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Project RAV4X4 goes off-road [Video]

by Drew Johnson

It's time for the final phase of Project RAV4X4.

The leaks are fixed (mostly), the lift kit is on and the vinyl has been applied; finally, it's time to get Project RAV4X4 off-road.

The setup

My first order of business was to find an off-road venue. Naively I thought my area would be dotted with off-road parks but, as it turns out, they're few and far between. So I turned to Plan B.

My friend Ethan has a farm with acres of off-road trails, so my next call was to him. Not only was Ethan game for some wheel'n, but he said I could use his heavily-modified Jeep Wrangler as a benchmark for Project RAV4X4. That was an offer I couldn't refuse.

The trails

The trails at the farm aren't as difficult as the stuff you'd find at a dedicated off-road park, but keep in mind I'm driving a 1997 Toyota RAV4 with 245,000 miles that I modified in my own garage. But that said, there are some challenging sections along the way, and plenty of mud to splash through.

RAV4X4ing

Admittedly, I was a little uneasy about taking Project RAV4X4 off-road. I had confidence that the lift and all-terrain tires were fit for the job, but I was concerned about my rear limited slip differential, which still isn't working, despite the best efforts of my mechanic (who knew getting parts for a rare option on a 22-year-old car would be difficult?). If things got too slippery, I might not have the traction to get out.

But even without guaranteed three-wheel drive, Project RAV4X4 kept plugging along. Up hills, over creeks and through mud, Project RAV4X4 kept right up with the modified Wrangler. Again, I know I wasn't on the Rubicon Trail, but there were some sections where the Wrangler had to give it two- or three-tries to pass.

While Project RAV4X4 was totally unstoppable, it did turn out to be pauseable. On one tricky up hill bit there happened to be a log across the trail, which managed to trap one front wheel behind it. It took several back-and-forth attempts, but Project RAV4X4 eventually pulled itself out without any help from the Jeep.

Takeaway

I might be a bit biased, but I was genuinely surprised by how plucky Project RAV4X4 was off-road -- it felt like I was driving The Little Engine That Could. No matter the terrain, Project RAV4X4 kept its tires spinning and the momentum moving forward, even when a fallen tree tried its best to slow it down.

Project RAV4X4 also proved to be the right-size for an off-road adventure. It easily squeezed between trees and was easy to maneuver around tight corners.

Conclusion

And so, that's the bittersweet conclusion of Project RAV4X4. I'm really proud of how Project RAV4X4 turned out, and I actually enjoyed most of the building process. Not to mention I learned a few new things along the way.

I've also been encouraged by all of the positive comments on Project RAV4X4. So much so that I'm hoping to do another project, although nothing is official just yet. But one thing is for sure, Project RAV4X4 has left some big shoes to fill for whatever comes next.

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