AN INTERESTING yarn that caught my eye when reading this issue of 4X4 Australia was Fraser Stronach’s Tech Torque column (page 20). Fraser loves the convenience of modern electronics which make driving over any terrain easier, but he listed the old standards of ground clearance, wheel travel and a light weight as the most essential characteristics needed to make a good off-road vehicle.
No matter how many locking diffs you have, what tyres you run, or how much power you have, it all means nothing if the belly of your vehicle is dragging over every obstacle and the tyres aren’t in contact with the ground. It is off-road basics and why many older vehicles still do so well when faced with tough terrain.
Yes, electronic traction control (ETC) is an amazing and valuable feature and one you don’t want to do without, but in most cases it’s used to make up for a vehicle lacking in the three essentials. Modern ETC systems are so good that many so-called soft-roaders would climb over almost any off-road obstacle if they had the clearance to do it, without ripping off bumpers and underbody parts. The tractive ability of these single-range-transfer-case vehicles is astounding, but they don’t have the clearance or the tyres (usually) to make the most of it.
We’ve seen old-school 4x4ers laugh at us when we test vehicles like late-model Range Rovers on low profile tyres, only to see their jaws drop when the luxury SUV does it easier than their older Cruiser or Patrol riding on 33-inch muddies with double diff locks. At times, the Rovers have gone further than the traditional offroader. It truly is a revelation.
This is why the modern vehicles that offer a combination of the old-school attributes as well as modern ETC technology are so bloody good now. Rigs like LC200S, Y62 Patrols, Rangies and even Prados and Rangers get the job done, while others will be leaving bits all over the tracks as they get dragged out.
The new technology is far from the be-all-and-end-all of off-road driving, but it adds amazing ability to the right platforms.