Ford’s constant onslaught of model updates, refreshes and special editions for its Ranger ute continues, and now buyers have the option of the 2020 Ford Ranger FX4.
Unlike the Ranger Raptor, and the FX4 pack that Ford utes get in America, this is more of a black-pack aesthetic treatment to an XLT-specification Ranger. It’s priced from $59,140, which plonks it beyond the XLT ($56,640) and just shy of the Wildtrak ($61,490).
What’s the difference? Mostly, it boils down to the blacked-out exterior in comparison to the chrome garnishes the XLT gets. The unique grille, 18-inch wheels, sports bar and door handles all get the black-pack treatment, and the bi-LED headlights are also darkened.
Cosmetically, the interior is also tweaked: red stitching and ‘FX4’ logos adorn many of the surfaces, along with special FX4 carpet mats. Otherwise, it sings from the same hymn sheet as the XLT. That means an 8.0-inch SYNC 3 infotainment display, dual displays in the instrument binnacle, and manual seat adjustment with tilt (no reach) adjustment on the steering wheel.
There’s a wide range of safety kit included in the Ranger, which puts it at the top of the class: autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, driver alert, traffic sign recognition and automatic high beam.
Spend up on the optional Tech Pack for $800, and you’ll gain adaptive cruise control and semi-automatic parallel parking.
More options come with the drivetrain. The cheapest ticket (which are the prices I have listed so far) is the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder engine with six-speed manual gearbox. Spend another $2200 ($61,340) for a six-speed automatic behind the same motor, or $3700 for the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel with the 10-speed automatic gearbox for $62,840.
The 3.2-litre, five-cylinder turbo diesel makes the same grunt it has been doing for some time now: a healthy and respectable 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm at 1750–2500rpm. Similarly, the towing capacity remains the same at 3500kg.
Our manual-geared Ranger proved to be a nice operator, and a reminder of what’s available in a market dominated by two-pedal operators.
And although we’ve found the new 2.0-litre ‘BiTurbo’ engine, when combined with a 10-speed automatic gearbox, a smoother, more flexible and gutsier performer than the older 3.2-litre engine, it doesn’t necessarily make the latter a bad choice.
I can’t help but find the characteristic five-cylinder warble charming for a 4x4 ute, and its enthusiastic torque off idle is always welcome. It certainly gets less and less enjoyable the closer you reach that 3000rpm where peak power is developed. It’s much happier lugging along at around half that number.
Unlike some of the competition, the Ranger doesn’t get a reduction in peak torque when you opt for the manual transmission. That’s a good thing, leaving this Ranger feeling perky and willing off the mark, and matching the gearbox nicely with its torque delivery. The gearshift can feel a little notchy, as most heavier-duty gearboxes are, but once you get the feel for it, it’s easy to row through the gears.
Part of this story is gearing, instead of the grunt-sapping torque converter as some might assume. When you take into account final drive (differential) gearing, the manual-geared Ranger has lower first, second and reverse gears, giving it some extra urgency for flat and rolling starts. It also means that while an automatic is, overall, ultimately still easier to control off-road, the manual-geared Ranger does have some intrinsic benefits worth consideration.
Off-road aside, I enjoyed my time with the manual gearbox, which is a bit of a rarity in test cars these days. If you’re willing and able to operate three pedals, I suggest you have a closer look and not just grab the automatic option ‘just because’. Manual gearboxes are more efficient, cheaper to buy, and can offer greater control in some situations. I like the benefit of being able to be push-started or hill-started if your battery is on the blink.
The Ranger FX4 is otherwise typical for the breed in terms of off-road ability. Ground clearance is good, with your first point of contact often being the semi-flexible side steps. That bulked-up bonnet can feel a little tricky to get wheel placement right at times, but well-tuned traction systems (which work well with the locking rear differential) mean that wheel spin is quickly mitigated.
There’s a decent amount of articulation available from the leaf-sprung rear end, and the relatively long wheelbase leaves it feeling sure-footed on sharp angles. A long wheelbase means the turning circle isn’t class-leading: 12.7m.
Of course, some better all-terrain tyres would noticeably improve the amount of available grip, and consider some suspension modifications if you start running out of ground clearance. However, the Ranger is a solid off-roader in its base form.
Aside from that unending love of cubic capacity, off-roaders will prefer what they see when they pop the bonnet of the 3.2-litre Ranger. The alternator is mounted a bit higher, and the big circular air filter draws from the inner guard. There is precious little room left over for anything additional in any Ranger, despite the disparity in displacement. Extra batteries and the like are too big, but you’ll squeeze something like a catch can around the place.
Combined fuel consumption is a claimed 8.4L/100km. After a wide variety of driving, our number settled down into the mid-9s, which we are impressed with. Expect it to dip into double figures if you're spending a lot of time in traffic.
Towing is another consideration for 4x4 ute buyers, and the Ranger is a solid bet in this regard. The shorter gearing ratios of this manual-geared Ranger could be beneficial for those who are looking to tow, but it’s hard to go past the easy operation of an automatic gearbox. As we have found with a previous comparison in the Ford Everest, the smaller diesel engine option with 10-speed gearbox does have more grunt and flexibility for towing.
One big strength of the Ranger has always been the interior, which combines plenty of tech with a modern look and solid practicality credentials. The SYNC 3 infotainment display has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, native navigation and digital radio, all running through a well presented and easy-to-use operating system.
Two smaller digital displays in your binnacle, operated through the steering wheel controls, give you further information readouts and adaptability. The vertical tachometer doesn’t do a lot, but you don’t find that you need it so much – the engine has its own way of telling you it’s nearing redline. Being able to have navigation and audio controls is good, along with keeping an eye on extra bits like engine cooling.
It’s a comfortable ute to drive, as well. The ‘FX4’ embroidered seats have good comfort and bolstering, using manual adjustments, and a quality-feeling steering wheel. Electric power-assisted steering feels impressively light at low speeds, but progressively firms up at higher speeds. It adds a certain air of refinement for a 4x4 ute, and works well.
The Ranger is one of the bigger of the 4x4 ute batch, both in terms of dimensions and presence. The 3220mm wheelbase is relatively long compared to other utes, which helps yield a decent ride for a 4x4 ute. No ute has a ride that can be described as outright smooth and comfortable, especially when there are a couple of leaf springs with a decent payload (978kg) to contend with.
I’ve said it before, but I think it’s worth repeating. By their nature, 4x4 utes are a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. They can all tow, but none are what I would consider sublime tow rigs. And while they are much more comfortable and refined than they used to be, they still have inherent shortcomings compared to passenger vehicles. And while improvements in suspension and traction aids make them impressive off-road, they still lack some elements that even rougher and more capable vehicles (79 Series LandCruiser, Jeep Wrangler) have.
Imagine trying to juggle all of these polar opposites from an engineering point of view: off-road capability versus on-road manners; ruggedness versus refinement; payload versus ride; safety and tech versus value; and grunt against efficiency and emissions. People want it all, and they don’t want to spend big dollars to get it.
The Ranger is still one of the best utes in this delicate juggling act – that Australian-born engineering and development still paying good dividends for the Blue Oval. Defeating the incumbent and ubiquitous HiLux in terms of outright sales in 2019 (when you exclude 4x2 work utes) is no mean feat, after all.
This FX4 iteration brings black-pack style to Ford’s solid and most popular XLT variant, and another option of personalisation in a market that’s increasingly difficult to stand out from. It'll cost you, though.