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Ford Ranger FX4 MAX vs Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

By Byron Mathioudakis, 12 Mar 2021 Car Comparisons

Ford Ranger FX4 MAX Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain comparison

Dual-cab weekend warriors head-to-head

Believe it or not, the grudge match between the Ford Ranger FX4 MAX and Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain – and is way more profound – than most folk realise.

Nearly half a century ago, Holden began importing Isuzu’s preposterously-named Faster to fight Toyota’s (equally ironically badged) HiLux – first as the Chev LUV in 1973 and later the KB, before sticking its own branding on the butt of three subsequent (and highly successful) generations.

That started with the 1981 Rodeo and ended with the 2020 Colorado – and Holden’s demise – last December. And, fun fact, at 48 years, this was GMH’s longest running model line, period, even beating Commodore by half a decade.

And all due to Isuzu, which, by the way, returned to Oz independently for the first time since 1970 with the D-Max in 2008 after leaving the General Motors family, competing against the near-identical Colorado… that it continued building for Holden under contract until the end.

Yep, these truly are the utes and trays of our lives…

Ford, meanwhile, responded with the Mazda B-series truck-based Courier in 1979, eventually renaming it Ranger, but only made real headway with 2011’s locally-designed and engineered T6 (which also sired the superseded Mazda BT-50).

Though not built here, history’s only true Australian one-tonner has since become our most successful vehicle ever, selling in over 90 countries and is now this nation’s number one 4x4 ute, eclipsing HiLux.

Wheels magazine first pitted the Isuzu-Holden against Ford in an August 1981 four-way, featuring Rodeo, Courier, Datsun 720 and HiLux, with the winning Toyota (the best of a rough bunch) then taking on Holden’s WB ute… and failing.

The same verdict was reached when Rodeo met XF Falcon, Nissan’s Navara and the Mitsubishi Triton in April ’87. Though tough, none troubled the Aussie car-based ute for driveability, comfort or safety.

READ Every dual-cab in Australia ranked

The only time all three brands – Ford, Isuzu and Holden – have met was in July ’18’s nine-truck comparo, with Ranger beating Colorado and clobbering the last-placed D-Max.

Now Holden’s history, and there’s an all-new Isuzu out to reel the Blue Oval in.

Launched last September, today’s D-Max is the sixth since that original Faster. A ground-up redesign, it’s larger and wider but slightly shorter, stronger yet lighter, substantially safer and technologically far more advanced than its popular predecessor.

All grades employ a revamped, 140kW/450Nm 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, brandishing better power, torque and economy; there’s an overhauled 4x4 system with a locking rear differential and uprated leaf-spring rear suspension. Still tough, but less rough.

Despite all this, the Isuzu succumbed to the more on-road focussed Ranger Wildtrak in our November 2020 issue, but only just; so, for this year we’re levelling the playing field by pitching it against Ford’s recently released FX4 MAX Max – basically a Ranger with big hiking boots.

This is still a predominantly on-road and gravel-driving assessment given the urban target market for both glamour trucks, but one that doesn’t put the D-Max at a disadvantage.

As before, ours is the top-line X-Terrain from $62,925 driveaway – and it’s heaving with safety kit like eight airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), post-collision braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning/prevention, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, intelligent high beams, trailer sway control, front and rear parking sensors and – in auto versions – adaptive cruise, mis-acceleration mitigation and lane keep assist.

Like mums who’d choose Meadow Lea, for standardising such driver-assist essentials, Isuzu ought to be congratulated.

Punters are also likely to respond to the Isuzu flagship’s chunky styling, standard roller tonneau cover, under-rail tub liner, 18-inch alloys and 9.0-inch touchscreen – starring a reverse camera, voice command, wired Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay, digital radio and sat-nav.

Other goodies include dual-zone climate control, powered driver’s seat with lumbar, foldaway mirrors, walk-away remote locking, keyless entry/start and leather trim. Stark the X-Terrain’s interior is not.

The PX III Ranger is the era-defining T6’s final year before the 2022 redesign is revealed. The last important update came in late 2018, three years after the big PX II facelift and cabin restyle that also saw myriad engineering updates designed chiefly to improve efficiency and off-road performance.

Which is where the new mid-spec XLT-derived FX4 Max steps up (literally), with substantial off-road biased steering and suspension tuning (including a thicker front anti-roll bar and two-inch monotube Fox shocks offering a 20mm suspension lift for longer travel and 31mm higher ground clearance), beefy 32-inch BF Goodrich All-Terrain tyres sheathing five 17-inch alloys, a 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel/10-speed auto combo, and more-macho Raptor-referencing visuals but with an $11K saving.

Sadly, though, its 26mm-wider track doesn’t encompass the even-fatter latter’s coil-sprung rear end (leaf springs – albeit revised – continue).

More importantly, priced from $65,940 plus on-road costs, the FX4 MAX is about $5K above the X-Terrain, even before the $850 adaptive cruise option (without the D-Max’s stop/go tech but with Ranger-exclusive auto parking).

Note that the Isuzu offers a six-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and seven-year capped-price servicing against Ford’s respective five-years/12-year equivalents; with both Thai-built trucks recommending 12-month/15,000km intervals, over seven years, the Blue Oval’s published costs are $677 cheaper at $2696. Both also include conditional seven years roadside assistance.

So, the X-Terrain noses ahead on pricing and features, and on the face of it, the news keeps getting worse for the ageing Ranger once you step inside.

Sure, you could argue that the D-Max’s exterior aesthetics have barely evolved – if at all – from the 2011 Ranger’s segment-defining design.

But if you want to see just how far dashboard styling and presentation has come since, then its compare and contrast time – because the Ford’s looks every inch its years (despite the 2015 mid-cycle facelift that brought in that newer fascia) while the Isuzu’s leads the way forward.

Regardless of grade, today’s D-Max’s interior exudes modernity and warmth, chiefly due to that sizeable central touchscreen, classy chrome (ish) toggle switch-actuated two-zone climate-control and expansive analogue/digital instrumentation offering detailed vehicle control and multimedia displays, compared to the Ford’s bargain-basement dials that look like they’re pinched from a previous-gen Fiesta Ambiente. In a $70K truck…

The X-Terrain, then, is more dress-shoe while the FX4 MAX is more mud-plugging sports boot (from TK Maxx at that) in their respective appearances.

Then there’s the Isuzu’s added functionality absent from the Ford – namely telescopic steering-wheel adjustability, but also the triple hidden dash compartments (though the Ranger’s glovebox, door bins and centre console box are way hungrier), sliding outboard cupholders that chill/heat beverages by dint of being located beneath vast air outlets, and powered driver’s seat. Note neither offers a front passenger seat-height booster.

Out back, the D-Max’s 30/70 split rear cushion lift, face-level air vents, roof-mounted speakers, USB outlet and 4kg-rated carry hook and pillar-mounted assist grabs to help haul you in and out show unique packaging thoughtfulness.

Getting to the under-seat storage requires two steps because both cushions need to be raised (and secured via very fiddly straps that require a free set of hands to raise the headrests first to latch them on), while the Ford can be lifted in one go and latched with some dextrous knee manipulation.

But once there, there’s somewhat more capacity than in Ranger and the choice of only raising/lowering one (much lighter) seat base. We’re talking minor detail differences here, folks.

On the other hand, despite being perched up higher, Ranger rear-seat occupants enjoy obviously extra headroom, knee room and under-seat space for steel-capped work-boots, as well as noticeably more contoured seats for better comfort and support.

The door bins are bigger too, for bottles and such, there’s a very handy 230V domestic outlet alongside the 12V plug (which can of course be fitted with an inexpensive USB accessory), and the tailgate is nowhere near as heavy to lower and lift up again thanks to spring-loaded hinges. Or some such black magic.

Up front, the FX4 Max also claws back more ground with its easier entry/egress (shin-smashing side steps aside), larger cabin, more cossetting front seats (with lovely suede-like inserts), grippy steering wheel and old-faithful SYNC-3 multimedia functionality that looks dated but is pretty much foolproof.

As mentioned earlier, it does storage better too; cabin quality and finish are about on a par with D-Max in spite of the generation gap; and forward vision isn’t as obstructed by the wide A-pillar as in the Isuzu.

But there’s no escaping this Ranger interior’s dated and downmarket appearance. And that’s before you see the engine specs and realise that the FX4 Max is an entire litre down on the D-Max. Clearly, the time is nigh for that next-generation update, Ford… until you press the start button.

Care to make a bet at which four-pot is the better performer? In the blue corner, there’s a 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre twin-turbo in a truck weighing around 2219kg, taking on a 140kW/450Nm 3.0-litre single-turbo contender tipping the scales at 2130kg in the red corner.

Before we reveal the result, please note that all driving was conducted with either one or two occupants on mostly sealed bitumen or over loose gravel, and without a load out back.

So… at lower speeds, pottering around town, the D-Max’s extra capacity wins the day, providing instant and quite forceful performance from the get-go, delivered in a smooth and consistent manner.

Not the quietest performer, granted, it’s nonetheless pleasingly responsive dicing and dealing with stop/start traffic – while still managing to feel muscular out on the open road. For most users there’s more than sufficient oomph on offer.

Given its head, however, the Ranger is ultimately the quicker and quieter worker. Despite being one-third smaller in capacity and a middle-aged Aussie male’s worth of kilos heavier, the extra turbo and four more gears work in the Ford’s favour, making it deceptively strong under acceleration, aided by that 10-speed torque-converter auto.

Essentially an eight-speeder with the two top gears acting as overdrive ratios once the bi-turbo is out stretching its legs, the transmission does work overtime ensuring that the FX4 Max’s engine is in the right torque band for optimum response.

Yet it’s also neither indecisive nor jerky and compared to the 3.2-litre five-pot turbo serving lesser Rangers this powertrain’s refinement is akin to wearing earmuffs.

Shuffling between gears intuitively (making the silly thumb-operated manual shifter mechanism redundant), the FX4 Max feels a little leisurely off the line, trailing the X-Terrain to 60km/h.

But beyond that, with those turbos kicking in, the Ford starts to pull away; by 100km/h it is slightly in front of the Isuzu, but by 140km/h that gap extends to almost a full second. The 80-120km/h acceleration increments tell a similar story, with the Ranger some 0.2s ahead. The Blue Oval is a revver, not a slogger.

Inevitably, what the Ford’s hard-working 2.0-litre bi-turbo gains in speed it loses in real-world fuel efficiency – 10.8 litres per 100km compared to the Isuzu’s 9.7L/100km, according to our figures.

And that’s with the latter’s (standard) aluminium load cover unfurled for the duration, since the FX4 Max’s tub comes tonneau-less. With it shut we’d expect even better economy. Advantage: D-Max.

Wearing Bridgestone Dueler HT 265/60R18 rubber, the X-Terrain also enjoys benefits over its opponent’s decidedly knobbly 265/70R17 off-road-enhancing tyres, and moving from a Wildtrak to the FX4 Max (as we did) reveals an immediate on-road penalty.

Actually, it’s quite profound, with the Ford’s renowned, comparatively fluid steering, surefooted roadholding and supple ride all noticeably blunted.

Yet even with an obviously jigglier ride, looser cornering, squealier tyres and decidedly more muted handling feedback, this Ranger remains the more involving and accomplished drive dynamically just the same, with greater cornering capabilities and more assured control at speed. And that includes on gravel as well as bitumen.

Even over our punishing ride test, which has upset and undone even so-called luxury sedans over the years, the Ford possesses an edge on comfort, with superior suspension discipline and more-contained body movement. It’s just not at the same lofty levels of the more road-biased grades. On many occasions we wished we were in a Wildtrak.

That’s not to say the X-Terrain is flawed – far from it. Aeons ahead of its cruddy predecessor, today’s D-Max treads a benign dynamic path and is all the better for it, ushering in nicely-weighted if remote steering for easy, accurate and safe handling, backed up by ample grip and acceptable road-noise insulation.

And while we’d have preferred a somewhat softer suspension tune in the name of comfort, the fact that Isuzu’s midsized truck no longer punishes its occupants with a bouncy and loud ride is something everybody should be thankful for. If the outdoorsy Ranger’s score slips to a ‘B’, the Japanese-branded truck rockets up to a solid C-plus.

Where the X-Terrain rules is in its more-sophisticated driver-assist systems, offering the benefits of noticeably more-nuanced lane-keeping capability as well as full-stop (but not go again) adaptive cruise control functionality; and speaking of stopping, the Isuzu displayed significantly shorter stopping distances – once again betraying the FX4 Max’s choice of rubber.

Emergency braking from 100-0km/h revealed a near 2.5-metre advantage to the Isuzu. We’re happy to report that both trucks pulled up with straight and true – and that’s a far, far cry from the bad old Rodeo and Courier days.

After several days assessing the X-Terrain and FX4 Max, it is clear that the latter is designed to maximise the Ranger’s off-road potential more fully compared to its more road-biased (and overall superior) Wildtrak and Raptor siblings, as well as the new D-Max, which lives between the two extremes. Yet there’s still enough regular-Ranger DNA for it to remain one of the better-driving and riding pick-ups.

So, which tarted-up truck wins? If you value dynamics, performance, comfort, smoothness and cabin space above all else and need to exploit its exceptional off-road prowess, then the FX4 Max has to be the one. Though nearly a decade newer, the D-Max isn’t the leap forward over the Ford it should be, and even lags a little in a few key areas.

But pricing, equipment, safety, warranty, interior design, economy and resale aren’t among them, meaning that the X-Terrain offers a broader bandwidth of benefits for most consumers seeking the better buy while still having access to brilliant 4x4 ability.

And given that the D-Max will remain current for much longer, it’s the one we ultimately recommend over the FX4 Max – at least until the next-gen Ranger arrives for 2022.

As half a century and six generations of disparately-badged trucks attest, Isuzu has a strong connection with Australians. Considering the D-Max’s direct ancestral ties, it’s fair to say the classic Ford versus Holden fight lives on in more than mere spirit.

Verdict

1st: Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Pros: Fuel economy; car-like interior; unsurpassed driver-assist safety; longer warranty

Cons: Rear seats need more thigh support; dreary dynamics; firm ride

7/10

2nd: Ford Ranger FX4 Max

Pros: Outstanding off-road; comfy seating; roomy cabin; punchy engine

Cons: Off-road add-ons diminish on-road capabilities; dated dash; ****ng side steps

7/10

Interior deep-dive

Ford Ranger

Function over form defines the Ranger’s dated, low-fi but user-friendly interior, with comfy seating, excellent space utilisation, easy multimedia and storage galore. But pizzazz-free XLT basis (despite the extra suede, metal pedals and other tinsel) doesn’t sit well at FX4 Max price point.

Upfitter auxiliary switch pack brings 250-amp alternator for aftermarket accessories, underlining serious off-road focus. As does 256mm ground clearance, better-than-Wildtrak/Raptor payload of 981kg, while braked towing capacity remains at 3500kg; full-sized spare and tow bar are included.

Isuzu D-Max

Way-more modern and car-like D-Max dash lords it over the rapidly ageing Ford with big (if more complicated) touchscreen, more comprehensive instrumentation, more pleasant finishes, reach-adjustable steering and greater storage.

All underline the Isuzu’s strong value-for-money appeal, while back-seat area presentation is also significantly ahead. But seats aren’t quite as comfy and the rear not as roomy either as longer-wheelbase Ranger. Ground clearance is 240mm, payload is 970kg and braked towing capacity is also 3500kg; spare is full-sized.

Specifications

FORD RANGER FX4 MAX

Body: 4-door, 5-seat ute
Drive: rear- and all-wheel
Engine: 1996cc inline-4cyl diesel, DOHC, 16v, twin-turbo
Power: 157kW @ 3750rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1750-2000rpm
Weight: 2219kg
Power/weight: 71kW/tonne
Payload: 981kg
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
L/W/H: 5446/1977/1852mm
Wheelbase: 3220mm
Tracks: 1586/1586mm (f/r)
Fuel tank: 80 litres
Fuel economy: 10.8L/100km (as tested)
Suspension: struts, A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); leaf springs, dampers, anti-roll bar (r)
Steering: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
Turning circle: 12.7m (3.2 turns lock-to-lock)
Brakes: 310mm ventilated discs (f); 295mm drums (r)
Tyres: 265/70R17 109S (f/r) BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A K02
Price: $65,940/As tested $68,190**

ISUZU D-MAX X-TERRAIN

Body: 4-door, 5-seat ute
Drive: rear- and all-wheel
Engine: 2999cc inline-4cyl diesel, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 140kW @ 3600rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1600-2600rpm
Weight: 2130kg
Power/weight: 66kW/tonne
Payload: 970kg
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
L/W/H: 5280/1880/1811mm
Wheelbase: 3125mm
Tracks: 1570mm (f/r)
Fuel tank: 76 litres
Fuel economy: 9.7L/100km (as tested)
Suspension: struts, A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); leaf springs, dampers, anti-roll bar (r)
Steering: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
Turning circle: 12.5m (3.8 turns lock-to-lock)
Brakes: 320mm ventilated discs (f); 295mm rear drums (r)
Tyres: 265/60 R18 110T (f/r) Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684II
Price: $62,925 driveaway**

Performance

Ford Ranger FX4 MAX

0-10km/h: 0.7sec
0-20km/h: 1.2sec
0-30km/h; 1.8sec
0-40km/h: 2.6sec
0-50km/h: 3.5sec
0-60km/h: 4.5sec
0-70km/h: 5.6sec
0-80km/h: 6.9sec
0-90km/h: 8.2sec
0-100km/h: 9.9sec
0-120km/h: 13.8sec
0-130km/h: 16.1sec
0-140km/h: 19.0sec

0-400m: 17.1sec @ 132.4km/h

80-120km/h: 6.7s

100km/h-0: 43.8m

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

0-10km/h: 0.6sec
0-20km/h: 1.0sec
0-30km/h: 1.5sec
0-40km/h: 2.3sec
0-50km/h: 3.2sec
0-60km/h: 4.2sec
0-70km/h: 5.5sec
0-80km/h: 6.7sec
0-90km/h: 8.0sec
0-100km/h: 9.9sec
0-110km/h: 11.8sec
0-120km/h: 14.0sec
0-130km/h: 16.5sec
0-140km/h: 20.2sec

0-400m: 17.0sec @ 131.7km/h

80-120km/h: 7.3s

100km/h-0: 41.4m