Jaremy, I'm going to answer you but in my own way instead of directly per each question. Hopefully you can get a better understanding of whats going on behind the scenes and make a better decision before you purchase.
I've been down this road on many vehicles *before* ever getting a ranger. Trust me I've got mucho experience in electronic tuning. Every bit if it's been with fords too.
Now with the ranger I've contacted 4 "tuners". Three of them provided me with tunes. And one who is popular here at R-F just was not interested in dealing with me. (Fred at Rouge)
My opinion of each:
1) Doug at Bama
Dougs tunes are very good. Rather I should say the engine portition of his tunes. But, it was *impossible* to talk to him about changes. After trying for 2 months to get him to answer me all I recieved was 10% of what I had **originally** asked for concerning tranny functions. $300 and he won't even do what was asked of him? Disgraceful. He was quick to take the $300 though. FYI
2) James at Henson
James will readily talk to you. But he's got some serious denial issues about "his tunes" and when I tried to talk nitrous. He ran away like a little child crying.
I told him his tunes were going lean up top and he flat out denied it. Well.. I've got a wideband installed in my truck and his tunes were running in the 15-16 a/f area. Denial doesn't change fact. Now admittedly I'm pretty much an expert on nitrous, and when I tried to get him to work with me on a tune for it. He got scared and just would'nt work with me. IMO it just shows ignorance on his part. I'd have respected him much more if had simply said I'm not comfortable with it via e-mail. Or something like that. I can respect honesty. Blaming the customer is not respectful. His tunes are lean and he seems to think he knows more than someone with a wideband in thier hand. FYI
3) Fred at Rouge
Fred was pleasant. But he just would not respond. I was waiting for two weeks w/cash in hand to buy tunes and even the $350 PRP package. TWO WEEKS I waited. I heard nothing... I can only asume he was hoping I'd go away? So.. I did.
4) Don at Lasota racing.
Don is honest. He's the one who created the classes that other "tuners" use to learn by. He's even created a DVD based class for the PRP crowd. (I have them) Don will also talk to you when you call. None of the others will do that. He takes customer service seriously. His prices are the same as the others.. and IMO he could charge more just based on the fact that he is willing to "be there" for you.
IMO Don is the way to go. He knows the software better than just about anyone else, and he'll very quickly answer the phone or e-mails. I'll never again use anyone else. He specializes in fords and knows what he's doing. Right up front he told me he doesn't have experience with late model rangers. That's honesty. And between his software knowledge, ford knowledge, and me willing to do the leg work.. I have a awsome daily driver 4x4 ranger that will run mid 14s in the 1/4 mile.
OK so now for me. I have an x-cal 2 for the ranger and have the PRP tuning software. (check out the link on my web page) With Dons DVD based classes and just spending large amounts of time... I now write my own tunes. I have 87octane, 92octane, 93octane, and dry shot nitrous tune.
Now that I do this myself, I've determined that the other tuners (besides Don) are just lazy when it comes to vehicles they are not familiar with. Dougs tunes and my tunes are pretty close as far as the engine timing and fuel goes. But when it comes to tranny functions he's just like the rest. They just pretty much leave tranny functions alone and if asked for firmer shifts.. they'll up the pressure globally. Well, that causes other problems and annoyances.
The real key is not so much engine tuning. It's transmission tuning. Timing and fuel is pretty easy actually. The real work is in making the transmission shift and TQ convertor lockup times, speed, and firmness. This takes time and I think is why they don't do it on vehicles they don't specialize in.
As far as mpg. I've not really been able to get much more than Dougs tune.
There is a balance of "load" vs "timing" vs "throttle input" vs "fuel" that has to be worked. It's difficult.. but I have my milage higher than any other FX4 that I know of. 18-19 winter and 21-22 summer are my *average* for 50/50 driving. Now, I've done the math. At a 20cent increase in price per gallon for 93 octane I can more than make up for the cost difference in mileage. As of now I'm gaining 7 cents per mile. It's not enough to pay for this. However the power increase puts a smile on my face everytime I hit the gas.
As far as towing. There is no reason to have a towing tune and a daily driver tune. The towing tunes simply delay the part throttle shifts a little, increase low end timing, and up the tranny pressures a little. Oh and TQ convertor lockup happens sooner too. LOL.. my "daily driver" tunes are the same tunes I use for towing my 3500lb boat. Out of my non-nitrous tunes they are all the same except for timing and *a little* fuel difference.
Timing. Really the "sweet spot" for a tune is your timing using high octane fuel. With 93 octane I can run a BOAT LOAD more timing at highway speeds and get my instant MPG up to 26-28 @ 70-75mph. And bumping along at 40mph steady speed I'm in the low 40mpg area. With 87 octane I just can't do that. Stock WOT timing is in the 15-16 area. Well with 93octane I can push more fuel & run 26-27 before getting knock. The power increase is VERY noticable. I have a friend with a stock 2004 sport-trac. He can't believe the difference between out trucks.
Transmission. This is where the bulk of the work is done. The motor has a calculation including "load-rpms-throttle position" that drives everything. The PCM knows what to do only because the tranny is telling it what the engine output is. So tranny tuning is the real key to getting it to feel the way you want it to.
For example. Personally I want it to shift stock/soft at low throttle input. But the heavier I push the throttle I want it to shift firmer and firmer. Upping tranny pressures across the board does *NOT* do that. There are charts that you have to work with to get this outcome. And it takes time.
I've got mine pretty nice. Accelerating with normal traffic and you'd not notice anything different. It's slightly firmer but not much. You'd not notice it unless I told you to look for it. However at 1/2 throttle the truck jumps fwd each shift. And at WOT it'll bark the tires 1/2 the time on black asphalt.
My advise to you is to make a very thought out list of what you want the truck to do. Don't try to tell the tuner what to do. Tell him what you want the truck to do... Let him do his thing and you'll be happier with the outcome.
Oh and personally.. I'd use Don at Lasota racing. Just make a well thought out list before talking to him. You get three tunes with a x-cal.. so you might consider something like a 87 octane tune, a 91-92 octane tune, and a 91-92 towing tune?
On my x-cal I have three. 1)87 octane. 2)93 octane 3)60hp nitrous.
The first two are pretty much the same except for timing and I actively tow with each. The nitrous tune is radically different though..