Breaking in the new Ranger Offroad (photo heavy)
AkioOhtori last edited by AkioOhtori
Introductions and Additions
Our road trip group has an odd, unintentional tradition of beating up our new vehicles when they're still rocking temp plates from the dealer.
I think I'm right in saying Taylor was the first, having purchased his new-to-him 2015 XTerra Pro4x only the week before we ran the eastern half of the Oklahoma Adventure Trail. After that our friend Brady brought his brand new 2021 Toyota Tacoma out to southwestern Oklahoma for some time in the dirt. Then we had Andrew in his factory-fresh Rivian bombing around Death Valley.
This time... it was George in his 2022 Ford Ranger XLT Tremor, purchased less than 24 hours before we left for a trip to the Ouachita National Forest.
For this trip we actually wanted to drive to southern Colorado, but with vacation time thin on the ground, the Land Rover acting a fool, and eye-watering gas prices, I'm glad we decided with the less-ambitious trip to Arkansas. We found a nice rental house near Hot Springs on the eastern side of the Ouachita National Forest. While we'd been to the former before, we'd never been to Hot Springs so we were looking forward to seeing it too.
Cast and Characters
It has been a while since I've done a big trip write-up, so I figure I'll do a intro for those of you who don't know us and our cars!
Akio (me) - 2001 Land Rover Discovery II SE7 - Tulsa, OK
Rocking the infamous 4.0L Rover V8 mated to a 4-speed ZF automatic transmission, producing 180HP and 250lb-ft of torque, the aging Rover has been with me since our Cheap Car Challenge in 2017, when we bought cheap off-roaders in California and set out on an adventure. The Rover has been remarkably reliable since then, mostly requiring basic maintenance and incremental upgrades. The Landy is mostly stock, fitted with slightly larger than stock AT tires and a center-locking-differential (CDL) linkage. The Rover's only known fault at the time we set off was a inoperable handbrake.
This series 2 Discovery drives all four wheels all the time utilizing an open "center" differential in the transfer case paired with open front and rear differentials. To compensate, Land Rover also equipped it with first-of-its-kind off-road focused traction control. To further compensate, I added the ability to lock the center differential manually, enabling performance more similar to a "traditional" off-roader. The Rover has solid front and rear axles, coil springs on all four corners, and a traditional 2-speed, manually actuated transfer case.
I don't know if I'd call the Land Rover the "underdog" on this one, but it is certainly the oldest and most potentially unreliable, having recently received major surgery in the form of new axle seals, ball joints, steering rod, and drag link... failure of any one of which would spell disaster.
Taylor - 2015 Nissan XTerra Pro4x - Austin, TX
Equipped with yet another 4.0L, Taylor's 2nd generation XTerra features Nissan's 4.0L V6 mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, producing 261HP and 281 lb-ft of torque sent to the rear wheels by default. Taylor actually traded his long-owned, 2WD, automatic, 2005 Nissan XTerra for this 2015 model back in 2018 when we were about to set off to do the 2nd half of the Oklahoma Adventure Trail. Since then Taylor has literally driven the wheels off the XTerra, but hasn't done any upgrades to speak of. I guess that means it is good enough as-is! The XTerra's only known faults at the time of set-off are a mostly unhelpful handbrake and an occasionally clogged EVAP system.
This 2nd generation, final model-year XTerra rocks the Pro4x off-road package which includes a traditional, manually actuated 2-speed transfer case, off-road focused traction control, clutch-start button, and rear locking differential. The XTerra has independent suspension with coil springs in front and a solid axle with leaf springs in the rear.
Being the only one sporting a manual transmission in the group, Taylor has some unique challenges when the going gets tough, but handles them well and gets the added benefit of driving a manual! We didn't really expect any drama from the little blue Nissan... but we sure got some!
George - 2022 Ford Ranger XLT Tremor - Tulsa, OK
The new boy! Purchased at around 9PM the day before we left for the trip, George replaced his long-suffering 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk with a brand new Ranger! This fourth generation Ranger features Ford's 2.3L turbo-four mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, making 270HP and 310 lb-ft of torque. The Ranger came about after a lot of research and thinking as the Jeep's many faults began to wear thin. Finally, a decision and deal were reached, and the Ranger is now George's daily driver.
Featuring the "Tremor" off-road package gives the Ranger a mild factory lift, some additional armor plating, side steps, a rear locking differential, extended diff breathers, recovery hooks, remote reservoir rear shocks, pre-wired aux in-dash aux switches, special "terrain management" traction control, and a few other off-road focused toys and cosmetics. The Ranger utilizes a traditional 2-speed, electronically actuated transfer case and has independent suspension with coil springs in front and a solid axle with leaf springs in the rear.
As the new vehicle (truck? are we all trucks now!?) in the group, we had no idea what to expect from the fancy Ford. Was it going to be "Fix Or Repair Daily" or "First On Race Day?" On paper the Ranger looks like it'll keep up just fine, but when the rubber hits the dirt, rocks, and sand... well I guess we'll find out!
In memoriam- 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
As this is the first trip we've taken without the Jeep, it seem only fair to take a moment to
talk shit about itremember the good times.
The Jeep joined the group shortly after our 2017 cheap car challenge during which we all caught the "off-road bug" and decided it was a thing we wanted to continue doing. A the time I was the only one who owned a 4WD vehicle, having kept the Disco, but Taylor had his 2WD XTerra which could go off-road with careful planning. George only owned his Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Cabriolet, and therefore decided to replace the Golf with something that could both hit the trails and be a respectable daily. He landed on his fully-loaded Renegade, complete with the "my sky" removable roof panels and all the goodies.
Over the next five years the Renegade would do things most would call impossible, including Black Gap at Big Bend National Park and a whole bunch of other pretty serious off-roading. Though the Renegade, affectionally called "The Toaster," was never the most composed of the three of us, it did everything the "big boys" did and frequently with more ease. The Renegade received many incremental upgrades over the years and was pretty kitted out towards the end, featuring a mild lift, GMRS radio, rock rails, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting.
Sadly the inherent compromise of the Renegade was ultimately its downfall. Though fun off-road, its tiny gas tank and sub-par gas mileage made traveling with it an exercise in visiting every gas station in the back country. On the road the Jeep suffered from many Jeep issues, such as a lumpy engine, unresponsive gas pedal, inherent lack of power, inconsistent cruise control, and a defiant transmission. Though George loved his underdog Jeep, the timing was right for a replacement and so a deal was struck.
Last but not least! Introducing "Banjo" the drone
Ok... not really new... nor a person or car, but enough of a presence that it made it onto the sicker!
Anyway, this is the first trip for my DJI Air 2s so I was eager to see how it could be used for our trips. It ended up with the name "Banjo" based on a Bob's Burgers episode in which Bob buys a 2nd hand banjo so he is always ready for a "banjo moment." Over the course of the trip I was always on the lookout for a "banjo moment" and therefore decided that is what the drone gets to be called.
ALRIGHT! On to the trip!
Day 0 - Paris, TX
We set out from our respective homes on Thursday, June 16th, after working a full work day. Our target meet-up location was Paris, Texas, chosen because it was a reasonable distance for all of us to drive (3-4 hrs) and had a Hilton I could snag some free rooms on points. Really this detour added a little travel time for George and I, but was a good place to meet up and as the VRBO we had booked wasn't available for Thursday evening, getting a cheap hotel seemed to be a good compromise.
Heading out for us was nice and uneventful, the way we like it. The Disco ended up with a little more junk than usual as George wasn't used to having somehow both more and less space available, as while the truck bed offers a lot of storage it is unsecured storage (for now) so I ended up with some of the overflow.
We got on the road around 7:30 PM and rolled into Paris, TX, around 10:30, approximately 5 minutes before Taylor arrived.
Did I mention we hadn't told Taylor about the Ranger?
We hadn't told Taylor about the Ranger.
When he rolled up he seemed confused, alarmed, and excited. Everything we were hoping for!
We settled in and planned the days ahead over a few glasses of whiskey, then turned in for the night.
Day 1 - Paris to Hot Springs
Today's goal was pretty simple: Make it to our weird cocaine palace VRBO before nightfall and hit some dirt on the way.
First stop and unofficial starting point was the Eiffel Tower.
No. Not that one.
Unsurprisingly, Paris, Texas, has a mini-Eiffel Tower, complete with a cowboy hat on top. Because of course it does. I'm somewhat surprised it didn't have a derrick integrated into it. Seems like a missed opportunity.
ANYWAY. We posed for photos, expelled our first quart or two of sweat, and moved on.
Next was the most unpleasant part of the trip: The first fill up. None of our cars are light on gas, but the Land Rover getting about 17MPG highway and taking premium brings fill ups to a whole new level.
Our next stop was Athens, Arkansas, as the generic starting spot we'd picked to switch from pavement to dirt. We stopped at a little gas station, had a pee break, ate some food, and got our first "you boys aren't from around here," of many, from the locals.
From there, we hit the Shady Lake Dam and a quick hike and some first photos...
Then hit some dirt, installed the Ranger's first trip sticker of many, and had our first "Banjo moment."
A few hours later we were close to the rental house. I was in front of the pack and began receiving instructions from George about what to say to the gate guards.
Apparently the VRBO is in a gated community?
No. The city is a gated community. Like... the whole thing.
When we booked I assumed Hot Spring Village, a small town north of Hot Springs proper, was there because of some building restrictions related to the national park. It was not. It is, by land area, the largest gated community in the USA. Though the area has a somewhat checkered past, Hot Springs Village itself was started as a retirement community in the 1970s and has become a popular vacation spot.
Anyway, all that said, when I got to the gate I forgot all of the words I was supposed to say. I radioed back to George so he could repeat it to the gate attendants, which seems to amuse them. After that was sorted, we headed to the address of one of the weirdest rental places we've had. The massive 4,000 sqft, 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom house was perched on the side of a mountain and boasted between three and six porches (depending on how you count) on three different levels. Despite some odd photos on the listing, the oddness was primarily limited to the ground floor, which featured a large, empty room furnished with two arcade cabinets and a couch at one end facing the wall, a double bedroom with an adjoining, doorless, expansive bathroom. In the photos it seemed strange but in real life the former seemed to be under-furnished and the latter an odd remodel. The unlockable door into the creepy crawlspace was, however, quite haunting.
After settling in, we selected a porch for the evening and began imbibing.
We did have a brief code brown when the sounds of someone tentatively clomping through the woods below. Realizing we had no lights on and all the doors unlocked, we quickly cleared the house, locked up, and turned on all the lights. As you might have guessed, we eventually found the intruder in the form of a young doe and a her opossum sidekick. In fairness, the doe was picking through the woods at a very human-like pace...
Crisis averted, we sealed the lower level so the ghosts and murderers could have it, and went to bed.
Day 2 - Hot Springs National Park
Suddenly Saturday was upon us and, as the national park was closed on Sunday, we had a need to go see what all the fuss was about in Hot Springs.
I don't have great words here but... basically Hot Springs was a vacation destination back when trains were a big deal and when we thought water was medicine. With automobiles and science, the bathhouses (not like that) of Hot Springs gradually died out. The national park visitors center is located in one of the decommissioned bathhouses and offers interesting insight into the operation of the facilities and the "treatments" they once offered.
Joking aside, it was a really neat thing and I'm very happy the National Park Service was able to preserve a piece of history like this.
After exploring, we headed out on a hike, accidentally walking through Hot Springs Pride, which happened to be taking place near the trailhead we were going to, which was neat! (No photos though)
The hike was fun, but a misery given the heat of the day.
Afterwards it looked like we'd all gone swimming in our clothes, so we decided to head back to the rental, take showers, have a few beers, and then head back into the park to make our dinner reservations that evening.
Day 3 - Breaking in the Ranger
Alright. Here is what you're really here to see... right?
As this was our last full day and we had yet to really give the Range a workout, so today's goal was clear: find a hard trail and get some good photos.
Unfortunately, Trails Offroad, a service to which both Taylor and George subscribe, only showed two "orange" (medium) trails in the area: Muse Mountain and Ritter Trail. Reviews promised some possible fun, so we gave it a go. Recent reviews by a guy who managed with a trailer in tow left us not very hopeful, however.
We started with the Muse Mountain Trail (FR778) and quickly got some pretty good shots of the Ranger in action. Nothing too dramatic, but enough that at least George would have some hero shots to show his family. Overall the trail was pretty simple, with a few rocks here and low water crossings but overall nothing to really put the Ranger through its paces. The Land Rover did get stuck briefly when I took a bypass of a mud puddle that ended up being substantially more difficult than the puddle I was attempting to avoid.
I assure you I am quite stuck, but did manage to self-recover
Live and learn I guess, but sadly I lost a fog light to that mistake, which will be at least the third in that spot. I think it is time to investigate other options, but I digress.
The Muse trail rolled into the Ritter trail, which was even easier...
...right up until it very much was not.
The difficulty of the trail slowly ramped up until it peaked rather suddenly. Both literally and figuratively. We reached the top of a hill and it became very clear recent severe storms in the area had taken their toll on the road. A massive ribbon of deep washout carved the trail in half and promised we'd have our work cut out for us.
Our first indication we were going to have our work cut out for us was a radio from Taylor, who was in the lead, that he'd got himself into a bit of a predicament.
Apparently he'd cut early, or late... depending on your thinking of what the right line was, and chocked his wheel with a rock he was trying to avoid. This was lucky, as we're pretty sure the maneuver he was attempting might have earned him a pretty nasty dent in his passenger side.
As we looked over how best to solve this problem, we discovered another: this was just the start of our troubles. We walked down the entirety of the washout, about a 10 minute hike, and discovered several problem areas that were going to require skillful driving, careful planning, and good spotting.
It was perfect. ...if we could survive it.
But, rather than type words about it, why don't I show you?
Previously I could count on one hand the number of times I'd seen either Taylor or I go into "three wheel drive" mode (one or two tires in the air), but this trail had us wheels up an alarming amount. I have some notion that disconnecting my front sway bar would have helped with this, but I was unsuccessful in doing so.
Eventually we made it down, all cars intact, though at some point in all of that I'd managed to tear a CV boot on the Disco, which is frustrating.
Victorious, we grabbed the makings of a final dinner and settled into drinking and photo editing.
Day 4 - This kills the road trip
Too soon, it was time again to leave. We packed up the cars, took out the trash, and headed to the marina for a final meal together before heading our separate ways. A few long hours later, we were pulling into the driveway and receiving dog snuggles.
So how did it go?
Well the obvious question is how does the Ranger compare to the Renegade and the answer is pretty clearly "favorably".
We're pretty sure the Renegade could have made it down that hill, but we're not sure at what cost. The Renegade's lack of wheel articulation meant it tended to spend a lot of time traversing its own, imaginary roads in the sky, rather than being confined to the pesky dirt ones the rest of us are resigned to traversing. With all three of the vehicles running in this mode to some extent, we can only imagine the Renegade would have found a way to leave the dirt entirely... or end up on its roof.
The Ranger was comfortable and capable, without ever putting George in a bad situation that we're aware of. The Ranger's increased size over the Renegade put it more in line with the dimensions of the XTerra and Discovery and therefore didn't feel like a problem on the trail. Really, the only changes were seemingly positive ones, with George gaining a greater degree of control and composure off-road and, blessedly, a much larger fuel range.
Seriously I cannot understate how odd it was to be able to pass a gas station. Any gas station.
Though I am certainly biased, the Land Rover really outdid itself on this trip. Despite a few problems, it was never bothered by the heat or humidity and when the going got tough it seemed to be the most composed of the three. (Though I'll admit I had the benefit of having seen both of them traverse that part of the trail already.)
Sadly the Land Rover was the only vehicle to take trail damage, losing a fog lamp (mounts snapped) and tearing a CV boot. I am also disappointed that, once again, the Landy's aftermarket "quick" sway bar disconnects were anything but and ended up staying in rather than risk breaking something.
The Nissan, as always, looked calm and composed. The only real issues encountered were as a result of it being in front on the challenging section of trail and therefore having to learn some lessons for us.
Hot Springs itself was super interesting but also very touristy. I was somewhat surprised by this and found the trip into town fulfilling but also mentally exhausting. I think if we had it to do over we'd focus less on the history and more on the abandoned buildings and tasty food.
Lastly, for the first trip featuring a drone, I think it went well. My main concern going in was that it would hold us up or create problems, but for the most part my companions were more eager than I to see it in action and, overall, with a little practice I could get it up in the air quickly and efficiently.
On the negative, the ultimate enemy of all UAVs is trees, and this trip had them in abundance. The Air 2s has a suite of collision sensors to try and keep it out of trees and I am afraid to say they were working overtime this trip. So much so, that I had a couple of shots "ruined" by the collision detection stopping the drone for a branch it was going to clear. With something so fragile and expensive it makes sense to exercise an abundance of caution, but I think in the future selectively disabling collision avoidance might make sense. I also can't wait to get out into a more open area like New Mexico, Utah, or Arizona and really put this thing through its paces!
Overall we were super happy with how this trip panned out. There were a lot of concerns and unknowns going into it, but the trip worked out great! The location, accommodations, cars, and companionship were all great.
Now all we need to do is make sure it isn't another eight months before the next one!
2015 Nissan XTerra Pro4x
I always forget just how LONG they made the Xterra for. I always think of it as an early 2000's car but there are some that could still be considered pretty new. I guess that goes to show how many I actually see out on the road, which is none.
CarsOfFortLangley last edited by
@AkioOhtori awesome stuff, really cool!
@AkioOhtori I need cool friends like you so I can go on these absolutely wild adventures... If you ever find yourself doing a cheap car challenge in my neck of the woods sign me up!
I guarantee you won't, but if you ever did...
CarsOfFortLangley last edited by
@Taylor-Martin fly out to the PNW sometime!
@Taylor-Martin I need places to do cool adventures. New England is too built up, there's no empty public use land to go tool around in. Everything is owned by someone.
Noodles last edited by
@AkioOhtori So do you lay on the table and it lowers into the water? Or do you soak your feet while playing cards...
AkioOhtori last edited by
@CarsOfFortLangley I also need more money to do those kinds of fun things... that is, unless you already know the dates for next years PNW meet, with which I'll try to join
@EssExTee Same-ish story... there's no way to know who owns what out here, and if you enter the wrong property or place, you'll be looking down the barrel of a shotgun.
EssExTee last edited by EssExTee
HammerheadFistpunch last edited by HammerheadFistpunch
@EssExTee is actually over 75%
Bloody-the-resident-LandRover-apologist last edited by
@AkioOhtori Great stuff as always, love the fact that you're keeping the Disco as stock as possible. If you're not looking to upgrade the bumper, maybe relocate the fog lights to be spot lights?
I think a pair with amber lenses would look quite smashing.
@HammerheadFistpunch see, you're just reinforcing my point
AkioOhtori last edited by
Great stuff as always, love the fact that you're keeping the Disco as stock as possible. If you're not looking to upgrade the bumper, maybe relocate the fog lights to be spot lights?
The issue with any relocation would, of course, be what to put in the holes left by the fog lamps? I mean... I guess "nothing" is an option but that seems like a missed opportunity.
At this point I'm inclined to try and devise a flexible mount for a small light bar/flood lights to replace the stock lamps, or just spend (yet another) $160 on (yet another) fog lamp.
Both options have their appeal. On one hand this will be at least the third replacement so... clearly there are some issues with the design. On the other it seems like a lot of faffing around for something that is otherwise a solved problem (aftermarket bumper and/or bumper shave)
Bloody-the-resident-LandRover-apologist last edited by Bloody-the-resident-LandRover-apologist
@AkioOhtori That's an easy one, not all Disco's had fog lamps so you can get panels to stick in there. Granted they're not exactly cheap but it's probably cheaper than replacing fog lamps on a semi regular occasion.
Of course the simplest solution is an aftermarket bumper, but I know once you go down that route you end up with a lift, skid plates ect... Ask me how I know lol.
doodon2whls last edited by
i86hotdogs last edited by
This may be the fastest a vehicle went from the showroom to the trails. I absolutely love that. ACTUALLY USING A VEHICLE FOR WHAT IT WAS INTENDED FOR. Looking at you Raptor owners....
MisterButtercup last edited by
@HammerheadFistpunch having lived in the east coast my entire life this is a foreign concept to me.