Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is the Tacoma Better Off-Road than the old 4Runner?

I’d noticed myself silently comparing the worthiness of the new Tacoma with the old 4Runner with regard to off-road ability. It goes something like this: “Man, I think the 4Runner would have made it over all of this sand easier than the New Guy,” or “Did the 4Runner handle this sort of thing better, or am I just imagining it?”

I think – after more careful consideration – I
was imagining it.

There’s a few things to consider when making comparisons on off-road ability. One is weight. Model-year to model-year comparisons, the newer models tend to weigh more. For instance, the old 4Runner was top-o’-the-line in its day, and came in at just under 3900 lbs. The top-trim 2008 4Runner comes in at a steep 500 lbs heavier.

This was one reason among many others that I decided to shop the Tacomas instead: they are lighter than the 4Runners. That being the case, I’m still gaining probably 100 lbs or so with the
addition of the camper shell to the Mighty Tacoma over what I weighed with the Mighty 4Runner. Point to the 4Runner.

Another consideration is tire & tread (and also the surfaces they’re used on. More on that in a minute). The 4Runner was shod with some reasonably mild All-Terrains. They were bought because at the time, the 4Runner was 90% on-road, 9% dirt road, and 1% off-road; it needed tires to fit this need, and the
Destination A/T’s were the right shoe for the job. However, now with our 4 puppies & living the life up north, we decided that when it came to on-road performance, any tire will do. So long as there’s rubber on the pavement, we’re not doing anything fast or fancy enough to be concerned.

But with all the exploring we do around here now, we knew that an on-road-oriented tire will not be enough to get us out of a bind should we wind up in one out in the wilderness, so our best bet was to shaw it with tires that were geared towards that sort of terrain. They’re rubber anyway, so they’ll do fine enough on the street anyhow, is what we figured. So yeah, our
Cooper Discoverer S/T’s are quite a bit more aggressive, and we’re better off and happier for it. Point for the Tacoma.

And the Tacoma’s
supposed to have all kinds of cool off-road gadgets that the 4Runner just didn’t have. Score another point for the Tacoma.

Still though, I’d be out and about in the Tacoma, having these silent conversations with myself (a drastic difference from the out-loud conversations I have with myself from time to time), and I’d wonder,
is the Tacoma really better? Here’s the deal:

The 4Runner never really did all that much with me or
for me off-road. We went a few places here & there that had some bumps & valleys, but mostly it was on solid footing the whole time, and the really interesting obstacles we just avoided in reality, while I just imagined going up and down them in the 4Runner. The Tacoma however, has been put to the test more times in the 6 months that we’ve had it than the 4Runner had in all the years we owned it. So to some extent, it’s an apples/oranges comparison: the 4Runner succeeded handily at all the baby-class obstacles we put it up against, whilst the Tacoma has had to get by on the skin of its teeth on obstacles that would make your butt pucker. Does perfect 10’s on the easy course score higher than 5’s & 6’s on the ‘motherf*cker’ course?

Not really, no.

The only place that I really can say the argument holds any weight at all is on the beaches. In the sand, sometimes it feels like the Tacoma is just being held back while the 4Runner would sprint ahead at certain points. And when carefully considering it, I’m still not sure it’s true though. With the 4Runner, I made sure I hit the sand running, and remember a few paragraphs ago when I mentioned I’d talk more about tires & grip & the surfaces we ride on? Here’s that bit: The less-aggressive your tires on sand, typically the better. The 4Runner DID weigh a bit less than the Tacoma, and thus probably sunk into the sand let’s say ¼ an inch less than the Tacoma, which helps. But the real help is that the tires were a lot less aggressive, so rather than grabbing fistfuls of dirt from right in front (and digging holes right in front), it sort of ‘glides’ over the surface.

The Tacoma has those aggressive tires though, remember? So it grabs those fistfuls of dirt when you get started, and digs itself little holes. This can be averted to an extent, and I think the real problem that led to the mental discussion over what vehicle is better off-road is that I find I’m constantly
testing the Tacoma to see if it is better or not.

Here’s the meat of what I’m saying: Going to the beach in the 4Runner, we know it’s not the greatest beast on the sand, so we
hit the sand running, going with speed and carrying it over the surface to our destination. But in the Tacoma, we hit the sand slow, and give it a chance to sink in; sort of see if it can handle getting out of the mess we’ve put it in (By “we,” I mean “me” because The Girl would not be this stupid). So again it’s the apples/oranges comparison: we’re babying the 4Runner, and whipping the Tacoma like it’s Kunta Kinte. It’s just not been a fair comparison.

The Tacoma
is better. We just haven’t bothered to run it on the same course. And if the 4Runner couldn’t even play on the courses we’re traversing in the Tacoma? Clearly we’ve been giving our new guy a bum rap.

Go, Mighty Tacoma, Go!

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