First things first, I am no car aficionado, so, in this review, you won’t find talk of torque or suspension. But let that not put you off – we have spec sheets for those nitty-gritty details.
I had planned a road trip to the Kruger National Park for April 2020, but pandemonium ensued with Covid-19 and lockdown. All travel plans were, sadly, cancelled. After a long year of very little of anything besides Zoom meetings and trips to get essentials, I revisited the idea of travelling to the northern parts of the park and planned a short break away with my daughter for the April holidays.
My colleague, motoring co-ordinator Willem van de Putte, suggested I use the Ford Ranger FX4 that he had recently received as a long-term test drive vehicle. A road trip is exactly what this Ford was built for.
Having always been a driver of relatively small cars, I was slightly intimidated when I saw the size of the double cab. More anxiety set in when I climbed up (it’s a reach for those on the shorter side) and discovered that it was an automatic. I had driven an automatic only once (about seven years ago,) on a trip to visit family in the USA. But my anxiety soon waned and once I became comfortable with the space the cab took up on the road, I quickly started feeling like the bakkie was built for me – namesake aside.
Holiday excitement started building as we packed the van, hooked up the navigation (and Spotify – tunes are essential on a road trip) and discussed how cool it was going to be to have the height of the cab in the Kruger – perfect for game viewing.
The next morning, bright and early and raring to go, panic overwhelmed me when I couldn’t start the bakkie. I wondered if I had left the lights on, causing the battery to go flat. A couple of WhatsApps to Willem (and a good few chuckles at my expense) later, I had the solution. No need for panic, as I've said, I am no petrol head. Unbeknown to me, I had to apply foot to brake to start the automatic. It didn’t cross my mind when I first started it the day before, as instinctively I had had my foot on the brake. A sigh of relief as the van fired up and we were ready to go, albeit a little later than planned.
Ford’s easy-to-use SYNC 3 system is a breeze to set up. A quick download of Sygic Maps onto my cellphone and we were hooked up in no time. Destination Phalaborwa. Being an automatic, the FX4 handled well in traffic but its true strength could be felt both on the open road and off-road on the dusty Kruger byways. Accelerating quickly to overtake trucks on the highway felt tremendously smooth but not being used to such power, I did have to check myself.
I cannot rave enough about neither needing to use the clutch nor gearing down during game drives. This is something I could get used to. It was a trip marked by many elephant sightings. And it was advantageous facing off some of the giant tuskers in the FX4. One hairy moment, when a young bull decided to charge, we were off in a split second.
And we didn’t shy away – too much – I was cautious on the muddy routes. We even felt a sense of camaraderie with the other drivers of 4x4s in the park, feeling sorry for those in small cars who couldn’t see over the tall grass.
Talking about visibility from the bakkie, I not only felt safe driving the cab but like I could see so much more of everything – in traffic and on the open road. The height really does give the driver an advantage over other vehicles.
The FX4 is easy to drive and, to my surprise, it was easy to park and reverse (sensors are a blessing). As for night-time driving, what a pleasure! I find driving at dusk a bit of a challenge but the lights on the bakkie blew me away.
Sadly, we left the park behind us after a fantastic trip, knowing that we soon had to say goodbye to the Racing Red beast that had been ours for a week. It was hard to hand back the keys. My daughter kept saying it was time for us to get a new car and we should seriously look into the FX4. I can’t help but feel the same.
Now that I’ve been spoilt, I doubt I could do a Kruger trip in a small car again.
After covering more than 2 000km in the FX4, it took some getting used to going back to my old (manual) faithful.
But, since we have the vehicle on long-term loan, I feel a jaunt to the Pilanesberg National Park might be on the cards soon.
What a sweet ride!