Dual-cab 4x4 utes continue to dominate the Australian new car market, and when you look at their versatility you can understand why. Here is a vehicle that can ferry the family around town, carry your trade tools to the worksite, tow your boat or horse float and take you on the four-wheel drive adventure of a lifetime.
If you’re looking to set off on such a 4x4 adventure you’ll want to upgrade your 4x4 ute to better handle the conditions, as the Aussie outback can throw up some of the toughest challenges. Thankfully, Australia is also home to the best aftermarket 4x4 accessories brands in the world, so we are spoilt for choices when it comes to top quality equipment.
Last year we purchased a new Ford Ranger 4x4 with the intention of transforming it into the ultimate adventure-touring dual-cab ute. With the help of some of the leading aftermarket 4x4 accessories companies in the country we’ve achieved the goal and have taken the rig to Central Australia, the Simpson Desert, the Flinders Ranges, Vic High Country and Tasmania.
From the ground up
We started the build by replacing the stock wheels and tyres and upgrading the suspension. Wanting tough tyres, we fitted a set of mud terrains to a set of bronze KMC Addict 2 alloy wheels. Initially we fitted Maxxis RAZR muddies and had a great run with them over the first 15,000km of use, covering all sorts of terrain. Recently, we swapped them out to give a set of Goodyear MT/Rs in the same 285/70-17 size a run.
To improve ground clearance, we raised the Ranger using a suspension upgrade from Ironman 4x4. This is a comprehensive kit from Ironman that includes the brand’s Foam Cell Pro front struts and uprated coil springs, its new forged aluminium upper control arms, and constant-load rear leaf spring mated to another set of Foam Cell Pro shocks. Combined with the bigger tyres we’ve achieved close to 75mm in extra clearance while the superior suspension components improve ride quality, handling and the Ranger’s ability to carry a load.
Adding to the improved clearance up front is a replacement bumper bar. We didn’t want to fit a full-size bulbar on this car but wanted a steel replacement that would allow us to mount our winch, spotlights and UHF aerial. So we went with a loopless style bar from AFN 4x4 as it ticks all the boxes for what we wanted. You can clearly see the improved clearance up front and our Warn winch, Narva lights and aerials are all securely mounted.
AFN4x4 also made the aluminium plate underbody protection for the inevitable scrapes and bumps you get off-road no matter how big your 4x4 is. These heavy-duty plates run from just below the bumper at the front, under the engine to protect the sump, and back under the transmission and transfer case.
The bigger aerial on the bar is for our Cel-Fi Go cellular phone booster from Powertec, which improves our mobile phone reception in remote areas; while the slim aerial is for the GME UHF radio, which we use for essential car-to-car comms when out on the road.
For the first six months of using the Ranger we ran a pair of Bushranger NightHawk driving lights on it. They proved to be amazing with their bright LED beam, featuring a unique variable power output. Just recently we’ve fitted a quartet of Narva Ultima 180 lights for a slimmer look. While the Narvas don’t offer the variable beam of the Highthawks, we can control the output by switching between the centre pair, the outer pair, or all four at once.
Another recent addition to the Ranger is the adjustable towing mirrors from MSA 4x4 Accessories. Gone are the days of having huge elephant ear-like towing mirrors strapped to the side of your car. The MSA units are compact and have a factory look to them but they can be rotated to a horizontal position to increase rearward view and slid outward for maximum view beyond your trailer – or in our case, our AMVE canopy body.
A replacement body for the rear of the Ranger was an integral part of our plans for the car from the outset. We wanted to retain the versatility of a ute that allows us to carry and store all sorts of equipment in the back, while keeping it all secure and protected from the elements.
Queensland’s Allsafe Mine Vehicle Equipment stepped up to the plate to build the body to our specifications. With a growing business in building such bodies for mining and industry, plus an awesome Ford F250 with a similar body but on a larger scale, we knew AMVE was the team for us.
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The AMVE body is beautifully custom-made from powdercoated aluminium and is bolted directly to the Ranger’s chassis – it doesn’t sit on a tray as some others do. This design makes the body lighter and allows us to maximise the usable space.
Inside the body we have mounted an MSA fridge slide to access a myCOOLMAN 60L fridge, some adjustable tie-down points to secure luggage and storage boxes, internal and external lighting, and lockable external toolboxes. Plus, we’ve integrated a water tank with powered pump for vital water supplies. The AMVE body really is the complete package that makes life on the road so much more practical – and thus easier.
To power things like fridges, lights, water pumps and other accessories, the Ranger is fitted with a comprehensive Redarc system incorporating the Manager 30 DC-DC charger to charge and maintain a bank of lithium batteries from Revolution Power Solutions. This allows charging via the Ranger’s alternator, directly from an external 240-volt source or via solar panels.
We’ve also fitted a Redarc 2000-watt pure sine wave inverter to allow us to power and charge appliances using 240V power when we are out on the road. The whole Redarc system is controlled by a RedVision Total Vehicle Management System that monitors and switches all the inputs, outputs and accessories via this control panel or the Redarc app on a smartphone.
The Redarc system is integrated into the AMVE body and, using it and the lithium batteries, we can power our fridge and accessories for up to a week in camp or indefinitely using a solar panel input, giving us the independence we’re after for self-sufficient remote area travel.
On the outside, looking in
At the back of the Ranger we have fitted an X-Bar from Aussie towbar specialists, Hayman Reese. Utes without the factory tub are often left without a rear bar and the X-Bar provides us with a tow bar, plus it has integrated rated recovery points for pulling other vehicles out of a bog. With its three red recovery points, it has a solution for any sticky situation.
A ladder provides access to the Rola Titan Tray rack system. The beauty of the Rola Titan system is that low-fitting slimline design when not in use and the multitude of accessories available to secure all of your adventure gear. In our case, up here we’ve stored MaxTrax Extreme recovery tracks, a shovel and a gas bottle, but there are options for a wheel mount, driving and camps lights, awnings, jerry cars and cargo. Speaking of MaxTrax, if the tracks themselves can’t get us out of trouble we have a full MaxTrax recovery kit on board to help with safe winching and kinetic vehicle recoveries.
There’s a second Titan Tray on the roof of the Ranger itself and it mounts Narva LED work lights, controlled via the RedVision system. The second tray also give us more capacity to carry more gear if needed.
We’ve kept things simple on the inside; the handpiece for the GME XRS UHF radio is close at hand for the driver, while the main body of the unit is concealed out of sight behind the dash. Plus, the extra switches for our driving lights are mounted in a panel from Lightforce. Essential protection for the carpet comes from a set of form-fitting 3D Mats.
Under the bonnet
The mechanical package remains pretty much as Ford intended with the 3.2L diesel and 6-speed manual. We did fit a free-flowing King Brown exhaust system from South Aussie specialists Pacemaker Exhausts, and this gives the Ranger’s diesel engine a bit more ability to breathe and a slight growl from its exhaust tip.
Protection for the fuel system comes via a Water Watch unit which removes any water, grit and other contaminants from the fuel system before it reaches the OE fuel filter. It also has a warning light and chime to warn the driver of any contaminants in the system before they can do expensive damage to the engine.
There’s also a Provent oil separator catch-can from Direction Plus, which reduces the amount of oil that would otherwise go back into the engine’s intake and result in performance-robbing carbon build-up. Like the Water Watch unit, an oil catch-can provides a preventative measure to ensure the performance and longevity of the engine.
We’ve logged 18,000km on the Ranger in the eight months we’ve had it and it’s living up to our aim of being the ultimate bush tourer. It isn’t used as a town car, so its mileage has all been out on off-road adventures or the highways to get us to those remote places.
From the deserts of Central Australia to the highlands of Tasmania, the Ranger, and the equipment we’ve fitted to it, has done everything we’ve asked of it and never let us down.