Friday, April 24, 2020

Over the past decade, there’s been a strong shift away from sedans towards SUVs as Australian daily drivers seek vehicles that can comfortably do it all, with vehicle manufacturers responding to this trend by drastically modernising 4x4 utes and 4WD wagons.

Relatively large vehicles with car-like handling and creature comforts previously reserved for the top tiers of luxury have now become the norm but where these SUVs differ from other passenger cars is their off-road abilities that saw the 4WD family branch off in the first place, adding another dimension of demands to what has become an automotive Swiss Army knife for work and play.

Often rolling out of the dealership on tyres that are all-terrains by name only, the first functional modification most do to their 4x4 is an upgraded set of tyres. The Grappler range exemplifies how modern, high-quality off-road rubber can retain sealed-road performance and comfort but there will always be compromise in some areas to excel in others, so it’s important to match realistic overall goals to the tyre that’s best able to get you where you want to go when you hit the dirt.

We spoke a little more about compromise in a previous article but to put it simply, true all-terrain tyres are made to perform on practically any surface while mud-terrain tyres, although extremely durable, are predominantly designed to find traction on soft ground. In the past, there was little choice left in between, with extreme 4WDers often forced to pick M/Ts purely for the puncture resistance, that is until hybrid tyres like the Ridge Grappler came along.

Meet Dan Everett, an experienced 4WDer and automotive journalist whose off-road antics lean towards the extreme end of the scale but whose daily duties also include being a dad and family man. Dan used to have a pretty sweet 60-series Toyota LandCruiser rolling on an 80-series chassis and Trail Grapplers, with a cool IFS Toyota Surf before that, but as his family started to grow and his off-road plans turned to touring, his current rig just didn’t quite scratch that itch for modern comfort and reliability.

He took the plunge, purchasing a brand new Ford Ranger, and his timing couldn’t have been better, with his fancy Wildtrak interior packed full of gadgets and the perfect do-it-all tyre about to be released. The stock Ford Ranger was a great example of the huge leap forward that modern 4WDs have made and Dan wasn’t willing to compromise his new-found comfort, so well-tuned suspension and some high-end off-road rubber was right at the top of his list.

Having great respect for Grapplers from his previous sets of M/Ts but looking to step back to an aggressive A/T, Dan jumped at the chance to review the Ridge Grappler for 4x4 Australia. He immediately noticed the sealed road improvements, noting that the Ridge Grapplers were considerably quieter than his previous M/Ts, gripped “damned well in the wet and the dry” and that off-road, the “performance is more than up to the task”.

To prove the Ridge Grappler’s do-it-all claims, we challenged Dan to see what sort of mischief he could get up to in between school drop-off and pick-up. As first classes commenced, Dan set off for Blacksmiths Beach and hit up some of his favourite local tracks before making it back for the final bell, and it looks like he had more than a bit of schoolyard fun along the way. Some of us really get lumped with the tough days at work, huh?