Americans might love their trucks, but they aren't the only ones. The folks Down Under are partial to a good pickup, and Ford would argue the Ranger Wildtrak is the best pickup you can buy. With a luxurious interior, plenty of off-road gear and a ruggedly handsome face, it certainly looks good on paper. But does the range-topping Wildtrak deliver in the real world?

One look at the Wildtrak should be enough to let you know it's not your average laborer's pickup truck. For one, our tester was finished in a special shade of Pride Orange. Coupled with the special graphics and blacked-out front grille treatment, not to mention the unique 18-inch wheels and chunky Bridgestone Dueller RT tires, the bright finish certainly makes this Ranger stand out from the crowd.

The flashiness continues inside as well. Ford is charging a lot of money for the Wildtrak – more on that later – and the interior is appropriately loaded. All five passengers sit on seats trimmed in a combination of leather and tough woven orange cloth, and they're heated up front. These are some of the best bum warmers in the business, too, heating up quickly and maintaining a brilliant roast.

Ford SYNC 3 is one of the best infotainment systems in the business, but if you're not keen on using it Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, as they are across the Ford range.

There's more to the Wildtrak package than just seat warmers and shiny paint, it's also one of the safest trucks on the road. A radar mounted behind the front grille delivers adaptive cruise control and pre-collision warnings. There are also parking sensors and a reversing camera, but the sensors seem overly nervous in tight spaces – the sort of tight spaces where accurate parking sensors are most necessary.

Power comes from a 3.2-liter five-cylinder diesel engine, hooked up to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox. It makes 147 kW (197 hp) of power – which doesn't seem like much in a truck that weighs 2,300 kg (5,071 lb) – but peak 470 Nm of torque on tap from 1,750 rpm is much more relevant here anyway. Trucks like this are favored by people who tow boats and caravans, so bottom-end pull is the name of the game.

The engine is unquestionably effective, but it isn't the most refined powertrain in the world. It's very rattly, especially when it's cold, and there's a bit of vibration through the steering wheel and seats. Things settle down as the engine comes up to temperature, and the cabin is remarkably quiet at highway speeds – just like it was in the Everest – but the Ranger is going to feel agricultural if you've grown up on a diet of city SUVs. Still, it has the Toyota Hilux covered for refinement.

I'm not really the off-roading type (mud is tough to get out of black skinny jeans and cable knit sweaters) but the high-riding Ranger was just crying out for a backcountry excursion. With no meaningful four-wheel driving experience to call on, survival would be down to how well the electric locking rear differential, switchable low-range and electronic smarts in the Ford could cover for my incompetence.

Armed with a sense of adventure and two bottles of water, we put the Wildtrak to the test on the rain-soaked tracks around Moggs Creek on the Victorian Surf Coast.

With a maximum 800 mm (31.5 in) wading depth and 237 mm (9.3 in) of ground clearance, along with the 29 degree approach angle afforded by a short front overhang, any ideas of truly challenging the Ranger on our reasonably straightforward off-road track were quickly quashed. Switching from two-wheel drive to four-hi or four-low is simple, and there's also a rear differential lock if things get really tricky. Provided they remember to be careful of the paintwork, most casual off-roaders are likely to love the Wildtrak.

Although its sheer length (5.3 m/17.4 ft) can make inner-city garages a struggle, the big Ranger is surprisingly adept at handling the daily grind. The steering takes a bit of arm-twirling at low speeds, but it's light enough to remove most of the stress from parking in tight spaces. Some trucks ride poorly until they're loaded up with something heavy in the tray, but the Ranger felt settled with a completely empty bed.

The optional six-speed automatic gearbox is decisive on the move, and does an excellent job keeping the engine in its power band when you need to dive into gaps or overtake. It picks up better than you'd expect of a smallish diesel engine in a heavy car, provided you can deal with plenty of grumble under heavy throttle. Our 10l/100km (23.5 mpg) fuel consumption in traffic was less than ideal, but it's still acceptable for a vehicle of this size.

Sure, it's never going to feel like a Focus or Fiesta, but daily driving in a Wildtrak wouldn't be too much of a hassle. And you can't tow 3,500 kg (7,716 lb) with a Fiesta, nor can you load 950 kg (2,094 lb) in the boot. It's worth remembering this is still a work vehicle at heart, albeit one with a luxurious interior, and a fancy (as well as useful) locking cover for the tray.

All this on and off-road capability comes at a steep price. With an automatic gearbox and premium paint, you'll pay just over AU$60,000 (equiv. US$35,300) for the Ranger Wildtrak. That is a lot, especially when you consider the truck starts life as an AU$31,000 workhorse. But for people who want one vehicle for taking the kids to school, hauling a load around at work and adventuring with a trailer in tow on the weekend, it makes a lot of sense.

Sorry America, you don't get the Ranger in any spec. The next generation car will be headed to the USA though, accompanied by a new Bronco.

Product page: Ford Australia

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