My Ranger had a mixed suspension setup, OME lifted springs in the front, and an extra leaf added to the rear, with four Bilstein shocks. The result was pretty good, and I’ve been a big fan of Bilstein shocks for quite a while. But I have test work to do, so Ironman replaced the entirety of my setup with their own springs and four Foam Cell Pro shocks.
Now at this point you’re expecting me to gush about how much vastly better it was as soon as I put the car into gear, because that’s what journos do, right? Well, sorry to disappoint. The ride and handling weren’t hugely different, but there were a few small changes. First, Ironman did the rear lift properly so the driveline vibration on takeoff was pretty much eradicated by correct use of spacers. However, the front was lifted a bit too high, which led to a loss of directional stability and a skittish front end. It was easy to fix the problem as the Pros have adjustable spring mounts, so it was a simple case of winding the mount down and re-aligning.
With everything now set up nicely I could get into some driving. The Ranger weighs 2200kg stock and my standard gear adds about 350kg, and at that weight the ride was firm, with less nosedive under braking than before. It wasn’t as compliant a ride as I’d have liked over bitumen, a little jiggly here and there, but my suspension was the heavy-duty setup. Still, I’d pick the Bilsteins for bitumen, especially at speed. But into the rough stuff and the suspension started to shine – essentially, the tougher the terrain the better it was, handling decent holes at speed with aplomb. Ironman call it plush, and I don’t disagree.
Next up was a 9000km trip to WA and back with the Ranger fully loaded with fuel, water, kids and all our remote-camping gear. With that weight to carry the ute felt great – the back wasn’t lower than the front and rough tracks could be traversed at a decent clip. On a scale of “are we ever going to get there” to “STOP THE CAR I’M GETTING OUT”, we were moving at rates of Subtle Hints to Angry Silence. In short, I didn’t feel the suspension was the limiting factor. I also liked the performance over large rocks, nice and easy to keep the sills away from remodelling boulders.
Watch this space for more updates, but in summary, after many thousands of kilometres I have no complaints. Ironman haven’t advanced vehicle handling to a whole new level and it’s doubtful any shock/spring setup could, because while important, there’s only so much suspension can do. Also, to be fair most of the top aftermarket manufacturers do a decent job of tuning and to a great degree a “good” tune is personal preference, dependent on your driving style and use.
What Ironman have done very well is move the market forwards by delivering high-quality, strong, well-tuned shocks at a price-point that will worry their premium-priced competition, and for that reason I’d certainly put them on any shortlist.
Four-wheel drivers need shocks that will survive more than just heat – we also need sheer physical durability. Ironman wanted to make sure their top shock would last, so they started with a 3mm steel outer body, added a one-piece mount base, put a 360 degree weld on the eye ring, used a 20mm chrome piston rod and made dual independent seals around the piston. The piston shroud is made of HPDE, a super-tough plastic, and the metal parts are treated electrophoretically (EDP) which is more like a plating process than painting. There’s also a built-in bumpstop where applicable, just in case the shock gets overcompressed, and the oil is a premium-grade Fuchs blend which has a high boiling point and minimal degradation over time.
That took care of toughness The next objective was useful features. Here we find rubber bushings (where the shock connects to the mount points) for good NVH (noise, vibration and harshness). Where the shocks are designed within a coil spring (coilover) then the coil mount is on a threaded spring seat, so you can adjust the ride height of the vehicle easily without needing to change springs. Ironman also claim the threads provide a heatsink effect. The coilovers also feature a rubber rather than metal spring seat cushion, again for NVH purposes.