I Had the 2013 Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Sold it. Will the 2019 Version Make me Rekindle an Old Flame?
For many years, pickups were solely used for, you guessed it, picking stuff up. They were utility vehicles usually seen in extreme environments such as construction sites, mining areas, and as delivery vehicles. Fast-forward to today, and they’ve become more than just what they were made to do. They're almost like luxury cars on stilts. But the question remains: Are pickups refined and evolved enough to replace your daily ride? Will you “pick up,” say a Ford Ranger Wildtrak to replace your easy-to-park small car?
Ford Philippines was adamant that it can, so they let me use a full-spec orange 2019 Wildtrak for a couple of days. Full disclosure: back in 2013, I actually had a Wildtrak as my daily drive. While I enjoyed it the few years I used it, I also spent a lot of time convincing myself I made the right purchase. It was refined even then, but the heavy steering and less-than-ideal NVH levels (interior noise) made it hard to love at times.
Nice to meet you, again
Jumping into the seat of the new Wildtrak, I immediately noticed the difference in handling. The steering is now light and almost car-like, which helped immensely with slow-speed maneuvers especially since all the (huge) dimensions are practically the same as with previous models. I’m not sure about the exact numbers, but it also has a significantly tighter turning radius than before, again helping you to go around condominium parking ramps so narrow that it’s like the designers don’t actually want you to park.
Driving around the city, the new Wildtrak seems to show off its better on-road manners. The cabin is now eerily quiet; you can now talk to passengers without needing to raise your voice a few decibels. And the fit and finish of the interior is a wee bit better. Plastic inserts are flusher with no flex, and it also now features an all-black finish (even the headboard) which may turn-off some but certainly gets plus points from me.
One thing that is also very different from previous models is the amount of electronics available. The seat, in particular (at least on the highest spec) is fully electronic and can be adjusted in literally any direction. The new Sync 3 infotainment system with its huge touchscreen panel was a bit confusing at first, but after two to three days, I got the hang of it. And let me tell you, if you haven’t used a car with Carplay (iOS) or Android Auto, then you’re sorely missing out.
Gadget freaks, don’t panic. You have more charging spots than ever. While previous models took ages and don’t even charge your phone at times, you'll be happy to know that the current Wildtrak charges at a normal rate.
One thing that I’m happy Ford didn’t change is the sound system, which, to me, remains one of the best stock audio systems in mid-to-low priced vehicles. It just sounds clear and crisp with the right amount of bass that you can control via the aforementioned touchscreen.
Ford also got a bit crazy with safety on this one. With the old Wildtrak, you had a backing sensor, a rear camera integrated with the rearview mirror, a few alarms, and that’s about it. With the new one, I had to read the manual to find out how to turn off some of the warning sounds, because it gave off an alarm when anything gets too close. It has Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, rear camera, front and rear park sensors, and more. Also, a boon for those who hate (and can’t) park large cars is the Active Park Assist, which practically makes the Wildtrak park itself.
Long rides with an old (new) love
While the city driving experience with the Wildrtrak has certainly improved, I had to make sure it retained what I loved about even in its earlier versions, which is being the perfect long ride vehicle. So along with a couple of friends, I took it to Puning Hot Spring in Pampanga for a quick day trip.
Puning Hot Spring is situated in a small barangay a few minutes away from the Sacobia River, better known as Lahar Beds. Our day trip consisted of three main activities: an off-road ride on the Lahar Beds, chilling in a hot pool, and the sand spa. Yeah, I also didn’t know what that last one was until I got there.
Driving in NLEX and SCTEX to Puning, the Wildtrak was as stable as ever at speed, even without heavy loads. One not-so-welcome change however is in the power delivery. The new Wildtrak now has a 10-speed 2.0 bi-turbo engine which has, at least in my experience, a slight delay in the way it delivers power. Once you get it going though, the pull will almost make you forget you’re driving a diesel car and you can overtake everyone. (Not that we were).
The Wildtrak’s fuel efficiency, however, will make you ignore any misgivings you might have with the new powerplant. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve driven a vehicle of this size that is this fuel-efficient. In my drive with three passengers and a couple of bags, we were hitting 13 to 14 kilometers per liter at around 100kph on the highway, which goes down to about 10km/L in the city with heavy traffic. Impressive stuff for such a huge vehicle.
Once we arrived at Puning Hot Spring, we transferred to a more traditional 4x4 vehicle for our Sacobia River tour (though I have no doubts the Wildtrak can take that on since I already did it with other media friends a couple of months back). We cruised through the inner, more scenic parts of the river and ended up at Puning’s hot pools. After a few minutes (we didn’t stay long since it was a crazy hot day), we went back and got to enjoy the sand spa, where you’re literally buried in hot sand with just your head showing. Thankfully, it’s way more relaxing than it sounds.
After lunch back at the main facility of Puning Hot Spring, we got back to the Wildtrak and decided to have coffee in Subic (‘coz that’s what titos and titas do nowadays.) After several years of having the same aesthetic, the Wildtrak remains a looker and can still turn heads, a testament to its enduring macho look. SBMA guards will still wave at you in a way that feels like you duped them into thinking you’re someone really special.
Getting back together?
On our way back to Manila, I realized that with all the new safety features, refinements, and other extras (motorized tailgate ftw), the 2019 Wildtrak is what I thought (or wished) I was getting way back in 2013—a truck that’s got decent enough refinement that it won’t make you regret getting it as a daily driver while being the perfect out-of-town, do-everything vacation car. Six years after my first Wildtrak drive, I may have rekindled an old flame.