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Ford ups the FX4 tech

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The Ford FX4 Special Edition is the manufacturer’s latest addition to its Ranger line of trucks. SEAN BACHER tries it out to see what makes the vehcile – and the tech – tick.

When 4×4 vehicles first hit South Africa’s roads they really stood out. But as good as they looked, they came with quite a few disadvantages.

The technology they used was somewhat basic so, although the increased ride height made the driver feel superior, it also meant a high centre of gravity, making them very easy to roll and difficult to stop in emergencies.

Secondly, many of them were simply rear-wheel bakkies with an increased suspension and a diff-lock system strapped to them. Although this was great for off-road, it made them downright lethal in the wet, as they would lose traction very easily.

However, decades later and with a lot of money invested in research, most of these problems have been ironed out. The perfect example of a safe, easy to drive 4X4 is Ford’s new Ranger FX4 Special Edition.

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The FX4 is available as a 3.2 turbo diesel double cab with a 6 speed manual gear box or 6 speed automatic and is based on the Ford XLT 3.2 litre double cab model. However, it includes a range of design tweaks both inside and out that turn it from a bakkie into a luxury, go-anywhere truck.

On the outside

A quick glance at the FX4 and one would recognise it immediately as part of the Ford Ranger family. However, upon closer inspection, little bits and extras make it stand out from the rest.

For instance, the front grill is borrowed from the Ford Raptor, making the car’s front end look monstrous. The side boards, or skirtings, add to the rugged look but also become a necessity when climbing in and out of the car due to its high ground clearance.

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At the rear, the FX4 comes standard with a tonneau and rubberised inlay to protect the exposed chassis from rust, sand, stones and other materials that may be loaded into it. The car also includes a tow bar.

The FX4’s large 17 inch wheels with black rims also make it stand miles apart from the standard Ford Ranger and many other 4X4s currently on the road.

On the inside

Many would think the inside of the car would bear the similar ruggedness that the car sports on the outside. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The FX4 cab oozes luxury, making it feel like one is sitting in a German sedan instead of a truck.

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For instance, the leather seats are electrically controlled, the steering column is height- and distance-adjustable, and just about every aspect of the car can be managed via the controls on the steering wheel.

The FX4 uses Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system that allows the user to control the climate, navigation, Bluetooth, audio and various third-party services all from the centrally-placed, easy-to-reach and -read 8” touchscreen. If you can’t be bothered with using buttons to control the system, the voice control option comes in very handy.

Two permanently lit USB outlets are located just below infotainment system for charging phones and tablets.

Driving, or should I rather say parking, such a big car can be a daunting task for many. Admittedly, you don’t have to worry about scuffing the rims as the tires  will just drive over any pavements you may scrape along. Although you can probably reverse into another car without doing too much damage to the Ford, it’s not such a good idea – you know, insurance premiums and all that. Thankfully, a camera is fitted just below the Ford badge at the rear, with parking sensors making parking as simple as following the lines drawn out on the screen and listening to the beeps. A long beep with red bands on the camera outlining the car behind you probably means you are about to, or have already hit the car, and it’s time to haul out your cheque book. Unfortunately the FX4 doesn’t come with front parking sensors.

The heads-up display is standard in the FX4, with a speedometer in the centre, compass to the left and multi-display to the right showing fuel consumption, range, engine temperature and other vital statistics.

So how does it drive?

To see how well the Ford Ranger FX4 handled both tar and dirt roads, my sister and I decided to go camping in the Pilanesberg. That way we could get a good feel for how it handles the roads at speed, and at the same time do a little off-road in the game reserve. And, of course, get away from the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg and back in touch with the great out doors.

The first thing I noticed when driving on the roads was how high you sit. At first I was a bit skittish as it felt like the car was too detached from the road. I felt I didn’t have as much control as I would in a normal sedan. But I soon got over this as the car hugs the road just like any other modern vehicle. The powerful 3,2 litre turbo diesel engine made overtaking a breeze. The more I drove, the more my confidence grew. In fact, pushing the car over the speed limit just to get past the car or truck in front of me was as easy a punching the accelerator and knowing that there is more than enough power to get me past the cars safely.  Many other road users regularly moved out of my way, especially when they saw the menacing front grill in their rearview mirror. It almost felt like I was in command of a tank instead of a 4X4.

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The second thing I enjoyed were the potholes. Well, more to the point, they weren’t a problem, as the oversized wheels simply glided over them like they were little dimples on the road’s surface.

When the traffic cleared I was effortlessly able to get the car up to the speed limit and keep it there with cruise control – all managed via the buttons on the steering wheel. Simply push the set button and use the speed up and down buttons to adjust the car’s speed.

Overall, driving the car at speed on tarred roads was a pleasure. In fact, it was rather luxurious, thanks to the soft suspension. it was also fun, as I had time to play around with all the cruise controls, climate control and maps – all the time keeping my eyes on the road.

Although navigation via Sync 3 was very accurate, I found it quite finicky. Firstly, the maps that come with the FX4 don’t have many points of interest. For instance, Pilanesberg could not be found but Sun City could. Once the destination was found, I could only scroll to a certain point in the instructions menu to get a general idea as to where we would need to turn. And, even though there are turn-by-turn instructions, none of them were announced, meaning we had to keep our eyes on the display to make sure we didn’t miss any turns. That said, at the Mobile World Congress held earlier this year, Ford announced that all owners using the Sync 3 navigation system would be able to upgrade to the superior Waze traffic app. (Read the full article on Gadget here.)

In the Pilanesberg

Although most of the roads in the Pilansberg are tarred, the heavy rains made some of them only accessible via 4X4 – perfect for the FX4. Shrubbery and grass was also taller than usual, so where most visitors would be looking through grass to spot animals, the high ride of the FX4 afforded us the opportunity to see over the grass – and able to spot animals in the distance.

Making our way through the Pilansberg was plain sailing, even over muddy patches that most drivers would try their best to avoid. I did have a problem with the cruise control in that it will only activate at speeds over 40Km/h. Although this isn’t fast and is the park’s speed limit, it was far too fast for spotting animals.

The park offers a few look-out points that are marked as off-road and not suitable for any low vehicles. Although the hills are just over a 15 degree incline, they are over a kilometre long with several twists and bends. The incline, combined with the rain, meant that the hill was a combination of mud, water patches and smooth, slippery stones ranging in size from golf balls to mini basketballs – perfect for testing the FX4 without worrying about denting or breaking it.

Driving up in standard 2-wheel drive was impossible, as the car would go forward a few inches and then lose grip, with the rear wheels spinning madly and sliding back down.

Once in 4-wheel drive with the differential locked, the FX4 became a completely different beast. It trudged up the hill at its own pace with the rear wheels spitting stones and mud out trying to find additional grip, all the while the front wheels pulling the car up the hill. Admittedly, activating the diff-lock was overkill, making the Ford sound more like a tractor, but it just showed how much more the car could do.

At the end of the climb, the view was worth it and I thought the way down would be twice as interesting. However, on the centre console just next to the diff-lock button is Ford’s Hill Descent Control option. Simply push this and, once again, technology takes over, leaving the driver only having to steer the car. Once activated, it uses the ABS system to assign a different amount of brake pressure to each wheel, keeping the rear from swinging around and preventing the car from taking off in an uncontrollable descent.

Conclusion

The Ford Ranger FX4 is a 4X4, SUV and bakkie wrapped up in one luxury car. Its high ride height gives the driver a sense of authority on the road and its powerful diesel engine, coupled with Ford’s attention to detail both inside and outside, really reinforces that authority.

The sensors, camera and infotainment system are easy to use and, despite its size, the FX4 is easy to drive and park.

That authority and ease of use comes at price of R609 000 for the automatic and R594 000 for the manual version. On paper, those prices are rather high, but when you compare the FX4’s looks and price to its competitors, you will be surprised at how much more you are getting for that price.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

Cars

Auto rivals team up for connected car demo

Rivals BMW, Ford and Groupe PSA, maker of Peugeot and Opel cars, have teamed up with the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), Qualcomm Technologies and Savari for Europe’s first live demonstration of C-V2X direct communication technology operating across vehicles from multiple auto manufacturers.

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The live demonstration also featured a live showcase of C-V2X direct communication technology operating between passenger cars, motorcycles, and roadside infrastructure. C-V2X is a global solution for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication in support of improved automotive safety, automated driving and traffic efficiency.

The demonstration exhibited the road safety and traffic efficiency benefits of using C-V2X for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) collision avoidance, as well as Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) connectivity to traffic signals and Traffic Management Centers (TMC). C-V2X was operated using real-time direct communications over ITS spectrum and demonstrated its ability to work without cellular network coverage, and underscores its commercial readiness for industry deployment as early as 2020. Superior performance and cost-effectiveness compared to other V2X technologies, along with forward-compatibility with 5G, make C-V2X direct communications a preferred solution for C-ITS applications.

Six demonstrations were shown including: Emergency Electronic Brake Light, Intersection Collision Warning, Across Traffic Turn Collision Risk Warning, Slow Vehicle Warning and Stationary Vehicle Warning, Signal Phase and Timing / Signal Violation Warning and Vulnerable Road User (pedestrian) Warning. The vehicles involved included two-wheel e-scooters provided by BMW Group, and automotive passenger vehicles provided by Ford, Groupe PSA, and BMW Group, all of which were equipped with C-V2X direct communication technology using the Qualcomm® 9150 C-V2X chipset solution.  V2X software stack and application software, along with roadside infrastructure, were provided by industry leader, Savari.

C-V2X is globally supported by a broad automotive ecosystem, which includes the fast growing 5GAA organization.  The 5GAA involves over 85 global members comprised of many leading automakers, Tier-1 suppliers, software developers, mobile operators, semiconductor companies, test equipment vendors, telecom suppliers, traffic signal suppliers and road operators.  

Cellular modems will be key to the C-V2X deployment in vehicles to support telematics, eCall, connected infotainment and delivering useful driving/traffic/parking information. As C-V2X direct communication functionality is integrated into the cellular modem, C-V2X solutions are expected to be more cost-efficient and economical over competing technologies, and benefit from accelerated attach rates.  C-V2X direct communication field validations are currently underway in Germany, France, Korea, China, Japan and the U.S.

C-V2X currently stands as the only V2X technology based on globally recognized 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) specifications, with ongoing evolution designed to offer forward compatibility with 5G.  C-V2X also leverages and reuses the upper layer protocols defined by the automotive industry, including the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) organization. C-V2X includes two complementary transmission modes: 

  • Direct communication as shown in this demonstration for V2V and V2I use cases
  • V2N network communication, which leverages mobile operators for connectivity and delivers cloud-based services, including automated crash notification (ACN, as mandated by eCall), hazard warnings, weather conditions, green light optimal speed advisory (GLOSA), parking spot location, and remote tele-operation to support automated driving, to name a few.

“This demonstration builds on the successful C-V2X showcase we organised with our members Audi, Ford and Qualcomm in Washington DC in April, said Christoph Voigt, Chairman of 5GAA.

“We are excited to witness the growing momentum behind this life-saving technology and to see our members working together to deploy C-V2X, and to make it hit the road as soon as possible.”  

“The BMW Group introduced the first C-ITS use cases already in 2013 with the market introduction of the BMW i3. Today most of envisaged C-ITS use-cases are already institutionalized. With the implementation of C-V2X, the BMW Group accomplishes the last set of the puzzle with a practical path to C-ITS showing quick benefits,” said Christoph Grote, Senior Vice President Electronics, BMW Group. 

“With its ability to safely and securely connect vehicles, along with its evolution into 5G, C-V2X is integral to Ford’s vision for future transportation in which all cars and infrastructure talk to each other,” said Thomas Lukaszewicz, Manager Automated Driving, Ford of Europe. “We are very encouraged by preliminary test results in Europe and elsewhere which support our belief that C-V2X direct communications has superior V2X communication capabilities.”

“We’re moving forward with seamless communication between cars and their environment for enhancing road safety, as well as our customers’ safety,” said Carla Gohin, Group PSA’s Vice President for Research and Advanced Engineering. “Following the first European C-V2X direct communications demonstration we hosted with Qualcomm Technologies last March, we’re pleased to work with leading automotive and technology companies today to highlight that C-V2X interoperability is a reality.” 

“This demonstration of interoperability between multiple automakers is not only another milestone achieved towards C-V2X deployment, but also further validates the commercial viability and global compatibility of C-V2X direct communications for connected vehicles,” said Enrico Salvatori, senior vice president & president, Qualcomm Europe and MEA. “We look forward in continuing to work alongside leaders in the automotive industry, like the 5GAA, BMW Group, Ford, Groupe PSA and Savari, to help advance the automotive industry’s shift towards a safer, connected and more autonomous future.” 

“As one of the V2X pioneers, our company is extremely pleased to continue to help enable the next step in the V2X revolution that we helped start back in 2008,” said Ravi Puvvala, CEO of Savari. “For the last year and a half, the Savari team has worked diligently alongside the dedicated C-V2X engineers in the 5GAA partnership. The resulting string of increasingly impressive demonstrations is continuing to convince the world that C-V2X will soon be deployed around the world.”

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Fleet management in 360

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An on-board dual camera system from global fleet management vehicle recovery and insurance telematics provider, Cartrack, reduces the costs of managing vehicle fleets, while creating new ways to motivate drivers and improve their on-the-road performance.

Historically, commercial drivers within fleets have been far removed from active management and oversight, with limited tools available in helping fleet owners understand how their drivers actually behave on the road. This lack of visual tracking ability has seen fleet managers struggle to achieve meaningful driver skills development, while also leaving companies vulnerable to poor operational performance and financial losses resulting from accidents.

Cartrack’s Drive Vision system is dramatically changing this status quo.

Drive Vision is an on-board dual camera system that records video footage with a 120-degree exterior view of the road ahead, and a 160-degree view inside the vehicle cab. Not only can fleet managers actively monitor all the footage that they wish, the system also records specific events such as speeding, harsh braking or an unforeseen action from a third-party.

Drive Vision’s video is continuously captured and then made available to users in two ways. The footage is either buffered in the unit’s memory card for up to five days, and selected time slots can be downloaded by the user via a web interface. Alternatively, footage is also automatically downloaded to the system when specific events occur, such as speeding or a collision.  The captured footage is stored at a web address and is immediately accessible to the client at any time. In addition, the data centre’s driver exception reporting mechanism can review the footage against a client’s pre-determined driver behaviour stipulations, creating a balanced and flexible driver performance assessment tool.

Cartrack CEO, Andre Ittmann, notes why Drive Vision is so useful for companies.

“There are two key strategic benefits to the technology.  Firstly, the company has a clear visual record of events in the case of an accident or legal dispute. Achieving this kind of detailed view hasn’t been possible before, and it can dramatically reduce the costs around incidents and accidents, on an ongoing basis. Secondly, Drive Vision is a highly functional, event-based coaching system. It therefore allows fleet managers to develop a culture that rewards excellent or improved performance, while also giving them the power to actively close skills gaps. “

Ittmann also notes that fleet video footage allows the company to monitor and manage aspects of its service and market performance, including the driver’s ability to access a work site, thereby ensuring timeous arrivals at designated locations and the ability to oversee passenger count and conduct.

Ittmann concludes that Drive Vision offers untold long-term advantages for companies.

“Beyond simply gaining a more efficient means to discipline errant drivers, Drive Vision also empowers fleet managers to proactively implement measures that will result in long-term benefits for their company. Ultimately, the company can also reduce costs related to driver mismanagement while simultaneously improving a driver’s skills and their performance on the road.”

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