Fielder can have his llamas. I want to roll with Darren and his 4Runner!”
The Four-Wheel-Drive Off-Road Runner. What a great, and dare I say perfect, name for a vehicle! And yes, that's what 4Runner stands for since it was introduced in 1984. I bought my 4Runner on 2/26/02. I had been eyeing them closely since '97 when I first started getting into landscape photography where I knew that I would need something more capable to get me to more places to enjoy and capture a broader variety of images. My previous, and first car, was an '89 Camry. I held on to it for as long as I could possibly bear before I made my move. The Camrys just simply aren't known for their off-road prowess!
There was never any doubt for me that the 4Runner would be my next vehicle. The noticeable difference in ground clearance between the 4Runner and other SUVs was the main reason they initially got my attention. Of course, I have always thought they have been the best looking SUV as well going back to the second generation models of the early 90s. These two items along with the solid reliability (1.6 MB video) history of these vehicles made this a no-brainer.
I started looking at the '99 4Runner Highlanders (where Highlander denotes the sport package, not the small SUV model that was introduced for the '01 model year), as this was the first year the hood scoop was offered. I have to be honest, this was the one required item I had to have! Silly? Probably. But those other 4Runner owners out there with the scoop know exactly where I'm coming from. And the ones without? Well, let's just say the majority want there hands on one! This terrible, terrible condition is officially known as, Hood Scoop Envy!
I never thought I'd buy a new vehicle, but due to the tremendous resale value of 4Runners, the fact that I'd be keeping this for many years, and a couple other couple factors figured in the final decision. The only item I wish mine had that 2000 models and earlier had is the factory rear differential electric locker. The '96-'99 models also have a little more ground clearance as well, but that negates itself when you install aftermarket suspension. On 1/26/03, I ventured to a couple dealerships to check the ground clearance points of the 3rd Generation 'Runners to confirm what I had previously believed, in that earlier models do, in fact, afford higher ground clearance. Click here for a little more background and to view the numbers.
As I initially stated, I bought this vehicle purely as a tool to assist me in my photography and to get to places with stunning beauty that a car cannot achieve. I almost could have cared less about the sport of four-wheeling. After I ran my first couple trails (Hayden and Hermit Passes listed in the trails section), I quickly began to realize that driving off-road was just about as fun as taking pictures! So, then I got all caught up in the modification bug to make this into a rather trail-worthy rig. Not that they're any slouch not out of the box. As my 4Runner stands now, it is equipped to travel all but only eight roads in the state (more extreme in nature and sheet metal becomes compromised), which is good enough for me, especially since those last ones offer no additional scenic value over their adjacent roads. My 4Runner is currently built overkill for what I use it for anymore, as I no longer to four-wheeling for sport. If I were to do it again, I'd simply add the lift and bigger tires and be done with it.
A little bit about the 4-wheel drive system that became standard starting with the 2001 4Runners. Toyota had initially implemented the Active TRAC traction control system starting on the 2000 Land Cruiser then incorporated it into some of their other models. This automated feature replaced the rear locking differential. This system senses wheel slip, brakes the slipping wheel, and directs torque to the remaining wheels with traction. Sounds nice, but how does this compare to a locked diff for those of us that like to take challenging off-road trails? This system gives short impulse bursts of power to the wheels with traction. As far as how much power gets routed to the wheels with traction, I came up empty with my searches for this information, but it is not anywhere near a 100% figure that Toyota would make it sound when marketing this system. It is also pretty unpredictable. In contrast, a locked differential would provide up to 100% of the power to one wheel with traction if the other three were without and would provide slow and consistent power. This being said, though, the Active TRAC system does work very well, and has been improved substantially since the fourth generations came out. I have to say I was very skeptical of this system prior to my purchase, but my mind was been put very much at ease after getting to test it out on various terrain, especially moguls where one or two tires are in the air. One thing is for sure, this system is a hands-down winner over conventional open differentials by a mile.
Rock Ware Rear Bumper
Slee Off-Road Rock Sliders
Front/Rear ARB Air Lockers & 4.88 Gears
Garvin Industries' Wilderness Rack
KC & PIAA Lights
Mickey Thompson Classic IIs
Cobra 18 WX ST II CB