We've always wanted to do a tailgate party here at Top Gear. We imagined getting a sturdy SUV or pickup, buying fresh meat in the supermarket, and grilling burgers or barbecue in a relaxing natural environment. Well, the people at Ford Philippines must be mind-readers, because the event they held recently was what we'd been yearning to do all along.
On a wet July Tuesday, a dozen journalists gathered at Ford Balintawak for the start of the "Ford Ranger Tailgate Challenge." We were divided into teams of two, and we got paired with sister website FHM.com.ph (the local editions of FHM and Top Gear are both published by Summit Media). We were to drive to the Zambawood Resort in Zambales, have a burger cookout contest, relax at Zambawood's main house, then have an overnight stay at Widus Hotel in Clark.
The Ford Ranger assigned to us was a 2.2-liter 4x4 XL MT variant, technically the most affordable 4x4 in the extensive Ranger lineup. From Manila to Subic, the Ranger's firm suspension gave us a relaxing ride on the expressway.
After a stopover in Subic to buy burger ingredients, we drove for one-and-a-half hours past the former US base. The last phase of the drive involved some muddy trails, leading to the campsite where we would cook. When you're in a tall pickup with 330Nm of torque and a four-wheel-drive system, the sight of mud becomes exciting. The fact that it was raining heavily only highlighted the ease with which our Ranger could navigate slippery terrain.
We stopped at the campsite and unloaded our groceries from the Ranger. Each of the six teams was assigned a table and a grill. With only one hour to complete four hamburgers, Team Summit immediately got to work. We chopped onions, fried bacon, minced garlic, sliced tomatoes and formed the meat patties. The finished product would be judged by top Ford executives, including managing director Kay Hart and assistant vice president for communications Joseph Ayllon.
Our cooking process was messy, frantic and haphazard--and we loved it. Every now and then, we would taste what we were making. This was to ensure quality and, more important, to guarantee that we could still borrow the V8 Mustang from the Ford bosses in the future. For amateur cooks, we thought our finished product was quite good. We were certainly starting to get full from all our taste tests.
When the time was up, we presented our meat masterpieces to the judges. We said our creation consisted of the best ingredients we ourselves liked in our burgers, and that it was the result of continuous refinement (burp). We saw some nodding from the judges as they partook of our meal, and we thought that it was good.
After the burger-making challenge, we packed up and headed for Zambawood's main house. For the short trip to the lunch venue, we switched the Ranger's transfer case to four-wheel drive, high setting. It was raining continuously, and we thought extra traction wouldn't hurt. We thought the Ford was having as much fun as we did.
The Zambawood main residence is a 500sqm beach house with four bedrooms, a spacious living room, a quaint patio with a swimming pool, and an outdoor dining area. Lunch was served, and we would have eaten a lot if we weren't full of prototype hamburgers. But the grilled meat and salad were very good. After lunch, the other media partook of the available activities for the afternoon, including massages, ATV rides, billiard games, and just finding your own spot to sleep. Snacks of wine, bread and cheese were also offered.
At sunset, we left for our accommodations in Clark, Pampanga. A buffet dinner was waiting for us there. While we were eating, Ford announced the winners of the cookout challenge. Top honors went to Anjo Perez of the Manila Bulletin and Brian Afuang of Manila Times/Top Gear Philippines. Team Summit didn't end up last--well, not alone anyway. We shared that special place with another team, so we were tied for fifth out of six teams. We clicked our beer with FHM.com.ph's staffer. We still believed our burger was one of the best, because we're still craving for it days after the event.
It's becoming a challenge for a carmaker to go to new places, and to hold activities that the motoring media has never been to or done. Ford Philippines pulled off that feat impressively during its Tailgate Challenge. It also fulfilled a longtime wish of Top Gear to experience great food, and to see new sights using a tough, capable vehicle.
For those of you who already own a Ranger, don't let it sit pretty in your garage. Take it to a quiet forest, get it dirty on muddy trails, and fill the bed with grilling equipment and raw ingredients. You'll be glad you did.