Off-roaders without borders
In 1999, Ford Philippines dared a group of motoring scribes to sign up for a drive-through in what the official invitation described as a “torture camp” designed to “separate the men from the boys,” and exhorted those brave souls to “… survive where others have failed.”
The next year, August 2000, at Sitio Suarez, Tarlac Province, this author experienced a taste of the Ford kind of offroading when she covered a medical mission to an Aeta community at the foot of Mount Pinatubo, which just a decade prior was the caldera of one of the most violent volcanic eruptions of the past century.
Any kind of pre-trip briefing wouldn’t have prepared the group for the cruel, unearthly terrain that would face the group’s ride, the iconic yellow 4×4 SVT Pinatubo Edition Ranger.
But reach the destination the group did. After fording waist-deep rivers, sloshing through knee-high mud, bouncing every which way across dry river beds, evading boulders and wide fissures, crawling on cliff walls at 45-degree angles, the Pinatubo Edition pickups brought us in one piece at the designated place where 97 indigenous women and their children awaited our aid.
Ford didn’t just choose the path less taken, it created the path.
In 2003, this writer did it again with Ford, this time up in the Sierra Madre range, where many off-road clubs had made it a playground of sorts.
One of these clubs—Team Extreme Adventure—figured that if it could teach other drivers to negotiate the tricky Sierra Madre trails, then these new off-roading skills could be useful for people who had go to inaccessible places as part of their jobs, say for example, to install cell towers or power lines.
So, using the 4×4 Ranger, team instructors Beeboy Bargas and Kits Aragon set about imparting their valuable skills to a group of novice off-roaders, yours truly included.
The most dangerous part of the activity was crawling up a hill over a narrow trail. The climb was so steep we were facing the sky, and the way down equally steep that we couldn’t see the road we were on.
That was the time when such off-roading tech for hill descent control, hill start assist, and traction control systems were still on the drawing boards.
We had to rely on our “gut feel” of the machine, and complete faith on the power of our vehicles and the grip of our tires.
Off-roading technologies may have changed radically, body designs and suspension systems may have been upgraded many times over.
But one thing doesn’t: Ford’s supreme confidence in its 4×4 vehicles.
Ford isn’t afraid to go head-to-head with the earth, even allowing us mere mortals to come along for the ride.
Spy on board
Seventeen years after that first foray into Philippine wilderness, Ford is still at it. This time, on Oct. 14 and 15, its “No Boundaries” brand of off-roading took a group of motoring journalists up and down the 680-meter-high Mount Balagbag in Rodriguez, Rizal.
This writer, unfortunately, was unable to join the group, but she had a “spy” onboard to take note of what transpired.
This spy came back, all covered in mud, drunk, and barely breathing. Just kidding.
My “mole” reported that Ford Philippines used the 3.2-liter Ranger Wildtrak and 3.2-liter Everest Titanium to take on the 12-kilometer route going up Mount Balagbag.
The terrain presented all sorts of challenges (mud pits, rocks, and sand) that stretched the six 4×4 units’ journey to four hours to reach the camp at the summit, where Ford Philippines managing director Lance Mosley and other officers of Ford Philippines, the 4×4 crew and off-roading instructors, and the motoring media spent the cool night.
My spy noted that it was more “glamping” than camping, with overflowing liquor, bonfire, and comfy tents (provided by Recreational Outdoor Exchange, or ROX) welcoming each participant.
Thankfully, Typhoon “Karen” was just on the approach, and the group was still treated to a 15-minute window to a setting sun.
The way down was just as tricky, using the same trail used on the way up, with 12 km of pure dirt, frequent stretches of half-tire-deep mud and half-tire deep ruts.
The total time it took to travel 24 km up and down the mountain was eight hours.
The trail also featured a “ridge ride” near the summit, where the vehicles faced steep ravines on both sides.
What was highlighted in the trip was the suspension tuning for improved ride comfort and handling, with advanced smart and safety features, and which make the new Ranger Wildtrak and Everest Titanium two of the smartest vehicles to drive on any off-road course.
The improved ride and the powerful, efficient, latest-generation Duratorq diesel engines helped to deliver Ford’s fun-to-drive promise.
Joseph Ayllon, assistant vice president for communications of Ford Philippines, said in a press statement: “This drive is meant to allow our media friends to experience first-hand what the Ranger Wildtrak and Everest Titanium were truly designed for—tough vehicles equipped to handle the most difficult terrains because adventures and journeys are not supposed to have boundaries.”
The features tested on Ford’s 4×4 variants were the terrain management system (TMS), which allowed drivers to choose between four different settings on the fly—normal, snow/gravel/grass, sand and rock—for optimal performance in all conditions.
Drivers could also lock the transfer case in low-range 4WD mode for increased control in difficult terrain.
The off-road experience also highlighted what trailmaster Bargas describes as the “enormous amounts of low-end torque” the Ford 4x4s possess, because even at the 4H setting, the Everest and Ranger could crawl the steep uphill dirt road at just below the 1,500 rpm range.
Participants also experienced comfortable and stable riding even on the roughest stretches of the trail due to the suspension tuning of the Everest and Ranger.
Though there wasn’t any water crossing this time, the Ranger Wildtrak is engineered and built to wade through water up to 800 mm deep.
A robust electronically controlled transfer case allows drivers in 4×4 models to shift on the fly from 4×2 to 4×4 high with a knob on the center console.
For low-speed torque or additional downhill braking, drivers can also engage low-range 4×4 gearing.
These off-road strengths are matched by towing capability of up to 3,500 kilograms, and exceptional payload capacity.
My “spy” concluded that, as much as Ford’s 4×4 workhorses have taken much of the guesswork out of off-roading with its plethora of electronics-driven innovations that have made the activity that much easier, driving on “paths yet to be made” is still a hair-raising proposition.
For any 4×4 owner—Ford branded or otherwise—who does not yet possess the proper skills and mindset for off-road driving, it would be best to hook up with experienced off-roading clubs first, and make sure that the paths you tread have been cleared by the proper environmental agencies.
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