I've recently come back from a 4 week expedition to the Gulf and Nth Qld towing a 20 ft (internal) Bushtracker caravan. The Jeep was great. I've put a post on the Bushtracker forum, but have included it here also as it's just as relevent for the Jeep. Don't have any concerns about it as a tow vehicle; it does just great.
Weíve done 3600 km so far on the new Bushtrackerís first trip with the near-new Jeep Commander. All but 40 km of this has been pulling the new van. Iíve been thrilled with the van; itís been outstanding.
There are 7 of us in the Commander: my wife and myself plus our 5 children aged between 12 and 22 years (including 3 adult-aged kids over 18 yrs).
Our trip so far has been from Brisbane to Isa via Roma, then up via Thorntonia to Riversleigh and Lawn Hill. Then via Bowthorn to Kingfisher camp, up to the Hellís gates road, across to Doomadgee up to Burketown, across to Normaton/Karumba, then across via Georgetown to Undarra, then up onto the Tablelands. Thereís been about 600 km (estimate) of dirt in this, including rough gravel roads, significant distances of corrugations, station tracks with tight unexpected bends, gullies and washouts, dry sandy river crossings, and one moderately deep (about 700 mm) water crossing. The Jeep had about 13 000 km on the clock at the start of this trip.
The 20 ft BT has a tare of 2520 kg with 3 solar panels and 3 x 120 amp-hr AGL batteries. I weighed the gear which we added to it which had to include clothes, equipment and groceries for all 7 of us, including 7 camp chairs, tables, etc. The kids are sleeping in two large tents one of which is the OzTent RV-5 which can be connected to the vanís sail track. Allowing for between 2 and 3 full water tanks at any time (each tank 90 litres), and 5 Jerry cans of fuel in the BT "shed", we would have been running about 3.4 tonnes in the BT.
I measured the ball weight at the start of the trip using the Hayman Reese method and it was 315 kg.
The tare weight of the Jeep is 2242 kg. With fuel, accessories (including new suspension, bullbar, side rails, side steps, Rhino bars, 6th spare wheel, towing hitch etc), and the 7 of us in it (with day packs), the weight would have been approximately 2950 kg. With the ball weight, it would be about 3270 kg which is on the high side but with 7 people on board and 315 kg on the ball, itís difficult to do much better than this. Total weight of van plus tug (including the 7 of us) would be about 6.4 tonnes.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km) with a completely empty vehicle (no passengers or gear, but the accessories and 6th tyre on roof) was: 80 kph (9.2), 90 kph (10.0), 100 kph (11.1), 110 kph (12.5). With the full vehicle and towing the van, fuel economy has been 80 kph (17.5), 90 kph (19.5), 100 kph (23.0). Overall average fuel economy on the trip so far has been 21.6 litres/100 km.
Iíve been sitting on 100 kph on full-width bitumen roads, 80 kph on single lane bitumen, and 60 kph on the dirt. Bitumen tyre pressures (all cold) have been Jeep front (38 psi), Jeep rear (44 psi), Van (42 psi). On the dirt, Iíve been running Jeep front (32 psi), Jeep rear (34 psi), Van (28 psi).
The Jeep tyres are Cooper 245/70 R17 ST tyres (which are the largest that can fit in the front wheel arch). They are 10-ply light truck rated at 1360 kg at 80 psi (!). The van is running on the standard Dueller ATs. The OEM Jeep tyres were Goodyear Wrangler All Weather 245/65 R17 which were rubbish for anything but on-road work; I would have preferred not to go to Coopers, which Iíve never had before, but that was all I could find in the required size (apart from Mickey Thomsons). The STís are noisy at low speed, but the pitch becomes higher as vehicle speed increases and at 100 kph, the pitch is so high it might worry the dog, but I canít hear it. Theyíve been good in the dirt and on-road so far. However, it's too early to say much more about the Coopers.
It took me about an hour to get used to the different handling of the Jeep with the BT attached. Itís certainly a heavier more sluggish feel, with a little more fore/aft pitching and a little more float on the road. However, once used to that, Iíd have to say it feels like itís glued to the road. The rig sits on 100 kph on cruise up hill and down dale. It easily ran up the Toowoomba range. When sitting on 100 kph thereís a perceptible (but not disturbing) lateral movement of the rig when overtaken from behind by a large truck; thereís no perceptible lateral sway when being passed by an oncoming truck. The engine temperature has gone from sitting one needle width below the half-way mark (with no BT attached) to one needle width above the half-way mark. It doesnít seem to matter whether it was 4deg C in Blackall, or 31deg C at Adelís Grove, the engine temperature was the same.
The weight distribution hitch (purchased from and set up by BT) has been excellent. Iíve had to pull up in a hurry a few times when coming up to an unexpectedly sharp bend on a station track, or brake quickly when suddenly encountering on-coming vehicles on lonely sections of track, and had to drop off and return to narrow bitumen on poor shoulders in a number of places. Iíve taken the WDH off for more serious obstacles, then put it back on.
Overall, I canít fault the Jeep towing what is quite a large and heavy rig. I guess itís still early days, but at 160 kW and 510 Nm torque between 1600 and 2400 rpm, the 3 litre common-rail turbo intercooled diesel (Merc motor) has plenty of power and torque and is very stable under all the conditions Iíve encountered so far including cross-winds. I might yet put in the DC engine chip which would take it up to just shy of 190 kW and 600 Nm. The constant 4WD and automatic locking front, rear and centre diffs means it handles very well on dirt. The main criticisms Iíve got of the Jeep compared to my previous Landcruisers and Patrols would be: poorly designed interior storage (e.g. door pockets), poor ground clearance esp rampover (fixed to a significant extent with the new suspension), front A-pillar visibility, small fuel tank (82 litres), low roof rack carry capacity (68 kg), non-availability of a snorkel (although I have a secure improvised one that I can fit in a minute of so), poor AM radio (FM band is ok). One regret is that when I put in the new suspension I didnít fit Polyairs, which Iíve had in my past 3 vehicles. I thought they would be redundant with the WDH, but when the WDH bars are off, it does sag in the back and Iíll have to get them retro-fitted now.
For those interested, the Jeep is set up as follows:
Commander 2007 CRD 7-seater wagon: Full wrap alloy bullbar with side rails & side steps, 75 mm ATS lift kit (Billstein shocks front & rear, Dobinson springs front & rear), Cooper 245/70R17 ST 10 ply LT tyres with two spares, 2 x 10 000 lb front recovery hooks, 100 Watt Codan 9323 2-way HF radio with external auto-tune antenna, Iridium 9505A satellite phone with external antenna, GME TX3440 UHF, Uniden UH075 UHF, Telstra Jasjam NextG phone kit with high-gain external antenna, front and rear 50A Anderson plugs fed by 10 mm2 cable, Rhino roof bars with Rhino spare tyre carrier, Rhino Hi-lift jack carrier and Rhino long-handle shovel carrier, 3.25 inch ID snorkel hose adaptor, HP IPAQ Travel companion PDA with TomTom and OziExplorer navigation software, Replacement rear view mirror (LCD screen) with twin auto-select reverse camera system (car and van), Digital voltmeter, Bogaard turbo timer, LightForce 170 striker spot lights, Tekonsha Prodigy Brake controller, grasshopper and stone guard protection screens on radiator and intercooler, 2.4 m fibreglass pole with high vis reflective sandflag, Hayman Reese 750 weight distribution hitch, 12-pin trailer plug.
Weíre almost back in Brisbane, having selected a 6-day route back from the Tablelands using as many dirt roads as possible. We dropped off the back of the Tablelands to Mt Garnet, down to the Herbert River, across to Blencoe Falls (and back out), down the Mount Fox road coming out onto the bitumen above Charters Towers. Then down to Ravenswood, across the base of the Burdekin Dam through to Mt Coolon, then via Burton Downs to Moranbah, Dysart then via Mount Stuart station to Blackwater, down the Fitzroy development road to Bauhinia Downs then via the northern entry into Expedition National Park. Out to Taroom, then to Cracow via Fairyland station, Eidsvold and back to Brissie via Gympie.
We had a mix of very wet and slippery roads, mud, good gravel roads, poor gravel roads, rough narrow 4WD tracks, some steep hill climbs and descents, and a good measure of bitumen.
The total distance for the entire trip was 6900 km (including the outbound journey).
Overall fuel consumption for the return leg (without kids) was 20.6 l/100 km and for the entire trip was 20.4 l/100 km.
It didnít seem to matter what the road or track conditions were, the Jeep/Bushtracker combination handled it without feeling uneasy or causing me any concern (except for getting into and out of Blencoe Falls on the very steep, windy, and greasy track, see separate post).
I was particularly impressed with the Jeepís reliability. This was one of my biggest worries before buying itóhow would it go in Australian outback conditions, especially loaded to the gunnels with 7 of us on board, and towing a large and heavy van? I was particularly concerned about the many sensors and instruments it seemed to need for every conceivable on-board measurement, and computers controlling just about everything. It even continually monitors tyre pressure and gives a warning if you a tyre is going flat! Despite these reservations, the only maintenance issue for the entire trip was one bolt that fell out of one of the underbody bash plates. I stopped the plate rattling with an electrical tie! This was despite significant mud, dust, stony roads, water crossings, and some sandósee photos below. The (aftermarket) suspension on the Jeep was excellent and I canít even complain about the Coopers (to this point in time)óno bubbling on the sidewalls, no cracking or breakage of the outside edges of the tread, and no flat tyres. They were very good on the mud, gravel and rough dirt roads, quite reasonable on wet bitumen, and the only real issue is the noise (see earlier post). I did travel slowly on the dirt (generally not more than 60 kph) and did let my tyres down (28 psi cold on the BT). The Ferret tyre deflator made deflation very quick and easy. My ARB air compressor did the job but was slowóI need something faster for the 8 tyres in future.
The air-conditioning in the Jeep worked fine (another worry on a Northern Hemisphere vehicle) and the engine temperature never moved irrespective of outside air temperature despite the combination weighing well over 6 tonnes.
The engine also didnít lose a drop of oil so far as I can tell during the trip. Not a single fault in the vehicle apart from the lost bolt.
By the end of the trip, I was just as confident towing the BT as I used to be towing a camper trailer (for 5 years) and a pop-top caravan for a couple of years. Apart from the weight, the BT tracks very true, seems to handle rough road shoulders very well, and shows excellent braking when combined with the Prodigy controller. The WDH is also great, but you need to be prepared to remove it and reattach it as required.
Overall (and noting the shortcomings I mentioned in my post above), Iíd have to give the Jeep a very solid thumbs up towing this sized van.