4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS DAN EVERETT

THE an­nual 4X4 Of The Year event pits the new­est of­fer­ings from all the ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers head to head on some of the most tech­ni­cal ter­rain Aus­tralia has to of­fer. The idea is sim­ple, push them un­til they can’t be pushed any more.

Af­ter a week liv­ing out of these ve­hi­cles we’ve got a solid idea of what works and what doesn’t; what rises to the top and what sinks to the bot­tom. Sounds great in the­ory, and it’s the only true way to get an ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how each model com­pares against its peers. How­ever, in most cases, any new 4x4 taken to these lo­ca­tions is go­ing to be decked out with good qual­ity rub­ber, a ver­sa­tile sus­pen­sion set-up and your usual off-road kit in­clud­ing bar work and winches.

In or­der to see how each stock ve­hi­cle com­pares against a mod­i­fied 4x4 with all the fruit, we in­cluded in the ro­ta­tion Tough Dog’s decked-out NP300 Navara space cab. Tough Dog has been at­tend­ing the an­nual 4X4OTY event for a few sea­sons now, nor­mally be­cause it’s fi­nal­is­ing R&D on a kit be­fore it hits the shelves. This year was no dif­fer­ent with its pro­to­type leaf-sprung NP300 Navara.

So how did it per­form, and how does it com­pare against some of the most ca­pa­ble ve­hi­cles you can find on the show­room floor? In a word, flaw­lessly. The com­bi­na­tion of pur­pose-built sus­pen­sion and ag­gres­sive tyres made the Navara one of the most ca­pa­ble ve­hi­cles in our fleet, de­spite its work­horse un­der­pin­nings and lack of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­van­tages some had.

The Navara han­dled the High Coun­try’s un­du­lat­ing, wind­ing ter­rain with aplomb, giv­ing a ride qual­ity com­pa­ra­ble to many coil-sprung 4x4s while still re­tain­ing load car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity and in­creased ar­tic­u­la­tion for im­proved off-road ca­pa­bil­ity. It’s the best of both worlds.

So what ex­actly went in to mak­ing a ba­sic leaf-sprung ute out­per­form coil­sprung 4x4s with far su­pe­rior tech? We asked Tough Dog front man David Cook ex­actly that. “Our Navara is equipped with a 30mm lift sit­ting on foam cell shocks all ’round,” he said. “Up front the springs are rated to carry a bull­bar, with our com­fort springs in the rear for 0-300kg weight. All up it al­lows for a 265 tyre to be fit­ted to a 17-inch rim and push things as far as you’re legally al­lowed.”

While the fine-tun­ing hap­pens in the

field, the ac­tual process to de­sign and con­struct a sys­tem like this can take months. Up front the NP300’S strut ar­range­ment is sim­i­lar but sub­tly dif­fer­ent to the out­go­ing D40 model, while the rear end is en­tirely new for this gen­er­a­tion, which es­sen­tially means Tough Dog was start­ing from scratch. “The first thing we’ll do [when de­sign­ing a kit] is duck down to our lo­cal dealer and place an or­der for the first black 4x4 on the lot so we can get on top of the R&D here in Aus­tralia as soon as pos­si­ble,” David told us. “From here we’ll rack up a few thou­sand kays in the ve­hi­cle in stan­dard form to give us a good base line. We do all our test­ing on stan­dard wheels and tyres so the size of the tyre, size of the rim, or the weight of both, isn’t af­fect­ing what we’re feel­ing through the car. Then we’ll take the stan­dard shocks out of the car and dyno them on our in-house dyno as a ref­er­ence point. Us­ing our ex­pe­ri­ence and the data we’ve gath­ered driv­ing it in stan­dard form, we de­velop and go on to fine-tune a re­place­ment shock ab­sorber with the valv­ing changes we be­lieve will get the most out of the ve­hi­cle.”

The space cab Navara also serves as an R&D plat­form for fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of Tough Dog leaf springs. “When we de­sign the leaf spring pack, the­ory and on-paper de­signs can only take you so far. Real-world test­ing is where the knowl­edge is gath­ered,” David ex­plained. “We can make changes to the cam­ber (arch) of the spring, as well as the num­ber of leaves, their thick­ness and the over­all length of the spring to achieve the lift, load car­ry­ing and ride qual­ity we’re chas­ing. Work­ing out the most ef­fec­tive changes that will get the re­sults we’re af­ter needs to be done in real-world R&D, so we en­deav­our to pur­chase ev­ery leaf-sprung car that we in­tend to de­velop a kit for be­cause it’s the only way to get it right. Mod­ern turbo-diesel ve­hi­cles punch out plenty of power and torque, which has changed how leaf springs are de­signed over time. The de­sign of the spring plays a cru­cial part in guard­ing against vi­bra­tions from ex­ces­sive axle move­ment.”

David told us: “The leaf-sprung Navara is re­ally de­signed around load car­ry­ing; it does carry a load bet­ter than the coil­sprung one (which is per­fect for towing of­froad car­a­vans or deck­ing them out with a cam­per back). If you’re some­one who’s look­ing to carry a load reg­u­larly then that leaf-sprung ver­sion is prob­a­bly

go­ing to be the bet­ter choice, but for­tu­nately with this car you don’t com­pro­mise too much in terms of com­fort be­cause of the way the leaf spring has been de­signed.”

De­spite feel­ing planted in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion we took it in (in­clud­ing a lit­tle side­ways ac­tion on a rally course), Tough Dog still has a few more tweaks to make to the rear shocks be­fore they’re re­leased in the first quar­ter of 2017. The full kit will be avail­able through Tough Dog’s web­site and through its dealer net­work.

While the mar­ket has be­come flooded with new­com­ers, the Tough Dog op­tions rep­re­sent true value for money with a guar­an­teed so­lu­tion that’s go­ing to work for 99.9 per cent of peo­ple.

It’s amaz­ing what dif­fer­ence some af­ter­mar­ket TLC makes.

In many ways, Tough Dog’s NP300 set the bench­mark at 4X4OTY.

Pro­to­type NP300 serves as a plat­form for fur­ther Tough Dog devel­op­ment.

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