With the good old work horse bakkie turning increasingly into a lifestyle vehicle, there has been a call to increase refinement and luxury to meet the needs of this new generation of bakkie drivers. Ford, just like its competitors, has been making increasingly comfortable bakkies complete with a host of amenities and styling to match. However, these luxurious features have largely been reserved for its expensive flagship Wildtrak and Raptor models, and the “nice to haves” slowly get filtered out as you move down the range. Since not everyone can afford the expensive range toppers, most people end up settling for the cheaper XL model minus a lot of the bells and whistles. But, given that most buyers in this segment are lifestyle buyers, Ford cleverly decided to spruce up its XL model with the recent launch of the Ford Ranger XL Sport Pack.
What is It?
Let’s imagine that you are in the market for a Ford Ranger bakkie, but you don’t have the financial fortitude to buy the Wildtrak or Raptor flagships. Heck you don’t even want to spend the asking price for the midrange XLS. But at the same time, the base spec Ranger is a little too basic for your tastes. Financial common sense would point you towards the Ranger XL. But perhaps the XL just doesn’t tickle your lifestyle preferences. This is where the XL Sport Pack comes in – For R16,500 more than the base price, you can take home the Ranger XL Sport.
The Sport Pack was designed to give the XL a bit more road presence without breaking the bank. The subtle, yet tasteful pack, brings a new gloss black grille, black 17” alloys wrapped in meaty off-road tyres, a black tubular sports bar and rear bumper to the car. This pack is available for the single cab, super cab and double cab models. For a further R5,050, black sidesteps can be optioned to complete the look. With the new black trims around the vehicle, the XL Sport definitely has a more upmarket look than the standard XL which will, no doubt, be popular with customers who want that extra bit of flair from their bakkie.
The interior of the bakkie is a standard XL affair. No fancy trim or design changes here. However, instead of the basic 4” SYNC 1 infotainment system, customers get the option to have a more contemporary 8” SYNC 3 infotainment system. Although the system lacks native satellite navigation, one can easily use the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions to bring a host of features to the infotainment system. Sure, the optional system will set you back R6,080, but it is worth every cent. Having it in the car definitely livens up the cabin and brings modernity and luxury to match the rest of the car. If you are willing to pay for the Sport Pack then you might as well go all the way.
What’s Under the Bonnet?
Just before you get overly excited, I must hasten to point out that the Sport Pack is purely aesthetic and does not introduce performance upgrades to the XL. Therefore, the underpinnings remain the same, which is not a train wreck if you ask me. The XL Sport is powered by the trusty 2.2-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel Duratorq TDCi engine, which produces peak outputs of 118 kW and 385 Nm of torque. This power plant is mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic gearbox. In addition, customers can also choose between two or four wheel drive.
XL Sport Road Trip
Ford South Africa could simply have given us the XL Sport to putt around the city for a day or so before asking for their cars back. Instead, they went all out and organised a long road trip to the Orrie Baragwanath pass located in the Lekgalameetse Provincial Park. The road trip would take us through remote villages and off roads tracks, punctuated by food stops and delightful stopovers at Aloe Bush Camp and Moholoholo Ya Mati Guest Farm. It was a well thought out plan, allowing us enough time to familiarise ourselves with the bakkies in their element, away from the bustles of city life where most of them – let’s be honest – will end up living their lives.
Our trip saw us mixing up smooth tarred roads, with loose gravel sections and gnarly rock infested tracks. With a fair amount of muddy pools along the way, I will say the only element we did not off-road in was snow (which we never have to worry about anyways). The highway driving was comparatively uneventful. The dynamic abilities of a vehicle of this ilk are wasted on tarred roads. Needless to say, the drive was fairly comfortable, with the Ranger maintaining its composure around the bends. That 2.2 l engine had enough poke to execute overtaking manoeuvres and to maintain highway speeds, while keeping fuel consumption at an impressive average of 9 l/100 km for the entire trip.
We contained our excitement and enthusiasm for the bit of the journey that counted the most. Once we got off road and hit loose gravel, things got more interesting. I found it easy to keep the XL Sport well behaved despite speeding across loose gravel like some aspiring Dakar Rally driver. The bakkie is dampened well enough to soak up gravel rumble and seems to only improve the faster you go. The need for speed was soon retired once we got to the Orrie Baragwanath pass which is pretty much dominated by steep inclines and really messed up surfaces. The pass required patience and alertness as we gingerly crawled upwards, with those meaty 265/65 tyres providing unfailing grip. Although the XL Sport will be outsprinted by the more expensive Wildtrak and Raptor models, it certainly is no slouch when you throw serious work at it. The engine together with the transmission and four-wheel drive made short work of everything the Orrie Baragwanath Pass had to throw at us.
The XL model has always been a great value proposition. It is an affordable yet comfortable vehicle with enough dynamic abilities to get the job done. They even come equipped with standard safety features like ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Hill Launch Assist, and Electronic Stability Programme with Traction Control, Adaptive Load Control, Roll-over Mitigation, and Hill Descent Control for the four-wheel-drive models. Front passengers get the benefit of dual airbags while people in the rear have to make do with a hope and a prayer. This is a great buy for anyone looking to enjoy the bakkie lifestyle without signing over their kidneys. And for an additional R16,500 (R22,000 with the 8” infotainment) on top of the recommended retail price, you can add the seasoning that completes what was already a winning recipe. It is for this simple reason that I suspect that XL Sport will soon prove to be a popular sight on our streets.
Report by BRYAN KAYAVHU | Images © Ford South Africa