Monday, May 17, 2010

The Trip Vehicle

What is the ideal vehicle with which to drive across Europe and Asia? A VW camper – a practical choice to sleep and cook in efficient comfort, a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Porsche 911 – a blast to pilot through well-surfaced, winding European mountain roads, a Land Rover Defender (or a good horse) – to handle the Mongolian Steppe. Would you take a new vehicle? Or is a reliable workhorse that reduces the worry of wear-and-tear and theft be the better choice? Would it be cavernous to bring parts and equipment or small to fit on narrow roads and be fuel efficient? Should it announce our arrival with sponsor logos, a roof rack and spare gas tanks, or should it blend in and pass through nearly unnoticed? Surely it should be reliable, easily serviced and have parts available in the places visited. After much thought I settled on a 2002 Toyota 4Runner with 90k miles for this trip.

Reliability of the 4Runner is at the top of its class, Toyotas are sold and serviced nearly everywhere, it is comfortable on highways and is one of the most off-road capable 4WD vehicles sold anywhere, it’s medium size allows two people to sleep in it (with a custom sleeping/storage platform installed) and has some room for equipment while still fitting onto small roads, and in stock form it shouldn’t draw too much attention in most places.

Our 4Runner has a 3.4L V6 and a 4 speed automatic transmission. I get about 20 miles/gallon (11.7 L/100 km) in combined city/highway/light off-road driving. Off-road specs are 4WD high or low range, center differential open (with vehicle stability) or locked, 11” ground clearance, 36º and 29º maximum angles of approach/departure, Michelin LTX AT2 all-terrain tires.

For sleeping and storage I built a custom platform and drawers that can be converted to accommodate the rear seat in the up or down position. For camping I also added curtains that attach to the car’s inside trim and bug screens that attach to the car’s body with magnets.

Rear seat up
Rear seat down
View from side door
Screen in side window
How will our trip vehicle work for us? Stay tuned…

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