Does Ford Ranger FX4 MAX live up to the off-road hype?

Article from Unsealed 4X4.
Photos: Justin Walker & DM.

We get down and dirty with the new Ford Ranger FX4 MAX.

Okay keyboard warriors, we’ve heard you loud and clear, so let’s get the Ranger FX4 MAX decal set out of the way first. Yes, it’s lairy and not everybody likes it. Yes, it’s an option, so you can order an FX4 MAX without it. Moving on then…

What exactly is the FX4 MAX and where does it fit in the Ford Ranger line-up? It’s essentially a new model grade – with a revised and lifted suspension package and 32-inch all-terrain tyres – and it sits in the Ranger line-up between the XLT and the Raptor.

Hang on a sec, I hear you say. The Ranger Wildtrak and Wildtrak X models already fill the space between XLT and Raptor. But Ford no doubt thinks there’s room in there for another different kind of model, and the FX4 MAX is it.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Max Mg 4021

Admittedly, it’s getting pretty tight around the $65k price point in the Ranger 4X4 line-up. The FX4 MAX lists at $65,940 plus on-road costs; the XLT 2.0 is $60,940 plus on-road costs; the Wildtrak 3.2 is $62,390+ORC; and the Wildtrak 2.0 is $66,090+ORC. For the record, the Raptor is another $10k away at $77,690+ORC.

So, if the FX4 MAX is pretty much the same money as a Wildtrak, how do you choose between the two? Well, it’s horses for courses, ain’t it. Whereas the Wildtrak comes standard with comfort and convenience features like multi-colour ambient lighting, six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, leather seat trim, central locking for the tailgate, power roller shutter, sailplane sports bar and 18-inch alloys, the FX4 MAX forgoes these luxuries in favour of hardware that adds to the vehicle’s off-road capability and utility.

What do you get for your money then?

The FX4 MAX’s basic mechanical package is the same as any other 2.0-litre bi-turbo-diesel Ranger. The engine makes handy 157kW of power at 3750rpm and 500Nm from 1750-2000rpm. It’s mated to Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission, there’s a two-speed transfer case, an effective electronic traction control system and a selectable electronic rear diff lock.

Look beyond the optional decal set and you can quite easily see the Ranger FX4 MAX stands taller than an XLT or a Wildtrak and, as well as added ground clearance, that brings the benefit of better approach and departure angles. Yes, this thing definitely has more of an off-road focus.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Max Mg 3958
THE 265/70R17 RUBBER HAS AN OVERALL DIAMETER OF (CLOSE TO) 32-INCHES.

Compared to a Ranger XLT, the FX4 MAX’s locally engineered and retuned suspension adds 20mm to ride height, and the LT265/70R17 BF-Goodrich All-terrain KO2s add another 11mm, for a total increase of 31mm. It’s not a huge increase, but the 256mm of ground clearance certainly comes in handy when driving in the rough. Again, compared to XLT, approach angle is up from 29° to 31° and departure angle from 21° to 23°. Ramp-over angle remains unchanged due to those low-hanging side-steps; they make cabin entry/egress easy but aren’t much chop off-road.

Unlike the Raptor, which scores a complete suspension redesign with a coil rear-end, the FX4 MAX’s basic suspension architecture is the same as other Ranger grades. There are significant upgrades, however, including longer travel coil springs up front and retuned leaf springs at the rear aimed at providing more compliance off road while maintaining good payload and towing capability. Payload is 981kg and the FX4 MAX gets the full 3500kg maximum braked towing capacity.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Max Mg 3979
THE SIDE STEPS HANG LOW BUT MAKE VEHICLE ENTRY/EGRESS EASY.

The MAX’s new springs are mated to 2.0-inch monotube Fox shock absorbers front and rear, the ones down the back running remote reservoirs. Other changes include new lock-stop profile steering knuckles, new front bump stops and a 29mm front stabiliser bar.

The BFG All-Terrains are mounted to ‘Bolder Grey’ 17 x 8-inch alloy wheels with a +42 offset, and this results in a 26mm wider track than the Ranger XLT, hence the fitment of wheel-lip mouldings. The FX4 MAX also gets a full-size alloy spare rather than a cheap steely, so you’ll be able to rotate all five rims to extend tyre life.

Exterior features unique to the FX4 MAX include ‘FORD’ lettering on the front grille; dark-grey finish on the skid plate, exterior mirror caps, door handles, wheel-lip mouldings and rear tray surrounds; a matt black full-length sports bar; “metal hoop” side steps; and specific paint colours including Conquer Grey and pearlescent Alabaster White. Prestige paint adds $650 and that decal kit adds another $750.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Maximg 4313
UNIQUE SEAT TRIM WITH EMBROIDERED LOGOS – LOOKS GREAT.

The only other option on the FX4 MAX is a Tech Pack (Adaptive Cruise Control and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist) which was fitted to our test vehicle and adds $800.

But wait, there’s more. On the inside the FX4 MAX gets all-weather floor mats; carbon-accents on the seats with Miko suede inserts and ‘FX4 MAX’ embroidery; sports pedals; leather-wrap steering wheel; Black Alley inserts for the steering wheel, door trims and dash applique; and a handy six-switch upfitter switchbank on the dash for easy connection of 12V accessories such as driving lights, lightbar or winch. The FX4 MAX also scores a model-specific 250A alternator to support power to multiple accessories.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Max Mg 3677
DUEA NP IS RECOVERING NICELY AFTER LAST SUMMER’S BUSHFIRES.

Does it work?

Rather than our usual off-road test loop, we thought we’d take the Ranger FX4 MAX on a longer drive to see how it performs on the road and off it, so we loaded up with camping gear and headed away for the weekend. Yeah, yeah, tough life, eh?

Like any 4X4 ute, you can almost pack as much gear as you want into the FX4 MAX, which is precisely what we did. In addition to swag, tent, cooking gear, fridge, food, water and beer, we threw in a standard recovery kit, shovel, recovery boards, hand winch (’cos you just never know), tools, tyre repair kit, compressor, comms equipment, a bag of firewood and more camera gear than two blokes should rightly own.

The standard bed liner means you don’t have to worry about scratching the tub, but the four tie-down points (one in each corner) are situated on the sides of the tub rather than the floor, so securing items isn’t always as easy as it could be. Nevertheless, we strapped everything down and hit the road under clearing skies.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Max Mg 3716
FORD CLAIMS AN 800MM WADING DEPTH BUT BEAR IN MIND THE ENGINE’S AIR INTAKE IS JUST BELOW THE LEADING EDGE OF THE BONNET.

On-road

As regular readers will know, I recently bought my own Ford Ranger – a 3.2 XLS Sport – so I was keen to see how the FX4 MAX compared to it.

As the peak output figures suggest, the FX4 MAX’s 2.0L bi-turbo-diesel/10-speed auto combination offers better on-road performance than the Sport’s 3.2L/6-speed auto combo. It also sounds very different; overall NVH levels are better suppressed in the FX4 MAX (no doubt partially attributable to its acoustic windscreen) but the four-cylinder engine doesn’t feel quite as smooth as the Sport’s five-cylinder engine, especially as revs increase.

But hey, the bi-turbo engine makes plenty of grunt low in the rev range and with 10 ratios to play with there’s never a need to rev it hard to get along at a decent clip. That auto is pretty good on the road too, shifting smoothly and predictably most of the time, although it occasionally takes a moment to downshift if you get on the throttle too quick for it.

Overall gearing is relaxed and the FX4 MAX is a great open-road mile eater. The lane-keep assist works well and the optional adaptive cruise control means you can set-and-forget on long hauls.

I was expecting a more tyre rumble from the BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2s than the passenger-car rubber fitted to lower-grade Rangers, but it was never an issue, whether driving around town, on the freeway or on secondary country roads. Running at 38psi on the road, there was also plenty of grip on offer, both in the dry and the wet; I know some people reckon KO2s could be better in the wet, but they seem to work well enough on the FX4 MAX.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Max190a1489
OKAY, SO NOT EVERYONE LIKES THE DECAL PACK.

The biggest difference in how the FX4 MAX feels compared to more run-of-the-mill Rangers is in the ride and handling department. It certainly feels firmer than a ‘standard’ Ranger but there’s no doubt the Ford engineers have done a great job on the suspension tune; even unladen the ride quality is good and the suspension does a decent job of soaking up bumps. And throw even a moderate load in the tub and the suspension settles nicely.

The Ranger’s electrically assisted power steering offers good assistance and feel, and the FX4 MAX corners predictably and with less body roll than other Rangers (bar, perhaps, the Raptor). The best way to describe it is a Ranger fitted with a good quality aftermarket suspension system, but this one is obviously covered by the vehicle’s full five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

When we left the blacktop and hit the gravel we dropped tyre pressures down to 32psi and the FX4 MAX handled the bumps and corrugations without fuss. The KO2s also offered excellent grip on the slightly damp gravel roads and dirt tracks we traversed.

Off-road

Put simply, the FX4 MAX’s suspension package and BFG A/Ts make a strong off-road performer even better. The Ranger has more wheel travel than many of its direct competitors and the MAX’s revised suspension builds on that. It also has a very effective electronic traction control system that remains active on the front axle when the rear diff lock is engaged (the TC on some competitor vehicles switches off when the rear diff lock is engaged).

Off-road gearing is impressive, but the 10-speed auto doesn’t exhibit very refined behaviour when you select low range; it can be indecisive when searching for the right gear to suit the terrain and when it shifts between gears it feels quite abrupt. You can shift manually using the buttons on the side of the gear lever, but if the transmission deems your speed inappropriate, it won’t necessarily let you select the gear you want.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Maximg 4232
THE 265/70R17 BFGOODRICH A/T KO2S ARE FITTED TO GOOD-LOOKING 17 X 8-INCH ALLOYS.

Nevertheless, in hilly country the FX4 MAX has no troubles with steep climbs and it exhibits great engine braking on steep descents. It has an effective hill descent control too, although we didn’t really need to engage it other than to sample it.

The off-road angles are pretty good and underbody components are reasonably well protected and out of the way. We didn’t have any issues with the side-steps when driving off-road, but if you’re going to tackle harder stuff, you’d be better off flicking them in favour of a set of rock sliders.

Ford claims a maximum wading depth of 800mm, but the FX4 MAX’s engine’s air intake is located just under the leading edge of the bonnet, so you’d definitely want to fit a snorkel for river crossings. Interestingly, the 3.2 Ranger sources its air from the more protected location of through the driver’s side inner guard.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Maximg 4321
THE 2.0L BI-TURBO-DIESEL FOUR MAKES A CLAIMED 157KW/500NM.

Practicalities

Unlike Ranger Raptor with its reduced 748kg payload and 2500kg towing capacity, the FX4 MAX gets the full-monty 981kg payload and 3500kg towing capacity, so those with big vans, boats and horse floats will no doubt be happy. Oh, it also comes standard with a tow bar.

Up front, the FX4 MAX has twin gas bonnet struts rather than a crappy bonnet stay (other manufacturers take note), and down the back it has a standard drop-in bed liner and 12V power outlet in the bed. The full-length sports bar is handy for grabbing hold of when you want to climb up with a foot on the rear wheel, but it can also get in the way if you’re just trying to reach over for something. The rear step bar is convenient and the tailgate is assisted by a torsion bar, so it feels nice and light.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Maximg 4331
DROP-IN BED LINER, 12V POWER OUTLET AND BED ILLUMINATION ARE ALL STANDARD.

On the inside, the FX4 MAX gets a new single 4.2-inch multi-information display in between analogue speedo and tacho gauges, and it shows plenty of info that can be selected through the steering wheel buttons. I reckon this is a better arrangement than the dual-display setup on the Wildtrak, as you always have a tacho, regardless of what info you want on the display screen.

The driver’s seat has six-way manual adjustment and it’s a comfy pew, and the leather/suede covering on the front seats and the embroidered logos look great.

The rear seat has a drop-down centre arm rest with cupholders and there are 12V DC and 240 AC power outlets in the back of the centre console. There are no AC vents in the back.

The 80L fuel tank is class average and on test we averaged 10.3L/100km, so you can expect a safe touring range of close to 750km with a margin of error built in.

Other handy features include FordPass Connect, which allows you to lock/unlock and start the vehicle via a compatible smartphone, as well as check vehicle location, odo, distance to empty, fuel level and more.

The FX4 MAX comes with the full suite of safety kit including lane-departure warning, forward-collision mitigation, pedestrian avoidance with braking, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, traffic sign recognition, cruise control (adaptive with the Tech Pack), TPMS, speed limiter, hill holder, lane-keeping aid, trailer-sway control, driver-attention detection, auto headlights, and front fog lights.

Ford Ranger Fx4 Max Mg 3888
TOUGH WORK… BUT SOMEONE’S GOTTA DO IT.

Summary

At $65,940+ORC, the Ranger FX4 MAX is bang on $5k more than a 2.0 Ranger XLT, so is it worth it? Absolutely.

Consider the cost of five 32-inch BFG A/T KO2s (around $2k) and a top-quality, well-engineered suspension system (around $3k fitted), and there’s your $5k already. And bear in mind that suspension system is covered by the full factory warranty.

And then the FX4 MAX also adds those good looking 17 x 8-inch alloys, a higher-capacity alternator, the upfitter switchbank, unique interior trim and more…

Of course, by buying a Ranger FX4 MAX instead of modifying a Ranger XLT, you do lose the ability to tailor the vehicle to suit your needs. By fitting aftermarket suspension, you can select spring rates to suit your setup, which might include a steel bull bar, winch and driving lights up front, for example. And perhaps you’d rather fit mud-terrain tyres…

But if you want a ‘modified’ 4X4 ute with an off-road focus straight from the factory, the Ranger FX4 MAX won’t disappoint.

Specifications

Ford Ranger FX4 MAX

  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo-diesel
  • Power: 157kW at 3750rpm
  • Torque: 500Nm from 1750-2000rpm
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic gearbox, two-speed transfer case, part-time 4X4 with locking rear differential
  • Wheels: 17 x 8-inch alloy
  • Tyres: 265/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2
  • Kerb: 2219kg
  • GVM: 3200kg GVM
  • Payload: 981kg
  • Max braked towing: 3500kg
  • GCM: 6000kg
  • Length: 5446mm,
  • Width: 2163mm
  • Height: 1852mm
  • Wheelbase: 3220mm
  • Track (f/r): 1586/1586mm
  • Ground clearance: 256mm
  • Approach: 31°
  • Ramp-over: 25°
  • Departure: 23°
  • Wading depth: 800mm
  • Fuel Tank: 80L
  • Fuel cons (on test): 10.3L/100km
  • Range (with 50km safety margin): 726km
  • Price: $65,940 +ORC
  • Price as tested: $68,140 +ORC

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