Over recent years the Ford Ranger has had an unequalled impact on the light 4×4 and dual-cab utility market.
It’s no secret it’s the only vehicle edging its way towards dominance over the Toyota HiLux and in fact surpassing its incredible sales statistics numerous times.
Working off that success, it’s been a no-brainer for Ford to capitalise on the Ranger’s excellent reputation, performance and specs by bringing to market a range of variants to diversify and grow its market share.
The Ford Ranger Raptor filled a gap at the top end of the dual-cab market but its reduced tow rating was an oversight for Ford.
Combined with its high price tag there was a gap to be filled between the Raptor and the XLT, which has given birth to the FX4 and more recently the FX4 Max.
The FX4 Max is a specced-up Ford Ranger aimed at bridging the gap between the XLT and the highly-regarded Raptor.
As such, it rolls out with a higher price tag (around $5000 more than the XLT), a list of added enhancements and a wad of glitzy advertising boasting ‘exciting 4X4 capabilities’ and a ‘thrilling off-road experience’ that will take you to ‘undiscovered parts of the world’.
Bold claims indeed, so let’s take a closer look and see if the FX4 Max really does have what it takes and if the extra coin is worth it.
Armed with the legendary Fox suspension, even more so considering it’s a locally-tuned setup with matched springs, the FX4 Max comes ready for action.
But before you expect to ‘go anywhere’, let’s clarify the actual performance gains from such a setup. Systems like Fox have built their reputation on high-speed off-road racing where ultimate performance and control are a must.
As such, any application into a normal vehicle will have minimal impact during slow, technical off-roading. Where the value of Fox does start to shine is at speed, and in particular, when that speed is across rough terrain.
Corrugations, rough roads and undulating desert terrain are suspension killers and these are all common when touring across Australia or working in remote areas.
So while you can still feel the bumps at slower speeds in the FX4 Max, as your speed increases the suspension really comes into its own and smooths everything out. The ride, handling, and comfort are all considerably improved, which is a big advantage.
The new suspension measures up with 20mm of extra height and offers slightly better travel, increasing both clearance and suspension articulation, which again are advantages for off-roading.
Tyres are BFG KO2 All-Terrains for a beefier look, added strength, and a little more lift with a ride height increase of almost 20mm. It doesn’t sound like much but it is effective.
As it’s all based around tyre height it means the differentials and other unsprung mechanicals also enjoy the 20mm or so of extra clearance.
On- and off-road noise is surprisingly present for such a modern vehicle. It is certainly no worse than any of its competitors but it could have been a lot better with some appropriately-placed sound deadening.
With suspension and tyres considered, and taking into account we didn’t play with tyre pressures, on rocky terrain the rear of the FX4 Max was rather squirmy, sliding around and taking a fair bit of extra skill and work with the front end to climb over obstacles.
By comparison, a Toyota Fortuner on factory highway tyres on the same day, made easy work of the same section of rocks. The main difference being the FX4 is armed with leaf springs in the rear while the Fortuner has a more subtle and responsive coil rear end.
Wheelbase could have also played a role, with dual-cab utes being typically quite long. That’s not to say it’s all bad, the FX4 performed better in other areas, it’s just something worth noting depending on the terrain you’re tackling.
The 4×4 selector is easy to reach and use. The low-range gearing provides suitable control and torque application, and the locking rear differential is superb with no-fuss push-button operation and engagement. The combination of AT tyres, low range and a rear diff lock is definitely a winner and in most general 4×4 situations the overall combination is easy, effective and pleasant to drive.
Every 4×4 enthusiast loves to add accessories and a big plus for the FX4 Max is the dash-mounted auxiliary switches teamed with a monstrous 250A high-performance alternator.
For full effect you will still need to fit a quality dual battery setup like those supplied by Piranha Off Road, but the mere inclusion of such components (switches and alternator) is a clear sign Ford is begging you to kit this beast out and take it off road.
Another plus was the large centrally-mounted display unit on the dash. Whilst it’s clear and easy to view and the navigation system is sufficient, its obstacle warning system is helpful when off-roading and parking.
Sure the number, frequency, and volume of the warnings can get a touch annoying, but the fact the warning system is viewable via the main display makes it far more user-friendly than rivals which have them hidden at times behind the steering wheel within the main instrument cluster.
One pet hate though with the interior was the leather boot on the gear shifter. It’s not a major thing, but it made it impossible to know what gear you had selected without checking the dash light indicators. The boot just makes it impossible to line up the shifter with the gear markings on the console.
Sporting a 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine, Ford’s newest power plant for Ranger variants, the FX4 Max packs some serious numbers in terms of power and torque. It’s not a completely scintillating drive but it’s certainly sufficient and gets the job done smoothly on- and off-road – though it’s helped by the almost overkill gearbox.
The 10-speed auto transmission in the FX4 Max is both loved and hated. On road it’s hard to beat the easy shifting, smooth application of torque and balanced driveability across the full power range.
It’s a sweet piece of transmission engineering. When it comes to off-road though (and whether it’s an issue with the transmission itself, the transfer case, or the combination) there are a few small things that just don’t seem to work right.
One in particular is the ‘looseness’ when changing between Reverse and Drive on hills. The vehicle lurches uncomfortably. The FX4 Max is apparently fitted with Hill Launch Assist but for some reason it clearly wasn’t working on our model.
Overall though, the vehicle was comfortable and capable with torque and power easily applied on- or off-road.
Derived from the Ranger family, though not based on the lighter Raptor chassis and setup, the Ranger FX4 Max enjoys a raft of aftermarket accessories.
While factory side steps and sill protection are fitted, replacing them with a set of sleeker steps would go a long way if you intended to go off-road more often.
The factory step section is great for normal vehicle access but they just hang too low and would possibly get hung up and damaged in serious off-road conditions.
Suspension upgrades are unnecessary unless you want more lift but considering the expense of upgrading to a similar high-end solution, you’d be better off starting with an XLT and using your $5000 savings on the purchase price to upgrade the suspension.
This rig would benefit from a front diff lock to complete the holy grail of four-wheel traction, and there are plenty of bull bars to choose from, no shortage of roof rack options, a plethora of accessories for the rear (canopies, trays, service bodies, hard lids and more) and, as mentioned, a dual-battery set up.
32-inch off-road tyres are supplied, but the Ranger is legendary for being able to take taller tyres. Local laws permitting, they’d further enhance the performance of this already capable rig.
With its towing and load-carrying ability, performance suspension, tyres, alternator, rear diff lock and list of other upgrades, the FX4 Max is definitely ready to take you further than the XLT, and let you work harder during the week than a Raptor.
It is, to be fair, a good mid point between the two and even with the typical scepticism of the ‘what you really get for the added cost’ the FX4 Max offers some appointments truly geared towards getting you further off-road.
With that said, many are holding their breath (and wallets) as we await the new Ranger Raptor, rumoured to be coming in 12 to 18 months with heavily upgraded specs that should include a full 3500kg towing capacity.
Time will tell. If you can’t wait, grab yourself a Ford Ranger FX4 Max and go get it dirty!
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