As per our usual, we showed up to the Oklahoma Adventure Trail, East, with an odd collection of cars. They’re all similar to each other in different ways, but in all were pretty different.
2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
Modifications: Aftermarket rock rails, aftermarket roof box, aftermarket jerry can holders
The “Brave Little Toaster” kept up with the two ladder frame four-wheel-drive vehicles it was with, never got stuck, and only major damage could have happened to anyone. The steep grades, water, and complicated terrain posed no real issues for the Jeepers.
That said, the aftermarket rock rails saved its bacon on more than one occasion and the Renegade was the only vehicle to have clearance issues while going over the most severe of the rocky areas, though a lot of that might have had to do with loading.
I still maintain the Jeep is a good vehicle. Its traction control (we call it “angry weedeater mode”) works very well, especially in sandy and rocky environments, the recovery points are better than any other vehicle on this trip, and it gets decent gas mileage.
On the downside, the Renegade lacks an actual transfer case, instead relying on the 9-speed automatic to provide sufficient low range. This would be fine... if the gearing was set up in a way that better emulated low range. In reality it just means it has a single low gear, 1st, and the rest are like any other gas saving autotragic.
Further, despite its large displacement, the 2.4L Tigershark Multiair engine is underpowered in most situations, but especially when going up a steep grade. Despite this, the gas mileage isn’t that great (around 24MPG) and when paired with a woefully tiny gas tank, we find that George has serious range anxiety on these trips. Often, we’ll stop and fill up when the Disco is still at 3/4 of a tank.
Damage: muffler cover removed by rock, muffler skid plate dented by rock, light rock rail grinding, minor belt squeal from mud contamination, minor roof damage from jerry can, one flat tire from screw, moderate pin striping
2015 Nissan XTerra Pro-4X
The “Secret XTerra” was the biggest unknown of the trip. Taylor had acquired it only days before he set off and had very few opportunities to test it out. We did take it the Whitewater ORV park for some testing, which helped, but overall he was looking to take a new (to him) car out on an adventure and learn about it on the road.
Unsurprisingly, there weren’t many troubles.
The XTerra soldiered on without complaint through the trip and didn’t really get into any trouble. In fact, I am having a really difficult time finishing this section without boring myself, let alone readers. It just sort of… did it. I guess he kicked a rock once, but didn’t sustain any visible damage.
The Xterra is in impressive little offroader. Most impressive is that it was made in 2015 with a ladder frame, rear diff locks, and a manual transmission. Yup. A manual. In the top trim package. In 2015. Good job Nissan!
It probably helps that the car was designed in 2005 and received only minor updates over its life. But that is fine!
As said previously, we never really felt like we got to the limits of what the Xterra was capable of on this trip, so I can’t really assess its capabilities fully. It certainly took everything we threw at it without complaint, though it did develop some minor belt squeal over the trip... but then again we all did.
That said, I do have some nitpicks about the Xterra. Mostly they made some odd choices with the 4WD system. For one, the rear diff lock only works in low range. Not a big deal as the Xterra also has traction control based pseudo-locking, like the Disco and Renegade, but still a little annoying.
Speaking of traction control, that disables itself when you go into low range. Why? I have no idea. Seems like if you were in low range you’d still want the benefit. Further, traction control can and will stall the vehicle when you’re trying to get un-stuck. Not a big deal as there is a button to disable it, but I feel like with a few software tweaks this could be... better.
So... all that said, the Xterra is an excellent vehicle, both on and off-road, and an amazing value when compared to more desirable off-roaders like the 4Runner.
Damage: minor pin striping
2001 Land Rover Discovery II SE7
Modifications: CDL linkage, ACE Delete, Air Suspension delete
When sitting next to a Jeep Renegade, it is hard to characterize the “Disco Inferno” as the underdog of this trip, but in many ways it was. Mostly in that it was the oldest, by far, and had just been put back on the road days before following a top end rebuild. I’d never done wrenching quite that ambitious and had no idea what to expect from the finished product.
Turns out I didn’t have anything to worry about.
The Disco encountered no issues, started every time, and used no fluids.
I am as shocked as you are.
That said, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. The Disco is a 17 year old car that has been spending more time offroad than on since I’ve owned it. While the engine performed beautifully, the suspension was certainly objecting to both its past neglect and current mistreatment. Though I inspected the system prior to setting off, it appears my motor mounts are shot (which I knew, but was pretending wasn’t an issue) and my front anti-roll bar is very much in need of new bushings and links. We’ll start there and see what she sounds like.
Also the back door latch got all gummed up and required fiddling to operate, as it tends to under these conditions. Also the rear door seals, despite being in great shape, don’t exactly... seal the car.
Like the others though, it isn’t without its faults. The lower half of the front bumper cover severely limits clearance and approach angles, which is annoying when it is a $900 piece of brittle plastic. Taking a sawsall to it is a common mod, but I’m not quite there yet. Speaking of plastic, as mentioned in my write up, the running boards limit ground clearance and seem to trap mud and debris excessively. Similarly, I could remove them but that would mean sacrificing my mudflaps... which admittedly also decrease clearance.
Also the traction control takes some getting used to and tends to eat the tires a little bit.
That said, aside from my unplanned trip into a field, the Disco never hinted at getting stuck. The heat and AC performed their tasks without complaint. Coolant temps never deviated from normal. Further, the more I drive it the more I realize this is an incredibly competent off-road vehicle.
Damage: belt squeal from mud contamination, moderate pin striping, minor tread loss
So… who did it best?
Well sorry to lead you down the primrose path here... but there isn’t really a conclusion to be made here, sadly.
The Renegade was either nearing the limits of what it can do, or nearing the limits of what its driver could do. Maybe a little bit of both. After the trip we noticed the Toaster’s ground clearance was severely reduced (to the point I was concerned it had collapsed) by having 200+ pounds of crap in the back… mostly booze... and snacks. Unloaded, I think it would not have had any of the problems it encountered. Problematic, but the Renegade is the most mall-wheel-drive of the three. That said, the Renegade’s traction control is by far the most advanced of the three and helped him get out of a couple of situations where we both got stuck (at the ORV park). Angry weedeater mode FTW.
The XTerra encountered no problems and just sort of drove about. It was the only car that had 2-way radio problems, even when the radios were swapped around. No idea what that was all about. It has its quirks but is very good.
The Disco survived, which is more than any of us expected. Aside from not really liking 3rd gear in low range, it had no problems and finished the route without complaint. Despite not being a “proper” Land Rover, you can really tell it will go pretty much anywhere.
So… I guess everyone wins?
What do you guys think?