- Introduction: Meet the Project Ranger
- Update 1: Weapon of choice
- Update 2: Hitting the tracks
- Update 3: Geared up
- Update 4: Ronny's Ranger
- Update 5: Box and Dice
- Update 6: Tow Ready
- Update 7: Head for the Hills
- Update 8: Rear Renewed
Introduction: Meet the Project Ranger
WE’RE PRETTY excited here at 4X4HQ after taking delivery of this new Ford Ranger. We say new, but it’s a 2018 model we scored as a demo with only 250km on the clock … so, as good as new.
We’ve got big plans for the Ranger which are swinging into action as we speak, with some of the biggest names in the 4x4 business helping us out.
The Ranger will primarily be the support vehicle for our 4x4 Adventure Series trips, so we need to kit it up to be expedition ready. We put a wishlist of accessories together and, before we head out to the Red Centre in July, we’ll be fitting the Ranger with Ironman 4x4 suspension and a long-range fuel tank, Maxxis RZR tyres on KMC wheels from Wheel Pros, an AFN bumper housing a Warn winch and Bushranger Nighthawk lights, a Cel-Fi phone signal booster, and a Water Watch fuel monitor. The whole lot will be covered thanks to Club 4x4 Insurance.
There’s more to come when we get back to town including the exciting aluminium body from AMVE and Redarc power system, so keep an eye for updates on WhichCar along the way. And keep an eye out for us on the tracks and say G’day if you see us.
Update 1: Weapon of choice
We welcome our new Ford Ranger project car and waste no time loading it with accessories.
WHILE MOST of the cars we feature in our ‘Garage’ are our personal old bangers and long-term road-test vehicles owned by the car companies, this ‘newish’ Ford Ranger is actually ours to keep. Yep, the magazine owns it, and we’ll be kitting it out with some awesome gear over the coming months and using it on our adventures.
I say ‘newish’ as it is a 2018 PXII Ranger, but it was a demo model and arrived to us with only 250km on the clock. Basically, it has sat in a Ford dealership just around the corner from our HQ for the past eight months and barely been driven.
WELCOME: Introducing our Project Ranger
So we got a good deal, but it also ticked all of the boxes for us: a 4x4 Ranger with the 3.2-litre engine and manual gearbox were our only prerequisites.
Why a 3.2-litre with a manual transmission? Because that’s my preferred choice of Ranger engine, and I like manual gearboxes. We chose a Ranger because it’s currently the best-selling new 4x4 to private buyers and there’s a shed-load of great accessories available for it.
Before we even drove it off the lot we called Club 4X4 to cover the insurance, and we’ll be updating that policy regularly as more kit goes on the ute. Then it was straight down to our mate Phil at Ontrack Automotive in Ferntree Gully to have a Water Watch pre-filter fitted to catch out any contaminants in the diesel fuel.
With a deadline fast approaching on a Red Centre 4x4 adventure we took the car to the crew at No Limit 4x4 & Outdoor in Dandenong, where they installed an AFN loopless front bumper with full underbody protection plates, as well as a Warn Zeon 10-S winch and a pair of Bushranger Night Hawk LED driving lights.
Just around the corner from No Limit 4x4 is Freeway Car Audio Visual, and the Ranger went there to get a Cel-Fi phone signal booster from Powertec fitted.
SPECIAL EDITION: Ranger Sport lands
Ironman 4x4 fitted a full suspension kit, including its Foam Cell Pro shocks and new forged alloy UCAs, plus a long-range fuel tank for added touring capacity. While it was up on a hoist we bolted on the bronze Wheel Pros KMC Addict 2 alloy wheels wrapped in Maxxis RAZR muddies, which should be tough enough to take on any terrain. They certainly look the part.
With a Rola Titan Tray roof rack up top and a MaxTrax full recovery kit on board, we hit the highway for Alice Springs. We’ll be reviewing these products and more on the Ranger over the next year or so, and it promises to be a lot of fun. We look forward to racking up the miles and bringing you these real-world reviews, so stay tuned.
Update 2: Hitting the tracks
We escape town to put our Ranger and its new accessories to the test in the Red Centre.
AS SOON as the last bolts securing the Rola Titan roof racks were tightened, and the winch rope and Factor 55 FlatLink were fitted, we were loading our Project Ford Ranger up with gear for a three-week trip to Central Australia and the Simpson Desert.
The tray area in the XLS-spec Ranger doesn’t have a 12-volt outlet, but the rear seats fold up neatly to provide a flat space that snuggly fits our 40-litre ARB fridge/freezer on one side and leaves enough space behind the passenger seat (and in the tray) for more cargo, including swags, camp chairs, stretchers and so on. Even though I was travelling solo, I was meeting a crew in Alice Springs and had all of their camp gear onboard.
It was a highway run to Alice, with the Ranger easily eating up the miles; the Maxxis RAZR muddies humming along on the black-top, and tunes flowing from the Ford sound system. The Ranger XLS only has a basic stereo with two front speakers and no sat-nav in the dash, but it sufficed on long days on the tracks.
I’m normally a big fan of automatic climate-control systems, but the XLS misses out on this feature. Still, I was pleased with the ease of use of the old-school HVAC system and its big dials for temperature and fan control, as opposed to the tiny buttons used on the higher-spec XLT and Raptor models. The cabin of our low-spec Ranger proved to be a nice place to spend long hours on the road.
With the oversized tyres throwing the speedometer and odometer out by around five per cent, and the Ironman 4x4 long-range fuel tank leaving the fuel gauge imprecise, we couldn’t get accurate fuel-use figures, but we estimate it was returning around 13 to 13.5L/100km on the highway. The 140-litre tank provided around 900km of safe fuel range.
Once in Alice Springs we dropped into Ironman 4x4 fitters, Stuart Highway Auto, for a spanner check of the new suspension. This is always recommended at around 1000km after installation, and we’d logged up more than 2300km heading to Alice. It all checked out okay, and it was then only a matter of picking up the crew and heading on our way.
You’ll read more about our Red Centre adventures, as well as reviews of the gear fitted to the Ranger, in upcoming issues of the magazine. We’ll also tell you how well the Ranger took on the deserts. With it now back in Melbourne, it’s overdue for its 3000km service; plus, we have more gear to be fitted before we leave the black-top behind for another trip.
The complete ownership adventure on 4x4 Shed
4x4 Shed Log 1: 2018 Ford Ranger XLS
Current mileage: 6112km
Date acquired: June 2019
Mileage this month: 5737km
Average fuel consumption: N/A
Update 3: Geared up
The Ranger gets its first service and more accessories.
With the Ford Ranger back in town after the Central Australia trip, it was way overdue for its 3000km service. This is a complementary service from Ford and is basically a check-over to make sure everything is running right. We had a couple of small things that needed attention while it was in the shop.
We ordered a set of factory colour-coded flares to cover the bigger Maxxis tyres we’d fitted, but they didn’t arrive before the trip so the Ranger was running with a bit of tyre poke on that run. These arrived at the dealer and were fitted while it was in for the service. The flares cover the tyres now and it shouldn’t spray so much mud up the sides when driving off-road, as it did in the desert.
While we were away we had a sway bar link rattle loose from the front left upright, and this allowed the bar to drop onto the CV joint and tear the rubber boot. Most of the outback trip was done with the sway bar removed which wasn’t a problem, but the torn boot let dust into the CV joint so we asked Ford to replace that. This is a $690 part and replacing it along with refitting the sway bar meant that the service set us back $980.
The Ford dealer also replaced the inverter under warranty, as it started showing a fault and stopped working while we were on our trip.
More accessories arrived at the office while we were away, so after the dealer visit we sent the Ranger back to Ontrack Automotive in Ferntree Gully to have the GME XRS 330CTP UHF kit ($629) and King Brown three-inch cat-back exhaust system (from $760) fitted. With a lack of space for additional switches in the Ranger’s cabin, we also fitted switch-panel fascia from Lightforce ($135) that gives us that facility while retaining a factory-fit look.
Lastly, a set of tough 3D floor mats from Tru-Fit carpets were installed to protect the factory carpets from dust and mud. We should have fitted these before the dusty Red Centre trip, but we’re heading to South Australia next month so they’ll be put to good use. These hard-wearing, waterproof ‘Maxtrac’ 3D mats fit like they were moulded directly to the floor pan, and the clever hook system on the back of them grips the carpet so they don’t move around in the footwell like many other mats do. The full set of mats for front and rear sells for $279.
With this new gear onboard we’re again loading the Ranger up for another adventure. This time we’re off for two weeks in the Flinders Ranges.
4x4 Shed Log 2: 2018 Ford Ranger XLS
Current mileage: 6434km
Mileage this month: 322km
Average fuel consumption: N/A
Update 4: Ronny's Ranger
Ron drives Our Ford Ranger on an outback jaunt.
By: Ron Moon
When I picked up the Ford Ranger from the 4X4 Australia office, it had been with the mag for a few months and had already seen a bit of outback action, but this was the first chance I’d had to drive it for more than an hour or two.
It’s a smart-looking beast, accentuated with a good-looking AFN front bumper that hides a Warn Zeon 10-S winch, while also wearing a pair of Bushranger Night Hawk LED driving lights. With a set of Wheel Pros KMC Addict 2 alloy wheels fitted with Maxxis RAZR muddies, and all propped up by an Ironman PXIII suspension kit with foam cell shocks and Pro Forge upper control arms, it certainly looks the business.
A Rola Titan Tray up top can hold a load of gear; although, we only seem to carry a set of MaxTrax, a shovel and the occasional swag up there.
In the cab of the XLS-level Ranger you don’t get too much fancy stuff, but I kinda like it that way. It has air-conditioning and a stereo with a couple of speakers, which is more than sufficient to make long-distance cruising a doddle; and we’ve done a fair amount of that!
For inter-vehicle comms we have fitted a GME XRS 330CTP UHF radio, tucked away out of sight, with all the controls, mic and speaker on the handpiece. I don’t normally like such handset speaker mics, but I was surprised at the clarity, tonal and volume response from this unit; it is without doubt the best I have ever used.
So what were my impressions after two weeks of driving over 4000km or so under a variety of conditions and road surfaces? First up, while humming along over a variety of bitumen road surfaces, there was just the slightest feel of coarseness in the ride quality over what you get from a standard Ranger.
I put this down entirely to the difference in the tyre package over the standard, more road-orientated rubber fitment. I had also been driving a few vehicles in the previous few weeks all fitted with far less aggressive tyres than the Maxxis units, so it wasn’t any real surprise.
Still, it didn’t take much time before I was oblivious to the slight change in ride quality and the extra noise, and by the time we had clocked up a few hundred kilometres on a variety of dirt roads and tracks, where the tyres were in their element, any differences were really a non-issue.
What really impressed me with the Ironman 4x4 suspension package was the new upper control arms, which allow more clearance for the larger tyres we have fitted, and have resulted in improved ride and capability when in the rough stuff.
We found plenty of tracks in the Flinders that were rocky, with some good-size steps and some scrabbly sections of loose rock and deep bulldust. The tyres, combined with the improved lift and articulation of the suspension, made this the best, most capable Ranger I have driven off-road.
On high-speed dirt, or through long sections of fast corrugations, the suspension package exhibited good control and as good a ride as you can get in such circumstances, with no sign of fade from the hard-working foam-cell shock absorbers.
In all, it was a delight to drive ... and I didn’t want to hand this smart-looker back. But the editor insisted!
4x4 Shed Log 3: 2018 Ford Ranger XLS
Current mileage: 10,434km
Mileage this month: 4000km
Average fuel consumption: N/A
Update 5: Box and Dice
Our Ranger gets its canopy fitted and then heads for the hills on the NSW North Coast.
We had to pry the keys to the Ranger out of Ronny’s hand after the Flinders Rangers trip, where he sounded suitably impressed with its performance in the rocky terrain. It had a date with a new body back in Melbourne, as one of the major components of the build was ready.
From the outset we wanted to fit a full aluminium box body to the back of the Ranger, and Jamie and his team at Allsafe Mine Vehicle Equipment in Brisbane (AMVE) designed a unit specifically for us. AMVE has done a few canopies for Rangers and BT-50s in the past, and they are all built to order to perfectly suit the customer’s needs.
We were conscious of weight in our build, and a full aluminium replacement body – not one that sits on a tray – is the best way to maximise space while limiting additional weight. In fact, by the time you remove the Ranger’s original steel ute tub and replace it with the AMVE aluminium body, there’s not a whole lot more mass to it.
We kept the internal features to a minimum with just an MSA Drop Slide to mount the myCoolman fridge, a full Redarc power system including a BCDC charger, 2000W inverter and RedVision control centre, and a bank of lithium-ion batteries. That left us with plenty of space for swags, Pelican cases and such. We’ll have a full review of the AMVE canopy in the mag soon, but suffice to say, we love it so far.
No sooner had Jamie fitted the canopy with some help from the team at the TJM Dandenong store, including use of their workshop, the Ranger was back on the highway headed for another adventure.
Each year we invite a handful of our supporters away on a trip for a few days of off-roading and just hanging out. No business talk, no video BS, just good vibes for days. This year we headed for the hills west of Coffs Harbour, where the forests hide all manner of terrain.
Plenty of steep climbs, ruts and washouts, with a bit of local history thrown in thanks to our guide Kevin Smith. This is just the sort of driving the Ranger has been built for and it does it easily. The only thing to complain about is its crappy, old phone Sync system that constantly cuts out, requiring you to unplug and re-plug the USB, interrupting the good vibes when highway touring.
4x4 Shed Log 4: 2018 Ford Ranger XLS
Current mileage: 13,666km
Mileage this month: 4250km
Average fuel consumption: N/A
Update 6: Tow Ready
More pieces to the puzzle for our Ford Ranger
The RANGER hasn’t seen much action this month since we got back from the advertisers’ trip in Coffs Harbour (Summer 2020 issue). However, we’ve managed to get some more pieces of the puzzle in place before we head out again.
With the AMVE canopy now in place we could head back to Hayman Reese/Rola to get the X-Bar rear bumper fitted. Up until now these have only been available to suit cab-chassis utes – and not those with a tub on them – which is why we had to wait, but there is a new ute tub version of the X-Bar now hitting the market.
Even so, the fitment to the back of our car wasn’t straightforward. We set up our canopy to sit low on the chassis and it hangs back a fair way behind the end of the chassis rails, which posed a problem.
However, the guys at Hayman Reese sorted that out with some custom-made brackets that move the bar back and down a little. The great thing about the brackets is that they still leave the X-Bar high enough that it won’t infringe on the departure angle when we are driving without the towing hitch in place.
Our Ranger now has three solid, rated recovery points on the back for helping to drag other vehicles out of trouble. The centre recovery point on the X-Bar is rated to 8000kg, while the points at either end are 4000kg a piece.
While it was in the shop we had the guys take the 1500mm-long Rola Titan tray off the Ranger’s cab and move it atop the canopy. This too required some custom mounts, as we wanted to keep the tray as low as possible, but the guys just modified the standard mounts to suit. They also fitted a shorter 1200mm tray above the cab, so now the Ranger has plenty of storage space, inside and out.
The next trip for the Ranger will be as a support vehicle on the 4x4 of the Year road test and, with almost 15,000km on the clock, it was time for a service. We again entrusted Chris and Phil at Ontrack Automotive in Ferntree Gully for this work and asked them to give the car a thorough spanner check. Chris noted the air cleaner was pretty blocked up and replaced both its element and the fuel filter as part of the service. This is why we prefer to have our car serviced by a specialised 4x4 workshop and not a dealer who doesn’t understand what we do with our vehicles.
Chris also fitted a ProVent oil catch can, to protect the intake from clagging up. This is essential equipment for any modern diesel four-wheel drive that uses an EGR emissions system, as they are prone to gunking up. We got our catch can in a complete kit from the team at Direction Plus.
4x4 Shed Log 5: 2018 Ford Ranger XLS
Current mileage: 15,098km
Mileage this month: 1432km
Average fuel consumption: N/A
Update 7: Head for the Hills
The Ranger gets loaded up to serve as support vehicle for a trip to the Victorian High Country.
With its new Rola Titan roof racks, X-Bar and Provent catch can recently fitted, it was time to load up the Ranger and head bush again. Just a local trip this time, up into the Victorian High Country as the support vehicle for our 4X4OTY testing, but it was the first time out with the AMVE body loaded up.
GT was using the Ranger for camp catering, so it was carrying all the food, drinks, water and cooking kit to keep 11 blokes fed and watered for a week. This included 30-odd litres of water in the AMVE water tanks and a myCOOLMAN fridge full of beers. It also had all the recovery gear onboard in case any of the new cars got stuck in the hills.
4x4 gear: myCOOLMAN fridge and power pack tested
When we originally fitted the Ironman 4x4 suspension to the Ranger, the guys used relatively soft rear springs commensurate with the types of load we’d be carrying. We knew then that the AMVE body would be a few months off and didn’t want the Ranger to ride too hard, and we planned to fit stiffer springs once the body was fitted.
When the body went on and we drove the car to Coffs Harbour we liked the supple ride. The weight of the canopy didn’t seem to affect the suspension adversely, either, but now with the canopy loaded, the rear leafs were almost flat and it wallowed a bit when up in the mountains … time for those stiffer rear leafs in the New Year.
The Ranger chugged along at the back of the new-car convoy for a week without any dramas. We did bust off the power plug for the fridge when sliding it out on the MSA Drop Slide and this shorted out the Redarc unit, but nothing that can’t be fixed. We want to wire the fridge power directly into the RedVision unit anyway, along with a few other new accessories to be fitted before the next jaunt.
4x4 Shed Log 6: 2018 Ford Ranger XLS
Current mileage: 15,585km
Mileage this month: 487km
Average fuel consumption: N/A
Update 8: Rear Renewed
The Ranger gets new leaf springs and shocks for the back end.
No action for our Ranger over the New Year period as it was parked up for the holidays, but no sooner than we were back in town and it was in the shop getting new parts fitted.
First stop was back to Ironman 4x4 HQ in Dandenong to get the rear leaf springs replaced. When we first had the Ironman suspension fitted it was set up with the standard tub on the back, not the AMVE aluminium canopy. With the canopy on and loaded the medium rate (200kg to 400kg) leafs were at their limit so they’ve been replaced with Ironman’s Constant Load springs rated to 400kg+.
The team at Ironman 4x4 also upgraded the rear shocks to match the higher-rated springs, again using the company’s Foam Cell Pro shocks, but with the new Professional Valving which offers improved performance under heavier loads.
Released late in 2019, the Professional Valving shocks are designed for those who use their vehicle as a fully loaded workshop on wheels or regular tourers who load up for extended off-road adventures. The Professional Valving Series dampers are available across Ironman’s Nitro Gas, Foam Cell and Foam Cell Pro ranges.
Our tenure with the Maxxis RAZR muddies is up and after a little more than 15,000km on them I’ve got to say we have been very impressed. They’re relatively quiet on road, never struggled off road, and suffered no punctures or signs of damage after some torturous rocky tracks in the Flinders; they’re right up there with my favourite mud-terrain tyres, and at a price that comes in a fair bit cheaper than the competition.
We have replaced the RAZRs with Goodyear’s MT/Rs, again in the 285/70R17 size. I’ve had great service out of the old-style MT/Rs going back a few years so I’ll be keen to see how these newer ones perform on and off the road.
Initial impressions of the new rear suspension and Goodyear tyres has only been from ferrying it around town, but so far so good. We’ll have to wait until we load it up for a few more off-road kays before we can give a full report.
Before we head off again we’ll fit a set of MSA 4x4 adjustable towing mirrors and we’ll swap out the driving lights with a new setup.
4x4 Shed Log 7: 2018 Ford Ranger XLS
Current mileage: 15,859km
Mileage this month: 274km
Average fuel consumption: N/A