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Everyone loves a special edition. You know, the same thing that you can usually buy but with some extra goodies and a funky name thrown into the mix to help seal the deal.
For the most part, nothing crucial changes, and a ‘sticker pack’ special offers some common accessories for a ‘less than if you bought them yourself’ bundle price.
It is as close to a win/win that buying a new car should ever get.
The manufacturer wins by shifting more stock of vehicles and accessories, and by giving an existing model a marketing leg up. You win by getting a better deal, and did I mention stickers?
With all that said, let’s talk about the 2017 Ford Ranger FX4.
The Ranger continues to be the highest-selling vehicle in the Ford portfolio, and regularly dukes it out with the Toyota HiLux as the number one vehicle in the country. In fact, so far this year, it holds the title of being the best-selling 4x4 ute in Australia.
With all that information at hand, you don’t need to be Alan Turing to work out that adding a special edition using these ingredients was going to do just fine, and so the FX4 was born.
For those not following Ford nomenclature on a global scale, the FX4 designation is an off-road option pack which can be applied to the F150 pickup in North America.
Ticking the box sees you F-Truck kitted out with an electronic locking rear differential, hill descent control, off-road tuned front shock absorbers, underbody protection, and, naturally, some stickers.
The thing is, an XLT Ranger, on which the Australian FX4 variant is based, already comes with much of that hardware (hill descent and locking rear differential), so the trim pack is a little different.
For a $3425 premium over the XLT, the FX4 scores new 18-inch alloy wheels, black trim elements including roof rails, grille, sports bars, rear bumper, side steps and door handles, plus leather seats, and, you guessed it, some stickers.
That pitches the FX4 at $58,915 (before options and on road costs) for the six-speed manual, or $61,115 for an automatic like our test car.
Remember though, that an XLT gets most of the same gear, but in chrome. So if you break it down, the extras are limited to the roof rails, one-inch larger wheels, leather appointments on the seats, and a tin of black paint.
That’s not really feeling like three-and-a-half grand’s worth.
More crucially, a Wildtrak automatic is $61,790, just $675 more than the FX4. It too comes with a bunch of ‘stand out’ accessories and equipment, but also includes the Tech Pack (adaptive cruise control and lane departure assistance) which is an $800 option on the FX4.
That means the tech-equipped FX4 is $125 more expensive than the Wildtrak, and offers nothing fundamentally different to the lower grade XLT. The fact that I have made the occasional shift-key typo and entered FX4 as FX$ while writing this up, now seems a little more subconscious than accidental…
Don’t get me wrong, the FX4 trim pack looks good, although our car in Magnetic grey (a further $550 option) loses much of the impact from the satin-finish black decals.
We’d go for the Ingot Silver or Frozen White if only to differentiate from our own long-term Holden Colorado Z71 by not getting a cool Race Red one.
On the FX4, the tailgate becomes a blackout panel with the R A N G E R lettering and FX4 logo cut through to reveal the paint colour. Along the side, black and white outline stripes and FX4 branding adorn the lower doors with the bonnet again featuring a blackout motif.
Under the stickers, the car is the same. The familiar and successful 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel and six-speed automatic transmission with cabin-switchable 4x4 drive is identical to other Ranger models.
The 147kW output is good, and the 470Nm torque band from 1750 to 2500rpm gives plenty of towing (3500kg braked rating) and hauling punch.
Despite the larger wheels, the ride height and 800mm wade depth remain the same. The car features Bridgestone Dueller highway terrain tyres, rubber that works well for variable use but isn’t particularly aggressive off road.
We'd suggest it would be worth haggling over a set of AT tyres if your Ranger regularly steps away from the black stuff.
The tub (1549mm long, 1560mm wide) comes lined and includes six tie points and a 12-volt accessory outlet. A tonneau, hard or soft, needs to be added as an accessory.
We’ll assume your $60-grand sticker special isn’t headed for an open-cut mine any time soon, and so the tub size and arrangement works generally very well for most lifestyle pursuits. You can even fit a pair of full-size trail bikes in there when using a bed extender, like our handy Ready Ramp.
The inclusion of the roof rails on top of the cab gives a bit of extra flexibility should you want to mount accessory cross bars or a roof cage, but keep in mind these are only rated to 75kg, so best to keep the soft stuff up there if you need it.
Inside, the leather appointed seats add a little more plushness to the comfortable cabin, and make things easier to clean as well.
We’ve said before that if back-seat room is a key purchase point, then you might be better looking at the Everest 4x4 wagon, as the knee room, while good for a ute, isn’t ideal for adults on longer trips.
Kids though, should be fine, and the inclusion of side impact airbags, an arm rest, 12-volt and 230-volt accessory outlets plus map pockets, make the rear of the cabin one of the more practical in the segment. Still no air vents though.
For the front row occupants, there is good leg room and decent storage thanks to the centre console cubby, large glovebox and phone tray under the climate control stack.
The SYNC3 infotainment software gets better and better the more we use it, and is a very intuitive and flexible system, with such goodies as voice control and DAB digital radio as standard features.
Some of the plastics around the screen, and lower part of the centre stack do feel a bit low rent and the interior can feel quite drab, with greys and blacks everywhere you look. If you want your interior to have a little more personality, then the Wildtrak and its orange stitching and highlights, might be a better proposition.
Around town, the electrically assisted steering makes the Ranger feel light and easy to manoeuvre, and as we’ve stated in other reviews, when it comes to highway touring, the big Ford is basically the best in the game.
It’s louder than an SUV, but quieter than you expect a ute to be. We regularly see 9L/100km touring consumption too (close to Ford’s claim of 8.7L/100km).
Bottom line, even after many hours on the road, the Ranger continues to be a relaxing machine to eat up hundreds or even thousands of kilometres of black, brown or red stuff.
Since the PXII was released, we’ve covered all facets of the Ranger, from the on and off-road driving behaviour to the technology and features within.
It is deserved of its high-selling popularity, as it is fundamentally an excellent vehicle that successfully bridges the gap between work and play.
But is the FX4 the special edition you’ve been waiting for?
To be honest, no.
It looks cool, no doubt, as it really isn’t hard to improve on the wheel designs that Ford uses on any of the Ranger models, and the black decal designs suit the tough stance of the 4x4 ute.
But given there is nothing of any additional substance to the FX4, it really is just an XLT with the stuff you already get but black (albeit with a catchier name), you have to really be a fan to choose this over the Wildtrak or regular XLT. The XLS Special Edition Ranger, which added goodies at the lower end of the range made much more sense.
The FX4 is limited though, with only 2200 examples being produced, so you have that to lord over your other Ranger-owning friends if nothing else.
We’ve no doubt these will all sell, and that Ranger will continue to top the sales charts irrespective of the difference the 2017 Ford Ranger FX4 brings to the table.
For our money, we’d stick with a Wildtrak, in black, to get the best of everything the Ranger offers and still feel that you've got on board the black-pack marketing train. That is, until Ford comes up with a properly special, special edition, or standout new variant of the Ranger to really create a stir.
Ranger Raptor anyone? We live in hope…
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.