No matter whether they're at the wheel of a double cab pick-up or a car, individuals driving large 4x4s are increasingly being tagged as enemies of the people. Despite the fact that what they're doing is perfectly legal, and that they're often sitting behind a fuel-frugal low-emission diesel engine, they're viewed by the chattering classes as being wholly responsible for climate change. It won't be long before they're cast into the outer darkness along with smokers and voters who want a referendum over whether Britain should stay in the European Union.
That being the case, it's good to see that some manufacturers are willing to defy the kill-joys and produce double cab pick-ups that stand out from the pack. So let's hear it for Ford's in-yer-face Ranger Wildtrak — a vehicle that's about as discreet and downbeat as the Jeremy Kyle Show.
Launched earlier this year, and finished in a particularly lurid shade of orange — you can have it in red or blue too — it's decorated by various chrome bits and pieces and a selection of Wildtrak stickers. It's enough to give your average muesli-eating, sandal-wearing tree-hugger apoplexy.
You only get one choice of engine, but we doubt you'll have too much cause for complaint. That's because Wildtrak is powered by a four-cylinder 3.0-litre Duratorq TDCi common rail diesel producing 156hp at 3,200rpm. Top torque of 380Nm kicks in at 1,800rpm and the intercooled 16-valve in-line lump is married to a five-speed manual gearbox.
A stumpy lever next to the gearstick is used to engage four-wheel drive and allows you to select a low range set of gears for serious off-roading. Hit a button on the dashboard to release the free-wheeling front hubs when you go back to 4x2 mode. A rear limited-slip diff is included in the price.
Independent double wishbone torsion bar suspension is fitted at the front along with an anti-roll bar, while leaf springs help support the back of the vehicle. Double-acting dampers are installed all round. Wildtrak comes with six-spoke 16in alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone Dueler H/T 245/70 R16 tyres.
Ventilated disc brakes are to be found at the sharp end, with drums deployed at the rear. ABS comes as standard, as does power-assisted steering offering a 12.6m kerb-to-kerb turning circle.
Tipping the scales at an all-up weight of 2,985kg, Wildtrak can handle a gross payload of 1,072kg. Beneath all the external frills it is of course constructed as a working tool; something anybody wanting to criticise double-cab 4x4s should always remember. It will haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 3,000kg.
Access to the cargo area is by means of a bottom-hinged tailgate. Released by a single, centrally-mounted handle, it can be locked horizontally or dropped down completely. With Wildtrak it opens to reveal a cargo bed protected by a plastic load tray. Rails grace the tops of the load area's sides and you'll find a couple of lashing points close to the tailboard.
For your money you get a body-coloured composite sports bar mounted just behind the cab, but you'll pay extra for the roller shutter-style lockable Armadillo load bay cover fitted to our demonstrator. It costs £750 plus VAT.
Maximum load length is 1,530mm. Maximum width is 1,456mm, narrowing to 1,092mm between the rear wheel-boxes, while maximum height is 457mm. Loading height is 811mm.
The Wildtrak theme continues when you climb into the five-seater cab over the Wildtrak logo on the chrome-effect scuff plate on the sill. Orange Wildtrak logos adorn the grey and black leather sports-style front seats with their orange stitching, with the Ranger name in orange gracing the orange-edged front floor mats. Brushed steel effect inserts decorate the facia and doors, and the steering wheel and gear knob are wrapped in leather.
A clump of dials on top of the dashboard tells you the extent to which you are tipping both vertically and horizontally when you're travelling off-road, and includes a compass. Other goodies include air-conditioning, a CD player that's MP3 compatible and features a six-disc in-dash autochanger, electric windows all round, electric exterior mirrors with LED indicators incorporated into the housings, a 12v power point and heated front seats. Front and side airbags protect the driver and front passenger.
Stowage facilities for oddments include a bin between the seats with a lidded tray on top, a lidded and lockable glovebox, a cubby hole at the bottom of the dashboard, and front door pockets with a moulding to hold a soft-drink can. In addition you're provided with two cup-holders at the base of the dashboard — one plays host to the (semi-redundant?) ashtray — plus cup-holders for the rear passengers.
One of Wildtrak's big drawbacks is its under-the-dashboard, umbrella-type parking brake release. It's awkward to use and you have to be careful to ensure that you release the brake fully before you drive away. Get rid of it next time you redesign Ranger please Ford, and replace it with a conventional floor-mounted handbrake lever.
At the same time you might like to think about making the driver's seat height-adjustable. It isn't at present, although fortunately the steering column is.
Access to the rear seats is through fairly small doors and tall drivers are liable to feel that legroom is insufficient on a long journey. Outboard passengers are secured by a lap-and-diagonal belt and are protected by headrests. Yet again in a pick-up the centre passenger is held in place solely by a lap-strap and the lack of a headrest means that he risks smacking the back of his head on the heated rear window if the driver has to brake heavily.
In our view this middle seating position should in effect be treated as an occasional seat and used solely for short local trips at low speeds. When nobody's sitting there — and hopefully that will be for most of the time — an armrest folds down for the use of the outboard passengers.
A hoot to drive with bags of performance on tap — especially across the middle of the rev band — Wildtrak handles remarkably well for a bulky 4x4, with plenty of feedback from the steering and surprisingly little wallowing when you push the vehicle hard through corners.
It goes about its business quietly too, with engine and wind noise both well controlled. In typical Ford style the gearchange is exemplary. On the downside the ride could do with improvement. At times the front suspension seemed to struggle with even moderately uneven road surfaces, creating too much bumping and thumping for comfort.
Having a useful dollop of torque comes in handy when you venture off-road. It helps Wildtrak climb steep inclines with ease and there's sufficient engine braking to hand to ensure it doesn't run away with you when you come down the other side. Ground clearance unladen is 205mm with a wading depth of 750mm.
As far as fuel economy is concerned we averaged 30mpg during the test period; not outstanding, but not bad for a 4x4 in a hurry.
The exterior bling we alluded to earlier includes a chrome rear under-run bar, an aluminium-effect lower extension to the front grille, chrome-effect mirror housings, side steps, roof rails and rear light guards. That's all in addition to grey wheelarch extensions and lower body cladding. Front fog lamps are provided too, along with rear sensors to stop you damaging your vehicle while trying to park.
Remote central locking comes as standard. Wildtrak needs a service every 12,500 miles and is covered by a three year/60,000 mile warranty, included roadside assistance. The bodywork is protected by a six-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty.
At the time of writing there was a possibility that owners of double cab pick-ups emitting more than 225g/km of CO2 would be hit with an extortionate £25 a day charge rather than the current £8 if they wanted to drive into the London congestion tax zone. If you're likely to be affected it's worth noting that Wildtrak emits 252g/km.
If you want to go through the world unknown and unnoticed, then don't buy a Ford Ranger Wildtrak double cab 4x4 pick-up. That's because it screams 'look at me', especially when it's finished in that lurid shade of orange the Big Blue Oval is so fond of. Wildtrak isn't all about appearance, however. Performance is top notch, the gearchange is exemplary and it handles well too. OK, the ride could be better, we detest its umbrella-style parking brake release and we've got reservations about the rear seat. But the good is outweighed by the bad; and if Wildtrak irritates the local kill-joys, then so much the better.