The Ford Ranger Wildtrak X — when art intersects with a bakkie
A recent trip to the arid Northern Cape in Ford’s Wildtrak X evoked more than an off-road bakkie experience — it also brought home the evocative landscape that inspired the late, great artist Walter Meyer.
I had no idea when Ford SA invited me to the launch of the Ranger Wildtrak X in the Northern Cape that I would be experiencing much more than a bakkie, but would also be stepping into the heart of Walter Meyer territory. Like far too many South Africans, I only really became aware of Meyer when news broke in December 2017 that the artist had been stabbed to death with a kitchen knife in Augrabies Park, a low-cost housing settlement, just outside Upington. The person wielding the weapon that put an abrupt end to Meyer’s life was his third wife, Sophia Meyer, a much younger local woman whom the troubled artist had married after meeting her on the banks of the Orange River when she was just 19.
I was deeply affected by the news of Meyer’s brutal death. A flurry of googling ensued during which time I came across the mesmerising works of a man who has been widely described as “the finest South African landscape artist since Pierneef”.
I became somewhat obsessed with his achingly sparse and captivating works, which have become extremely sought after by collectors.
When Walter Meyer’s sibling, Frans Meyer, approached me last year to publish his memoir on life with his brother, I was all in. Working closely with Frans on Impossible Skies, I got to learn a lot about Walter, who was born in 1965 and grew up in Pretoria not too far away from Ford’s manufacturing plant in Silverton.
A two-day exploration
After flying into Upington, the town where Walter Meyer lived during the last years of his life, my motoring colleagues and I were introduced to a fleet of Ford’s latest addition to the Ranger range, the Wildtrak X. We set off in convoy on a two-day exploration of the arid Northern Cape. I would have loved to have taken a detour to see the house where much of Walter Meyer’s acclaimed work was created, but the launch of a double cab waits for no woman.
Ford Motor Company SA (FMCSA) has been having a bumper year, what with their Ranger being crowned South Africa’s Car of the Year and sales booming. It’s also Ford’s centenary year in SA. The local arm of the Blue Oval is clearly taking full advantage of the momentum by adding a new Ranger variant to the range. (By the end of August, FMCSA was beating its archrival Toyota in the double-cab segment, with 13,892 DC Rangers sold compared to 12,291 DC Hiluxes.)
Unlike its top-of-the-range V6 3.0-litre Wildtrak older sibling, the Wildtrak X is only available in a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder bi-turbodiesel engine, which is good for 150kW and 500Nm, underpinned by a 10-speed automatic transmission that’s used across the range. (Fans of a performance bakkie will undoubtedly be drawn to the Raptor with its 292kW/583Nm turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine.)
The new Wildtrak X stands out from the straight Wildtrak with its 30mm wider track, specially designed Bilstein dampers and some bespoke exterior styling. This includes cyber orange accents, a macho steel bash plate, cast-aluminium side steps and “Wildtrak X” badges on the front doors and tailgate.
When I boarded my steed I immediately noticed the leather seats adorned with a synthetic trim called “Miko”. The soft touch “suede” theme extends to the glovebox and instrument cluster hood, which makes it look pretty premium. There’s also cyber orange stitching on the seats, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter. The Wildtrak X shares the same portrait-oriented 12-inch touchscreen found across the range of the new Rangers.
The real differences in the X can be seen in a number of off-road add-ons which should be alluring to more adventurous customers. For instance, when it comes to ground clearance, the new derivative enjoys a significantly increase of 26mm. All-new tough looking 17-inch “Grabber” all-terrain tyres have been added, which means there’ll be no need to change tyres when heading on to off-road terrain.
Perhaps the most significant new addition in the Wildtrak X is the Trail Turn Assist (TTA) feature. On our two-day trip, we got to test this feature, which allows one to negotiate tight bends on overly narrow tracks by activating the TTA icon on the touchscreen.
The way the feature works is that brakes are automatically applied on the inside rear wheel, which Ford claims reduces the turning radius by up to 25%. It’s specifically designed for slow off-road driving at speeds under 19km/h and will only work if your Ranger is in either 4H or 4L ( with the rear diff unlocked).
The X inherits Rock Crawl mode from the Raptor and there’s a new “Flexible Rack System” — a sliding load rack that can be locked into five positions along the length of the load bay, along with folding roof racks that are able to be niftily stored inside the roof rails when not in use.
While we didn’t embark on any overly hectic off-roading, we travelled out of Upington and drove for about an hour on tar before we got to rocky gravel roads. I found the power in the Wildtrak X’s 2.0-litre engine more than adequate and like many modern diesel engines these days, the ride was pretty quiet. In addition to the traditional 2H, 4H and 4L modes, the Wildtrak X features 4A, an automatic four-wheel drive setting, where the system intuitively distributes the power, depending on driving conditions.
However, I did find those 17-inch all-terrains slightly noisy on tar and, when compared to the straight Wildtrak, a bit of drive comfort might have been sacrificed in exchange for its superior off-road prowess. The Wildtrak X is clearly aimed at enthusiasts who desire a tougher and more capable bakkie than the straight Wildtrak.
At the press briefing in the remote Tutwa Desert Lodge just a few kilometres from the border of Namibia, I asked what many Ford bakkie enthusiasts may be thinking: Why not just buy a Raptor? Because, while the Wildtrak X is definitely more suited to off-road conditions than its V6 namesake, it still lacks some key off-road qualities found in the flagship Raptor.
The price difference of about R170k between the two could be regarded as somewhat insignificant, if you’re someone who can afford a bakkie that costs more than R1-million. What the Wildtrak X does have over the thirsty 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol-powered Raptor, (which can easily veer into 13/14L/100km) is its frugal diesel engine, with consumption figures around 7/8L/100km. The X is also superior when it comes to payload (945kg) and towing capacity — 3,500kg (braked) — while the Raptor is limited to a towing capacity of 2,500kg and a payload of 667kg.
On the final morning of our trip, I woke up as the sun began to rise. It was deathly quiet. There was not even the sound of birds in this desolate landscape. As I took a solo walk it felt like I was entering into a Walter Meyer painting: the mountainous rocks sun-kissed by the dawn rays, the sparse, occasional tuft of dry, matted grass. I looked up at the wide expanse of the impossible-to-describe sky and was afforded a tiny glimpse of what Walter Meyer must have seen, every day, when he painted.
Ford Ranger Wildtrak X – R1,013,000
Ford Ranger V6 Wildtrak – R1,026,400
Ford Ranger Raptor – R1,184,100 DM