The limited edition Ford Ranger FX4 has come our way, and I’m so glad it has. It’s a fantastic looking piece of kit and a cracking ute, but I really want to find out what it’s like as a family car.
The Ranger is a huge seller – our second best selling nameplate last year, behind only its arch nemesis, Toyota’s Hilux. Ford shifted more 4×4 Rangers last month than every type of Subaru, Nissan, Honda or BMW and almost as many as every type of Volkswagen or Kia. It is a crucial model for Ford, making up the vast bulk of their sales. And more and more often, these sales are going to private buyers.
I’m guilty myself of jumping on the dual cab bandwagon. I resisted for a long time, but a move to a place with a big garden meant either jumping into dual cab ownership or finding a small tractor to move stuff around the yard. Even then, I’d be stuck with a trailer for garden supplies and stuff from the rural traders. In the end, it was a no brainer.
So, what’s the Ranger like as a family car, camping car and a trip to Hardware Hell car? Well, bloody fantastic… sort of.
Let’s look at the FX4, specifically.
The FX4 is the latest in a long list of ‘special edition’ Rangers. Currently, buyers can choose from the blacked out, leather trimmed, roll barred ‘FX4’, the well spec’d but simple looking ‘Tradesman’ or the tougher looking, but more expensive, ‘Wildtrak X’.
Interestingly, the Ranger FX4 passes the ‘driveway test’ with flying colours. Neighbours came running to check out Ranger when they had ignored much more expensive machines in the drive. It’s that kind of car.
For family duties, in standard form, the Ranger FX4, like all dual cabs, is severely compromised. Boot space, for example, is huge, but completely useless without a canopy – either a flat top that keeps the ute style or a full canopy, turning the ute into a huge station wagon. Add a thick marine carpet tray liner, such as a BedRug, and you have close to the perfect family configuration.
Rear seat space in the Ranger is surprisingly good and easily capable of being a comfy space for my young bloke, who pushes 6ft. He claims that back seat comfort is a little better than our Amarok. In both you will have to put up with a slightly more upright backrest than a sedan or SUV.
In anycase, both are much less comfortable than the Kia Sorentos and Volkswagen Touaregs that recently graced the EFTM Garage. While the Ranger seems to have the most accommodating rear seat among the dual cabs, that really isn’t saying much. All of them will struggle to fit three older kids across the back seat; you’ll be reserving the centre rear for your least favourite child. Importantly, there are ISOFIX points, ready for you to clip in baby and booster seats.
There are now ample passive safety features fitted to dual cab utes, like the Ranger and Hilux, including full length curtain airbags. Unforgivably, the Amarok still does not have this feature, despite both the Ranger and the Amarok scoring five stars in ANCAP testing, proving that five stars doesn’t always reflect safety excellence.
I took advantage of the lower resale value of the Amarok and bought mine second hand. If I was buying new, this omission alone would see me choosing the Ranger or Hilux over the Amarok everytime.
Ranger also leads the class in active safety features, with adaptive cruise control, auto high beam, fatigue monitoring, hill descent and hill launch control, lane keep assist, load adaptive control (proportioning brake force based on load), pre-collision assist (with pedestrian detection), trailer sway control, traffic sign recognition and tyre pressure monitoring.
Unfortunately, the Ranger, like all dual cabs, lacks one fundamental active safety feature; tenacious road holding. The ability to tow 3500kg and lug over 1000kg in the tray (although not at the same time), together with the ability to negotiate terrain that would challenge a mountain goat is always going to lead to compromises.
Despite being fitted with road orientated tyres, the Ranger FX4’s grip and body control is only just adequate and light years behind the control offered by cheaper SUVs like the Kia Sorento, let alone premium models such as Toyota’s Prado or Volkswagen’s Touareg.
With no load in the back, the standard ride is choppy and skittish. Mid corner bump control is also limited. Of course, if you regularly go offroad, tow big loads or use your car as a tractor like I do, this suspension compromise is completely acceptable. This situation can also be improved by choosing the Ranger Raptor, with its advanced suspension, flared guards, twin turbo engine and 10 speed auto (albeit, for a further $17k) or upgrading the suspension to a system tailored to your specific load requirements. Tickford, for example, offers upgraded dampers for less than $2k.
Engine performance is ample, with the 3.2 litre five cylinder diesel engine providing a grunty, if gruff, driving experience and can be partnered with either a six speed manual or auto. Opting for the 2.0 litre four cylinder twin turbo gifts even more grunt and the superb 10 speed automatic.
Ultimately, the Ranger FX4 can make an excellent family car, as long as you are conscious of the compromises dual cabs bring to the table. An open mind in this regard, together with a canopy of some sort and perhaps a suspension upgrade, will find you with a fantastic family hack.
Check out Flipsy’s Flips for some ideas around other family options that you may not have considered.