3 days, crazy terrain: we put the new Ford Ranger Single and Super Cab bakkies to the test

Published Apr 11, 2023


Pretoria - Production for local and export consumption to more than 100 markets of the new Ford Ranger in Silverton, Pretoria is in full swing, with the Single Cab and Super Cab bakkies joining the recently launched double cabs.

Of course, the Raptor is also in the mix but that’s put together in Thailand.

South Africa is a large consumer of especially Single Cabs, which are used by small-, medium- and large-sized businesses to cart around everything from courier parcels and sand to paraffin and everything in between.

Sales of the Super Cab variants are on the up too as buyers look to combine more interior space, comfort and decent load capacity while being able to claim the VAT back.

We got to drive the new Ford Ranger models from Joburg to Gqeberha over three days, in a trip that included humanitarian stops along the way and some crazy terrain to experience them first hand, and we came away suitably impressed.

First, though, there’s a slew of options in the range, starting with four Single Cab models and six Super Cab variants including one in Wildtrak 4x4 specification for the first time.

There are two engine options, three gearbox options and a choice of either 4x2 or 4x4.

Ford’s 2.0-litre single turbo with 125kW and 405Nm is slotted into all XL Single Cab models and three XL Super Cab derivatives with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox and a choice of 4x2 or electronic shift on the fly 4x4 systems. There’s also a higher spec – XLT 4x2 Super Cab – with the same engine and the six-speed automatic transmission.

The 154kW and 500Nm 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo engine finds itself in only the Super Cab 4x4 models in a choice of XLT or Wildtrak, mated to Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission.

Departing from OR Tambo International Airport, I selected the keys for a single cab 2.0-litre single turbo with the six-speed auto box that would take us to De Stijl Hotel for our overnight accommodation at Gariep dam.

The days of utilitarian single cabs that meet minimum specs are long gone. Instead, owners want good looking, comfortable and safe bakkies with some of the most modern technology. The Ford Ranger certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The new exterior truck-style look with the C-Clamp headlights is becoming a more regular sight on our roads as the plant ramps up production. It was a head turner as we wound our way towards the Eastern Cape.

It also helped that a few of the bakkies were loaded with JoJo tanks that were going to be donated to worthy causes along the way.

With the Ranger being 50mm wider than before, it allows the cargo box to accommodate a European pallet between the wheel arches (up to 1 224mm), with a load box length of 2 305mm on the single cab and a payload capacity ranging from 964kg to 1 186kg, depending on the model.

They were held in place by using either six dedicated tie-down points or external tie-down rails on the XL model.

The interior also reflects Ford’s new design language. There’s an eight-inch customisable digital instrument cluster and Ford’s portrait-style touch screen, seamlessly integrated into the dash that’s 10.1 inches in the XL and XLT models and 12-inches in the Wildtrak, and fitted with Ford’s easy-to-use Sync 4A system.

There are soft-touch surfaces, loads of storage spaces and the seats are comfortable, providing good support throughout the journey.

Safety is taken care of with Dynamic Stability Control incorporating ABS, Load Adaptive Control, Roll Over Mitigation, Traction Control, Hill Launch Assist and Trailer Sway Control. Clearly, a long way from bench seats and dodgy drum brakes.

Joburg morning traffic can be a challenge, especially when there’s been an accident or two on the highways, so it was a good opportunity to get to grips with various switches and dials on the dash.

Despite digital dials and screens, Ford has retained analogue dials for the volume-control and air-conditioning settings, something that came out during its extensive research with customers when it was re-designing the Ranger.

I feel it’s not only easier but safer too if you don’t have to take your eyes off the road while trying to fiddle with a touch screen.

My driving partner and I have had extensive experiences with the previous generation Ranger in its various guises, so we were well placed to see how this one measured up.

Apart from the obvious exterior and interior upgrades and design changes, we felt that there has been a significant improvement on the drivetrain, especially the gearbox.

Ford has spent a lot of time tweaking it and working on the software. It’s now one of the smoothest boxes around.

You hardly notice the gear changes moving seamlessly up and down the box as you apply throttle pressure and it easily changes down a gear or two when passing slower traffic.

It doesn’t have the same handling characteristics as the Super or Double cab, keeping in mind that it’s meant to haul goods around in the back. Considering that our bakkie was unladen, there’s not as much rear bouncing as you would expect, thanks to the work Ford has done to the suspension and chassis.

When we pulled into Gariep, consumption stood at an impressive 6.2 l/100km.

If day one was easy cruising on tar, day two would see us in the range-topping Wildtrak, mostly on gravel roads and one hairy pass in the dark.

Like the bigger Wildtrak double cab, the Super Cab has every extra you could imagine. In terms of comfort and luxury, it’s everything you could want.

On the bits of tar, the twin-turbo two litre behaved impeccably, responding well to driver inputs and, as expected, was more comfortable around bends and corners than the single cab.

The interior sets the standard not only for bakkies but also many SUVs and sedans in a similar or higher price category.

Ford has teamed up with Gift of the Givers and, on this occasion, we headed 40km off into the veld on mostly a muddy two-spoor track to deliver a JoJo tank, pipes and couplings for a far-flung rural village to connect to a solar pump provided by Gift of the Givers that will provide much-needed clean water.

Again, corporate South Africa is jumping in where the government hasn’t provided the most basic needs to South Africans.

Using the four-wheel drive dial, we moved to 4H and switched to mud and ruts mode to make the best of the car’s ability before stopping to hand over the gear.

With the pleasantries done, expedition leader Gideo Basson asked the chief what the condition of the Katberg Pass was after the recent heavy rains. He confirmed that it was okay but, in hindsight, I don’t think he had been down it in a while.

As it turned out, it was a true test of the Ranger’s ability.

All was going well until a loud bang and smoke saw my driving partner jump on the brakes. We nervously looked around for stray cows, sheep or horses, to no avail. When we stepped out, we saw that a piece of barbed wire had caught on a propshaft bolt and had wound its way around the prop shaft, both wheels and between the body and rear bumper.

It was so tight that getting a screwdriver and side cutter between the shaft and the wire proved impossible, so small pieces at a time had to be cut off in an attempt to get rid of it.

Turns out it had also wedged itself between the universal joint and differential oil seal, which explained the smoke.

By now, the sun was starting to set, the wind had picked up and it was starting to rain.

From here, we couldn’t do more than 40km/h, for fear of losing ATF oil. We needn’t have worried because things were about to get real.

I doubt anybody had driven the pass in many months, the irony being that it’s marked as an R road on the sat nav.

Washaways, steep inclines, pulling trees out the way, tight rocky curves, steep steps and guiding cars over obstacles in the dark, trying not to leave rock rash on the chassis, and invisible bits saw the convoy inch its way forward.

And then, close to the overnight accommodation at Katberg Mountain Resort and Hotel, everything came to a grinding halt.

The rain had washed away a large part of the road and the only way was keeping hard left against a cliff, made more treacherous by a tree stump in the way. As far left as the bakkies could go, there were only six inches between the wheels and the edge.

Basson made the call to take all 15 cars across while I guided him carefully as far left as he could go and then Ford SA CEO Neale Hill taking over once the back had passed me. Regular IOL Motoring contributor Justin Jacobs’s job was to keep an eye on a line of stones we had packed close to the edge of the ravine to see if there was any movement of either the rear wheel or the muddy ridge made by the tyres.

It was butt-clenching to be sure but all cars were across just after 9pm, without having to call an SOS helicopter. Once I was back in the Wildtrak, I grabbed the radio and insisted we call ahead and confirm that the hotel had no funny ideas about closing the bar early.

Because our car was about to be taken away on a flatbed truck, it meant there was one less test car. On the last day, we volunteered to get a lift with Ford’s head of communication in his V6 Everest.

That’s a whole next level of SUV which we’ll get to test drive and review soon, save to say it was a comfortable drive to a nearby primary school again to deliver another JoJo tank.

The tank will be erected for the children to have running water in the school and cultivate a garden to attract South Africa’s Bird of the Year, the Cape Parrot.

It’s heartbreaking to think what the children and their teachers have to go through every day in order to receive an education. It must have once been a proud institution but years of government inaction, corruption and neglect has left it in a bad way.

As with the previous day, it’s left to corporate South Africa to provide a glimmer of hope for those who are marginalised.

Despite muttering and cursing those whose job it is to keep things in order, we agreed that if you’re going to be carting things around to help communities in difficult-to-get-to places, the new Ford Ranger single and Super Cab are up to the task.