FORD’S range-topping Ranger Wildtrak will set a new safety standard for the one-tonne ute segment when it arrives in the third quarter, with a raft of driver assistance equipment not yet seen in its class.
While recent advances in active cruise control and lane-departure monitoring technology have found their way into passenger vehicles in recent years, the safety systems have not been applied to any models in the Australian light-commercial class, until now.
Sitting at the top of Ford’s popular Ranger line-up, the pumped-up Wildtrak will bring a selection of off-road performance-enhancing gear, extra aesthetic tweaks as well as adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, lane-keep assistance and a driver impairment monitor.
With the potentially lifesaving features, Ford’s flagship Ranger Wildtrak out-guns the safety standards of its key rivals, including the just launched Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton, as well as the Mazda BT50, Holden Colorado and even the high-specced Volkswagen Amarok.
Toyota’s segment-dominating HiLux will touch down on Australian dirt shortly after the Ranger’s third quarter launch, but no mention has been made of any similar safety and driver-assistance equipment for Toyota’s new-gen pick-up either.
Ford has not yet outlined the rest of the Ranger line-up but details are expected to be made official soon, along with a concrete release date and pricing. At this stage, a September launch is looking most likely.
The Blue Oval was unable to confirm if the safety equipment would be included in any other Ranger variants, but Ford Australia brand communications manager Neil McDonald told GoAuto the top tech is traditionally seen in the highest-spec cars initially.
“It’s probably a bit early to say but customarily that sort of technology comes in at the high-end first,” he said. “It’s probably a bit early to see where it’s going to be available in the rest of the range.
If the Ranger evolves with a similar progression to other lines, the autonomous braking and other safety equipment is likely to be offered in lesser variants later in the model’s lifecycle.
The Wildtrak’s lane-keeping assistant can alert the driver if the vehicle unintentionally wanders out of a lane and if the warning is ignored, the system can provide steering correction to maintain the vehicle’s course.
Adaptive cruise control uses forward facing sensors to maintain a set distance from a leading vehicle even if its speed fluctuates, while the same technology can provide a warning and primes the brakes if a nose-to-tail collision is imminent.
A driver-impairment monitor also uses the forward-facing camera to detect signs of driver drowsiness along with steering behaviour monitoring, and issues an audible warning if fatigue is sensed.
The Wildtrak is also equipped with more commonplace safety systems such as all-round parking radar with reversing camera, tyre-pressure monitoring, ESC with roll-over mitigation and emergency assistance via Ford’s Sync2 system.
In addition to the significant boost in safety tech, the Wildtrak gets unique 18-inch alloy wheels, and tougher-looking exterior treatments including a dark “liquid metallic” grey grille with accentuated “nostrils”, with the unique colouring repeated on door mirrors and handles, side vents, bed rails and tail-lights.
Wide side steps, roof rails and a special smoked roll-over bar are also standard fare on the Wildtrak, while the Pride Orange paintwork and nameplate emblazoned on the front doors sets it apart from other Rangers.
The top-spec version will also be available dressed-up in Cool White, Black Mica, Metropolitan Grey and Aluminium.
A dusting of unique features continues on the inside with more smoky trims to match the exterior, two-tone orange upholstery with matching stitching, while the driver’s seat is adjustable in eight ways.
The Sync2 information and entertainment is accessible through the 8.0-inch touchscreen or through recently revised, simpler voice commands. More natural spoken instructions can be used to control cabin temperature, entertainment sources and navigation functions.
Like the previous-generation Ranger Wildtrak, the new version is also powered by Ford’s 3.2-litre Duratorq five-cylinder diesel engine, which pumps 147kW and 470Nm of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission, to just the rear wheels or all four corners at the flick of a switch.
Power is unchanged over the previous model but exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) development has cut fuel consumption by 18 per cent says Ford, while electric power steering has lopped another three per cent off fuel use.
Ford is yet to release performance figures but a combined 21 per cent boost in fuel efficiency takes consumption to about 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres.
Selecting two or four-wheel drive can be done on the fly with the centrally positioned control knob, with a low-range option for more serious off-road or towing work.
Ground clearance is a generous 230mm allowing the Wildtrak to wade through up to 800mm-deep water, while hill-hold, hill descent and Adaptive Load Control gives the range-topping Ranger more ability on and off-road. Towing capacity is rated at 3500kg.
Ford Asia Pacific product development vice president Trevor Worthington said the new Wildtrak builds on the strengths of the forthcoming Ranger.
“The 2015 Wildtrak takes the Ford Ranger to the next level with an aggressive exterior, a premium, sporty, interior, the latest driver assist technologies and capabilities that ensure it’s up for any adventure,” he said.
“Building on the bolder, smarter and more refined 2015 Ranger, the advanced Wildtrak is a perfect fit for customers who want to combine genuine 4×4 capability with stand-out styling and premium features.”
By DANIEL GARDNER at GoAuto.com.au