit for me (seriously, their stench packs a wallop big enough for Chuck to be proud of).
The Ford Ranger is already a very popular sight on NZ roads and the next gen Ranger just ramps things up several notches. It’s better looking, better to drive, smarter and more capable, what’s more, it has great manners around town too and laps up the rough stuff, basically it’s as tough as Chuck (but don’t tell him I said that).