Are you a 4WD Narrowthinker?

Our opinions are defined by our experience, and nowhere is that more true than in car ownership.

4WD VEHICLES come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and capabilities. I’m lucky that I get to try them all; either reviewing them, demonstrating them, teaching people about them, photographing them or doing whatever else I can which fits the dual criteria of paying money and being fun. That means I get to drive the likes of the Suzuki Jimny, Subaru Forester, Toyota LC200 and Ram 2500 offroad… and everything else in between, which gives me a good view on a range of vehicle capabilities. So when it comes to 4WDs I’ve noticed something I call Narrowthink, which is the tendency of owners to overrate their own cars, and underrate others.

In the case of owners of larger 4WDs they often think that smaller, potentially less capable vehicles can’t get to the same places they can. Now there is some truth in that, but nowhere near as much as the average big-4WD owner thinks.

Vehicles like the Suzuki Grand Vitara are great little offroaders, and with the usual lift plus tyres I’d not hesitate to drive one anywhere in the High Country. The likes of the Forester are also pretty decent, not in the same league, but they’re definitely not confined to dirt roads, and while the Santa Fe is no heavy-duty offroader I’ve driven them off the beaten path quite a bit.

Sometimes people just want smaller 4WDs for reasons of cost, tight parking, fuel or whatever else or they just don’t need the size. Or maybe they’re just getting into it, and are using what they’ve got.

Narrowthink works with the less capable vehicles too. If you spend your entire life with a smaller, less capable vehicle then that’s your frame of reference, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your Grand Vitara can keep up with something like a Defender. I can assure you that’s not the case, as a modified Grand would struggle to match a stock Defender, let alone a modified one.

In many cases, both large and small cars will get there but the method gives it away. The big truck owner drives a track and knows the smaller car can’t take that line. But they don’t realise the smaller car takes a different line, for example often quite different because it’d have a tighter turning circle. And the smaller car doesn’t realise how easy the bigger truck is doing the track, even though both are making the same sort of progress.

However capable your vehicle is, there’s always someone else with a tougher truck who considers yours a bit suss on the capability front. Got a Prado with 32″ mud tyres and a 2″ lift? Good luck following a Patrol on 35s with a 4-inch lift. And that Patrol will be left behind by a twin-locked JK Wrangler on 37s with disconnects. Ah, the Patrol owner says, I can get everywhere I need too, I don’t need to spend the money…forgetting that’s exactly what the Prado owner says to them, and the Forester owner to the Prado owner. Everybody thinks they’re right, and in fact they are right…for their situation.

Yet to challenge any seriously modified 4WD you’ll need to go looking for trouble. Tracks are easier and easier thanks to increasingly enthusiastic grading, and the vehicles are more capable than ever, thanks to power, gearing and the magic of brake traction control. This means that actual offroad capability is less of a differentiating factor between vehicles than ever, so any modern low-range 4WD on decent offroad light-truck tyres and a slight lift will now be capable of going anywhere in Australia bar the most hardcore tracks.

Offroad touring is now very accessible to a huge range of vehicles. The country is big enough for us all, whatever you drive, and broadening your view both up and down the capability spectrum could perhaps lead to an interesting choice for your next vehicle.

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  1. Matt
    January 23, 2017 at 10:17 pm — Reply

    Good article except…he’s committed the very thing he’s writing about.

    He says that twin locked JK Wrangler > Patrol with 4″ lift and 35s > Prado with 32″ > Forester. This is very true on steep rutted rocky tracks where articulation is important.

    But he’s completely ignored sand dunes and beaches which is where 90% of offroading is done in Qld and esp WA. Here the Forester beats them all followed by a Zook followed by a Jeep with the Patrol dead last. Same on slippery clay tracks.

    • January 23, 2017 at 10:44 pm — Reply

      You can cherrypick a situation, but fact of the matter is that overall, across all terrains the capabilities are as I’ve said. Going to write more on this in the coming weeks.

      • SubyTim
        January 24, 2017 at 1:13 am — Reply

        Yeah well maybe there should be a competion run inviting people who have modified vehicles to compete ranging in a variety of terrains to just see.

        • January 24, 2017 at 6:52 am — Reply

          There are plenty of them already, from trials to the Outback Challenge to the Pajero Challenge, Navruns. The cars that win the tough offroad comps are generally Patrols and Range Rovers. For the others, anything else.

    • dilligaf
      January 23, 2017 at 11:41 pm — Reply

      I think you somewhat missed the point of the article Matt.

    • SubyTim
      January 24, 2017 at 1:19 am — Reply

      I’d also think most of NT would fit that category

  2. dilligaf
    January 23, 2017 at 11:38 pm — Reply

    I’ve had a FZJ75 Troopy with 35’s and a Sierra at the same time, and now have a VDJ76 and a Jimny, I must be a broardthinker, hehe.

  3. Adzee Aus
    January 24, 2017 at 6:36 am — Reply

    Another fantastic article on what a lot of campfire discussions never settle! The fact that a Subaru makes it were a land cruiser does doesn’t make it better or worse, but how easy it does it is what is different! Having been involved in clubs and owning smaller vehicles I agree with this all. It also goes to the arguments of traction control or none, lockers or nothing etc etc.

  4. mtbrider
    January 26, 2017 at 11:16 am — Reply

    This is a scientifically recognised fact and it relates to most things but I see it all the time in 4wding and the almost religious fervor around brand loyalties, capabilities and reliability. The term for the phenomenon is ‘cognitive dissonance’.

  5. JaiNormosone
    January 30, 2017 at 9:02 am — Reply

    One of the major factors that comes into setting up a 4WD is $. Some people think nothing of throwing bulk money at some after-market fitter to do a heap of work and others do the work themselves (while gaining a lot more knowledge of the capabilities of their vehicle).
    The biggest problem I have with 4WDs is that they are built for a purpose and to navigate areas that normal cars cannot go – yet the vast majority of those with the ‘Prado’ badge only experience offroad conditions while they are on a hoist during a service.
    It is because of the mindset of many that a 4WD is just a shopping trolley and schoolkid bus that I say that special licensing conditions are required and that the road rules be altered to force vehicles over 3-tonne GVM be restricted to the left lanes of any multi-lane road.

    Many 4WD operators are sensible behind the wheel but for every one of them that is, there appears to be 10 who think they are in a Ferrari or are completely oblivious to road courtesy.

  6. Andrew Riles
    January 30, 2017 at 11:47 am — Reply

    Great article….I cut my teeth offroad in a 2000 grand vitara V6 and now own an LN106 HiLux and both vehicles are great offroaders for different reasons…..the GV because its relative lack of capability challenged me as a driver (though I basically trashed the vehicle in the process), which made it a great weekend fun vehicle, the HiLux because of the comparative ease it drives everything, which means its ideal as a tourer as I don’t have to push the vehicle to its limits and therefore are less likely to break it….

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper