Guilty Pleasures for the Purist

With the accrual of experience in practicing the fourwheeling arts there comes, quite naturally, the high estimation of certain designs and principles.  While it might be a bit lofty to label the gaining of such perspective as “wisdom” it’s entirely fair to call it the foundation on which strong opinions are built.  I am the holder of such strong opinions.  And among those opinions is a very strict definition of what constitutes the pinnacle of four-wheel-drive evolution.  It should be no surprise that, like most purists and life-long enthusiasts, I believe that high point has already come and gone.  Yet I’m no originalist.  Perfection wasn’t present at the beginning any moreso than it is today.  For me, the peak of form and function occurred somewhere in the middle around the late 1980s to early 1990s.  As such, the three four-wheel-drives that I own all share the same critical elements.  They all have straight-axle and coil sprung suspensions on ladder frames.  They are all turbo-diesel with manual gearboxes.  They all have mechanically-operated transfer-cases.  They all have locking differentials.  They all have mechanical hand-brakes.  They all have steel wheels.  None of them have ABS or electronic traction control systems.  They are all easily equipped with auxiliary lighting, body protection, heavy duty steering components, winches, recovery equipment, tools and spare parts.  They are, to my eye, the purest distillation of performance, reliability and beautiful mechanical design and none of them were designed or built in this century.  They are from the golden age when the classic manufacturers of four-wheel-drives were at their best, producing rugged vehicles that were extremely capable as well as easily improved by the owner.

 

We now live in an entirely different age altogether.  It’s far enough removed from the time when my personal trucks were built to merit nostalgia but not so long ago that the lineage of the major manufacturers has been completely severed.  There’s still a connection, however tenuous it might be, between the trucks in my driveway and those currently on showroom floors.  And what are the brand names up to these days?  Mostly making things too easy, too comfortable and altogether too tempting.

 

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I was recently recruited to participate in a project that involved driving well-outfitted, contemporary offerings from Land Rover, Toyota and Jeep across the Utah Canyonlands for five days.  I was responsible for the well-being of the vehicles, instructing the drivers, logistics and operating one of the trucks myself.

 

The caravan consisted of the Overland Journal 2013 Discovery 4, a 2013 4Runner Trail Edition belonging to Equipt Outfitters and 2013 JK Unlimited Rubicon owned by Front Runner.  These were all vehicles I was well familiar with but an outing of this nature provided a greater degree of intimacy.  This wasn’t a competition perse, but as the same tasks were asked of all three vehicles, it did prove for an interesting comparison between them as well as a useful commentary on the state of affairs among the current North American offerings.

 

Appearances

 

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The first impression of any vehicle is aesthetic.  To judge a vehicle by its looks is as honest an estimation as any because it will always be our first.  To deny this like ignoring your heart and asking your brain how to feel.  It’s a lie you can tell yourself but you know deep down it isn’t true.  These three trucks are fairly hideous.  Most current vehicles are so bulbous and swollen that they look like carnival caricatures of the models that came before them.  No exceptions for year 2013.  Looking at these trucks is the toughest part of using them.

 

The least offensive is probably the Rubicon Unlimited.  While it’s not quite the best looking Jeep iteration, its familiar DNA is still plainly evident.  By now we’ve all grown accustomed to the proportions of the five-door unlimited and it no longer has that stretch limo effect.  Overall, the stance is balanced and the sheet metal is purposeful, if a bit tinny.  The interior has grown crowded over the years but it’s still fairly clean and utilitarian.

 

The 4Runner is a different story.  While Toyota isn’t a company that’s made its reputation by producing beautiful designs, this generation is particularly dreadful.  In the past, Toyota has played around with square wheel wells in the bodysides and large wheel arches.  Now they’re doubling up to reach new levels of exaggeration.  Everything else from the graffiti block lettering of the badges to the afterburner tail lamps protruding from the anime rocketship lines is offensive.  This is one ugly truck.  Inside the attempts to load on the premium modern features have resulted in perfectly recreating the feel of a DJ booth in a nightclub.  (Fittingly the stereo has a “party” mode to make the rear cargo speakers loudest)  To complete the VIP lounge feel the factory, waterproof, cloth upholstery had been swapped out by Equipt for leather.

 

The Discovery 4 is still the most egregious offender.  Land Rover has penned lines so classic and elegant they have earned a spot in the Louvre.  Most of their silhouettes are iconic.  How lame styling cues, ugly side vents and chainlink grills ever became part of package I’ll never know.  While the Discovery model has never achieved the sophistication of the Range Rover or the rugged character of the Defender it did possess its own funky cool.  The stepped roofline and stadium seating were instantly recognizable.  Only the vestiges of these defining characteristics remain in the now soulless shell.  The sectional hood on the original Discoveries had a nice slimming effect (in addition to the vehicles being far narrower).  The current clam shell makes the Discovery 4 as blocky as a laundry appliance.  The interior is somewhat redeeming.  Despite having something like sixty buttons in reach of the driver, the layout is not without some organization and refinement.  The signature luxury of Land Rover is present and it’s neither contrived nor excessive.  It’s better to be inside of a Discovery 4 than outside of one.

 

Drivetrain

 

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Underneath these unpleasant exteriors all three trucks are still conventional four-wheel-drives.  There was a time when Jeep, Toyota and Land Rover only manufactured authentic trucks.  Sadly those days are gone and the lines are now muddled by market-expanding pretenders.  The JK, 4Runner and Discovery 4 are still the real deal.  They are not cute-utes or cross-overs.  Amongst today’s North American offerings, if you want a five-door 4×4, this is as legit as it gets.  Each of the three trucks that we took to Utah are equipped with a proper transfer-case capable of distributing driveline rotation to both front and rear differentials as well as accessing a low range of gears.  The transfer-case is the beating heart of a four-wheel-drive.  If you have to change out this component you either bought the wrong truck or you should have just built it from the ground up.  Similarly differentials and traction aids are the right and left legs of the off-pavement body in motion.  It may be possible to add or improve these systems but it’s nearly always best if they are factory provided.

 

The 4Runner, like the Rubicon Unlimited, retains a mechanical lever for manipulating its part-time transfer-case.  What used to be a standard arrangement now stands out as a dogged insistence on the old ways that I appreciate.  While electronic controls for transfer-cases have become the norm and have proven reliable there is an assuring satisfaction to the clunk that accompanies mechanical actuation.  Toyota has also proven stalwart in its dedication to two-wheel drive light duty operation and selectable four-wheel drive for challenging conditions on the Trail Edition (while implementing an electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system on the 4Runner Limited).  While this convention lends itself to greater fuel efficiency and lighter steering for on-road use it leaves this particular 4Runner at a bit of a loss in foul weather paved conditions.  Whereas an all-wheel-drive system with a locking or biased center differential allows for improved traction and steering on slippery roads, the more classic Toyota system cannot employ power to all wheels until surfaces are sufficiently soft to prevent binding of the transfer-case while steering.  The issue is mute off-pavement but we still have to get to the dirt on every trip in all kinds of weather.  As it just so happened, we were caught in a torrential downpour on our drive out of the National Park.

 

The 4Runner wasn’t squirrely, but it wasn’t confidence inspiring either.  Similarly anachronistic is Toyota’s continued inability to provide a sufficiently low-range gear ratio in its transfer-case.  Despite a wide range of low differential ratios at their disposal Toyota only produces transfer-cases that are overly tall.  With a final ratio of 33.7 to 1, the 4Runner is no exception and it suffers in control and power delivery while in low range. Thankfully, drivetrain redemption is delivered by the aggressive A-TRAC electronic ABS traction control system and selectable rear locker.  The A-TRAC has variable programming such as the HDS,  HAS and CRAWL settings that are adjusted with a dial that is more than a little reminiscent of Land Rover’s Terrain Response.  Much like the Land Rover system, despite all the options, the rock setting is the only one you need.  However unoriginal, the Toyota traction system performs equally well to the genuine article.  The A-TRAC is so effective in limiting wheelspin and maintaining forward motion that in moderate terrain traction is achieved without the impeded maneuverability that results from full locker engagement.  This is especially good for novice drivers who have less refined vehicle control and limited understanding of the variable behavior of a spooled differential.  This 4Runner makes rookies look good.  When it’s time for more capable drivers to test the limits of performance the rear locker is waiting to push the truck as far as it can possibly go.  This is a combination of systems that you can literally grow into as a four-wheeler.

 

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The Discovery 4 employs Land Rovers latest variation on it’s now time-tested principle of an all-wheel-drive system with a locking transfer case to achieve true four-wheel-drive.  This combination is capable of addressing the widest variety of surface conditions both on-road and off.  High and low ranges of gears are selected by an electronic switch.  Low range achieves an adequate 43.3:1 final ratio despite Land Rover continuing to install 3.54 differential ratios in all vehicles.  If you’re not locking the transfer case or shifting into four-wheel-drive, getting out of the truck to air down (which none of these trucks do for you, yet…) is a good moment for you to mentally recalibrate.  That said, the imperceptible, positive engagement of the Land Rover transfer case is impressive.  You never know what’s happening (unless you monitor the on screen display) but it’s always there when you need it.  When combined with the staggering calculative ability of Terrain Response to engage the ABS system for traction control and alter suspension characteristics the Discovery 4 produces forward movement under nearly all conditions without any kind of lag.  The system will also do the work for you with descents and mid-hill starts.  While I would still argue for proper left foot braking technique while off-pavement,  the truck will literally produce all of the same effect for you.  Just like the A-TRAC equipped 4Runner the Discovery 4’s Terrain Response provides tremendous traction and control with very little finesse on the part of the driver.  It’s another truck that nearly drives itself.  In fact, whereas the 4Runner has a selectable rear locker for truly challenging terrain, the Discovery 4 is offered with a completely automatic locker asking even less of the driver and providing yet more performance.

 

However the 2013 Discovery 4 we took to Utah is a eunuch.  It lacks the factory locker and since there is no aftermarket option, [Editor’s note: ARB lockers have since been successfully installed and drastically increased the performance of the LR4] if you don’t buy the right truck from the get-go, you’re stuck.  Certainly the truck is quite capable without it but a locking differential is the sin qua none of advanced four-wheel-drive performance.  Furthermore the Discovery 4 without a rear locker demonstrates significantly more wheelspin while the system fights for grip and as such causes greater impact to the trail.  In addition to impressive traction, Land Rover has finally resolved its long standing issues with fragile driveline components.  There have been an incredibly small number of reported breakages even with the massive power applied by newer Land Rover engines.  The days of commonplace broken CV’s and halfshafts seem to be behind us.

 

 

Front Runner’s JK Rubicon Unlmited is much more classical in its drivetrain design.  Jeep provides the lever actuated Rock-Trac part-time transfer case which with a 4.1 low-range and either 3.73 or 4.10 axle differentials yields a tremendous final ratio of up to 73.1:1  Much like the Trail Edition 4Runner,  Jeep has favored a two-wheel drive light duty operation and selectable four-wheel drive for technical off-pavement use.  This has been the Jeep standard for decades in their utilitarian vehicles and they are unlikely to change their philosophy anytime soon.  The advantages and drawbacks of this arrangement are the same as previously discussed.  To aid in traction all Rubicons (be they two-door or Unlimited) are factory equipped with “Brake Lock Differential” traction systems as well as front and rear selectable differential locks.  The “BLD” is in effect just like any conventional ABS driven traction control system that applies independent brake pressure to transfer torque across an open differential.  Unlike Land Rover’s Terrain Response or Toyota’s A-TRAC, Jeep’s BLD does not feature a variety of profiles which adjust system calibration for varying terrain.  I don’t lament this in theory as I want electronic traction control to be aggressive or non-existant, but BLD is a bit mild.  Fortunately maximum traction can be achieved with the front and rear lockers.

 

Jeep’s proprietary “Tru-Lok” differentials have established a good reputation for reliability and durability despite being designed and manufactured with many cost-saving economic considerations.  Furthermore the drivetrain components such as half-shafts, drive shafts and ring and pinion sets are sufficiently strong for the stresses of spooled operation.  The 2013 Rubicon sports the total package for traction and should never require any modification.  It is highly versatile with robust construction.  Other parameters may limit the performance of the Jeep, but it will not be the driveline.

 

 

Suspension

 

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Our three vehicles provided an interesting comparison among the four-wheel-drive manufacturers guiding principles for off-pavement suspension systems.  We can see innovation, persistence and compromise displayed among the contrasts.

 

Land Rover has long pushed the technological envelope in this arena and while their efforts have sometimes horrified their more diehard enthusiasts, their persistence has been validating.  Land Rover has committed fully to independent electronic air suspension and while their early attempts were a liability, the current refinements to the system have made it a core performance advantage.  Since 2003 Land Rover has engineered staggering wheel travel and surface traction into a system which also provides the best possible road handling characteristics.  In the last ten years it has only gotten better and better.  To see the Discovery 4 move over rough terrain is to suspend disbelief.  Tires drop in dramatic fashion and cross-linked airbags mimic the desirable effect of a solid straight axle for articulation.  Ride height is adjustable and will raise and lower automatically depending on driver input. Clearance is excellent for a design of this type.  At speed on dirt roads the Discovery 4 is rally worthy.  With monstrous power and neutral handling it encourages reckless speed.  One has to be reminded of the substantial vehicle weight and correspondingly disastrous physics that a crash would produce because the suspension so completely masks these important considerations.  The advanced braking system works in perfect concert with the tremendous suspension range both in achieving forward motion at low speed over technical terrain as well as allowing for correction and changing moment of inertia at high speed.  The fully independent nature of both suspension and braking made it possible to unweight and brake a single wheel to provide a pivot while turning at speed.  The effect is like nothing else.  However, this system is as complicated as all other components of the Discovery 4 and while we suffered no failures, the potential for difficult repair or troubleshooting remains ever-present.  In the case of Land Rover, your fortunes will rise and fall with the functionality of the system.

 

In stark contrast, the Rubicon Unlimited was the only vehicle of our three that retains the time-tested front and rear solid-axle coil-sprung suspension layout.  This arrangement is heavily biased towards performance on the trail with little advantage on the road.  Coils provide long progressive travel and are easily changed to adjust for capacity or ride height.  Shocks are just as easily altered.  Solid-axles are durable, serviceable and lend themselves to excellent articulation and correspondingly good traction.  Jeep fits the Rubicon Unlimited with an electronic front sway-bar disconnect to further increase this effect while traveling under 18mph. On pavement, body roll is alarming and steering is vague and imprecise.  This is the set-up for the purist.  It may not do everything but it is beyond criticism in the dirt.

 

Toyota long ago settled on a compromise among these concerns for the bulk of its vehicle line-up.  The solution as they have seen it, is to balance weight capacity with on-road and off-pavement performance by having independent front suspension and a solid rear axle.   On all of their pick-up truck models and on recent 4Runners this sold rear axle was suspended by leaf springs to make high vehicle payload numbers viable.  Toyota has finally progressed to a 4-link coil-sprung solid axle in the rear of the 4runner.  This results in far more progressive and adaptive suspension travel.   My chief complaint with the IFS/Solid rear arrangement in the past was that the vehicle was sprung in two completely different ways from front to back and as such the truck fought itself as the suspension had to meet each single obstacle in two different ways.  The independent coil-over struts in the front would collapse almost too easily while the heavy leaf springs of the rear refused to yield at all.  This produced a severe stage coach effect with violent side-to-side rocking.  The introduction of coil springs in the rear has finally brought some balance to Toyota suspension.  Ride quality, spring rate and axle articulation have increased dramatically.  While I cannot love the off-pavement characteristics of IFS (namely the propensity to surrender clearance under pressure) the on-road handling it achieves make daily use much more liveable.  Like Jeep, Toyota has introduced their KDSS system to disconnect sway bars electronically for increased off-pavement wheel travel.

 

Powertrain

 

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Being North America, each one of our three vehicles was fitted with an advanced, electronically fuel-injected gasoline engine and an automatic gearbox.  This is largely the only way you can buy these trucks in this market.  Only the Rubicon Unlimited provides the option of a very functional 6-speed manual gearbox but Front Runner chose the slush box for their truck.

 

Toyota coupled their 5-speed automatic gearbox to their now well-established 4.0 V6 engine.  I’ve logged many hours and miles behind this powertrain in Tacomas and I can’t say I’ve grown to love it much.  While spec’ed at an impressive 270 hp, this power comes on a bit high and late in engine revolutions and low end torque is not readily available.  It’s fairly aggressive at road speeds but lugs when it’s off-pavement.  This is further impaired by the unnecessarily tall gearing mentioned earlier.  With the engine’s substantial displacement fuel economy isn’t very impressive.  Reliability seems to be paramount in this power plant but efficiency is not.  Off-pavement it demonstrates a bit more range than the other vehicles we took to Utah but it’s still going to have a somewhat limited reach for any serious remote exploration.   That said, it won’t hold back most weekend warrior excursions.  Unlike the Toyota pick-up trucks the 4Runner is equipped with four-wheel disc brakes and stopping power is quite well balanced.  Unfortunately the parking/emergency brake arrangement still consists of a ratcheting foot pedal which only actuates rear brakes.  This is a weak system that has never worked especially well.

 

Land Rover has seemingly abandoned all restraint in their powertrain design and now builds the Discovery with a 375 hp and 375 ft/lb 5.0L V8  in front of a 6-speed automatic gearbox.  This makes the truck into a veritable rocketship and yields fuel economy similar to that of the space shuttle with the same name.  This truck is too fast both on the street and off-pavement.  It’s all too easy to cruise the highway at 100mph.  In the dirt it invites Colin McRae levels of aggression.  However, low-range power delivery is smooth and controlled.  The truck walks over technical terrain and I can only imagine how easily it could conquer soft sand or steep, loose hills.  Engine reliability is much improved from years past and earlier cooling system failures are much less frequent.  Nevertheless the Discovery 4 is severely hampered by its atrocious fuel economy when off-pavement.  If you expect to travel even close to 200 miles in the dirt you will have to bring substantial amounts of auxiliary fuel.  While little, thrifty, mechanical diesel engines aren’t easy to come by in North America we should be able to expect the electronic gasoline engines to at least run through the Canyonlands on a tank of fuel.  As is typical of Land Rover, braking performance is quite good even at the speeds that the 5.0L V8 invites.  However, I simply cannot conscience the electronic parking brake that Land Rover has adopted.  Not only does it actuate only rear brakes but it cannot be modulated.  It is not suitable for emergency or supplementary use and it is not a stand-alone mechanical system.  Failures have been widely reported.  As such I consider it to be a major liability for off-pavement use.

 

Bringing up the rear for the duration of our trip was the Rubicon Unlimited powered by Chrysler’s Pentastar 3.6L V6 driving the 5-speed automatic gearbox.  I absolutely hate this combination.  The engine is a total dog and it’s only made worse by the slush box.  Not only is it a dog but it’s the kind of lazy dog that won’t hunt and is a complete chow hound.  This engine is never happy.  It searches for a powerband which must be a sine wave and it’s either lugging or over-revving in nearly all conditions.  It produces 285 hp at 6,400 rpm.  Does that sound right for off-road use?  It’s not.  Maybe that’s because this engine was designed for the Dodge Challenger, Charger, Chrysler 300, Grand Caravan and countless other street-only vehicles.  The terrible performance behavior of the Pentastar 3.6  is only masked in low range by the JK’s superbly geared transfer case.  Fuel economy is atrocious for an engine of that size.  On the highway, real world miles per gallon are very low without any of the driveability of the Toyota or Land Rover engines.  Off-pavement the necessity of low-range to manage the terrible torque curve sends the numbers plummeting.  Stopping is much better than going in the Jeep.  The JK is fitted with reasonably sized disc brakes all around with vented rotors in the front.  The parking brake is a drum set-up on the rear axle much like the Toyota but it is actually engaged by a conventional hand lever.  This means that even though it is not especially strong, it is the only parking brake on any of our three vehicles that could be employed for the full range of off-pavement uses.

 

Outfitting

 

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Each of the supplied vehicles for our trip across the Utah Canyonlands was outfitted by a variety of vendors in the typical “overlanding” fashion.  That is to say that they were modified for a balance of domestic as well as mechanical goals.   While changes and supplements to the 4Runner, Discovery 4 and Rubicon Unlimited were generally similar, the suitability of the vehicles for such changes was wholly unequal.

 

Modifications to a vehicle are sometimes limited by inherent design structure and sometimes by the experience of the owner.  Among our three vehicles I saw examples of both.  Sometimes improvements simply can’t be made and sometimes we make the wrong ones.  Other times the manufacturer has already either thought through the solution for us or made its implementation very easy.  Universal items like 2m radios, refrigerators, water storage, fuel storage, recovery equipment and the like are not so vehicle specific and as such don’t merit discussion.  Every truck should have these items and it shouldn’t be hard to figure out how to carry them.

 

The Discovery 4 provides the most challenges in altering or improving upon the stock design.  First and foremost the highly complicated and proprietary electronic air suspension system is not easily modified.  In order to fit a larger set of tires the stock 20” wheels were exchanged for 18” versions.  There was some difficulty in sourcing a smaller wheel that would still clear the very large brake calipers of the Discovery 4.  In addition, the suspension was raised 20mm using the GAP diagnostic tool.  [Editor’s note: Johnson Rods were used to give the LR4 a 2.5″ lift. The GAP tool reduced the stance by 10mm for a 2″ overall lift.] Overland Journal elected to fit a tire in excess of 33” which was ultimately too large.  This meant that when the suspension automatically lowered at speeds over 30mph there wasn’t sufficient up-travel to absorb bumps without the tires rubbing.  A smaller tire might have yielded better results, but ultimately a 33” is a very reasonable size for off-pavement performance.  While a vehicle may not accommodate this size in stock configuration it should be easily modified to accept it.  Although there is not currently a wide array of products for the Discovery 4, there are readily available aftermarket bumpers to add protection, provide for the mounting of a winch, improve clearance and relocate the spare tire.  Our Discovery 4 was fitted with the now ubiquitous ARB front bumper with Warn winch and HID lights.  I hate this bumper because of its bulk, thin construction and awkward location of the winch.  However, it’s nearly the only game in town for the Discovery 4 and it does get the job done.  A Kaymar bumper replaced the stock rear unit and provided protection as well as a swing-out mount for the spare tire.  This arrangement is inconvenient but essential for accommodating a full size spare to match the larger tires and for keeping it out of harm’s way.  Again, there are not many choices but a functional option does exist.  A Ezi-Awn K9 roof rack was mounted to the integrated rails of the Discovery 4 roof and while the K9 is not as thoughtful or elegant as the excellent Slimline rack from Front Runner, the Ezi-Awn showed no signs of yielding under fairly heavy loads.  Aluminum rock sliders with tubular rails from Lucky 8 were installed to provide a little insurance for break-over and pivots.  Among the list of classic bolt-ons there are simple options for everything but the suspension on the Discovery 4. The interior of our truck was completely filled with a drawer system so massive it made even the cavernous Land Rover feel small and cramped.  For normal back country travel this set-up is grossly inefficient and sacrifices much of the day to day utility of an otherwise classless vehicle.  Luckily the practicality of the Discovery 4 tailgate cannot be compromised by such cluttering and it was useful at all times.  While I may miss the characteristic barn door of earlier iterations you simply cannot beat a tailgate.

 

The JK is a far more modular vehicle with a myriad of aftermarket options to improve it.  However, with so many choices comes the need for much more studied and insightful selection.  Our Rubicon Unlimited is primarily a showpiece for Front Runner’s extensive catalog and clearly had more products installed than a regular consumer would consider optimal.  This makes it difficult to accurately judge the outfitting of this particular JK, but the potential is beyond limit. It would also be unfair to critically evaluate the suspension of this particular JK as we received it prior to completion of the final suspension modifications.

 

The selection of bumpers was far more prescient.  The bodywork of the JK lends itself to easy alteration.  A wonderfully sparse and functional design provided a great work space for the Viking winch and easily accessed and smartly located recovery points on the front end.  The rear bumper was of a similarly small profile and anchored a swing out tire carrier to remove weight from the flimsy rear door of the JK.  Even without this relocated tire, Jeep remains one of the few manufacturers that understands your spare shouldn’t be used as a skid plate.  With the Rubicon Unlimited as a platform it is no exaggeration to say you can make the truck suit you in absolutely any way you desire from a staggering aftermarket array.  It is by far the most easily modified truck we drove, from both a design and market standpoint.

 

While the 5th generation 4Runner doesn’t enjoy quite the massive aftermarket support that JK is showered with, there are still readily available items to meet nearly all of our needs and the major labels have all given it attention.  The IFS/solid rear axle suspension arrangement of the Toyota requires more wrenching to modify but is still easily done with a variety of options.  This 4Runner was particularly well set up with a suspension lift from Old Man Emu.  Heavy loads were carried with minimal sag while travel remained progressive and compliant.  The shocks and springs were so well suited to the truck I cannot imagine improving them.  Long term durability will be the only obstacle left to overcome.  The suspension lift created room for readily available larger tires.  The same style of ARB front bumper with Warn winch as found on the Discovery 4 was also installed on the 4Runner.  Of course the winch is still buried in a bear trap of sheet metal and the front recovery points plow earth.  The 4Runner shared the same Ezi-Awn roof rack as the Discovery 4, also mounted to the existing rails in the Toyota’s roof.  Overall the Trail Edition 4Runner only needs a few additions which are all easily accomplished.

 

 

Lasting Impressions

 

There are a few technical areas left untouched in the above review of the three vehicles we drove but this is not due to the constraints of pages or time.  While it is fashionable in the automotive journalism world to examine all minutiae of vehicle construction with particular attention to changes between individual model years, as an “overlander” I prefer to focus on what matters in terms of long distance, remote and challenging four-wheel-drive travel.  I just can’t claim to be interested in reviewing the stereo, on board NAV, rear view cameras or blue tooth connectivity.  These features are all well and good but I don’t pretend to believe they matter for what we do.

 

Of the three trucks that we took across the Utah Canyonlands the most suitable to the task at hand was by far the Toyota Trails Edition 4Runner.  This truck had an ideal balance of capability, capacity, reliability and performance.  The vehicle inspired confidence and encouraged us to seek out the more challenging routes without luring us into reckless abandon or bravado. Improved suspension and larger tires were easily fitted and easily refined.  Aftermarket options for bumpers, roof racks and the like were sufficient.  It would be nice if Toyota brought the tailgate back to the 4Runner line but as it sits the truck is extremely useful, if a bit ugly.

 

Ultimately these still aren’t trucks I want to own myself.  The 2013 Rubicon Unlimited, 4Runner and Discovery 4 are the trucks I want my friends to own.  These are the vehicles I love to be a passenger in, to borrow or to get paid to drive.  They make life easy and they make us look good.  But in the end I’m too puritanical and too much of an aesthete to buy a vehicle that I’m not passionate about and the current crop just doesn’t make me feel the love.  For all their amenities and performance they lack too many of the crucial design characteristics that matter most to me.  As such, I leave it up to you to buy them and I will always happily accept a ride whenever you offer to do the driving.

 

 

Text by Jack Quinlan

Photos by Sinuhe Xavier

 


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