Week 6: 1st Off-Road Test – (Episode 6)

April 30th, 2022

Without a doubt, this whole build experience has been exhausting but unforgettable. However, building is only half the fun. We wrapped things up at the end of last week (figuratively and literally) before heading out on our first off-road test.

We took the car over to Rhino Films and Detailing for some finishing touches. The owner and team there worked after hours to squeeze us into their busy schedule. The goal was to add something extra to help set the CSF TRD apart just a little more. We think our Graphic Designer and Rhino knocked it out of the park on this one.

Hitting The Road

With limited time before the show, we narrowed down the location options for our first off-road test and decided we should return to the spot where we first took the 4Runner off-road. We set off early Saturday morning and drove about 80 miles north-east to Cougar Buttes in Johnson/Lucerne Valley. The area is home to some of the most premier Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) landscapes including the famous Hammers. With such a wide variety of terrain in one area, we thought it would be the perfect location to see what our rig could do.

Christian is still fairly new to off-roading/overlanding so he wanted to start out on similar terrain that he’d taken the 4Runner on when it was stock just to get a feel for the new upgrades. A progressive push onto more intermediate terrain and obstacles seemed like a safe plan. The truck wasn’t set up for any serious rock crawling so we steered clear of rig-flipping rocks.

On Highway Impressions

While not the most exciting part of our trip, we felt our impressions of highway driving are totally relevant as this is where the 4Runner will spend the majority of its time. Between daily driving and treks to and from off-road locations, the CSF TRD will see its fair share of tarmac.

In Short, the 4Runner still feels great on the highway. There was concern that the lift and bigger tires would really affect drivability, but it feels and behaves very similar to stock still. In regards to ride quality, there was a definite improvement here. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise as we greatly increased the suspension travel and improved damping to soak up larger bumps with ease.

What was a surprise was the road noise. Nitto Ridge Grapplers are a fairly aggressive all/mud terrain hybrid, and mud terrains are notorious for being loud on the road. We are happy to say that even with the more aggressive tread and larger size, we didn’t notice any increase in road noise compared to the stock Nitto Terra Grapplers.

We wanted to mention the fuel consumption as this is often a concern for many people building an off-roadable rig using their daily. There was definitely some concern as to how big of an impact the lift (aerodynamics), larger tires (rotating mass & friction), and added weight of all our upgrades would have. So far we have observed a drop of around 2 miles per gallon for daily driving.

The First Trail

Testing really began the second we turned off the highway. The trail is pretty rough right from the get go so we aired the tires down to around 20 PSI. It was immediately apparent how much of an improvement the Icon Suspension is over the stock TRD Fox shocks. The suspension just soaked up all the undulations and it felt like we were just sailing over the trail. The increased ride height and skid plates really gave us the confidence to push the truck faster than we ever would have on the stock suspension.

The first climb we decided to try was a fairly simple slope with some small obstacles. Since we had done similar climbs with the 4Runner in its stock form we figured this was a great way to get a good feeling of how capable the truck was now and offered a nice comparison. While this climb wasn’t much of a challenge for the CSF TRD, it was very clear how much better it feels now. Both up and down seemed effortless between the Nitto Ridge Grapplers and Icon Suspension making it feel like a steep suburban driveway.

Leveling Up

As we pressed deeper into the Cougar Buttes’ trail, we built up our speed and confidence. The suspension continued surpassing expectations and we got to see what the truck was really capable of. We were very grateful to have the RCI Skid Plates installed. While there were several occasions where we fully expected to bottom out, it was all clear sailing. The extra protection though really gave us the confidence to keep the pedal down.


At the first aggressive incline, we decided to get out of our comfort zone and really see what this rig could do. The climb was definitely a lot more intimidating than others we had done so far. However, with a little guidance and plenty of sweating we made it to the top. It was great to see how much articulation and flex the suspension offered while the aired down tires gave us plenty of traction. The extra ground and skid plates were definitely needed here. We had a few solid impacts on plates while climbing and they took the beating in stride.

“Reaching the top felt like a big accomplishment for both me and the CSF TRD. We built this rig to do some serious off-roading and this was the first obstacle that I never would have attempted in its stock form.” While we’ve talked a lot about the suspension and tires, we also have to mention the Pedal Commander. The quick throttle response made crawling much easier as you need that response and fine modulation to get over tricky spots. The stock throttle programming would have made it much harder.

The way down

Our next challenge came in the form of a steep descent. In some ways this is more intimidating as you feel like you’re falling the whole time. However, this gave us a great opportunity to test out the brake upgrade. While the PowerStop kit wasn’t a crazy upgrade, the whole system felt very solid and worked flawlessly as we crept down the hill. Overall, we were impressed with how everything felt and performed. We fortunately didn’t end up hitting our rock sliders, but it was still comforting knowing they were there just in case. No one was chomping at the bit for more right away, but it definitely provided a nice adrenaline rush.

Leaving The Trails

While wrapping up our day of shooting it started getting dark. This gave us the perfect opportunity to try out the KC lights we’d installed and see if they were all they were cracked up to be. Let’s just say they were more than impressive. From dusk to full dark you could see everything on the trail ahead very clearly with the light bars running. The ditch lights gave us plenty of side vision while the rock lights did a great job lighting up the ground around the 4Runner. “I may have slightly blinded our photographer while I was playing with the SwitchPros panel but I think he’ll recover.”

After a full day on the trails we finally hit the highway again and we were able to test out the ARB Compressor. It pumped our giant tires back up to 45 PSI in no time and we were on our way home. We used this short break to do a quick air filter cleaning  on the Airaid Intake. The dry flow filter popped right out and a couple quick bangs on the bumper got a ton of dirt & dust out of it. We knew it would be dirty but it was still a little surprising how much dust it trapped. Given that, we were quite pleased it was so easy to clean before hitting the highway again.

The drive back reminded us of how comfortable the 4Runner actually is on the highway. Exhausted from the long day covered in dust and sweat, it still made for a nice relaxing trip back to civilization.

Performance Update Reflections from Christian

I believe every piece of this build contributed to the overall experience and my confidence during this trip. Each part/accessory that was added over the last 6 weeks played a role. While some are definitely more noticeable than others, sometimes the things you don’t notice play just as big a role.

Cooled by CSF

It was typical spring weather in Lucerne Valley with temperatures reaching almost 90 degrees and we had the AC blasting most of the day. We didn’t experience any high engine temps throughout the day so we knew our CSF Heavy Duty Radiator was doing its job. I’m confident moving forward that it will easily handle the extra heat from the supercharger upgrade we plan to add later.

Making some Noise

The little extra bump in power from the intake and exhaust combo was definitely noticeable. I feel like it helped us climb hills and power through the trails with the extra weight we’d added. However, most gear heads will tell you the sound is half the fun, and boy does it make a good sound. The MBRP system gives the 4Runner a nice mean exhaust note. The sound is extra fun when giving it some extra gas while climbing. It just adds that little extra bit to the experience and I absolutely loved it. The high clearance design must have done its job as we didn’t see any damage to the system after we were done.

Forged is better

Our Titan 7 wheels are probably one of the biggest unsung heroes and it’s really hard to measure their gains. I am confident that the weight savings played a role in ride quality, and fuel economy. We added a lot of unsprung weight and rotating mass with our 35 inch tires. So those 4-10 lbs of savings per corner definitely helped counteract some of the negative side effects. I feel like the bead seat knurling also did its job well as we had zero tire slippage throughout the day.

Better to have it and not need it

The front bumper and Superwinch from WESTiN were also a couple upgrades we didn’t get a chance to really test out. No complaints here though as testing out the bumper would have meant we hit something pretty hard. The winch would have also been a little unfortunate to test out as I wasn’t looking to get the 4Runner stuck on its first trip out. I will say though, I was much more comfortable tackling the bigger obstacles knowing I had this beefy bumper in the front that could take a brunt of damage if we happened to have a whoopsy moment.

Our ARB Recovery Boards were also one of the accessories we didn’t get to test out on this trip. They can be super handy if you get yourself stuck in deep sand but the sandy spots we went through didn’t give us any problems. I’ll chalk that up partially to the tires, but these are really more for something like dunes.

The finishing Touch

Last but not least, I have to give some love to the amazing graphics. While they aren’t a performance upgrade in any way, we really wanted something to help set the CSF TRD apart. We also needed a nice canvas to mention all the partners that were a part of this build. Inspired by other mountain style graphics we’ve seen on other rigs, our graphic designer Kevin Clarkin knocked it out the park with this original design. Our friends over at Rhino Films & Detailing really helped us out here, squeezing us into their busy schedule. Alex, the owner, worked after hours so we’d have the truck back for the off-road test. They did an amazing job and it really gives the 4Runner that extra flair we were hoping for.

Looking Forward & Back

Overall, this was one of the greatest (and most exhausting) experiences of my career. It was nothing short of a treat to work with the team at Pit+Paddock who really helped bring this build to life in such a short time. The feedback, advice, and recommendations I received from the people at Turn14 as well as here at CSF was nothing short of amazing. I could not be happier with the CSF TRD and everything that went into it.

Looking to the future, the only things left on my wishlist are a Supercharger and maybe a big brake kit to keep that extra power under control. For now though, I am just looking forward to exploring the limits of this rig as I gain more off-road experience.

Episode 6

Series Playlist
Episode 1
Episode 3
Episode 5
Episode 2
Episode 4

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