Ford has squeezed a gutsy 157kW and 500Nm from the new bi-turbo 2.0 engine used in the Wildtrak.
Ford has squeezed a gutsy 157kW and 500Nm from the new bi-turbo 2.0 engine used in the Wildtrak.
Image: Supplied

The world was last week awestruck by the first image of a supermassive black hole in a galaxy far, far away, which provided further proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

On a far, far smaller scale back on terra firma, Ford was demonstrating relativity of a different kind with the introduction of a new 2l engine in the Ranger pickup range that’s more powerful than the much larger 3.2l engine which formerly served as the flagship of the line-up.

This compact new four-cylinder engine uses two turbochargers to produce impressive outputs of 157kW and 500Nm, outgunning the 147kW and 470Nm produced by the five-cylinder 3.2 Duratorq TDCi turbo diesel, which remains in the Ranger family.

The advanced new-generation Bi-Turbo 2.0 engine powers the Ranger Wildtrak double cab derivatives as well as the new top-of-the-range Ranger Raptor to be launched in May.

There is also a new single-turbo version of the engine with outputs of 132kW and 420Nm, which is installed in the slightly lesser-specced XLT versions of the Ranger double cab.

Both new engines are assembled at Ford’s Struandale engine plant in Port Elizabeth, with Ranger bodies built at the company’s Silverton factory.

These 2.0 powerplants are paired with a new 10-speed automatic transmission, with the wider spread of ratios claimed to improve fuel consumption in the Bi-Turbo engine by 9% compared to the 3.2 engine with the six-speed auto gearbox.

The 10-speed auto allows selected gears to be locked out from the automatic shifting range, which can be beneficial when towing, driving in slippery conditions or climbing steep gradients. There’s also a Sport mode that enhances the transmission’s response, and the driver can also shift gears manually using buttons on the lever.

The Wildtrak's updated interior delivers a more upscale, sporting appeal.
The Wildtrak's updated interior delivers a more upscale, sporting appeal.
Image: Supplied

I experienced the new powertrains at the updated Ranger’s media launch in George last week, and any fears that 10-speed transmissions might seem too “busy” quickly dissolved once I got behind the wheel. While there is a lot of gear changing taking place, the shifts are quick and unobtrusive so you simply put foot and the transmission smoothly gets on with the job.

Putting foot in the 157kW Bi-Turbo (BiT) version liberates some bona fide urgency in this large and heavy bakkie. It accelerates up to cruising speed in a hurry and then lopes along effortlessly, its easy progress untroubled by steep inclines. A fixed-geometry low-pressure turbocharger works together with a variable-geometry high-pressure turbo to ensure strong urge across the rev range, and at sea level I didn’t feel any significant turbo lag.

It’s also a refined engine that hides its agricultural origins behind a smooth and vibration-free facade, but at the same time it makes an appealing and very undiesel-like sporty growl under hard acceleration.

The Ranger Wildtrak BiT is an appealing package with the potential to do very well for Ford in the sales charts, particularly as its pricing significantly undercuts the not-that-much-more-powerful (165kW/550Nm) Volkswagen Amarok V6.

The Ranger 2.0 BiT Wildtrak is priced at R632,300 for the 4x2 model and R678,200 for the 4x4, compared with the Amarok V6, which is offered in three 4x4 versions retailing between R727,800 and R818,200.

At the George-based launch I also drove the new single-turbo (SiT) Ranger, which is available only in XLT specification, in 4x2 and 4x4 guises.

The existing 2.2 TDCI diesel (118kW and 385Nm in its most powerful form) remains in the Ranger line-up but the new 2.0 SiT is a more modern engine with a single variable-geometry turbocharger designed to deliver more performance at lower engine speed.

All 420Nm of its torque is available between 1,750rpm and 2,500rpm which gives it the lowdown grunt to climb mountains, literally. Our driving route took us over the Outeniqua Mountains on a steep and craggy old trail carved out by Voortrekker ox wagons, where both the muscle and off-road ability of the 2.0 Ranger came to the fore.

It was a bumpy, rocky trail that required the engagement of all the Ranger 4x4’s traction-enhancing tricks, including low range gear and the rear diff lock, but it made it to the top of the steep climb without incident.

The Ranger XLT uses a single-turbo engine with outputs of 132kW and 420Nm. A new EZ lift tailgate requires 70% less lift force to close.
The Ranger XLT uses a single-turbo engine with outputs of 132kW and 420Nm. A new EZ lift tailgate requires 70% less lift force to close. 
Image: Supplied

Back on the tar the single-turbo performed without any power shortcomings, and it’s really all the engine one needs if shopping in the sub R600,000 segment of the double-cab market. Like its bi-turbo brother, this engine’s notably refined.

Along with the new engines and transmissions, the Ranger’s midlife update sees the suspension being tweaked for improved ride comfort. For a bakkie that retains workhorse-focused leaf springs at the rear (compared to the more car-like coil springs used in the Nissan Navara and Mercedes X-Class), the updated Ranger covers bumpy ground with a respectably plush ride.

The 3,500kg towing capacity and up to 1,199kg load capacity remain unchanged, as do the 800mm wading depth and 230mm ground clearance.

Other upgrades include a minor facelift across the range, including new HID headlamps and LED daytime running lights in the Wildtrak, with this derivative also acquiring a striking new Saber Orange exterior colour.

Cabin appeal in the Wildtrak is raised with a more upscale appeal featuring dark-satin chrome elements, and redesigned seats.

The Ranger Wildtrak also inherits the semi-automatic parallel park assist from the Everest SUV, where the vehicle steers itself into a parking space with the driver only needing to accelerate and brake. This is on top of existing active safety features including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beam control.

Both the Wildtrak and XLT now acquire keyless locking-unlocking and starting with a start-stop button, and as before the Sync infotainment system includes navigation, voice recognition, and smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. A handy new feature in the XLT and Wildtrak is the EZ lift tailgate that requires 70% less lift force to close.

The updates and gutsy new powertrains are aimed to help keep the Ranger as SA’s most popular double-cab bakkie, a segment which it leads while the rival Toyota Hilux dominates the more workhorse-oriented single-cab league.

The 33-model Ranger line-up includes single-cab, super-cab and double-cab versions. Pricing of the double cabs is as follows:

Double Cab

2.2 TDCi Base 5MT 4x2 — R350,000

2.2 TDCi XL 6MT 4x2 — R409,400

2.2 TDCi XL 6AT 4x2 — R428,800

2.2 TDCi XL 6MT 4x4 — R455,300

2.2 TDCi XL 6AT 4x4 — R474,700

2.2 TDCi XLS 6MT 4x2 — R455,100

2.2 TDCi XLS 6AT 4x4 — R508,400

2.0 SiT XLT 10AT 4x2 — R514,300

2.0 SiT XLT 10AT 4x4 — R570,200

3.2 TDCi XLT 6MT 4x2 — R542,600

3.2 TDCi XLT 6AT 4x2 — R571,400

3.2 TDCi XLT 6MT 4x4 — R604,800

3.2 TDCi XLT 6AT 4x4 — R617,300

3.2 TDCi Wildtrak 6AT 4x2 — R609,800

2.0 BiT Wildtrak 10AT 4x2 — R632,300

2.0 BiT Wildtrak 10AT 4x4 — R678,200

All models come standard with a four-year/120,000km warranty, three-year/unlimited distance roadside assistance, and six-year/90,000km service plan.