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.