A few months ago, I wrote a review of the Ford Ranger XLT. It’s not the most glamorous creature in the brand’s lineup, but I liked its simplicity so much that I really didn’t want or need something more complicated or expensive. In fact, that truck captured my heart so completely that I questioned the purpose of the Blue Oval’s baddest Ranger, the Raptor.
The Raptor needs no introduction. It could stand on its own even without the Ranger nameplate. And as much as I want to figure out why this vehicle exists, I just couldn’t come to terms with spending almost P2 million on a truck that the much less expensive XLT can match in everyday use. So, when an opportunity came for me to have an FX4 Max for a few days, I tried to see if it would be the ideal middle ground between the simplistic Ranger that I want, and the Baja machine that I couldn’t understand.
Let’s start with the powertrain. Like I said, I wasn’t too excited about the 2.0-liter biturbo lump. The 10-speed automatic gearbox also kept on annoyingly hunting ratios. And 210hp does not have to come from such a complicated engine. The Ranger’s old 3.2-liter mill did the job back then, and I believe that five-cylinder motor still has plenty of untapped potential. I wish Ford had kept it because, at the end of the day, the FX4 Max is designed to be a workhorse. The less complex it is, the better.
But I do get the allure of having over 200hp on tap, and it’s likely one of the things that Raptor owners love. The pulling power is confidence-inspiring especially when you need to overtake.
One of the Raptor’s party pieces is its fancy coil-spring rear suspension with Fox dampers. That obviously allows it to glide over sand dunes at high speed. But that clearly isn’t the sort of terrain that a slow-moving work truck will encounter. To that end, the FX4 Max gets a hybrid layout with Fox dampers and good old leaf springs. Engineering-wise, I’m not sure how such a setup is supposed to improve off-road traction. But at speeds below 80km/h, the Max seemed to ride as good as (if not better than) the coil-sprung Nissan Navara.
Among the features that make the Raptor so eye-catching are the flared fenders. But I’ve never really liked that truck’s bulldog stance, so the FX4 Max’s discreet look works for me. The black 17-inch wheels shod in meaty BFGoodrich rubber are welcome additions, as are the textured step boards, which reduce the chances of slipping as you climb aboard. The radiator grille with the big “Ford” lettering is a little tacky, and I would’ve preferred having the XLT’s nose with the chrome nostrils.
While the Raptor has a suite of electronic driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, the FX4 Max counters with a row of auxiliary switches found on the center of the dashboard. Ford says that these are for additional equipment such as lights and winches—eliminating the need to drill ugly holes in the interior just for wiring. I’ll take the automaker’s word for it, lest I want to get blacklisted for hacking into a demo unit just to test the feature. But the bottom line is that I’d rather have these switches than the computerized nannies of the Raptor.
So, in the few days that I spent with the FX4 Max, did I finally understand the Raptor? I guess I did, but not to the point of wanting one. I’d rather have this Max. Besides its less expensive price tag, there is also the realization that pickups to me are more work vehicles than lifestyle toys. And to see a Raptor simply being driven on smooth tarmac most of the time isn’t doing it justice. The clever four-wheel drive system and the suspension setup are just not being used to the fullest.
The FX4 Max, on the other hand, hits that sweet spot with some of the Raptor’s goodies while staying true to its roots as a utility vehicle. It is designed to primarily work hard, and then play if it has the time for it. But it certainly isn’t a lifestyle machine like the Wildtrak is. There is no excessive reliance on electronics and computers to get the job done, which is what I want in a pickup truck.
FORD RANGER FX4 MAX
|Engine||2.0-liter four-cylinder biturbo diesel|
|Power||210hp @ 3,750rpm|
|Torque||500Nm @ 1,750-2,000rpm|
|Dimensions||5,354mm x 1,860mm x 1,852mm|
|Upside||This thing can do pretty much everything the Raptor does for a lower price.|
|Downside||The complicated biturbo engine and 10-speed transmission combo might become temperamental as the car ages.|