Off-Roading

AutomotiveMap's top tips for driving on sand dunes

Imperial Sand Dunes, a few hours east of San Diego, provide some of the best dune driving terrain in the world.

Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

This wasn't a dream. The sounds of Pat Benetar's "We Belong" flowed through the cabin at near-concert levels as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan dove from sand dune to sand dune at speed. The magic carpet ride was keeping the 6,000-pound car's occupants stable but the expert driver behind the wheel was keeping them from sinking in the Imperial Sand Dunes' tough terrain.

Whether you're setting off for your first or fiftieth time in the dunes, here are the top tips for success you'll want to remember.

Remember that the dunes are always changing.

Wind, settling, water, animals, people, and other vehicles impact the dunes on a regular basis. As the wind blows, the sand settles, creatures move about, and steps are taken on them, the surfaces changes. The sun will dry out the sand, making it more easily able to be sunk into.

Where you just went, you might not be able to go again.

Because of the constantly changing dunes and tire pressures on the sand, the sand shifts once you pass and may create a space of no return for your vehicle. It's important to have a good lay of the land before proceeding and keep in mind that you might not be able to go back.

As wind whips the landscape, you'll want to keep newly forming witch's eyes in mind as well.

The sun makes the sand dry out.

When it gets hot, the sand heats up and dries out. This causes the surface to be squishier (dry sand is easier to move than wet sand). Because of this, vehicle wheels can quickly become buried in sand that was passable hours prior.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Rebelle Rally When the sun is at high noon, the sand begins to loosen up and can easily swallow a tire or two or four.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

What's dark isn't always hard.

When you go to the beach, water wets the sand causing it to darken in color. As sand dries, traditionally it lightens up. This isn't always the case in the dunes where dark sand may purely be an easily breakable crust on top of deep dry sand.

More throttle, less brake.

When driving in sand, you won't want to give the car too much gas or brake. Stopping can mean the difference between sinking down into the sand and skimming the surface. The best speed will keep the car moving at the right pace, on top of the sand, while making stopping easy should you come across an obstacle.

Midday sun is flat sun.

As the sun rises, so does the chance of getting dehydrated. It also means that you're seeing flat light, which can make even larger whoops look like small ripples. Drive cautiously as the light reaches high noon and pay attention as shadows develop later in day, hiding potential obstacles.

Don't forget your tools.

No day at the dunes is complete without at least getting stuck one time. A shovel and Maxtrax are two of your best friends. Wet wipes, goggles, and gear such as the Deadman Earth Anchor are a must as well. Something as simple like an analog compass can help you if you get lost. For deep desert driving, consider making a satellite phone standard equipment.

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The Tremor package is newly offered on the Ranger for the 2021 model year.

Photo by Chad Kirchner

Science fiction planets are very one-dimensional. On Earth, there is dozens of different climate zones, but visiting any planet in the Star Wars universe is just the opposite. Dagobah is a swamp. Tatooine is a desert. Hoth is an ice planet. Off-road pickup trucks are similar. The Ford Raptor is for bombing around the desert, while the Ram Power Wagon is a rock crawler.

Is it possible to make a truck that's competent at a bunch of things without breaking the bank or losing something in the process? That's what Ford's Tremor package for the Ranger aims to do in a world of one-trick off-road midsize trucks.

It's important to know that Tremor is a package and not a trim level. That means if you want all the bells and whistles, you can load up a Ranger Lariat with the Tremor updates. If you don't want or need all of the extra features, Tremor can be added to XLT. In contrast, if you want a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro or a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, you have to go top spec. The package is also available on F-150 and Super Duty models.

The truck features Tremor graphics on the bed.Photo by Chad Kirchner

The $4,290 Tremor package replaces the stock suspension with a set of Fox high performance shocks with piggyback reservoirs in the rear. The leaf springs are upgraded to a multi-leaf design. The 17-inch wheels get 32-inch General Grabber A/TX tires. A rear locker is added. Trailer Control and Ford's Terrain Management System is also included. There's even a front steel bash plate.

These changes and upgrades improve approach and departure angles. On the Tremor it means 30.9 degrees up front, 25.5 degrees in the back, and a breakover angle of 24.2 degrees.

That's not all, though, as the package also adds hoop steps, frame-mounted tow hooks, Miko suede seats, Magnetic-painted body bits, Tremor graphics, and an upfitter switch panel.

When you combine that with the best-in-class powertrain of Ford's 2.3-liter EcoBoost and 10-speed automatic transmission, you get quite the little performer.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor The Ford Ranger Tremor features the off-road goodies enthusiasts need sans the super high price tag.Photo by Chad Kirchner

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor

Test driving the truck for a week meant going from sunny skies to full-out blizzard conditions, and nearly everything in between thanks to Ohio's location in the path of Winter Storm Orlena.

A day spent at the Holly Oaks ORV park in Holly, Michigan made it feel like I was smack dab on in the middle of the ice planet for the opening sequence of "The Empire Strikes Back". Freezing rain, then snow, the night before created for a treacherous off-road park. Sub-zero wind chills made conditions inhospitable to say the least.

The General Grabber tires do an excellent job at finding grip in the snow. While nothing really grips on ice, some off-road tires tend to lose performance in the white stuff. Likely designed more for sand duty, the A/TX tires found the traction that was available and helped pull the truck through the deep stuff.

Snow does a fantastic job at messing with your depth perfection, so bumps that look small can end up being small hills. Hitting a bump at speed that is bigger than you expect is a good way to send a shock up your spine and blow a shock absorber. The Fox upgrade on the Tremor handled those unexpected undulations with ease.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor The interior of the Ranger Tremor is standard fare. This model was built on the Lariat trim level.Photo by Chad Kirchner

While the LiveValve setup on Raptor is better, the piggyback reservoirs on Tremor help the shocks handle heat better, allowing for both better ride quality and traction off-road. While you can go to the aftermarket for these shocks, the Fox equipment matched with the retuned leaf springs make the upgrade to Tremor from the factory worth it.

For those who might be inexperienced off-roading, the Trail Control system is quite clever. It's basically off-road cruise control. All the driver has to do is set the speed and the truck figures out how to tackle the obstacles under its wheels while the driver concentrates on steering.

In these extreme conditions, the system was put to quite the test. And while it didn't work on every hill or obstacle – remember that whole Hoth thing – the system does an admirable job and figuring out what to do. In these snowy conditions, it's even easier to spot the system locking up an individual wheel, applying power at certain times, and figuring out to maintain momentum. In these conditions, the human brain is still better at sorting it out, but Trail Control is damn impressive.

To my posterior at least, on-road ride quality is better on Tremor than on Ford's other off-road package - FX4. The tires are reasonably quiet for their performance, and potholed Michigan roads hardly ever flummox the Tremor. The truck's fuel economy is rated at 19 mpg combined, and even in the cold conditions it's easy to achieve those numbers in the day-to-day.

The Ranger Tremor comes with six centrally located upfitter switches.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The rest of the truck is standard Ranger fare. The tech is nice, but the interior feels a bit dated compared to the new F-150. The upfitter switches are a nice feature and mounted in a good spot, plus Ford placed the junction box at an easy-to-reach location under the hood to make installing accessories even easier.

Tremor is ultimately a good deal. If you're going to get an off-road type package on your Ranger, skip the FX4 and go Tremor. It rides better and the suspension is better. The price is right, too, even though you do have to get either the 301A or 501A package to make Tremor an option.

That puts the starting price of the XLT Tremor at $41,900 and for the Lariat Tremor it's $46,275. The truck still has a payload of 1,430 pounds and a max tow rating of 7,500 pounds. It's also thousands cheaper than the competition.

But what about the Ranger Raptor? It's likely on its way, but a few years out. If you want a solid mix of off-road performance and on-road comfort today, Tremor is the way to go. And when you go, may the force be with you.

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A 1972 Toyota Land Cruiser has been given a new lease on life.

Photo courtesy of ICON

What started as a 1972 Toyota Land Cruiser has become an ICON 4x4 FJ44, a model that preserves the original aesthetic of the square-bodied Land Cruiser while upgrading its performance, safety, emissions, features, and appointments. The result is a luxury-level go-anywhere runabout.

"Our Old School Edition builds present a unique aesthetic that many of our clients really respond strongly to these days," comments ICON Founder and CEO Jonathan Ward. "With people spending a lot more time close to home, a lot of our owners are taking more time to adventure in our vehicles, which really resonates with us. Transportation has always presented the prospect of freedom, and seeing our trucks come off the line and hearing these fantastic stories about how they are being used has been incredibly rewarding. Taking a truck like this 1972 rig, restoring, rebuilding it, and then releasing it back into the wild to be used as it was intended is what ICON 4x4 is all about."

ICON Old School FJ44: 1972 Toyota Land Cruiser restomod

Photo courtesy of ICON

The aluminum body of the four-door truck has been powder-coated a Eucalyptus Green color. Its exterior components have had their shine restored.

The model is powered by General Motors 6.2-liter LS generation V8 that can produce 430 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with an Asian Warner AX15 five-speed manual transmission and an Atlas II two-speed transfer case.

There's Dynatrac Dana 44 axles up front and Dana 60s at the rear. It rides on a Fox Racing coil-over sport suspension and has stopped power provided courtesy of Brembo Sport Brakes. BF Goodrich all-terrain 285/65/18 tires are mounted on forged aluminum wheels of ICON's own design.

ICON has customized the interior of the model to include a NEX 8600 multimedia system, a rearview camera, Apple CarPlay, navigation, Bluetooth, and Focal K2 speakers. Machined aluminum interior trim outlines the FJ44's door map pockets, dash panels, knobs, seat hardware, and parking brake handle. The model's four bucket seats are an improvement over the original equipment. Two jump seats were added to the rear of the vehicle as an homage to the original.

A seven-layer insulated gray canvas soft top roof works to keep sunshine and sound at bay.

The starting price of ICON 4x4 Old School Edition series vehicle is $237,000

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