Is there anything more versatile than a modern 4x4 dual-cab ute? On four wheels, that is? Not a chance. That might be your argument for choosing one over the default SUV option for your next family car, and while this is always a decision to be made carefully, the current Ford Ranger should be right up the top of your shopping list based on its car-like manners and practicality, along with its proven abilities as a work vehicle and adventure machine.
But which one to choose? The Ranger line-up has spread significantly in recent times to plug every possible gap in the line-up, and one that looks set to become a permanent addition is the FX4, even though it’s still technically a special edition.
Sitting between the popular XLT and Wildtrak trim levels at the upper end of the Ranger line-up, the three configuration FX4 kicks off with the manual 3.2-litre diesel with a list price of $59,140, before stepping up to the auto 3.2 for $61,340 or the high-tech 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel with the 10-speed auto for $62,840.
The manual transmission may have slipped into the minority among ute buyers these days, but my family of two adults and two toddlers have spent the last couple of months with the Ranger FX4 manual on hand, and here’s what we found.
As we’ve seen a bit lately, the FX4’s key distinction over an XLT is that all its silver and chrome has turned black. The black grille is actually a new insert, and the lower part of the front bumper has also been painted black.
The FX4’s key distinction over an XLT is that all its silver and chrome has turned black (image credit: Malcolm Flynn).
The FX4’s 18-inch alloys are also a new design, as is the sports bar in the tub with the rear elements extending to the back corners of the tub.
You also won’t miss the almost retro-style FX4 graphics down each side and that proper badge on the back.
The FX4’s 18-inch alloys are also a new design (image credit: Malcolm Flynn).
The inside is distinguished by bespoke black leather seat upholstery, with red stitching and carbon fibre-look panels. There’s also a dark headliner, FX4 embossed bits on the front seats and FX4-specific floor mats.
The result is actually a bit more upper class than the similar treatment in the Wildtrak.
Our test car is finished in Arctic White, but the FX4’s limited palette also extends to Aluminium Silver, True Red, Meteor Grey and Shadow Black.
The Ranger is already one of the most liveable utes in its class, being relatively comfortable and easy to drive, with outstanding stability for a ute. Only the VW Amarok is a cut above in these areas, but it’s not quite the overall package the Ranger represents.
It was developed in Australia by Australian engineers after all, so it’s got a head start on other utes when it comes to handling local conditions.
Our FX4’s older 3.2-litre engine still performs very well (image credit: Malcolm Flynn).
The FX4 is no different, and generally feels softer and more car-like on the road than the likes of the HiLux, Triton and others, with light steering that doesn’t require as much twirling as most utes.
With this much length it can still be a chore to manoeuvre in tight spaces though, and its 12.7m turning circle is almost a full metre bigger than the equivalent Triton.
Our FX4’s older 3.2-litre engine still performs very well, even if it’s a fair bit noisier than the more expensive 2.0-litre twin-turbo option.
The FX4 feels soft and more car-like on the road than the likes of the HiLux, Triton and others (image credit: Malcolm Flynn).
The manual is also quite a nice shifter, with vastly improved feel over the initial version. The clutch is easy to use, and there’s an auto hill-hold function to make hill starts easy, even with a full load in the back.
I must say the argument for a manual over an auto transmission is thinner than ever though, given the automatic does such an easy job of making the most of the 3.2’s power delivery.
The manual does represent a $2200 saving though, and unlike most that offer a choice of transmissions, the Ranger manual is rated to use half a litre less fuel per hundred kilometres than the auto.
So if you find all the extra effort to handle gear changes yourself more engaging, and therefore helping keep your attention on the act of driving, the manual is an easy choice.
The Ranger has a longer and wider cabin than most utes, so you’ll have a more pleasant experience if you try to cram five adults in there. Four will have no trouble, and there’s good legroom. My 172cm height behind my driving position is far from a challenge.
There should be room for three child seats across the back, but the middle one will have to be a booster that only requires a seat belt because there’s only ISOFIX and top tether mounts in the outboard positions.
Those top tethers are also annoyingly located on the back of the cabin rather than the back of the seat, so it’s difficult to get proper tension on the strap. As always, we highly recommend trial fitting your own child seats to be sure they’ll fit.
The FX4 also thankfully comes with a tub liner, which is great for protecting the tub (image credit: Malcolm Flynn).
If you’re looking for a Super Cab or Single Cab and therefore willing to scale back your passenger space, you’ll have to opt for a lower trim level, as the FX4 is Double Cab only, with a tub tray.
That tub is of course bigger than any car boot, with its 1549mm length, 1560mm width and 511mm height suggesting a litre measurement of around 1210 litres, taking the wheel arches into account.
The FX4 also thankfully comes with a tub liner, which is great for protecting the tub and your load from damage, but after parking it downhill during a storm, we found it doesn’t have any drain holes. It will soon drain out the back when underway though. It does have a 12V socket, which would be very handy if you’re carrying a fridge or powering camping accessories without having to open a door.
The tailgate is thoughtfully spring-loaded which makes it lighter to close but also prevents the huge metal panel from dropping as quickly.
The harsh reality for anyone embarking on family life with a ute is that you need to invest in a secure tonneau or canopy to make proper use of the tub. Trust me, a pram taking up ⅔ of the back seat while your tub is empty is not a sustainable practice.
One thing you do miss over the Wildtrak is the tailgate lock being integrated with the central locking system, which might sound a bit precious, but it’s annoying to have to pull out a key to lock and unlock it when you’re accustomed to all the other doors working remotely.
Trust me, a pram taking up ⅔ of the back seat while your tub is empty is not a sustainable practice (image credit: Malcolm Flynn).
The FX4 sports bar has a work light built into the underside, which is great for when you’re loading or unloading in the dark.
The sports bar also made it possible for us to carry home a bunch of 2.7m lengths of skirting board within the length of the body, by strapping them to the top tube. This would be even easier with the steel head board on an XL or XLS, but impossible with the looks-driven sail plane on a Wildtrak.
The tub also easily swallowed my mountain bike with both wheels fitted, but the black paint on the sports bar needs careful protection if you want to avoid scratches.
The tub also easily swallowed my mountain bike with both wheels fitted (image credit: Malcolm Flynn).
Beyond the tub’s power socket, the FX4 has 3x USB ports and two more 12V power points in the cabin, but the real surprise is its 230V inverter in the back of the centre console. This made the FX4 a very handy mobile office while waiting for my mother-in-law to finish a lengthy visit to the doctor’s surgery.
A chance acquisition of an extensive car magazine collection gave me the chance to test the FX4’s load-carrying capability. The dense load was probably more suited to a van, but I was confident of fitting within the (1069kg on XLT, FX4 not stated) payload capacity, just.
I’ve done plenty of kilometres with laden Rangers in the past, and it’s still amazing how well they cope. You do feel the load, but the suspension handles it very well and retains good stability at speed. A side benefit is that the ride quality is excellent.
Another weekend brought the opportunity and anguish of filling the tub with a front-yard worth of weeds. This hardly taxed the FX4’s weight-bearing ability, but that tub liner made it oh-so easy to unload at the other end, with the ribbed surface enabling the whole lot to be raked out in seconds without any risk of scratching metal.
Another weekend brought the opportunity and anguish of filling the tub with a front-yard worth of weeds.
Unlike most passenger cars but unfortunately still like most utes, the FX4 only has tilt adjustment of the steering column, without reach. This means that most of the population will have to make do with a less than ideal steering wheel position.
Beyond this common foible, there’s plenty of storage options scattered throughout the cabin. These include bottle holders front and rear, cup holders front and rear, a covered centre bin, a decent glovebox, and a dash-top caddy.
The good-sized 8.0-inch multimedia screen houses the Ford Sync 3 software, which is generally excellent aside from the odd hiccup when connected to my Samsung S10+ for Android Auto purposes. I can’t say if the same happens when using Apple CarPlay.
Beyond the FX4 3.2 manual’s $59,140 list price, Ford offers capped price servicing for the first 12 years and 180,000km. With intervals of 12 months/15,000km, the average cost per service for the first five services is a reasonable $517.
The Ranger is backed by Ford’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan (image credit: Malcolm Flynn).
The FX4 3.2’s official combined fuel consumption figure is 8.4L/100km for the manual, which is surprisingly less than the auto version’s 8.9L1/00km figure.
We averaged 9.68L/100km measured at the pump, which was unusually close to the trip computer’s 9.6L/100km figure, and pretty impressive given about 20 per cent of our time has been spent with a full load on board, and generally mixed conditions otherwise.
Based on these far from ideal conditions, you should be able to manage at least 826km in between fills of the 80-litre tank.
The Ranger FX4 is a handy addition to the line-up for anyone wanting a little more than the XLT, but a little less than the Wildtrak. It’s great that you can still choose between two engines and also opt for a manual, but if it were my money, I’d be spending the extra $2200 for the 3.2 auto, and probably saving myself the extra $1500 over the 2.0 for the sake of a bigger engine doing less work.
The FX4 has all the important gear for family use, save for a secure cover for that tub. Ford’s accessory list has a few solutions to that problem though.
Lots of gear for less than a Wildtrak
Excellent ute for work and play
Broad array of driveline options
Like all utes, needs a secure tub option for family use