Big utes shine with extra bling

By Phil Hanson

Ford thinks big with special editions of its utes

When Ford in North America introduced a special Harley-Davidson version of its mega-popular F-150 pickup truck, some sceptics thought it was a joke.

What was it thinking?

When Ford in New Zealand introduced a special Wildtrak version of its mega-popular Ranger ute (priced at $66,290), some sceptics thought it was a joke.

What was it thinking?

In both cases, Ford was probably thinking about money in the bank. There's money in them thar special editions with the Harley version priced from US$44,227.

In the F-150's case, it pays homage to America's much-loved motorbike and despite what some think of both pickups and Harleys, it's been so successful that Ford has offered it in 10 versions since 1999, across its F-truck range.

"This is a great pairing of two icons of the open road: Ford and Harley-Davidson," said Marc Lapine, Ford's F-150 marketing manager, when rolling out this year's model.

"Both brands appeal to truck owners and motorcycle enthusiasts alike."

Apparently, nearly every member of the Harley-Davidson F-150 team at Ford also owns a Hog.

In the Ranger Wildtrak's case, Ford just wanted to bling-up its one-tonne truck, having noticed how many owners went to the aftermarket with open wallets, and deciding the factory might as well get a slice of the action.

The F-150's success beggars belief. Introduced in 1975, it was the biggest-selling vehicle of any kind in the US for 24 years and the best-selling truck for 34 years.

Downunder, the company hasn't been as lucky with the Ranger, formerly Courier, which has played second fiddle to Toyota's Hilux. One of the missions of the totally redesigned 2011 model was to change that.

In its huge makeover, the Ranger grew bigger, more powerful, more luxurious. It came closer than ever to its American superstar relative, causing some to wonder why the US isn't one of the 180 countries to which the Ranger is being, or will be, sold.

There is a Ranger in America, but it's quite different from ours and has its origins in the 1980s as a badge-engineered version of the Mazda B-series ute.

Heartland America would be unlikely to accept the "international" Ranger as an F-150 replacement. It's also considered too close in size and outlook to the F-150 to be a potential replacement for the American Ranger.

Or is it? At 5890mm the F-150's a decent 540mm longer than the Ranger Wildtrak and 160mm wider, at 2011mm. The F-150's also 515kg heavier at 2715kg, but while our Ranger can take an even tonne payload, the F-150 can only manage a 590kg load.

I was expecting more of the Harley-Davison F-150 when I first saw it in a Vancouver mall parking lot. I was expecting something garish and over the top, but it's quite restrained. Ford seems to have decided, in this case, that less is more.

Not so much the Ranger Wildtrak, in its bright chrome, its wild Chilli Orange hero colour and unusual "aerodynamic-look" sport bar on the stubby rear tray.

The paint job on the F-150 is classic Harley: Tuxedo Black and White Platinum.

Interior trim panels are covered in high-gloss Tuxedo Black paint and the console lid and upper steering wheel are garnished with snakeskin leather. The scuff plate also has a snakeskin texture.

Seats and the console lid feature hand-made badges produced by the same company that makes them for the motorcycles. Console-mounted serial plates include laser-engraved VIN and build numbers.

Then there's stuff like voice-activated navigation that integrates voice-recognition destination entry, climate control and satellite radio into one system, displaying details on an 8-inch touch screen.

It makes the Wildtrak look ordinary, but maybe there's more to come. If there's an announcement from Ford NZ that it's introducing a Triumph Bonneville model, you'll know where the idea came from - and that it'll sell very nicely.

- Hamilton News

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