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Project Super Equator - 2009 Suzuki Equator 4x4

Building A Winning Trail Truck

Kevin McNultyPhotographer, Writer

It's no secret that we like the Suzuki Equator. After all, it just won the 2009 4x4 of the Year (Feb. '09). You're probably still scratching your head and wondering how this mild-mannered, midsized truck bested the competition. We're still a little amazed ourselves. The turning point in the contest was watching Editor-in-Chief Rick Pw fly up a challenging hillclimb in the Equator with three other editors along for the ride. The little truck didn't spin a tire on its way to the top. The Equator is comfortable on the highway and has good payload and towing capacity, and the 4.0L with 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque has plenty of power and gets up and goes when asked. We relish the fact that we can stuff an amazing amount of junk into the four-door crew cab and fill the longbed with a pile of 4x4 parts. As even-keeled as this truck is in factory form, we need to keep in step with the tradition of Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road and take a perfectly good truck and church it up.

We've already driven our Project Super Equator thousands of miles, which includes a good amount of rocky trails, sand dunes, steep inclines, and a few river crossings. But as we would do with any factory truck, we need to modify the Equator so we can push it in the extremes we like to four-wheel. We want to add a quality suspension lift and larger, more-aggressive tires for additional traction and ground clearance. Sometimes building a fresh-off-the-assembly-line truck is difficult due to the dearth of aftermarket parts. But the Equator is essentially a Nissan Frontier, so there's a bevy of suspension systems and an ample amount of body armor, racks, and accessories available for it. Over the next few issues, we'll focus on what it takes to turn this all-around good truck into an even better trail machine.

Statistics show that the majority of people purchasing a new 4x4 will only use them on mild trails like this. That's great for the weekend warriors, but the staff and our readers have a tendency to migrate to much tougher terrain. Total Chaos and Icon Vehicle Dynamics will be building a suspension for the front of the Equator, which will use the companies' high-end Nissan Frontier components. The suspension will include rear remote-reservoir shocks and front coilover shocks from Icon. The shocks have a ride height adjustable from zero to 3 inches and a digressive piston, which will eliminate cavitation-meaning they will perform exceptionally well on and off the highway. Total Chaos will provide the bolt-on upper control arms, and Deaver Spring will build a set of custom rear leaf springs.

The RMZ-4 Off-Road edition of the Equator already comes with undercarriage skidplates. The truck was designed so that no low-hanging components would be knocked off and damaged. However, we'll be armoring the exterior of the truck with front and rear bumpers, and rocker guards from Shrockworks. The front bumper includes a spot for a winch and auxiliary lighting. The build of the truck will include numerous accessories, including engine performance mods like headers and exhaust from Doug Thorley. We are told the new exhaust system will give the truck an estimated additional 18 hp and 25 lb-ft of torque at 3,700 rpm, significantly improving the 4.0L midrange performance. This installation will also include before-and-after dyno testing so you can see just how well the system works.

The Equator is a nice-looking truck and fairly capable off-road, but the factory suspension, tire size, and bumper fascia detract from the ground clearance we are looking for. We're going to solve these issues with a precision-engineered aftermarket suspension, high-clearance bumpers, and taller tires.