We know there’s a new Ford Ranger due next year, and we know that as models prepare to dip out, some of the best variants tend to become available.
In this case, the 2021 Ford Ranger FX4 Max is an example of the good stuff that surfaces at the end of a run. We’ve seen the FX4 before, as a decal-tuning pack based off the already decent Ranger XLT. This time, though, the FX4 Max is a bit more than just embossed trim and black wheels. Okay, so it has those extras, too.
No, the FX4 Max is a more substantial off-roading package. It’s a little bit like a Raptor, but unlike the all play, no work of the reduced-payload halo model, the Max maintains payload and towing capacity.
Neat trick that, largely thanks to retaining a leaf-sprung rear (unlike the Raptor), but using a version of the off-road race-ready Fox shocks that give the Raptor terrain-conquering ability.
Other FX4 Max add-ons include a few more bits inspired by the Raptor, like 265/70R17 BFGoodrich K02 off-road tyres on unique 17-inch alloys, there’s a Raptor-look grille, and a set of slimline wheel arch extensions.
Add in non-slip off-road side steps and a full-length sports bar, part leather and suede-look seats, sports pedals, and a new pod atop the dash lined with six auxiliary switches ready for any extra equipment you might wish to add.
Base equipment is otherwise ported over from the XLT. There’s only the one drivetrain, though, Ford’s flagship 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo four-cylinder and 10-speed automatic.
All this brings the ask to $65,940 plus on-road costs. That makes the FX4 Max a substantial $11,750 less than a Raptor, but a not-inconsequential $5000 upswing over a matching 2.0-litre XLT dual-cab 4x4.
|2021 Ford Ranger FX4 Max|
|Engine||2.0-litre Bi-Turbo diesel four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||157kW at 3750rpm, 500Nm at 1750–2000rpm|
|Transmission||10-speed torque converter automatic|
|Drive type||Part-time 4x4, low-range transfer case|
|Fuel claim, combined||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||11.2L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars (tested 2015)|
|Warranty||Five years, unlimited kilometres|
|Competitors||Toyota Rugged X, Nissan Navara Warrior|
|Price as tested||$68,140 plus on-road costs|
On the other hand, the FX4 Max does undercut a Wildtrak by $150, or across town it sneaks in $4500 less than a HiLux Rugged X.
There are still options, of course, and the car tested here came fully loaded with an $800 tech pack that adds adaptive cruise control and active park assist, the rather unmissable decal pack for $750, laid over $650 premium paint – with all except solid white attracting a surcharge.
Engine outputs are unchanged from the mainstream Bi-Turbo Ranger models with 157kW at 3750rpm and 500Nm from 1750–2000rpm.
Without the softer, Baja race-style coil-sprung rear end, the FX4 Max also carries a 981kg payload (against the Raptor’s 748kg) or can tow up to 3500kg like the rest of the non-Raptor range.
There’s little to fault with the 2.0-litre motor. It’s down on capacity compared to most rivals, but gives up nothing in terms of output and feels solid from behind the wheel.
Less likeable is the way the 10-speed automatic tends to flick through gears in sedate driving, slurring between ratios constantly. There’s a sport mode that makes it a little more resolute – it tends to feel a bit more settled if you’re driving in town, but for open-road cruising drive works just fine.
Honing in on those suspension changes, the acclaimed ride of the normal Ranger has been dialled back a little, and at lower speeds the FX4 Max feels a bit more stiff-jointed without ballast in the tray. Add in a little weight, and the rear settles down slightly.
Pick up the pace, though, and the FX4 finds its groove. Over some rutted and washed-out rural roads, the Ford felt right at home, and some of the potholes and rough-edged bumps that usually rattle other utes just vanished under the Raptor-lite’s wheels.
The downside is that, in some situations, the FX4 Max can instil confidence that a road surface may not allow. Whereas the usual jittery ute ride is enough to slow drivers over patchy surfaces, the FX4 Max blots enough bumps out (and feels terse enough at a slower pace) that the unwary might become overconfident.
For anyone traversing rural roads often, it’s hard to go past that level of settled confidence, though. The overall specification might be a bit fancier than a regular work ute, but it certainly takes some of the discomfort out of a trip to the outblocks, back road travel to reach far-flung agistment, or service calls to rural properties – if that’s your thing.
Those chunky-tread tyres could be a recipe for nothing but freeway noise, yet at speed the K02s are actually pretty calm. On tarmac in the wet, they do lack for outright grip and can get a touch slip-slidey, but cake them with mud and they manage to claw traction far beyond a regular Ranger’s highway-terrains.
Even the meaty-looking side steps, with their notchy tread plates and slip-resistant coating, win hands down over slick, narrow aluminium side steps. Once you’re in, a set of durable all-weather (rubber) floor mats help keep most of the mud and grime out of the carpet, too.
At 256mm of ground clearance, the FX4 Max also has a little extra up its sleeve to clear obstacles compared to the 237mm XLT, but still falls short of the 283mm Raptor.
|2021 Ford Ranger FX4 Max|
|Length / width / height||5446 / 2163 / 1852mm|
|Tow rating / payload||3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked / 981kg|
|Approach / departure / rampover||31 / 23 / 25 degrees|
|Tub dimensions, length / width||1549 / 1560mm (1139mm between arches)|
Because of that extra height and much softer suspension, the Ranger still has the FX4 Max’s number, but unless you actually plan some kind of off-road racing, some of that extra ability is lost.
Not lost, however, are equipment highlights like bi-LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, a standard towbar, a household power socket, acoustic windscreen, auto lights and wipers, self-dimming mirror, cruise control with speed limiter, keyless entry and push-button start, and a lift-assist tailgate. All ported from the XLT and all handy to have.
There’s also the 8.0-inch SYNC 3 infotainment system, which is pretty slick to use and easy to understand. It covers functions like inbuilt navigation, voice commands (tuned to Aussie accents), Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both wired), and access to FordPass Connect via a compatible smartphone for functions like remote lock/unlock and remote vehicle start.
You might spot the dual-screen instrument cluster is missing, though, but this isn't just an FX4 quirk. In a production change late last year, Ford switched out the high-spec instruments in the XLT for the lower-grade single-screen type, with one 4.2-inch display and two dials. Personally, I think this more traditional layout is a bit more user-friendly.
Warranty and service details mirror the rest of the Ranger line-up, with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Capped service pricing runs to $299 per visit for the first four 12-month/15,000km intervals and $390 for the fifth ($1586 for five years).
Ford claims 8.0 litres per 100km as a fuel consumption figure, but in a week of driving that covered plenty of town driving, just a pinch of open-roading and a fair share of enthusiastic off-road running, the FX4 Max returned 11.2L/100km.
Safety credentials also follow the lead set by the broader Ranger range, with a five-star ANCAP rating from 2015. Features include six airbags, front and rear park sensors, reversing camera, trailer-sway control, tyre pressure monitoring, driver-impairment monitoring, lane-keep assist, auto high beam, and emergency call function.
While it won’t suit all tastes, the new 2021 Ford Ranger FX4 Max fills in the gaps in Ford’s ute range. The Raptor’s not for everyone, and while its overall ability is impressive, its towing and payload leave a little to be desired.
Given that more utes tow and haul than those that compete in desert racing, the FX4 blends enough of the Raptor’s improved clearance and rough-road competence without having to go for the full Raptor spend.
This review was originally published on March 16 2021.