Which 4WD to take to Big Bend?

Illustration for article titled Which 4WD to take to Big Bend?

My friends and I are planning an offroad trip to Big Bend in December. The plan is to drive from our respective starting points, meet up, and then spend four-ish days exploring the park in our 4WD vehicles. But wait… I have two 4WD vehicles now!? That means I get to choose...


“Wait, Akio, didn’t you like… just do an article like this?” Good of you to notice! Different trip, fewer choices, more info.

Before we get to the candidates, let me go over the trip a little. As mentioned above, we’re going to spend 5ish days in and around Big Bend National Park doing offroading, camping, and generally goofing off. This necessitates a 2,200 mile (round trip) highway drive to get there.


The other two will be driving a 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk and a 2015 Nissan XTerra Pro4x, as detailed in the article below.


I should say both of them are quite keen, at least in theory, on my taking Candidate 2 on the trip, a thing that I think is patently insane.

Here we go!

Candidate 1: 2001 Land Rover Discovery II

  • Engine: 4.0L Rover V8, 188 HP, 250 lbs*Ft Torque
  • 4WD System: Full-Time 4WD with optional locking center differential and 2-speed transfer case
  • Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic
  • Weight: 4576 lbs.
  • Fuel: 26 gallon tank, 15 MPG, ~390 miles range; Premium Unleaded
  • Ground Clearance: 8.2 Inches; 31 degrees approach, >25 degrees departure, 27 degrees breakover
  • Axles: Solid front, solid rear
  • Off-road Toys: Center Differential Lock, Traction Control, disconnectable front sway bar, full size spare

Candidate 2: 1986 Honda Civic Wagovan

  • Engine: 1.5L Honda D-Series Engine, 89 HP, 93 lbs*ft Torque
  • 4WD System: Selectable 4WD with “Super Low” 1st Gear
  • Transmission: 6-Speed Manual (Including “Super Low”)
  • Weight: 2160 Lbs
  • Fuel: 12.2 gallon tank, 30 MPG, ~366 miles of range, Regular Unleaded
  • Ground Clearance: 7.0 Inches, ~23 degree approach angle, ~34 degrees departure
  • Axles: Independent front, solid rear
  • Of-road Toys: None

Yes… that’s right. I am comparing a Land Rover to a Honda Civic. DEAL WITH IT.

Ok but seriously, it is a valid question worth answering.

Sort of.

The Land Rover

So the Land Rover is the safe, “reliable” choice here. I have yet to find its limits offroad and I don’t think this trip is going to change that. It is comfortable in any environment and could make a case for being the best of the three off-roaders that will be present. All the comforts of home in a 4500 pound British seven-seater.


That Land Rover is, however, not without its faults. At present, the traction control that makes it the beast that it is happens to be malfunctioning. Problems with the Discovery’s traction control are well known and I certainly have the means to fix the present problems. Also the center differential lock linkage has fallen out of adjustment and needs to be corrected. Not a big deal, just time consuming.

Actually, that is really a good summary of all of the mechanical problems with the Land Rover. None of them are show stoppers, all of them need to be fixed anyway.


The real problem with the Land Rover is I have gone on a lot of adventures with it. Maybe it is time to do an adventure in something else?

Illustration for article titled Which 4WD to take to Big Bend?

The Wagovan

The Civic is the insane choice of the two. First of all, it isn’t running. (Update: it is now...) Second, it hasn’t run in at least a year, probably more. And on top of all that, it is a complete unknown.


So isn’t that what sort of makes it sound like fun?

Illustration for article titled Which 4WD to take to Big Bend?

The Civic is a softroader from before that was really a term. It does have a low gear, a solid rear axle, and more ground clearance than you’d expect. I’ve seen videos online of it pretty happily plugging around through whatever its owners can throw at it.

Illustration for article titled Which 4WD to take to Big Bend?

Its ground clearance is the worst of the three/ four, coming in at a cool seven inches, but still isn’t bad. Unfortunately while I am open to lifting it and fitting larger wheels and tires, I have yet to find a kit commercially available. They only really made this car for 3 years, so it is a bit of a misfit.

Also it is currently running 175/70R13 tires which have proven challenging to find all-terrains for. I’m looking at sourcing 14" or even 15" wheels for it, but without a lift I’m unsure of how large of a tire will fit under it. Also with a whopping 80HP on tap I certainly don’t want to mess with the drivability too much.


One interesting, if you could call it that, twist is I am going to guess if something goes terribly wrong the Civic would be easier to find parts for? Small comfort, but I’ll take it.

Aside from the unknowns, the biggest drawback for me is the lack of cruise control. The PO fitted an aftermarket choke which I’ve been toying with the idea of turning that into a hand throttle, but I’m still TBD on that.


So yeah...

I’m not sure. I certainly don’t like the idea of being the least capable offroader in the bunch, but I guess someone has to. I’m also not super into the idea of taking an almost completely unknown car into a dangerous situation... even if that is actually a hobby of mine.


What do you guys think?

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