Driving Bert: First Impressions…

Well, I wanted to bring you some new Exploring Thailand stories, but we seem to be in the middle of a seriously wet period. A few days ago the Met Office issued warnings of potential flooding for the Southern Provinces, but yesterday the AccuWeather forecast disagreed and said it would be sunny all day. Epic fail!

The morning was cloudy, but I set out early afternoon on the assumption things would improve. They didn’t. They became worse. So, my experience of driving Bert is so far limited to grocery shopping expeditions, both north and south, for a total of around 250kms. Which means I do at least have some first impressions, in both wet and dry conditions, especially the former!

If you are wondering who Bert is, then I’m guessing you must be new to Twitterings. Welcome. Bert is my new Ford Ranger. Please see this article and this one for more info.

Ford ranger, Thailand

First some boring specifications:

Ford Ranger XLT 2.2L Duratech Turbo-Diesel 2WD 6 speed gearbox with limited slip differential. Color: Get The Hell Outa My Way Red. 🙂

Overall Ride/Comfort:

Successfully designing a pickup truck must involve a lot of compromises. I could attach a trailer, load up a couple of Subaru Impreza rally cars, fill the truck cargo bed with rims, tires, spares, tools and anything else needed in the service park, and still not exceed the recommended maximum payload. The truck needs to drive comfortably either with that load, completely empty, and all scenarios in-between. The design must be tough.

So far I’ve only driven the Ranger empty, but I have to say I’m quite happy. (Who’s the smart ass who just said “It wasn’t empty if you were in there driving”? You know what I mean.) On an expressway the ride is smooth. On gravel, there’s good grip, and on rough asphalt the ride is a little harsh and bouncy, but not seriously so. One thing I’ve noticed is that being high up, I’m less aware of speed, and any time I glance at the dash, I’m going 20-30kph faster than I would have thought. I need to pay more attention to that!

As you would expect of a pickup truck, the interior is quite basic and functional. Mostly it’s a tasteful dark gray, modern looking, with a minimum of faux chrome trim. I like it that way. The seats adjust in every direction, and I’ve chosen a high position to aid visibility. Even then, there’s so much interior space my head is nowhere near the roof lining. And like this, I can see the tailgate in the rearview mirror, which aids reversing. In addition, the door mirrors are huge, which aid good all round visibility.

I haven’t given much more thought to the seats, which must mean if I’m not aware of them, they’re comfortable. I don’t find myself fidgeting. It’s just sit’n’go.

The sound system I think is first class. Definitely the best as-standard system I’ve come across. Good bass sounds, a wide range of adjustments, a variety of inputs from radio to CD/MP3 and Aux input. The speakers must be everywhere. I haven’t found them all yet, but I do keep wondering why Céline Dion is sitting in the back seat! Usually Elton John is in the front seat. I need to find a way to swap them around. There must be a button for that.

Ingress and Egress:

A fancy way of saying how the hell do you get in and out. Well, in Asian-English you “get up” and “get down” from any vehicle… even a car. Whereas in Western-English we get in and out. But, for sure, getting up and down is more appropriate to Bert. It’s a long way up.

As my father used to say “You can get down from a horse and you can get down from a duck.” Think about it 🙂

Anyhoo, just as you can make a total idiot of yourself getting onto a horse, you can do likewise with a pickup truck. You can put one foot on the step, pull yourself in, and find yourself facing the seat with your ass planted firmly on the steering wheel. Not cool.

Ford ranger, Thailand
You put your right foot in, your left foot out…

The best technique I’ve found so far, somewhat counter-intuitively, is to put my right foot on the step (we’re talking right-hand drive here) and to step in with my left. At this point I’m standing upright with my head outside and above the roof, but a quick clockwise pirouette while moving bum downwards results in all body parts being in the right place for driving, except for said right foot, which has to be moved inside before closing the door. It sounds ungainly, but done quickly, it’s quite efficient and moderately cool.

Front seat passengers of course need to reverse the lefts and rights to avoid the facing-the-seat syndrome. Actually their movements are aided by a pull handle on the A pillar. I ordered one for the driver’s side, because yanking on the steering wheel didn’t seem too smart, but the dealership insisted I couldn’t have one, while I insisted it was a listed optional extra and I really really wanted one, and of course – you’ve guessed it – I didn’t get one.

Engine and Gearbox:

I hate diesels. I don’t want to be outside the truck when the engine is running. But inside, the rattle is inaudible. Just a pleasant hum like a gasoline engine. These days engines come pre-run in, but even so, I will drive gently for a few thousand kilometers. (That’s a few thousand 5/8ths of miles – give or take a furlong – for you non-metric types.) So, I can’t yet report on flat out performance, but even now with stiff bearings and piston rings, the acceleration is, how shall I say, nice. 🙂 Later, it will be nicer. The turbo seems to kick in at fairly low revs, and a quick dab on the gas pedal results in instant acceleration.

One gauge on the dash predicts how far to the next fill-up, which leads to me to believe I will get at least 800kms from one tankful. That’s impressive, and should allow some cheap touring. But that’s the main reason I chose diesel. That, and the fact Ford doesn’t offer a gasoline option on that model!

The gearbox I find is also a compromise. Do I really need six forward gears? With a full load maybe yes. Empty, not really. I suspect it’s more of a marketing ploy. The Ranger has six. The competition has five. More is better, no? No. But I’ll live with them. Sixth is unneeded below 130kph, which of course is a speed I never reach. 🙂 Well, not on the days between Sunday and Monday.

For Ranger, Thailand.
I’ll get the hang of it eventually.

Right now the gearshift is stiff. I’m getting used to it, and it will loosen up with time. Never having driven with a 6-speed box I also find myself forgetting to apply rightwards pressure on the gear lever when going from 5th to 6th and thereby selecting 4th, with unpleasant results. Let’s not talk about going from 6th to 5th and finding 3rd! I wouldn’t do that. Well, not more than once!

Niggles:

A pickup truck is cavernous. Loads of space. Except, without a trunk, or hatchback-like space behind rear seats, where do you put your groceries? Spread all over the rear seat is the answer. And all over the rear floor if I brake too hard. That’s the way it will be until I figure something better. Maybe bolting a large Coleman into the rear cargo bed is the answer. Hmm, I only have a blue one. Maybe someone will swap it for a red one.

But, more importantly, it took me about 10kms to realize I can’t heal-and-toe. Quelle Horreur! I’m sure somewhere in my DNA there’s a heal-and-toe gene, so I really have no option. It’s what I do when I downshift.

Ford Ranger, Thailand.
I need some size 12 army boots!

The gas pedal is way too far right and below the brake pedal. I couldn’t immediately fix the lateral position, but I very quickly found a way to bring the gas pedal more or less to the level of the brake. I felt a bit embarrassed pulling out my socket set to attack a vehicle I’d only owned for 24 hours, but it was the only solution.

Looking at the length of the bolts which stick out of the floor to hold the pedal assembly, I think Ford expected me to do this. They are way too long. But that allowed me to insert four thick washers between assembly and floor, on all three bolts. Thank you Ford. Now things are much better. All I need to do now is find a wider pedal. Should be no problem.

Conclusion:

Bert is a compromise for many reasons. But nonetheless enjoyable to drive. And given the color, no one will miss seeing the happy firey f*cking farang in the driver’s seat.

Paul

...has been travelling the world for more than fifty years; having lived and worked in five countries and travelled to many many more. He likes to write about his travels - present and past - along with his other main interests of Information Technology and Motorsport, and he adds a few general twitterings along the way. More info than you could possibly need is available by clicking the ABOUT tab in the top menu line.

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