RACE TO THE CAPE

After 20,000kms towing camper trailers we check in to see how Dan’s Ranger is performing

Camped up for the night at Eddie’s Beach, a little earlier the extra power got me out of a bind when I started sinking below the low-tide mark at the Coloured Sands (the only way to get through).

Camped up for the night at Eddie’s Beach, a little earlier the extra power got me out of a bind when I started sinking below the low-tide mark at the Coloured Sands (the only way to get through)

Modern 4x4s are too highly strung to be reliable. They’re not built for serious off-road work. And if you tinker with them they turn into a ticking time bomb. These are things we’ve all heard countless times before, and to be honest, it’s something I’ve always secretly thought in the back of my head too. They just don’t build them like they used to, or so I thought.

My old Cruiser backed me into a corner with reliability, and with two young kids and a missus keen to come exploring I needed something that’d get me there and back comfortably, wherever there happened to be. A Ford Ranger ticked all the boxes, and with the right modifications should be up to the task. You might remember a few months back with a little over 10,000kms on the clock I had the guys from Roo Systems fit a 3in DPF back exhaust system then strap it to the dyno for a towing and touring tune. The actual figures don’t really matter. What did matter is it made a significant difference in the way the Ranger performed on and off-road. It was never slow, especially by diesel 4×4 standards, but it was always lazy. It felt like it was just doing the bare minimum to not get traded in. The performance mods the guys did woke it up. Throttle response was quicker, it pulled longer and harder – easily keeping up with traffic, and to top it all off it actually dropped fuel consumption by around half a litre per hundred. Even hitching up a camper trailer I could easily hunt down small hatchbacks through winding mountain roads.

But that was in a mostly stock 4×4.

And it was over very limited kays.

And it was mostly around town.

The boys wanted me to properly test it though, and I had an idea.

If you’ve never been to Cape York before Far North Queensland doesn’t really drive home the point how far away from anything it is. Between Bamaga (the northern most town) and Cairns is 1000km in a straight line. That’s further than Sydney to Brisbane, and almost exclusively on corrugated dirt roads. I loaded the Ranger, threw the family in, hitched on near on 2000kg worth of camper and camping gear then headed north. By the time I got back the Ranger had clocked up over 20,000kms with its new tune.

So how did it go?

We ditched the camper and took on the ‘Tele track, a few new dents and scratches, but it was a hell of an experience

The most important thing to touch on is reliability. Can a modern diesel still perform reliably when pushed harder than stock? The answer is absolutely yes, at least so far, and with routine maintenance that shouldn’t change. The Ranger absolutely didn’t miss a beat. It was our home away from home for a month, AC constantly running, electrical system under the pump charging our devices and keeping the fridge to a crisp -2c. Every day it’d start easily. Every time I’d push the loud pedal it’d roar into life. And every time I turned the key off hours from the nearest sign of civilisation the thought of it not firing back into life never crossed my mind. There’s people concerned about the more aggressive tune loading up the DPF too, but to this day it has not once had to do a forced burn off. If I didn’t poke my head underneath and see the DPF with my own eyes I’d be convinced it didn’t actually have one.

Boring stuff over. How’s she drive. The biggest noticeable thing on the way there and back was it never lacked for grunt. Coming up behind a road train was a non-event. Radio through, check I was clear then bag them up with a quick “thanks mate” over the radio. In fact the only power related issue I had was speed creep. The wide-open planes with no reference for speed meant it was easy to creep far beyond the speed limit without realising it. I’ve got the ticket to prove it too.

The power was brilliant off-road too. We snaked our way up through Cape Melville, out onto the west coast then back up the centre too. Where others got bogged on the soft sand of Pennfather Beach I was able to instantly respond with the throttle as soon as we slowed and build mumbo again till we were up and moving. We were able to zig and zag through the bypass tracks to meet the Jardine River ferry before they parked up for the night, and had plenty of grunt to get the camper up to speed to float over the harsh corrugations on the PDR rather than rattling us to pieces.

With the camper re-connected we re-joined the ‘Tele further up to head into Fruit Bat and Elliot Falls then took the scenic route out

Could I have done the trip without the extra power? Absolutely. But it made me far more confident driving the Ranger. It was safer, got stuck less, and made light work of the trailer so I could get on with enjoying the trip rather than fighting my gear. At the rate I’m racking up kays now it won’t be long till I tick over the 50k mark, then the 100k mark, but for now I’ve got plenty more tracks to get out and explore, and the right 4×4 to do it in.

The Ranger made short work of the bull-dust laden Battle Camp Road, although I’m still trying to clean the last of it

The Ranger made short work of the bull-dust laden Battle Camp Road, although I’m still trying to clean the last of it