• We drive two of Ford's Rangers on a 3000km journey.
• The Ranger Wildtrak was driven to Johannesburg and the Ranger Thunder back to Cape Town.
• Several of SA's provinces were crossed during the trip.
• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za
Anyone who's undertaken a long-distance trip will tell you that it's no joke. And while it may not seem like much, driving between Cape Town and Johannesburg is a mission that'll take its toll on your body. Tenfold!
I recently took on the 1400km drive between these two cities in two Ford Rangers - going up in one and returning with another. Ford South Africa was all too eager for Wheels24 to have one final go in its Ranger Wildtrak and returning it to HQ where it'll be removed from the media fleet and put up for sale.
Knowing that the awaiting trip will not be child's play, I opted to break the trip up into five days; all with varying distances to be covered. Day one is a short trip to Laingsburg, followed by a 1000km trek to Kroonstad where I'll stay the night before tackling the last few hundred km to Joburg the Sunday morning.
The first leg of the journey went by without hassle, but 30 minutes into day two things nearly took a wrong turn...
'Have you lost your mind?!'
The N1 is notorious for being one of the most dangerous roads in South Africa. Here in the Western Cape, the stretch between Worcester and Beaufort West is especially prone to accidents. Several years ago, the government installed average speed cameras between Touwsrivier and Beaufort, but some impatient drivers often have little regard for these overhead 'officers'.
Leaving Laingsburg at 05:00 that morning, I was ready for the long road to Kroonstad. The excitement was tangible and the crisp air stuck to my senses like a baby to its mother. With the fuel tank filled - two clicks, please - I hit the road and activate cruise control on 120km/h (indicated). It's still dark, and the Karoo is not shy to show why it's one of the toughest terrains in SA. Outside, air temperature is hovering around the 6-degrees Celsius mark, while inside the Wildtrak's cabin I'm treated to heated seats and the temperature gauge blowing just enough hot air to break the cold.
About half an hour into the day's drive, I notice, in my rearview mirror, a vehicle overtaking another car. But he is not moving back into the left lane; remaining on the opposite side of the road. This can't be happening, I think to myself, as the driver is pushing for all he's worth to make up the 300+m to me. Suddenly, a truck appears over the blind rise, yet the Toyota Hilux with the CFM number plate is not budging. He wants to make the move stick, but his much older-generation Hilux is not up for the task.
Realising that an accident is imminent, I brake to allow this impatient driver to get in front of me. The truck, though, is still coming towards us, but CFM is blatantly ignoring the fact that a massive long-distance truck is hauling towards us. At the last moment, and after refusing to get back in 'our' lane, both CFM and the truck brake, avoiding serious injury and CFM taking 'refuge' on the yellow line on the opposite end of the road.
A couple of hours later in Beaufort, both CFM and I pull up at the Wimpy for refreshments. Before I left, I pulled up next to them to ask if they're okay after the morning's episode. To which the passenger, who is now taking over driving duties, replies: "We're sharp."
The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, and I made it to my pit stop in Kroonstad, next to the Vaal River, in one piece.
Overnight accommodation next to the Vaal River (Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond)
The next morning, I hit the road early (again) and swapped the Wildtrak for the newest addition to the Ranger family: a Thunder. Decked in white, the bakkie looked ready for the road ahead. Those blackened rims do add to its appeal, and I couldn't wait to thunder onwards and homewards.
This is day three of my five-day trip, and the next stopover for the evening would be in Bloemfontein. Again I lock in the cruise control at 120km/h, and only take care of steering duties and keeping a watchful eye on the road. The Thunder, like the Wildtrak, is fitted with adaptive cruise control. When the bakkie senses a vehicle ahead, it'll decrease its speed and keep a (manually) set distance between it and the vehicle ahead. Once the gap increases, the bakkie increases its speed again to the set indication.
Taking care of the inclines was no hassle, either. The bi-turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine (157kW/500Nm) had more than enough grunt to keep the engine running in the optimal range, and the 10-speed automatic helped in keeping engine revolutions low at around 2000rpm at 120km/h. This type of effortless driving makes long distances a breeze, and it has little to no impact on the body.
What I noticed, though, was that when you execute an overtake and lay on the throttle, there is a slight delay on engine response. It's not too obtrusive, but the bakkie more than makes up for it when the thrust kicks in.
The last stretch to Town
Over the next two days, I tackled the last thousand or so kilometres from Bloemfontein to Cape Town. I made a final overnight in Laingsburg again before setting off for home on the Tuesday morning. It's been five days that I've been on the road. Sure, I could have made the trip in three days - like many have done before - but why rush when the country, in all its glory, lays barren and open before you. Besides, I wasn't planning on negatively affecting an impressive average fuel return of around 9.5-litres/100km.
It's not often that you get to drive through four of our nine provinces in the span of a few days and to see the uniqueness of each one as you pass through. What was especially telling, though, was how immediately different each province is to the next: the Free State and Northern Cape with their dry, hill-ridden landscapes, and the Western Cape with its vastly greener scenery. It's something to take in and undertaking the trip at leisure with little rush makes everything even more worth it.
While the Wildtrak and Thunder are essentially the same bakkie - bar a few cosmetic enhancements on the latter's part - taking a near 3000km sojourn in two of Ford's finest makes you even more hungry for the road. And given that we have a Ranger Thunder in the Wheels24 garage for the next few months, expect to see more thundering adventures.
Wheels24's 2020 Ford Ranger Thunder (Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond)