From Humble Beginnings To 21st Century Workhorse, the Ford Ranger FX4 is an entirely new breed of bakkie

I’ve never driven a bakkie before, so when Ford asked me to join the local launch of the Ranger FX4, I (nervously) jumped at the opportunity.

I’ve always seen bakkies as utilitarian by nature, designed for drivers who used the loading bay regularly. I’m not one of them. I soon found out, however, that the bakkie stereotype no longer exists. The Ranger FX4 shows how well the 2021 bakkie caters not only to traditional bakkie drivers but also the everyday driver looking for a vehicle that ticks more boxes than ever before.

The FX4 isn’t new to South African shores having first been introduced in 2017 as a special edition. The obviously high demand for bakkies locally (being the highest-selling vehicle types in SA) has given Ford the opportunity to bring this name badge back.

Sitting between the Ranger XLT (which it’s based on) and the Ranger Wildtrak, the Ranger FX4 comes in two variants, the 4×2 and 4×4, featuring a 2.0ltr single turbo 4-cylinder diesel motor, providing you with 132kWs of power and 420Nm of torque. Both derivatives of the FX4 come with 10-speed automatic transmission, offering conventional automatic, sport and manual shift modes. Safety isn’t skimped with at all as the FX4 is equipped with Hill Descent Control, Traction control, Hill Launch Assist, ABS, ISOFIX Child Seat Anchors, ESP, EBA, EBD and many more acronyms as standard.

To differentiate the FX4 visually from the rest of the options, Ford has given it a meaner black grille, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, complimentary red stitching all about the cabin (an example of this is the red embossed FX4 logo on the aforementioned leather seats), leather interior accents, black Sports Bar and tow bar. They’ve also included the FX4 decals and exterior black accents on the side mirrors and door handles. The overall look is quite menacing, especially with the black body colour.

Juxtaposing the exterior, the interior is a lovely, comforting place. Strategically placed soft-touch materials are found in any place your hand normally goes and harder plastics where it doesn’t. You’ll also find not one but two displays in the cabin. One small screen by the dials for your vehicle info and the 8-inch infotainment system running SYNC 3 which gives you access to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Standard on the FX4, you get dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry and passive start, rear-view parking camera and all-round sensors. Parking a bakkie isn’t an easy task and having these as standard definitely helps. Being a double cab option only, it seems Ford is taking advantage of the SUV mad market and giving buyers what they’re asking for, with a twist. Once the door is closed and you get moving, you completely forget that you’re driving a bakkie. The odd glance behind me was my only reminder.

FordPass Connect

With the FX4, Ford has launched its new connected app, FordPass Connect. It brings home the saying, “there’s an app for that”. Once paired with your Ranger, the app will allow you to lock and unlock the doors, start the engine and activate climate control, find the vehicle’s location and even check vehicle maintenance issues. The app is integrated with a map for information such as dealerships, finding parking within South Africa, scheduling maintenance and service bookings and standard info about the vehicle. The app will also provide you access to Roadside Assistance with AA for that extra peace of mind. It can easily be downloaded for both Android and iOS.

All of this is done via a modem embedded in the vehicle. The modem has an eSIM which is handled by Ford, meaning that the only data costs you need to think about are those incurred when using your phone to communicate with your car. For the app to work, you need to be in an area with wireless data reception so that you can actually communicate with your car.

Having a modem attached to your car has multiple benefits and it was fun starting the FX4 while sitting at a table having something to eat. Nothing that Ford has included in the car is a gimmick, something I realised in the humid Durban climate when I was able to activate climate control before getting into the car.

The infotainment system you get with your brand-new car is like any software out there, it needs updates or it will age as the years clock by. Just as it is with phones, as new vehicles get released, they come with newer features. In some cases, these features will not reach your car at all and in some cases, you’ll need to drive to a dealership and book your car in for an update. With OTA updates, Ford is ensuring the FX4 will always be up to date, which means that any upgrades and new features will be downloaded and installed while you’re at home watching soccer or out with friends conquering Lion’s Head for the 15th time.

It represents the faith that Ford have in ensuring your bakkie lasts longer than before and will always receive the latest support Ford can give it. At the time of this launch, Ford advised that there is no end support scheduled for these updates and that they will support the vehicle for as long as they can.

Ford is offering the FordPass Connect on the Ranger XL, XLS, XLT, Wildtrack and Raptor models from February 2021 production as well as the ability to use the app on models dating back to 2017, with limited services.

Using the app is incredibly intuitive. All parts of the app experience are simple with logically labelled options. Living in South Africa, security will always be an issue and Ford have created manual checks, that help protect your vehicle when the app is being used. If you’re in your home and you start the car outside and have the key with you, it can’t be stolen and driven off. The key needs to be present in the vehicle to get it moving.

To keep your information secure, all vehicle data on the FordPass Connect app is stored with 3rd party cloud providers, Microsoft and IBM. Not only is your data protected but the vehicle gets off the assembly line with a partially activated modem, not recording anything. Once you activate it and allow access, it will then start to store your data directly on your phone and record the vehicle data in the cloud. You also have an option to turn it off, something I’m sure many will want to do but be ware that should you do this some of the apps functions will be disabled.

Ford x Google

Ford has done something different with the Ranger FX4. From being the first bakkie in South Africa to allow you to communicate with it remotely, to ensuring a seamless experience from your phone to your car with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Ford wants you to connect with your Ford Ranger bakkie like never before, and to help them they’ve enlisted the assistance of Google.

As of 2023, Google will replace Microsoft and IBM as Ford’s cloud providers but will give Ford access to Google’s entire suite of services. This isn’t simply Android Auto but potentially Google’s voice control services, machine learning, artificial intelligence, Google Maps and 3rd party app development to push innovation. Having the power of google gives Ford data analytics that will help them move forward using data as their drive, instead of market related information and sales.

Conclusion

Powerful, capable, mover, workhorse, functional and utilitarian are still synonymous with the Ford Ranger FX4. What Ford’s done was bring the bakkie into the 21st century by giving you more to control, even remotely, and more value.

They’ve future-proofed these bakkies by incorporating OTA updates, a 4G modem and the type of connectivity that we’d only ever dreamed of. Who’s to say in the future Ford hasn’t turned that modem on to allow WiFi in the bakkie. The options are endless. Working with Google could mean access to Waymo, Google’s autonomous driving tech company.

The Ford Ranger FX4 was a comfortable bakkie that made me forget the load bay in the back. It gave me confidence on a 45-degree angle hill and allowed me to enjoy moments like driving on a beach through channel rivers. Pulling up to a place to eat had “future normal” moments such as locking the vehicle with my phone, all the while the key was still in it. Ford has done something special here by bringing us options normally found in tech-laden SUVs and expensive hatchbacks, and given it to the humble bakkie.

All images courtesy of Ford South Africa