Daily Maverick

Ford Ranger Fx4 Double Cab 4×4 AT: Standing out from the bakkie crowd

If you see a bakkie with bigger wheels, upgraded suspension, a bolder grille and custom colours, it’s bound to be a Ford Ranger. No other pick-up gets personalised as often – and now the Blue Oval has jumped on the custom bandwagon, too.

Customising cars is as much an art as it is a trend. In a world where mass production dictates that most examples of a particular model look exactly the same, there will always be some owners who feel the need to be different – to express their individuality.

For those seeking to personalise their vehicles, the scope is almost infinite. Fitting bigger, wider wheels with fatter rubber is a popular first step. And it just becomes more extreme from there: tinted glass, blacked out grilles, wild stripes, LED light arrays – the possibilities are endless.

More industrious souls will take it a few steps further by modifying the mechanicals, too: from bolting on bigger (read louder) exhaust tailpipes and lowering the suspension to actually meddling with the engine’s innards and its electronics to extract more muscle.

A lot of those changes don’t sit well with motor manufacturers, who tend to revoke warranties on finding out that owners have strayed beyond the standard spec in their quest to create something unique and personal. There’s a reason why a Polo Vivo shouldn’t run on 21-inch wheels …

Until relatively recently, bakkies weren’t part of the custom scene. Yes, owners of 4×4 double cabs would kit out their steeds with functional gear – everything from winches and crafted canopies to rooftop tents and long-range tanks – for those extended trips into the great outdoors.

But you were unlikely to see a set of go-faster stripes on a bakkie. Nor fancy decals, or fat takkies on glossy alloys. Those were the domain of the GTI brigade.

Not any more. Today, you’re as likely to encounter a mean-looking double cab on big wheels and a pumped-up suspension stalking the boulevards of Sandton as spotting the low-slung Golf GTIs and Ford Focus STs that used to rule the after-midnight roost.

Somehow, Ford’s Ranger finds itself at the forefront of this trend. You don’t see too many Isuzu KBs, Hiluxes or Amaroks dressed to the automotive nines – but in the heart of the concrete jungle, every second Ranger seems to be a wannabe Raptor.

The Ford Raptor is an American muscle pick-up using the supersized F-Series platform. Next year, the Raptor badge will appear on a Ranger-based bakkie for the first time, but that’s a story for another time.

However, the Raptor’s menacing look is already here: a big, intimidating grille, even bigger Ford badging, a suspension raised to dizzying levels, and huge wheels wrapped in aggressive rubber.

These customised bakkies might not conform to factory spec, but the folks at Ford must be pleased about the Ranger’s ever-growing desirability and the way it’s attracting an entirely new, younger and aspirational customer base.

Enter the Fx4 – a Ford Ranger double cab with a sprinkling of extras meant to appeal to those with an appetite for personalisation, but not to monster machine levels. And it comes with a peace-of-mind warranty and service plan.

In essence, the Fx4 is a slightly dressed up Ford Ranger XLT, offered with 2.2-litre and 3.2-litre drivetrains, in 4×2 and 4×4 variants. On test here is the top-flight Fx4 3.2 TDCi Double Cab 4×4.

It’s powered by the same 3.2-litre five-pot turbodiesel you’ll find in more conventional Rangers, linked to a six-speed auto gearbox.

A transfer case with low range and four-wheel drive ensure that the 4×4 badge isn’t just for show: this is a serious off-roader that will take you to hard-to-reach places without raising a sweat. A rugged suspension and substantial ground clearance are part of the package, too.

The Fx4 part is all cosmetic. A blacked out grille, black wheels, black bonnet and tailgate decals, blackened B-pillars and black sill stripes are sufficient to add some sinister style to the Ranger aesthetic.

The black theme continues for the side steps, roof rails, roll bar and rear bumper, as well as the fog lamp surrounds and the exterior mirrors. You can even choose black for the entire exterior, although grey or silver show off the dark-hued bits to better effect.

Let’s face it, the Fx4 package is pretty tame compared to some of the custom Rangers out there. But there’s enough visual interest to turn heads, and to make the Fx4 stand out from the bakkie crowd.

By double cab standards, the cabin of the Ranger Fx4 is well kitted out. Leather seats add an air of luxury (but remains wipe-down practical, too) while the Sync3 infotainment system offers a full-house feature set.

Using an 8-inch TFT colour touch screen, it includes satnav, Bluetooth and multispeaker sound, two USB ports, a CD player and FM/AM tuner. Best of all, it doesn’t require a degree in rocket science to use.

The mod cons list includes everything the comfort-demanding heart desires: aircon, electric mirrors, remote central locking and cruise control. Front, side, curtain and a knee airbag join electronic stability control and ABS brakes on the comprehensive safety equipment list.

And let’s not forget the rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, the digital trip computer in the instrument cluster, and the multifunction steering wheel. In short, there’s no hardship in piloting a Ranger Fx4.

That said, noise and refinement levels are a reminder that the Ranger is still more light commercial vehicle than passenger car: the engine can sound rumbustious under load, and road and wind noise become intrusive on the open road.

For all its go-anywhere pretentions, most double cabs – including the Ranger Fx4 – will spend much of their operational lives performing more mundane motoring tasks, with daily commuting top of the list.

In that context, the lusty 3.2-litre turbodiesel offers plenty of grunt, ensuring frisky acceleration and eager overtaking. It’s even better at highway speeds, effortlessly maintaining the legal limit.

The six-speed auto gearbox is smooth enough, and a sport setting will speed up reactions for those in a hurry.

If you’re planning to swap your city-slicker suit for hiking boots over weekends, the Ranger Fx4 is hugely talented off the beaten track. The combination of the engine’s low-down lugging power, the low-range transfer case and all-wheel drive make for a package that’s almost unstoppable.

Excellent suspension articulation and well modulated throttle control make crawling over rough terrain easy, although those side steps have a tendency to snag obstacles. Yes, the Fx4 will take you places most normal vehicles won’t.

Fuel consumption is reasonable for such a big (and heavy) machine, but will largely be determine by driving conditions and the driver’s right foot.

Ford’s claimed average of just under 9 litres/100km is feasible with judicious use of the throttle, but during our test, 11 litres/100km was a more representative figure, including some off-road work.

The Ranger Fx4 addresses the growing need among double cab bakkie buyers for vehicles that add some visual distinction to their acknowledged talents for workhorse capability and go-anywhere versatility.

The Fx4 edition isn’t nearly as radical as some of the custom packages you’ll see out there, but it injects some visual flair while offering a strong array of extras at a comparatively accessible price. The 2.2-litre 4×2 models represent even keener value.

Those wanting more will need to wait for next year’s Ranger Raptor – but expect to pay for that privilege! DM

PROS

Still the double cab 4×4 bakkie to beat. Fx4 adds value and visual appeal.

CONS

Neither subtle nor refined – but then, it is a bakkie!

VITAL STATS

Ford Ranger Fx4 3.2 TDCi D/Cab 4×4 AT

Engine

In-line five-cylinder, 3,198cc, turbodiesel

Power

147kW @ 3,000rpm

Torque

470Nm @ 1,500 – 2,750rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

 69.44 kW/ton

Gearbox

Six-speed auto, transfer case, 4×4

Wheels/tyres (front/rear)

17-inch alloy, 265/65 R17 tyres

0-100 km/h

12 sec (est)

Top speed

175 km/h (est)

Fuel tank capacity

80 litres

Fuel consumption (claimed)

8.9 litres/100km

Operating range (claimed)

900km

CO2 emissions

236g/km

Retail price

R625,440

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