Ford in Malaysia recently put its newly-launched Ranger XLT 3.2L six-speed manual to the ultimate test – the gruelling 23rd Annual Borneo Safari International Off-Road Adventure covering 1,000km through Sabah, East Malaysia. The all-new Ranger completed the punishing journey without experiencing any mechanical or structural setbacks, truly living up to its “Built Ford Tough” reputation.
Sabah is a dream destination for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. An obstacle-laden course, Borneo Safari participants faced daunting obstacles: dense jungle, copious mud, driving rain, leeches and more. Despite these challenges, the course participants returned exhilarated, raving about the gorgeous scenery, the extraordinary warmth of the local residents and the camaraderie they experienced overcoming the course’s many trials and challenges.
A record 255 participants entered the competition this year. The all-new Ford Ranger XLT 3.2L, which the other competitors dubbed “The Lone Ranger,” was the only stock standard vehicle that participated in the eight-day, seven-night expedition – although the vehicle was outfitted with a winch, snorkel and a set of terrain tyres, as required by the event organisers, the Sabah Four-Wheel-Drive Association.
The all-new Ford Ranger XLT, driven by retired motoring journalist Paul Si, faced the Borneo Safari challenge with all factory parts intact – its original 3.2L five-cylinder Duratorq engine with original ECU, standard six-speed manual gearbox, standard springs and absorbers and a set of modest 33” Silverstone MT-117 Extreme tyres. Owing to experienced off-roaders’ concerns that the front tyre could damage the bodywork, the all-new Ranger was raised a mere 30mm, leaving the rear suspension standard. Other participants drove heavily modified 4x4s, boasting massive tyres up to 37”, body lifts up to 100mm, suspension lifts, beefed up springs and dampers, upgraded axles, differential locks.
The jungle terrain proved extremely challenging; three days of heavy rain provided many kilometres of difficult, muddy terrain and many of the participants experienced significant struggles. Traversing the steep, slippery ascents and descents gave many no choice but to drag the vehicles through by winch power, often using snatch blocks and pulleys to double the power of the winches, necessary to drag the heavily-laden vehicles through the sludge.
With no way of turn back, repairs were made on the fly up and down the entire convoy – broken suspensions, failed winches and more. Vehicles radioed each other to check on availability of spare parts and other needs. Reports came in that one car at the rear end had broken down completely, and had to be towed along, with no engine and electrical power. “Leave no one behind” is the Borneo Safari maxim, and the participants were glad to comply.
Through all these various challenges, the all-new Ford Ranger XLT also struggled but nothing failed or broke. The lack of any suspension lift meant it was lower than just about every other vehicle, making it more difficult to plough through thick mud. Where other vehicles needed winching to get through, the Ranger’s winch had to work that much harder because more parts of the vehicle’s body were in contact with the ground.
The convoy encountered several instances where other vehicles had to make several tries to clear obstacles, but the all-new Ranger’s ample torque at low revs allowed it to pass by easily.
“The all-new Ford Ranger XLT returned an amazing fuel economy,” said Si, who explained that the convoy travelled within the speed limit all the way. “Fuel economy is not exactly a priority on the Borneo Safari, but even in this area, the Ranger shone. On the road, it could easily go more than 800km without refuelling, while some of its petrol-powered companions needed to look for petrol stations every 350km or so.
Asked if he would tackle the Borneo Safari again, Si said, “I wanted to find out if the Ranger, in standard trim, could survive the Borneo Safari, and that has been proven. Quite clearly, it can. If we were to do it again next year, I’d want to apply the same modifications to the Ranger that everyone else does to their cars, and see how much better it can do.”