Malcolm Street gets to grips with Sunliner’s powerful 4X4 Ranger…
One sector of the motorhome industry that is relatively small – no pun intended – is for motorhomes built on small cab-chassis like the Toyota HiLux or Ford Ranger. Although their small size is sometimes seen as a disadvantage there are several advantages, one being the availability of four-wheel drive – a feature often available only on much more expensive motorhomes.
Sunliner, for the most part, build full sized coachbuilt motorhomes, but one of their little niches is the 4X4 Ranger. Named after the Ford Ranger it’s built on, the test Ranger was powered by a 3.2-litre turbo-diesel motor with a 6-speed automatic gearbox.
My Ranger was made available by Australian Motor Homes (AMH) of Bennetts Green, just south of Newcastle. If you haven’t been there recently you’re in for a surprise. AMH’s Bert van Leeuwarden gave me a tour of the revised original premises and the more recent additions, which will include a separate parts and accessories area. There’s even a new area devoted to those engineless thingys – you know, caravans.
Down To Business…
Back to motorhomes, the Ranger has a GVM of 3200 kg and a tare weight of 2740 kg, giving it a reasonable 460 kg load capacity for people, fuel, water and belongings. The body is done in the same Sunliner style as with all their motorhomes; that is with composite fibreglass (Thermotough) walls and moulded front and rear end caps. It also includes their trademark sidestep under the cab doors. That might sound like an odd extra, but along with the moulded nose, rear moulding and the rakish looks of the Ford Ranger, it does dilute the boxy look considerably. Given the body shape, the awning is just long enough to cover the entry door and side window.
One other point of note is the rather striking paint scheme: The decals on the body work having been designed to match in with the metallic colour of the cab. Classy too are the striking alloy wheels.
Often a weakness in this sized motorhome is the lack of external storage space, but the Ranger is served quite well, utilising the under seat area at the rear. Although the driver’s side bin is devoted to the two 4.0 kg gas cylinders, the kerb-side door offers plenty of space for hoses, power leads, plus camping chairs and table. It’s not a huge area, but then I reckon this size motorhome is pitched at a more lightweight style of travel. Behind the driver’s door, the external bin there is for the battery and charger. It’s all neatly wired up, but the 12 V fuses which are labelled (hooray!) are a bit awkward to get at.
On The Road
The Ranger moves along purposefully, with the ‘big’ turbo-diesel and six-speed auto working smoothly together. Along the flat and up low rise hills the engine doesn't appear to be working much at all. Of note are the external mirrors: the standard Ford ones have been replaced by a wider set that give good vision down the sides of the vehicle. Also fitted is a rear view camera – very handy when manoeuvring in tight places.
Often, smaller cab-chassis based motorhomes are not particularly good in the handling department. Their relatively tall height means a bit too much side-to-side sway, but I have to say the Ranger was not too bad in that department. I did wonder if the suspension had been modified in some way, but apparently not.
Although the Ford Ranger is definitely a four-wheel drive vehicle, the Ranger should be treated more like an all-wheel drive vehicle, given its construction method. It's not a hard core Land Cruiser, but traction in slippery and soft conditions will be much better than a conventional two-wheel drive.
In a motorhome only 5.8 m (19 ft) in length and with its engine in front of the cab there are always going to be a few restrictions on living space. However, the Ranger layout is quite well designed.
There’s a bed over the cab, a forward entry door and a compact version of a club lounge in the rear. That leaves enough room for a small bathroom directly behind the driver’s seat, along with a three quarter height wardrobe and a split kitchen filling the middle. Apart from the bed area, overhead lockers fill the top wall area all round. Above the cab the bed base is fixed and cannot be lifted up to give more headroom.
Seitz-brand hopper windows all-round improve space perceptions no end and give a great view from the club lounge. Sunliner has opted to fit a Lagun swivel table mount, which is much better than a single pole mount and makes it very easy to move the table. It’s also very practical in a dinette/lounge arrangement like this.
Time To Cook
Meal times are going to be relatively simple, which is to be expected in a motorhome like this. The kerb side cabinet adjoining the dinette comes with a round stainless steel sink and two burner cooktop sans grill, plus drawer and cupboard space below. On the opposite side, an almost-floor-level 90 L 3-way fridge has a microwave oven above it. There’s also an adjoining wardrobe with shelf space above.
This kitchen set-up is a change from an earlier layout where an under bench fridge was fitted and the microwave was located in the overhead lockers. Consequently there has been a bit of a trade off – almost no bench top working space, but more general storage, both above and below.
There are two bedtime choices in the Ranger: the above-cab bed and the rear lounge, which can be folded down into a bed. I reckon most will opt for the over-cab bed, but the rear lounge is good if a couple of good sized single beds are desired. Bed making is often seen to be a chore, so there’s much to be said for something like a Duvalay on both beds.
The over-cab bed measures 1.9 m x 1.45 m (6 ft 3 in x 4 ft 9 in) and there’s a step ladder handy for clambering up and down. Although an earlier model had small windows on either side, the bed area did have a slightly cramped feel and the Skyview hatch above the bed in this model is a welcome addition, both for light and airflow.
No surprises in the bathroom, that is for sure. It comes with a swivelling cassette toilet, variable-height flexible-hose shower and other essentials like a vent fan hatch and towel rail. A shower curtain prevents water flow to the door mounted mirror and all-essential loo paper, too!
What I think
Sunliner has made a few changes from its earlier Ranger and for the most part that’s a good thing. Also, and for its size, I reckon the Ranger is a classy looking motorhome. Although relatively small and with not a great deal of living area, it does offer several advantages: four wheel drive, a width that is suitable for narrow bush tracks, easy parking as long as the height is remembered and relatively good fuel economy.
- Smart looking
- Relatively good exterior storage
- Generous window/hatch area
- Comfortable and practical rear club lounge
- Standard solar
- 4X4 package that won’t break the bank
- Powerful and smooth to drive
- Compact dimensions
- Almost no kitchen bench space
- 12 V fuses awkward to access
- Cab access awkward due to fixed bed
Ed’s Note On Towing
A quick quiz of the gross vehicle mass (GVM) and gross combination mass (GCM) of the Ford Ranger put it at odds with its rated towing capacity. The accepted formula for calculating towing capacity is to subtract GVM from the GCM. In this instance that’s 3200 kg from 6000 kg, which leaves 2800 kg. Ford proudly proclaims a 3500 kg towing capacity, even though the brochure says the GCM must include the weight of a braked trailer. So what’s the truth?
Digging deeply into Ford’s brochure I found the following, relating specifically to the 3500 kg towing capacity claim:
“Braked towing capacity when fitted with a Genuine Ford towpack and tow ball, subject to State and Territory towing regulations. The weight of the vehicle must not exceed the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM). The combined weight of the fully loaded vehicle and trailer must not exceed the Gross Combination Mass (GCM). Maximum individual axle loads must not be exceeded. Tow ball downforce must be taken into account when calculating payload. Tow ball download must be a minimum of 10% of the towed weight for all model variants. Tow ball download must not exceed 350kg for all model variants built on or after 1 November, 2012.”
The bottom line? It appears you can tow 3500 kg – but only if the vehicle is 700 kg BELOW its maximum loaded weight (GVM) AND the payload is distributed in such a way as not to exceed individual axle limits!
Given the Sunliner Ranger’s payload is 460 kg all-up, it’s 240 kg behind the eight ball to begin with. Unless I’ve missed something, Ford’s claimed 3500 kg towing capacity appears to be nothing more than a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to deceive buyers and bolster the Ranger’s image in the marketplace. Once again it pays to read the fine print..
31 Pacific Highway
Bennetts Green. NSW. 2290.
T: (02) 4948 0433
Click HERE to visit the Sunliner website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.