This 1996 Toyota 4Runner Proves IFS Doesn’t Have to Be Weak
Don’t Scrap Your IFS Quite Yet
It is no secret that we like solid-axle rigs here at Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road. In all of the years we have built vehicles for the Ultimate Adventure, only one has utilized independent front suspension (IFS). The joints in a solid-axle front end only have to accommodate angularity for steering, not for the suspension movement. Solid axles are simple and easy to get big suspension articulation out of. They are not perfect, though. As King of the Hammers has illustrated, solid axles are at a disadvantage to IFS when you are going fast through rough terrain.
Brian Ellinger has built plenty of solid-axle Toyotas over the years, but for his new ride he wanted something that was more well-rounded . Nobody offered what he was looking for, so he made it himself. Ellinger is the brains behind Front Range Off Road Fabrication and Diamond Axle, and he figured that he couldn’t be the only one interested in a stronger front axle that did not involve taking a torch to the IFS. He has a reputation for making innovative new products, rather than just another Toyota solid-axle swap kit or a tube fender for a JK Wrangler.
The engine was one component that Brian Ellinger didn’t need to modify. Power comes from a bone-stock 3.4L V-6 engine with 240,000 miles on it. These engines are a far cry from the 22REs of old. They make plenty of power across a wide rpm range, all while retaining Toyotas legendary reliability.
Toyota owners love low gearing, and Ellinger is no exception. His 4Runner uses a five-speed manual transmission backed by an NP241 planetary box and a flipped Dana 300 transfer case for a crawl ratio of 133:1. He is producing adapters to fit the NP241 between the factory transmission and transfer case, but he wanted to put a Dana 300 in his Toyota to be able to “front dig” as a testament to the strength of the IFS front end
The front bumper is one of the only parts that was not produced in house. It is a high-clearance plate bumper from Addicted Offroad fitted with LED turn signals and a Tabor 10,000-pound winch.
Under the 3/16-inch-thick skidplate, Ellinger replaced the 7 1/2-inch front differential with an 8-inch differential from a later model 4Runner along with a custom intermediate shaft, housing, and mounts. It uses 4.88 gears and an ARB Air Locker with super-strong chromoly RCV axleshafts that are 30-spline throughout (like an upgraded Toyota solid axle) to make the whole thing live, even with 37-inch-tall tires. Tacomas use the same front axle components, and all of these parts are interchangeable.
The front suspension uses control arms that are 2 1/2 inches wider per side to increase the front wheel travel from 5 to 11 inches. Ellinger noted that he has limited his wheel travel to keep the tires out of the fenders, but even more uptravel is possible with some fender trimming or smaller tires. Note how the arms are also angled to maximize ground clearance. They are also 3/16-inch thick, so if a rock does hit them, the rock will lose. This suspension is totally modular; it will work with factory or aftermarket struts and the stock front differential or a larger 8-inch differential.
Ellinger built his own skidplates out of 3/16-inch steel to provide a smooth, flat surface under the 4Runner. The low ride height provides excellent stability, but when running technical rock trails it does mean that the belly rubs more than a taller vehicle would. However, this is a tradeoff he was willing to make for the improved handling.
The factory 8-inch rear axle remains. It is filled with 4.88 gears and a factory electric locker. Ellinger’s plans involve building a Diamond rear housing with revised suspension mounting points to move the rear axle back and provide room for larger tires without having to change anything at the chassis end. The difference in distance will be spanned by new, heavy-duty control arms.
Unlike the leaf-sprung Tacoma, the 4Runner uses a four-link rear suspension with a track bar. The side-mounted fuel tank makes a triangulated suspension difficult to package, but Ellinger built his own control arms to maximize articulation. The upper control arms and track bar are 1.25x0.250-wall DOM with 7/8-inch Steinjager rod ends that have custom misalignment spacers machined to fit factory Toyota metric hardware. The lowers are 1.75x0.250-wall DOM with larger 1 1/4-inch rod ends.
The rear bumper is from Addicted Offroad and wraps around the corners of the 4Runner to protect it from rock damage. The receiver hitch makes a convenient tow point, and the spare tire has been relocated to the rear cargo area since a 37-inch tire will not fit under the floor in the factory location.
Rolling stock consists of 37-inch Goodyear MT/R tires wrapped around Moto Metal MO970 wheels. For comparison, most lifted 4Runners are running 33-inch-tall tires and 35s had previously been considered the upper limit for the suspension and drivetrain.
Situations like this are where the IFS holds an advantage over a solid axle. Each front corner can soak up bumps without upsetting the entire vehicle, allowing for higher speeds though sand and over rough roads.
1996 Toyota 4Runner
Engine: 3.4L V-6
Transmission: R150F 5-speed manual
Transfer Case: NP241 to flipped Dana 300
Front Axle: Toyota 8-inch IFS with 4.88 gears, RCV axles, and ARB Air Locker
Rear Axle: Toyota 8-inch with 4.88 gears and Toyota electric locker
Springs & Such: Front Range Off Road Fabrication long-arm front suspension with Tundra struts, Toytec rear coil springs with Front Range control arms
Tires & Wheels: 37x12.5R17 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R on 17x9 Moto Metal 970
Steering: Factory Toyota rack-and-pinion
Other Stuff: Addicted Offroad front bumper; Tabor winch; Front Range rock sliders, skidplates, and twin-stick shifter; Addicted Offroad rear bumper