For 30 years, ARB has designed and manufactured 4WD equipment for the off-road and overland driver, building a reputation of quality, innovation, and practicality. In early February, I had the opportunity to tour the new ARB facility and spend a few hours reviewing the company's new product offerings with Chris Wood, ARB's sales manager. After the facility tour, I took delivery of ARB's generation four 4Runner for testing and evaluation, including a series of adventures in Idaho, Utah, California, and Arizona.
The ARB team moved into its new facility in Renton, Washington, in early 2006 with the goal of having more inventory space, more efficient material handling, and dedicated research and development offices. The result is impressive, with rows full of Air Lockers, Old Man Emu springs, IPF lights, new recovery equipment, and racks of bumpers. All of this effort is intended to provide faster shipping to ARB's distributors and a larger available inventory of its expanding product line.
Chris Wood spent the morning providing me with a detailed review of ARB's newest products, including HID and extreme-duty lighting, the new Xjack, recovery bags, Dakar springs, and rear bumpers. ARB is working hard to address the needs of the expedition market. After several hours of reviewing all of the great gear, Chris handed over the keys to the 4Runner, and I was on my way east and into the snowpacked Cascade Mountain Range.
Moving through Seattle's traffic was easy with the 4Runner's 4.7L V8 responding quickly to throttle input, and the four-wheel disc brakes ensuring safe stops. Continuing east, I gained elevation and left the city behind, winding through Interstate 90 en route to Oregon. The deep snow of the Cascades provided the first opportunity to test the Toyota's full-time 4WD system and traction control. The ARB 4Runner has numerous traction options available, including full-time 4WD with the center differential unlocked, 4-Hi with the center differential locked (CDL), 4-Lo with or without CDL, factory traction control, or either the front or rear differentials locked with Air Lockers. These options provided excellent driver control in all environments.
The first challenge for the 4Runner was a rocky trail in western Idaho, which included large boulders, several waterfalls, and a series of earthen and rock ledges. This allowed me to test the Old Man Emu suspension, 265/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrains, Air Lockers, and the ARB side rails. The only limit I found to the trail performance was the lack of transmission protection and somewhat limited departure angle. The vehicle is not intended to be a rockcrawler, but it performed well in that environment. The combination of locking differentials and traction control meant grip was never an issue, and the Bull Bar and side rails protected the sheetmetal. On the moderate trails, the Old Man Emu suspension was most impressive, with spot-on valving and spring rates controlling the heavy chassis and limiting pitch/roll and providing balanced articulation.
The adventure continued farther south, crossing into Utah and to the Little Sahara OHV area west of Interstate 15. The Little Sahara is a 120-square-mile BLM-managed area in the Sevier Desert open to off-road vehicle use. This area gave me the chance to test the truck's performance in deep sand and dune climbing. Even without airing the tires down, I knew the 4Runner was going to rule the sand. The good weight distribution, five-speed automatic, and 235hp V8 made for a great dune runner. In 4-Hi with the CDL locked (which disabled the Vehicle Stability Control), driving the dunes was easy. Plenty of torque and a low center of gravity allowed the SUV to carve the bowls and make all of the climbs I encountered.
The Little Sahara also gave me the chance to test the new Xjack exhaust jack from ARB. This unit uses exhaust pressure to fill a large rubber chamber, distributing the vehicle's weight across the sand or mud and lifting an entire side to allow for recovery or changing a tire. The unit worked well, lifting the 4Runner in less than a minute. The bag has 30 inches of lifting height and can support 8,800 pounds.
After leaving the Sevier Desert, my route took me high into the mountains north of Minersville and the deep snow of the winter storms. Snow and ice is a challenging environment for any vehicle, but it does favor a longer wheelbase and good weight distribution. The trail started wide and smooth, with long stretches of ice and compacted snow. With the 4Runner in 4-Hi and the CDL unlocked, progress was easy, with little understeer or sliding. Having all of the differentials open and the electronic traction and stability control available was the perfect combination for this environment.
Leaving the main trail onto a snowpacked two-track, I engaged Low range and CDL and allowed the traction control to work, maximizing steering control. However, the trail conditions continued to deteriorate as I gained elevation, encountering several cross-axle, snow-filled ditches. At this point, I locked the rear Air Locker and applied additional throttle to keep momentum and limit the chance of sliding off the trail. Near the high point of the trail, the snow was almost 2 feet deep, and a washout cambered the trail near the hillside. I engaged both Air Lockers and eased the 4Runner through the washout. The front end pulled straight and clawed over the lip as the rear started to slide toward the ditch. I dipped farther into the throttle and the V8 responded, allowing the tires to dig and pull to the top. That portion of the trail was very technical, with extremely loose and slick surface conditions, yet the winch line remained spooled, and I grew even more confident in the Toyota. By the time I reached the southern slopes, it was dark. It wasn't dark for long though, as I fired up all nine IPF lights: two foglamps in the Bull Bar, a driving and spot mounted to the bumper, and a combination of five more on the rack. The light output was incredible, making higher-speed travel at night a safe option.
The final adventure with the 4Runner was a 200-plus-mile expedition across southern Arizona, traversing the infamous El Camino del Diablo. This route is one of the harshest environments in the Southwest, with deep silt, miles of heavy corrugations, and extreme temperatures. The 4Runner never complained, and the ARB accessories improved on this already great package, making this Toyota a fantastic solution for the overland explorer.