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Tough trails in stock trucks

The Ford Everest and Ranger take on Mt. Balagbag

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Text by Iñigo S. Roces

Photos by Ford Philippines

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Having the words 4×4 emblazoned on your vehicle isn’t just for bragging rights. This prestigious badge proudly proclaims that the vehicle bearing it has been designed to traverse some pretty serious terrain right off the showroom floor.

It’s a claim that Ford Philippines is pretty confident in proving. As if there had been any doubts, the manufacturer invited members of the media to an off-road driving and camping adventure in Rodriguez, Rizal. The route: tens of kilometers of rough fire trails and goat paths winding round hills and mountain ridges up to Mt. Balagbag. Even with heavily modified 4x4s, the route can take as long as four hours. We were to tackle it with showroom-stock Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Everest 4x4s with automatic transmissions.

While many may find this a foolhardy endeavor, Ford has reason to be fairly confident. Both the Ranger Wildtrak and Everest are equipped with the latest electronically controlled 4×4 systems. They feature part time 4WD systems that have 2H, 4H and 4L drive modes. They have fully lockable differentials. They’re also equipped with Ford’s Terrain Management system which simplifies the many possible differential, gearing, braking and throttle configurations into preset modes like Auto, Sand, Mud, Rock, and Snow. There’s also built-in Hill Descent control for gently rolling down incredibly steep slopes.

The goal was that, provided these intelligent systems in their vehicles, even neophyte off-roaders (with off-road experts riding shotgun) can tackle the tough trail in factory-stock vehicles.

Besides sharing stories of some of their craziest adventures, the off-road experts also imparted a few tips for those seeking to dip their toes into off-road driving.

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Follow the leader

With many of the more challenging trails typically barely wider than the car itself, off-road adventures like these are a follow-the-leader affair. It’s best to plan and do these adventures as a group with the most experienced and familiar with the trail leading the convoy. Keep several car-lengths distance to allow the car ahead to tackle the obstacle first, some distance to observe the ‘line’ (the specific route the tires of the car ahead are traveling), as well as to leave a safe distance should the car ahead encounter trouble.

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Know the car and trust it

Many 4x4s have already been designed to tackle extreme conditions. Nonetheless, it still pays dividends to be familiar with its limits, like its approach and departure angles (how steep the straight line stretching from the base of the tire to the front or rear bumper is), ground clearance (distance from the ground to the lowest point of the car), break over angle (how far it can lean to one side), and most especially length and width.

In addition to the dimensions, it’s important to know what off-road features the car has and which to use depending on the terrain. It may all seem like a complicated alphabet soup, yet systems like 4H and 4L, a locking differential, Hill Descent Control, and Traction Control. When used in the right situation, many of these systems can even make traversing tough terrain easier.

 

Slow and steady

For particularly tough terrain like this, many of the obstacles are best tackled with the slow-and-steady approach. Simply finding a comfortable speed and maintaining that throttle input is usually more than enough to get the vehicle through it. Modern Terrain Management systems like in the Wildtrak and Everest are already equipped with sensors that determine which wheels are slipping and will compensate for them. There were only a handful of instances where pouring on the power could surmount the obstacle.

With these lessons in mind, the neophyte drivers had slowly but surely made their way up the mountain’s tricky trail. Naturally, some found themselves temporarily stuck in some of the tougher, muddier obstacles. Yet they were soon out of it once the instructors took the wheel.

It may have taken the convoy a tad longer than four hours to summit the mountain, but all vehicles had made it.

As a reward, waiting at the mountain top was a campsite with a row of tents already pitched. Yet turning in early for the night proved to be the hardest part as the breathtaking view of the rolling hills, Manila in the distance, and cool mountain breezes were just too good to miss.

Ford’s trek up the mountain certainly proved that even unmodified vehicles (with the right instructors) can take on some of the most challenging terrain in the country. For those with Ford 4x4s, so long as they don’t mind the cleanup, the adventures of off-roading are just a drive away.

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