Toyota's HiLux is feeling the heat from Ford's (PXII) Ranger in Australia's hotly contested 4x4 ute market. Recent national sales figures show the Ranger is outselling the former undisputed champion of this segment and closing the gap on the Toyota's long-standing dominance of the 4x2 ute segment, as well.
Ford is obviously in a buoyant mood, celebrating the Ranger's success in early 2017 with the first XLT dual cab 4x4-based special edition called the FX4. Fans of Ford's US pick-ups will be familiar with this moniker. It was first applied to Ford's best-selling F-150 as a special off-road option package with heavy duty suspension, underbody protection and unique body accents.
The Aussie version gets the body accents but no mechanical upgrades. However, Ford Australia has form in this area from decades past, so it's no surprise to see a new millennium reprise of special editions which offer the same cake with different icing.
Under that fancy dress is the same highly competent ute Australia has grown to love. That's no surprise as it was designed and developed here by a team of Aussies that manage to make a Thai-built ute look, feel and drive 'Australian' in that unique and intangible way a Falcon (RIP) or Territory (RIP) did.
The FX4 gets 'Stark Grey' 18-inch alloy wheels. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
Its sturdy ladder-frame chassis rides high on a relatively long 3220mm wheelbase. With an overall length of 5426mm and 1860mm width, the Ranger has an imposing size and stance tailor-made for hard work or adventure. The cargo tub floor is 1549mm long with 1139mm between the wheel arches.
Impressive off-road credentials include 237mm of ground clearance, an approach angle of 29 degrees, departure angle of 21 degrees, a 25 degree ramp-over angle and a class-benchmark wading depth of 800mm.
The FX4 shares the Ranger XLT's hefty 2202kg kerb weight which provides a very solid and sure-footed anchorage for heavy towing. Its GVM (gross vehicle mass) of 3200kg results in a 995kg payload and its rated to tow a maximum 3500kg of braked trailer.
Storage options within the FX4 include bottle holders and storage pockets in both front doors. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
Storage options available within the FX4's smart and functional cabin include bottle holders and storage pockets in the base of both front doors, an inset storage tray in the centre dash-pad, a single glovebox and a centre console with front storage cubby, two cupholders and a lidded storage box.
Rear seat occupants get bottle holders and smaller storage pockets in the doors, plus two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest. There are also storage pockets on the rear of each front seat.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The XLT-based FX4 is available only in dual cab4x4 configuration with the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel, but you do get the choice of six-speed manual ($58,915) or six-speed automatic ($61,115) both of which represent a $3500 increase over their XLT equivalents. You also get to choose from four flavours including 'Frozen White' and prestige paint options comprising 'Ingot Silver', 'Magnetic' (grey) and 'Shadow Black'.
Rear seat occupants get bottle holders and smaller storage pockets in the doors. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
The FX4 adds numerous aesthetic enhancements to the well-equipped Ranger XLT including new and unique design 'Stark Grey' 18-inch alloy wheels and lots of black body parts including roof rails, sports bar, rear bumper, side steps, door handles, unique design grille, fog lamp bezels, door mirrors and mudguard features. There's also satin black bonnet and tailgate decal wraps and side decals with FX4 branding.
The black highlights extend into the interior as well, along with carpet mats and leather-accented seats with embossed FX4 logos. Being XLT based, the FX4 also gets Ford's latest 'SYNC3' communication and entertainment interface controlled by a big 8.0-inch touchscreen with tablet/smartphone-like 'pinch-and-swipe' capability. It includes sat nav, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto plus access to Apple Siri and Google Now, Spotify, Pandora and Google Maps through compatible devices and apps.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The venerable 3.2 litre in-line five-cylinder turbo-diesel is one of the great ute engines of its time. With common rail injection and variable vane turbocharger, it's an effortless heavy-duty load lugger with 147kW at 3000rpm and a generous 470Nm serving of torque from 1750-2500rpm.
Black highlights extend into the interior as well. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
The six-speed automatic transmission is also well suited to this role, with ratios and shift calibrations tailored to get the best performance from this engine. It also has a sequential manual-shift function with the ability to hold a chosen gear, which can be most handy in some situations like towing a sizeable load through hilly country.
The part-time dual-range 4x4 transmission has on-the-fly engagement and the back-up of an electronically-controlled rear diff locker, worth its weight in gold in tricky off-road conditions or when extracting a heavy boat trailer from a slimy launching ramp. The 4.17:1 first gear, low-range reduction and 3.73:1 final drive results in a hands-and knees 42.3:1 crawler gear.
Ford claims a combined figure of 8.7L/100km and the dashboard display was showing 10.0L/100km at the end of our test. That reading was remarkably accurate given our 'real world' numbers, based on actual trip meter and fuel bowser readings, came in at 10.3L/100km.
The ISOFIX anchor points and top tethers for child seats are on the two outer rear seating positions. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
Based on those consumption figures and its 80-litre tank, expect a driving range of around 780km.
One of the Ranger's strengths has always been its effortless load-lugging ability. For our test we loaded 830kg into the FX4's cargo tub which with a full tank of diesel and a 92kg driver was a payload of 922kg, or about 70kg short of the maximum. Under this weight the nose rose 12mm and the rear leaf springs compressed 63mm, resulting in a near level ride height due to the long rear wheel travel.
The FX4 gets leather-accented seats with embossed logos. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
The 3.2-litre engine and six-speed auto made such light work of this load-hauling requirement it was easy to forget it was even there at times, the big five-cylinder loping along at barely 2000rpm at 110km/h. On long highway gradients where we'd expect it to kick down to fifth, it held on to top gear with the revs dropping as low as 1600rpm but still pulling like a train.
It also conquered our set climb with ease, holding fourth gear at 1800rpm up a long winding 13 per cent gradient at the posted 60km/h speed limit. Engine braking on the way down was just as impressive, using the sequential manual shift mode.
The venerable 3.2 litre in-line five-cylinder turbo-diesel is one of the great ute engines of its time. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
With second gear selected the FX4 confidently restrained its big payload all the way down, with the engine spinning as high as 3800rpm on over-run to maintain the 60km/h speed limit without once needing to brush the brakes. Such powerful engine braking under near-maximum payload is unmatched in this segment and one of the Ranger's greatest attributes.
Ride quality and sure-footed handling are excellent, particularly under heavy loads. The Ranger maintains its composure over a variety of sealed and unsealed roads, with responsive variable rate steering and reassuringly strong braking. These attributes combine with a refined sprung-to-unsprung weight balance that inspires confidence at all times.
One of the Ranger's strengths has always been its effortless load-lugging ability. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
At highway speeds its minimal tyre and engine noise creates a comfortable cabin environment that allows conversations to take place at normal levels, with the only minor wind noise coming from the large door mirrors. Overall, given its primary role as a load hauler, the Ranger's dynamics are hard to fault.
The Ranger gets a full sized spare wheel. (Image credit: Mark Oastler)
Numerous active safety features for both on and off-road use under the dynamic stability control (DSC) umbrella include emergency brake assist, hill descent control, hill launch assist, load adaptive control, roll over mitigation, trailer sway control and tyre pressure monitoring, but no AEB. An optional FX4 tech pack adds adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert, driver impairment monitor, lane-keeping aid and lane departure warning.
To be honest, we're not big on 'special editions' in which the only thing special or unique about them is purely aesthetic. If the FX4 was true to Ford's US traditions and included some special equipment for improved off-road performance, then we'd probably be more excited about it. Fact is, it's just an XLT in a different costume. If that's worth an extra $3500, only you can decide.
Does the Ranger FX4 stack up on value-for-money? Tell us what you think in the comments below.