DRIVEN | Why there's another bakkie: A swansong trip to the current Ranger in Ford's new Stormtrak

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• The new Ford Ranger Stormtrak has officially been launched in South Africa.

• The Baviaanskloof and parts of the Karoo formed part of the launch route.

• The Stormtrak is based on the familiar and popular Ford Ranger Wildtrak.

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Three days and more than 1 000km later, Ford South Africa took on an interesting approach in launching its new Ranger Stormtrak to the local market. Taking place in the Eastern Cape, the area covering the Baviaanskloof - and parts of the Karoo stretching from Steytlerville and Cookhouse - formed the launch route and threw every possible daunting challenge at the bakkie. From adverse weather to corroding road conditions, the new Ranger Stormtrak's mettle was tested.

For Ford SA, though, this was an important event because bakkies like the Stormtrak are the closing chapters for one of its most important vehicles yet. The current Ranger has been in production since 2011, surpassing milestone after milestone as the years went on. Last year, for instance, Ford launched the new Ranger Thunder in the market. An initial production run of 1 000 units were planned, but the automaker ended up producing more than 2 000 units at its assembly plant in Silverton, Pretoria, for South African buyers.

As the Ford SA team explained, local buyers are looking for unique bakkies, hence opting to bring special edition models to market. At the end of the day, they see customer needs, which is why something like the Ranger Stormtrak could not be passed up on.

Ford Ranger Stormtrak
2021 Ford Ranger Stormtrak

The first drive

Arriving at Port Elizabeth International Airport - or Gqeberha International, if you will - the contingency made their way to the awaiting Stormtraks, for a drive to Stormsrivier, South of the Windy City. At 120km/h, the bakkie relayed the characteristics we've come to expect from the Ranger: easy steering, comfortable drive, and carlike mannerism when on the open road.

It works a charm, and the bi-turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine is not lazy to get cracking when you lay on the throttle. Speaking of, this is the same unit that powers the Wildtrak, Thunder, and Raptor versions of the Ranger and is mated with a 10-speed automatic transmission. We realised again how narrow the torque band was, with the engine producing its maximum torque of 500Nm between 1 500 - 2 000rpm. This is then where the auto 'box comes into play, keeping the engine in the proverbial sweet spot. Maximum power is 157kW @ 3 750rpm.

WATCH: Unseen footage from the Wheels24 Toyota Hilux versus Ford Ranger shootout

Apart from 'Stormtrak' decals, this is the first Ranger fitted with an electric roller shutter straight from the factory. This tonneau cover operates in three ways: a button inside the cabin, a button inside the load bay, or using the key. And when you climb inside, you are welcomed by contrasting red stitching, heated front seats, and Ford's Sync 3 multimedia system that is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible and with built-in satellite navigation.

The units at the launch were all 4x4, retailing from R846 500. The Ranger Stormtrak Hi-Rider 4x2 sells for R806 500. All Rangers are sold with a six-year or 90 000km service plan and a four-year or 120 000km warranty.

Ford Ranger Stormtrak
2021 Ford Ranger Stormtrak

Taking on the Baviaanskloof

The launch route officially began on Day 2 of the trip, given that the 180km from PE to Stormsrivier was just to set us up for what's to come. And boy, were we in for a treat!

The bakkies headed back up the N2, followed by a left onto the R330 towards Hankey, and again left onto the R332. The road quickly goes from tar to gravel, and you soon realise that where you'll be entering is a world just waiting to be discovered. Wherever you look, orchards adorn the area. This side of the Baviaanskloof is ideal for citrus, with farmers exporting their goods to Europe because of the high quality of the produce. A few kilometres of calm gravel lie waiting, but it all soon changes as you begin traversing more mountainous conditions.

We're in the Baviaanskloof.

READ: Ford ups the ante of its Ranger bakkie line-up with their latest limited-edition Stormtrak

When the Dutch came to the area many moons ago, they gave the area its name - which means valley of the baboons. And, of course, we saw many baboons and monkeys along the way. The pass is about 80km long, which includes the reserve to pay an entrance fee. The scenery continues for miles on end, and there is something to behold around every bend. Of course, you can't speed in this biome, and must you consider possible oncoming traffic and animals that could make their way across the road.

We had the Ranger Stormtraks' drivetrains in 4x4 High, activated using the rotary dial next to the gear lever. The bakkie scaled the corrugated roads with ease and never gave hints that it might come up short.

The desolate Karoo

What many of us know about the Karoo is the nothingness that characterises the region. Barren landscapes and isolated greenery make up the character, but one can see the tragic effects of the drought that's been raging for the best part of a decade. Despite this, the roads are in good condition and can one explore the bakkie's performance potential on gravel.

With the drivetrain still in 4H, we could push the bakkie on the long open stretches of road. Road imperfections and undulations were handled with aplomb, and the bakkie sugared on without a single care. Ranger owners who are familiar with both their bakkie and gravel roads like these in the Karoo will easily exploit the performance potential of these locally built bakkies, with it dishing up one rewarding drive after the next.

The experience took us further North up the Karoo through Pearston, followed by a drive up the well-known Storms Mountains. The mountain range morphs into the Witteberge and later the Drakenberg that connects the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal. While we won't be travelling that far on this trip, the route basically went where the Voortrekkers of yore went with their ox wagons. The rocky terrain soon revealed an Ox wagon camp - an accommodation spot in the middle of nowhere. Literally!

Our hosts dished up the most delicious homemade burgers and bread with homemade butter, jams, and cheese.

Ford Ranger Stormtrak
2021 Ford Ranger Stormtrak

A storm of a trip

While we may look at Ford funny for launching another bakkie based on an existing bakkie, it is a rather clever move to keep the soon-to-be-replaced Ranger fresh and relevant. As proven by the Ranger Thunder's success, our people love special- and limited edition models to differentiate themselves from the rest. And the Ranger Stormtrak, with its 3D decals and electric roller shutter, does precisely that. And factor in the R35 900 price advantage over the Toyota Hilux 2.8 GD-6 double cab 4x4 Legend RS auto, then it makes it quite difficult to ignore what Ford has put on the table.

Like all bakkies, rear passengers are left at the suspension's mercy, and can we only hope that Ford will address this issue when the all-new Ranger comes around in 2022. This and the upright rear bench that's been plaguing all bakkies since the dawn of time.

Those familiar with the Ranger Wildtrak and its bi-turbo engine will not feel out of place with the Stormtrak. It is the same reputable bakkie underneath the new paintwork, and it continues with the familiar ride quality that's gifted the bakkie several awards and accolades over the years. It also shows that the locally produced Ranger can handle whatever the road throws at it and that it will see you through as you venture into - and through - unfamiliar territory.

Ford Ranger Stormtrak
2021 Ford Ranger Stormtrak
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