Suspension, Wheels and Tires
Getting Project 4Runner Backcountry off the ground started with a comprehensive outline of what the vehicle would and would not be. We settled on the objective of overlanding, making this a rig for backcountry exploration more than extreme wheeling. Once we narrowed down the mission, we immediately began researching products that would enhance the 4Runner's capability without taking away from what the 4Runner is.
We knew that our 4Runner would be carrying a lot of gear and equipment to be functional and self-sufficient for extended periods of time. This added weight would have likely taxed the stock suspension, especially when traversing rough backcountry roads. We also were looking for increased ground clearance and bigger tires. With that in mind we turned to adventure experts ARB to see if they had anything that would fit this relatively new fifth generation 4Runner.
Still sharing a platform with the Toyota Prado that the rest of the world gets, we found out that ARB has several shock and spring options available for the US 4Runner through its Old Man Emu brand of suspension products. OME products, just like ARB products, have been designed, developed and proven in the Australian Outback on vehicles that encounter some of the harshest conditions on the planet. After perusing the catalog, we chose a set of front and rear coils with the heaviest-duty spring rates offered and matched them to a set of OME NitroCharger Sport shocks.
Old Man Emu's NitroCharger Sport shocks feature a twin tube design for durability and affordability, but use precise monotube-style main piston valving that improves transition and direction changes over a standard twin tube, with additional base valving that provides for a more finely-tuned ride that feels more like a monotube.
With the lift out of the way, we decided to bump up the tire size from the stock P265/70R17s to LT285/70R17s, which is just under 33-inches. After being so thoroughly impressed with the Falken WildPeak A/Ts on Project 'Con Artist, we decided they would be a wholly appropriate choice for our overlanding mission. The WildPeak features a 3-ply sidewall with a heavy, durable carcass for strength and puncture resistance. We have found the grippy tread to be work well in a variety of environments, while maintaining extremely quiet and smooth highway manners.
Knowing that the stock offset wheels weren't going to work with our larger tires, we contacted American Racing and ordered up a set of Teflon-coated ATX Series Mojave rims with a zero offset in the 17x8-inch size. Much like the stock wheels, the Mojave's have a classic multi-hole design that is both functional and stylish.
With parts in hand, we headed over to Off Road Evolution in Fullerton, California, for the first step in transforming our stock 4Runner in to a legitimate backcountry explorer.
How It Works
Without the added weight of the bumper, winch, armor, roof rack, tent, and the rest of the planned mods, we saw an overall increase in height of about 4 inches, 3.5 of which could be attributed to the lift. Once the rest of the mods were complete and the suspension was settled, we re-measured. As the 4Runner sits now, the suspension raised the vehicle about 2.5 inches, for an overall increase of 3 inches when the tires are considered. Ride quality on road is stiffer, but no less comfortable than stock and articulation is slightly better. We have yet to take the 4Runner off highway, but we'll report on our experience in a future issue.