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2018 Ford Ranger project rig long-term review

By Matt Raudonikis, 14 Nov 2019 Reviews

A Ranger has join the 4x4 Shed and we plan to gear it up into the ultimate support rig.

2018 Ford Ranger project rig long-term review feature

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.

2018 Ford Ranger XLS aftermarket install

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.

2018 Ford Ranger XLS before aftermarket install

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
Price: N/A
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

THANKS TO
www.club4x4.com.au
www.atecoequipment.com.au/products/warn-winches
www.maxxistyres.com.au
www.wheelprosaustralia.com.au
www.ironman4x4.com
www.pxwholesales.com.au
www.afn4x4.com.au
www.bushranger.com.au/nighthawk
www.ontrack4x4.com.au
www.titantray.com
www.maxtrax.com.au
www.powertec.com.au
www.gme.net.au
www.lightforce.com
www.pacemaker.com.au
www.3dmats.com.au

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