PRETORIA - This Coronavirus and the various stages of lockdown we’ve been saddled with has really hit us that enjoy driving where it hurts. I’ve missed an epic travelogue from Gqeberha to Pretoria with Ford that included our long-term Ranger FX4, I missed driving the Ford XLT Everest because I tested positive and had to disappear for 10 days and I’ve missed posting on Whatsapp groups that we’re going to 4x4 the next day, “who's joining us?”
So the moment I tested negative before attending another event, Ironically the VW Amarok 4x4 Challenge, I sent out a message that we would be taking the FX4 offroad on a midweek public holiday.
And a bad day doing some 4x4 beats a good day sitting at home.
We could still travel out of Gauteng so I decided on the Hennops trail that’s close to home and has a good balance of challenges for the experienced and not so experienced driver. Also, I don’t want to be one of those poser owners that have a 4x4 and don’t take it offroad because it may get scratched or damaged which will affect the trade in when they buy their next one.
With the fridge tied to the back seat and plugged into the 12V plug to keep snacks and liquids chilled, we paid the entrance fee and prepared to bite the dirt. Remember it’s winter in Gauteng and nothing is green and dust is all pervasive.
Low range is easily selected by the turn of a button on the centre console before tackling a not insignificant axle twister, which I first drove without engaging the rear diff-lock to show the difference between having it engaged or relying on the traction control.
There was impressive wheel spinning, body rocking and dust before the traction control kicked in at just over 2000rpm to eventually get to the top.
On the way back to the bottom I engaged downhill descent control which again uses the traction control, applying brakes as needed to the wheels. On steep rocky declines I prefer to be old school and use the pedal, but in situations like this with lots of loose sand and stones technology comes in very handy.
With the difflock engaged it’s a completely different experience, the FX4 cruised up without any fuss at all even as I drove the more difficult line with some serious dongas that I could hear scraping the running boards.
If it was me I would replace them with a decent set of rock sliders to prevent that cringe feeling of scraping metal that will eventually have them looking like a crinkle-cut chip.
The next few obstacles our FX4 cleared with ease although I was acutely aware of sharp rocks that would easily cut through the tyre’s sidewalls. For that reason I would invest in a more aggressive offroad tyre with thicker sidewalls if I was regularly going to take it off the black stuff.
The rock road with a large step at the end of it, I used the easier escape route. I’ve done it a number of times in my Defender but it’s fitted with large tyres, solid underbody protection and has a number of dings and scratches so a few more won’t make much difference.
With ground clearance of 237mm, approach angle of 25.5 degrees, departure angle of 21.8 degrees (without the towbar) and a wading depth of 800mm the FX4 rates well in terms of offroad ability.
However, the potential for damage on the obstacle was high and because it’s a test car it would have been unnecessary and irresponsable just for the satisfaction of clearing an obstacle.
There’s also a play area with a few deep, sandy dongas where I let my partner take the wheel. She’s played around with my Defender, but that’s a manual with a heavy clutch and an old-style noisy diesel engine.
Our FX4 is fitted with Ford’s 2.0-litre single turbo smoothly delivering 132kW and 420Nm via a ten-speed automatic transmission that’s perfect for the open road and easy to use for a novice when you’ve engaged low range.
With careful guiding and large eyes she thoroughly enjoyed it even when I suggested taking more difficult technical lines that from the inside felt as though the rollover angle was getting ever closer.
She’s hooked, and I fear for her German sedan parked at home.
Swapping trail stories around the braai afterwards a couple that was in a group ahead of us came over wanting to know more about the FX4.
Currently they drive a very capable American 4x4 but the kids were growing and packing space was becoming an issue while fuel consumption was making the bank manager raise an eyebrow. They also couldn’t justify having such a capable vehicle for the odd trail while they were looking to do more overlanding type trips and they were seriously looking at one the double cabs in Ford’s Ranger line-up.
I think I may have convinced them when I told them that after three months the average fuel consumption showed 9.7l/100km and also that no extra wiring was needed to run a compressor camping fridge because of the built-in plug in the load bay. A small thing perhaps but something that could potentially seal the deal.
We're currently locked into Gauteng but hopefully people will be responsible and things will ease up soon so we’ll be able to take the Kalahari Ferrari camping with an offroad trailer to give us towing impressions.