Driving through town the other day, I couldn't help but notice a pristine 100 Series LandCruiser with not a single accessory adorning the bodywork.
It was immaculate in every detail down to the gloss lacquer on the tyres; an absolute credit to the owner and obviously much loved.
With road tyres and original factory rims, I thought perhaps it was kept for long-distance touring duties with a large van in tow, but there was no evidence of a hitch receiver or tow bar.
It got me wondering if this impressively capable vehicle, even in standard trim, had ever experienced the type of terrain that it had been designed to handle competently.
Not everyone wants to take the path less travelled and venture off-road to remote or challenging destinations. Some prefer forestry trails or graded gravel to picturesque and romantic bush accommodation.
So it makes sense to choose a vehicle best suited to our individual needs, rather than opt for what a friend recommends.
Do you need a four-wheel-drive vehicle or an all-wheel-drive (AWD) soft-roader?
The "one-size-fits-all" rule just doesn't work and trying to define what separates each category from the next in terms of design application, operational methodology and actual capability can be as complex and varied as the circumstances for which they are likely to be used.
The 4WD is usually the medium-to-larger vehicle in the group. It has a robust design, and is capable of carrying heavy loads and towing larger weights in comparison to 2WD counterparts.
Vehicles will typically have impressive ground clearance, heavy driveline componentry with stone-guards to minimise damage, longer travel suspension, improved wading depth and larger tyres with increased approach, ramp over and departure angles.
All of which make it adept at traversing rugged terrain. The driveline design of a 4WD allows a genuine 50/50 split of engine torque to both front and rear wheels via a transfer case offering both high and low ratios.
By comparison, the construction of an AWD soft-roader is lighter than the more robust 4WD. As the name suggests, they do provide all-wheel traction but most lack a low ratio transfer case, thus application of drive is biased to the front wheels.
Driveline componentry and suspension components are much lighter with the use of plastic cowlings to protect underbody components from wayward stones.
Suited to formed tracks and gravel roads, the soft-roader offers nimble performance, superior economy and excels in exploring forestry trails.
When considering actual requirements, the soft-roader can offer an alternative to the heavier 4WDs for those who won't be tackling extreme off-road terrain or heavy towing.
Often the decision-making process is influenced by flashy marketing that promotes what we must have, instead of what we need. I'm still wondering about that spotless 100 Series and whether the owner spent every Saturday in the bush and every Sunday polishing, or if they could have saved a bucketload of money by realistically defining what they needed from their daily drive.
Take into account your current skill and consider if you're prepared to undertake the proper training to take advantage of a larger 4WD's features. Ultimately, it's the driver's skills and experience which unleash the ability of the vehicle.
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