Skid Marks

SUVs, pickups and 4x4s: when work and play come together

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Toyota FJ Cruiser

Car culture, as it is universally known, evolves over time, dependent on the needs and situation of where it is located.

In the US, V8s, muscle cars and hot rods still rule. In Europe, high performance sports cars, which can go dizzyingly fast around the hallowed race circuits such as the Nurburgring, Spa-Francorchamp and Silverstone, are king.

In our small corner of the world though, it’s SUVs, pickups, and other 4x4s.

There’s good reason for this: after the Ondoy tragedy and other natural calamities that befell us, the Filipino motoring public suddenly realized that a tall-riding SUVs/pickups would allow them to get home, or evacuate much more safely compared to low-riding sedans.

Coupled with the fact that a huge percentage of the total Philippine road network remains unpaved and the so-called paved ones are in a constant state of disrepair, it only makes sense to invest in a properly raised vehicle.

But if you came from an era where tuned, modded, lowered and highly-fettled Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, Mitsubishi Lancers, and Nissan Sentras were the go-to choices for enthusiast, tuning, modifying and personalizing cars is always going to be an inescapable way of life.

While all enthusiasts would like to think that doing so is meant to improve, either in terms of looks, performance and reliability for whatever intended use, the truth is Filipinos just naturally love to tinker.

After they finish building up, modifying, tuning and personalizing their cars, a good number sell them off or acquire another vehicle, just so they can start on another build or project.

So while platforms change, the urge to fiddle with the car remains strong. People who have had to sell their cars because of family/work needs say just because they’ve sold their pocket rockets doesn’t mean they can’t indulge in car culture.

We’ve gathered together three very popular platforms for tuning and modifying from the SUV/4×4 segment to see what can be done.

The first vehicle is actually owned by yours truly. Three times a week, it goes down south, carrying copious amounts of cargo and other high-value items for business.

The venerable Toyota FJ Cruiser is very capable in stock form, but can also do with much improvement. A full set of Dobinsons Suspension’s MRR coil-over set-up improves traction, stability, and cornering, and reduces chassis squatting and nose-diving.

Of course, it lifts the vehicle by almost 3 inches. A pair of Hard Race upper control arms ensures the IFS (independent front suspension) has good travel and movement.

Dick Cepek Extreme Country hybrid mud terrain tires ensure amazing traction off-road, while delivering unimaginable levels of NVH refinement for mud terrain tire, as well as good wet and cold weather traction.

The XD series wheels offer a wider and more aggressive footprint, and the CKT fender flares provide added aggression, alongside the JAOS spoiler.

A gaggle of PIAA LED lights provide ECE-certified illumination on roads with no lighting and during poor weather conditions.

Mitsubishi Montero Sport

The engine breathes easier, thanks to an Airaid Cold-Air Intake and Takeda-AFE dual exhaust.

The ECU has been custom-tuned to deliver an extra 50 hp and 60 lbs-ft of torque from stock, giving it far better responsiveness, agility and an aggressive sound.

Car guys will always be car guys. An Opposite Lock from steel bumper gives that all-important aggressive fascia as well as added protection when off-roading, along with an ARB skid plate underneath.

The Mitsubishi Montero Sport, more or less, follows the same formula. Riding on similar Dobinsons Suspension MRR coil-over set-up, it enjoys a 2-inch lift, and rides on Volk Racing TE37 wheels shod with Cooper STT Pro mud-terrain tires.

The wheel tire combo covers a D1 Spec big brake kit with 6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers and 355-mm rotors. But it’s the sleek Off-Road X front and rear bumpers that really sets apart this Montero Sport.

Other mods include Off-Road X side steps, and an Airbag Man rear air suspension set-up, which helps level the Montero Sport when it’s fully-loaded, or when towing.

Hard Race upper control arms, plus a Project R adjustable panhard rod provide more support, stability and correct geometry for the suspension.

Providing additional night-time illumination when the owner takes it wheeling and camping at night comes from 120-watt driving lights from Ultravision Australia.

An HKS exhaust system and a throttle controller from D1 Spec give that added oomph when needed.

A TGT 9,500-lb winch will get the Montero Sport out of trouble when the going gets really tough.

Toyota Fortuner

Inside, it’s all class with the OEM leather interior accentuated by gaggle of Focal speakers and a JL Audio subwoofer, with a Pioneer Z5050 Bluetooth radio.

The final vehicle is a Toyota Fortuner. The mod-list is very similar: Off-Road X front and rear bumpers, even larger 20-inch TE37 wheels shod with BF Goodrich tires, a TGT 9,500 lbs winch, and Maxspeed 6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers on 365mm rotors all around.

The key difference, however, is that the Fortuner rides on Tough Dog’s foam-cell suspension. The foam-cell isolates the shock oil form the hydraulic fluid, thereby helping keep the oil cool despite constant compression and decompression, providing a softer and more consistent operation in the wild.

An Airbag Man rear air suspension provides self-levelling adjustability for towing and hauling, while Hard Race front upper control arms also give adequate travel, geometry and stability, together with a Tough Dog rear panhard rod.

A Tough Dog transmission spacer kit helps reduce the annoying thud on Toyota’s latest automatic transmission.

Parallel Motion folding side steps help keep the sides clean, but provide the added step when clambering up the tall SUV.

A bevy of TRD Asia products—such as TRD grill, trunk garnish and side mirror covers—help keep the Fortuner looking and feeling aggressive.

Inside, the TRD theme continues with TD gauges, start/stop button, steering wheel and shift knob.

Husky Liner’s 3D all-weather rubber mats keep the interior clean, and the driver can listen to amazing tunes, thanks to a mostly Morel set-up of speakers, supported by a JL Audio subwoofer and all controlled by a Pioneer BT8550 headunit.

There are actually far more modifications, accessories and equipment installed in all three SUVs.

This is proof that SUVs, pickups and other 4x4s, with their multitude of parts and accessories, means you can be as practical and as responsible as you want to be, providing reliable everyday transportation to and from work, home or school, while still having fun with these popular platforms.

In fact, you can bring the entire family off-roading and even camping, which is something you just can’t do with a fast, low-slung performance car.

Regardless of platform, car culture is very much alive in the country.

Check out this year’s Petron-MIAS Custom and Classic Car Competition entries at  the Manila International Auto Show.



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