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Ironman 4x4 Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, and Mitsubishi Triton accessories review

By Matt Raudonikis | Photos: Cristian Brunelli, 10 Jun 2019 Gear

Ironman 4x4 popular ute accessories feature

What does it take to make the Hilux, Ranger and Triton the best off-road trucks? We head for the hills in a trio of kitted-up utes to put them through their paces.

For the first three months of 2019 there has been a clear top three in the new 4x4 sales charts. Not only are the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton utes the best-selling 4x4s in the country, they rank among the top-selling new vehicles overall, clearly showing the current appetite for this style of vehicle.

Due the current popularity of the 4x4 one-tonne ute we are seeing more frequent model updates from manufacturers. Not only are the utes getting new and improved features and safety tech to ensure they’re more appealing for everyday and family transport, but new models are coming around faster with shorter lifecycles, bringing new models every seven or so years.

While the Hilux and Ranger mightn’t look so new they both received model upgrades in 2018, resulting in minor visual changes and differences under the skin and in the technology used. The Triton copped a more extensive update with pretty much all-new sheetmetal and safety tech, putting the Mitsubishi at the head of the field in that regard.

While Australia’s world-leading 4x4 aftermarket accessory manufacturers relish the popularity of these utes as it leads to more demand for their products, the ever-changing model line-ups create headaches for them, too. Even minor changes can require an all-new bullbar or other equipment that off-road enthusiasts want.

To take a look at the latest changes to the three top-selling 4x4s of 2019, the aftermarket off-road accessories that people fit to them and the challenges the aftermarket faces, we lined up a 2019 Toyota Hilux, a late-2018 Ford Ranger and new Mitsubishi MR Triton to see how they go off-road.

All the vehicles came from Ironman 4x4 and were fitted with the Ironman 4x4 accessories typical of the company’s average customer. We also asked Ironman’s Adam Craze to come along and tell us about the processes of getting the product right for the latest vehicles.

“Ironman 4x4 buys at least one of every new or facelifted vehicle to enable us to start the product development process,” Adam told us. “Customers want product the day the vehicles are released, sometimes this is the same time that we would have access to purchase a vehicle, so there is a fair amount of pressure around developing product for new or updated vehicles.

“Once we have the vehicle we start a testing schedule to create a baseline of the vehicle. This will include dyno testing the suspension, testing the new or additional safety and driver assist function.

“We need to ensure that we do not affect the operation of the vehicles’ safety or driver assist functions. This may include parking sensors, active park assist, adaptive cruise control and AEB. With each new vehicle, new features are added and we need to ensure that we factor these into the design of the products we manufacture and sell.”

2019 Toyota Hilux

A new front-end for Hilux in August 2018 saw Ironman base its bullbar design around the prominent grille.

The always popular Hilux was the top-selling 4x4 over January to March 2019, with 9786 units hitting the road in Australia. Couple that with sales of 4x2 Hiluxes and it is one of the best-selling new cars overall. So it comes as no surprise that when a new or updated Hilux arrives, the aftermarket swings into overdrive to ensure they have the equipment buyers want when they get their new truck.

Toyota changed the front-end design of the Hilux in August 2018, implementing a tougher-looking ‘face’ by way of a bolder grille and new front bumper. This came on the back of similar treatment applied to the new Rugged, Rugged-X and Rogue models introduced earlier in the year. While a new grille and bumper might seem like minor changes to you and me, for the accessories industry it meant all-new bullbars and bumpers to suit.

4x4 history: 50 years of the Hilux

“You can actually fit the old grille to the new car and you could, if you wanted to, fit the previous bar (to a new Hilux),” Adam Craze said. “So the new design was around the grille as it comes out further.”
Something the updated Hilux didn’t score, leaving it behind the latest crop of utes, is tech such as AEB. We doubt Toyota will wait too long before bringing its best-selling ute in line with the market-leaders, so will this require further updates to items like bullbars? Adam Craze thinks so.

“Yes, I think the Hilux will soon be changed to incorporate some of the more standard safety features that are found on other models. The current Hilux doesn’t even have parking sensors, so I am sure a decent update is being worked on by Toyota.

“There is normally no reason to try and second-guess the vehicle manufacturer and try and pre-empt what they may release. We need to wait until we see the vehicle and then start the work from there. You could never guess what sensors or AEB systems or adaptive cruise radar will be used, let alone the shape and design of the front of the vehicle.”

Ironman 4x4 accessories fitted:
- Commercial Deluxe Bullbar
- Driving Lights: Spot (Drivers Side), Combo (Passenger Side)
- Rated Recovery Points
- 9500lb Monster Winch (Synthetic Rope)
- Premium Underbody Protection
- Rear Protection Step Tow Bar 
- Rear Protection Tow Bar Plates 
- Tow Bar Wiring Loom 
- Side Steps and Rails
- Pinnacle Canopy 
- Foam Cell Pro Suspension Upgrade 
- Airforce Snorkel
- Comfort Canvas Seat Covers

2019 Ford Ranger

A new engine and added active safety tech will see a variety of changes to Ironman’s Ranger accessories.

While the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger battled a neck-and-neck sales race throughout 2018, with the Hilux ultimately taking the win in the end, the margin is clearer over the first quarter on 2019 with the Ford’s 8521 sales to March notably behind and reflecting an overall downturn.

Ford updated the Ranger in May 2018 with the introduction of the new 2.0-litre engine and 10-speed auto being the most significant change, although the 3.2 and six-speed transmission remain available.

However, the driveline changes also came with improved safety technology including the availability of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) on many Ranger models. From June 2019, all Ranger variants will have the full suite of safety tech including AEB.

Only Ranger nerds will pick the different grille that marked the extent of exterior changes but the locations of the cameras used to operate the new technology meant changes to bullbars and other frontal accessories over the pre update models.

“Looks can be deceiving,” said Adam Craze. “For the new Ford Ranger, it is one of those updates where the vehicle manufacturer also updated parts of the suspension while the new 2.0-litre engine affects the airbox and snorkel on them. So there were a few changes that needed to be updated.

“The front bumper area where the tech pack components are located, has changed location and design from the previous model. Also in this new model new safety functions and driver assist functions were added. We had to design around the functions of these new features. We couldn’t add a bullbar that would not work with the active self-parking for instance.”

Ironman 4x4 accessories fitted:
- Commercial Deluxe Bullbar
- Driving Lights: Spot (Driver’s Side), Combo (Passenger Side)
- Rated Recovery Points
- 9500lb Monster Winch (Synthetic Rope)
- Premium Underbody Protection
- Rear Protection Step Tow Bar
- Rear Protection Tow Bar Plates
- Tow Bar Wiring Loom
- Side Steps and Rails
- Long Range Fuel Tank
- Thermo-Plas Canopy
- Foam Cell Pro Suspension Upgrade
- Airforce Snorkel
- Comfort Canvas Seat Covers

2019 Mitsubishi Triton

Triton’s new body and safety tech created a design challenge for the bullbar, rear protection and snorkel.

While the Ford and Toyota trucks are clearly ahead of the 4x4 ute pack in terms of sales, the Mitsubishi Triton rolls on in a solid third place. It’s a position gained mainly on value-for-money sales and the Triton is often discounted, but a fresh, new model for 2019 will see those discounts discontinued – for a while at least.

The MR Triton went on sale in December 2018 and sales of the new model combined with run-out deals on the previous -gen saw it hot on the heels of Ranger sales in February. They have slowed in March, but year-to-date the Triton sits at 6733 vehicles sold.

The MR Triton represents the biggest change in the 1-tonne ute segment with its all-new sheet metal and class-leading safety tech applied to a pretty much carried over driveline and chassis. With its bold and polarising front end design we always knew the Triton would challenge bullbar designers and with extra radar sensors for the rear-cross traffic warning system (the only 4x4 ute with this tech) even the rear bumper poses new hurdles.

“The front bumper of the Triton has a unique design which incorporates a rather large indicator and park light and large flat wheel arches,” says Adam. “Along with the decreased size and height of the headlights and inclusion of new safety functions like forward collision mitigation system with pedestrian detection and emergency brake assist, it made for an interesting challenge.

“The size of the lights in the OE bumper was a challenge as we would normally have more to play with, but the OE lights in the bumper ruled out a lot of real estate. On the new model, we felt that the distance from the chassis up to the headlights was too large to enable a well-designed, stylish and functional full replacement bullbar.

“The rear protection on the GLS models has a large sensor for the rear-cross traffic alert,” he adds. “This needed our bar to be a total redesign to ensure this function was incorporated. The GLX version was a little simpler with a small tweak in dimensions from the previous MQ model. The MR’s new ’guard requires a new snorkel design too, something still in the design process.”

Ironman 4x4 accessories fitted:
- Commercial Deluxe Bullbar
- Driving Lights: Spot (Driver’s Side), Combo (Passenger Side)
- Rated Recovery Points
- 9500lb Monster Winch (Synthetic Rope)
- Premium Underbody Protection
- Rear Protection Step Tow Bar
- Tow Bar Wiring Loom
- Side Steps and Rails
- Pinnacle Canopy
- Foam Cell Suspension Upgrade
- Comfort Canvas Seat Covers

Ironman 4x4 Upgrades

THE IRONMAN 4X4 kit fitted to these three utes represents the sort of gear most recreational 4WDers will fit to their new utes. There are all-terrain tyres for improved traction, upgraded suspension for better load-carrying and added ground clearance, front, rear and side barwork for vehicle protection, underbody protection, intake snorkels, rated recovery points, 12-volt winches, and stylish canopies to keep your gear safe in the trays. The Ranger also has an auxillary fuel tank to increase its touring range for extended treks.

The upgrades represent between $13,000 and $16,200 of fitted accessories on these three vehicles, taking into account that some of them have more kit than others. The alloy wheels and Nitto tyres aren’t Ironman products but come from Wheel Pros and perfectly accentuate the quality look of the additions.

Not surprisingly, picking a favourite from driving these three kitted-up 4x4 utes plays out much the same as it does when they’re in standard trim. The 3.2-litre Ranger is the favourite by far. It has the best engine and transmission combo, with the large-by-comparison five-cylinder engine loping along and never getting fazed by anything and the six-speed auto doing what’s needed without fuss.

The Ranger’s cabin feels big and is user friendly and comfortable for long days in the saddle, but those HVAC controls are dark and unreadable and we complain about them in every Ranger/Everest test. The rear end has sufficient articulation to drive the Ranger out of deep ruts, and the traction control is well calibrated and even remains operative if you employ the factory locking rear differential.

The class-leading rear-axle articulation of the Hilux combines with its excellent electronic traction control calibration to make it a formidable off-road weapon. The lack of space in the wheel arches prevent anything but the smallest increase in tyre size without having to hack out the inner fender wells, and we’re still not big fans of the 2.8-litre diesel engine. It’s harsh and buzzy on the highways and doesn’t deliver what you want when you put the foot down. Disappointing aspects in an otherwise polished package.

The MR model lifts the Triton range. The styling is improved over the last model and made better again with the addition of a well-designed bullbar. The step up to a six-speed auto over the previous five-speeder brings the transmission into this decade at a time when other companies are running eight, nine and 10-speed autos, but we reckon six is enough. Mitsubishi’s turbo diesel is the smallest capacity of this trio and delivers the least Newton metres, but the Triton is also smaller and lighter than the others so it gets along alright.

Each of these utes is a great basis for building an outback tourer, but it takes the type of accessories fitted to them here to make them competent, dependable and capable enough to take you on the ultimate adventure.