We’ve officially crossed the finish line with our 2022 Toyota 4Runner build with CSF — for now. This Lime Rush TRD Pro went through some intense changes, made its debut appearance at our Cars+Coffee: Overland Edition event, and now gets to experience its first real trail ride. You can review the buildup here:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Airaid Intake, Pedal Commander, Gobi Roof Rack
Part 3: CSF Radiator, MBRP Exhaust, Westin Bumper
Part 4: ARB Compressor, KC Lights, RCI Skid Plates
Part 5: Icon Suspension
Part 6: Titan 7 Wheels, Nitto Tires, PowerStop Brakes
COUGAR BUTTES OFF-ROAD TEST
Building a lifted rig is cool and all, but after all this work, we were keen to see how it actually performed off-road. We journeyed 80 miles northeast to Cougar Buttes for our first official off-road test of the #CSFTRD. Cougar Buttes is adjacent to Johnson Valley (famously known for King of the Hammers) and is one of Southern California’s premier “off-highway” vehicle landscapes. It offers a huge variety of off-road terrain for pretty much all skill levels.
Since we’re still fairly new to off-roading, we wanted a place where we could get a feel for all the upgrades we’ve added to the 4Runner on a beginner-friendly terrain, then progressively push into the intermediate zones.
THE FIRST TRAIL
Our experience kicked off right away when we turned off the main highway. The trail started pretty rough, so we aired down. Already feeling the benefits of our upgrades, we immediately could feel the difference in ride quality and overall vehicle compliance. The suspension soaked up the imperfections on the trail. We could drive much faster and more comfortably than on the stock suspension and tires.
The first obstacles we tackled were your basic beginner inclines, which would serve as a nice base comparison given that we had taken the stock 4Runner out on similar hills before. Our first climb wasn’t much of a challenge, but it was clear how capable the truck felt now. Beginner zones were effortless with our more aggressive Nitto Ridge Grapplers and stage 7 Icon suspension; in fact, the trail felt more like a suburban driveway than anything! There was also plenty of butt puckering bumps and crests that worried us, but having extra protection from the RCI skid plates gave us the confidence to keep the pedal down, and it was a blast!
LEVELING UP FOR THE CHALLENGE
We pressed further down the route, building up speed and confidence while continuing to learn what the 4Runner was capable of. As we approached a particularly aggressive, violent incline, it was time to saddle up and see what this beast was made of. The steep climb pushed my comfort zone and had us sweating through the entire process; however, with a little guidance from a spotter, we made it over a series of extreme slopes and maneuvered over some very treacherous boulders. We really got to see how much articulation and flex the suspension offered and the incredible traction that the aired-down Nittos gave us. Ground clearance wasn’t an issue; the skid plates had a few solid love taps while climbing and took it in stride.
Reaching the top of the hill felt like a big accomplishment. We built this rig to do some serious off-roading. This was the first obstacle we probably would never have attempted in stock form out of fear of damaging something or getting stuck. We can’t overstate our satisfaction with the suspension and tires, but we also have to commend the Pedal Commander. The quick throttle response made crawling easier. It required ultra-quick pedal modulation to get over tricky spots without sliding back.
Now at the top, we obviously had to head back down. In some ways, this is more intimidating as you feel like you’re falling the entire time, but it gave us the perfect opportunity to test out our PowerStop rotor and pad upgrade. We can report that the whole system felt very solid and worked flawlessly as we descended the hill. Fortunately, we didn’t hit our rock sliders, but it was still nice to know they were there just in case.
LIGHTING UP THE NIGHT
As our photographer Darrien Craven wrapped up his shoot, the sun had set, and darkness took over. It was time to try out the KC lights we’d installed and see if they were all they were all that they were cracked up to be. We must admit, they were more than impressive! From dusk till pitch black, you could clearly see everything on the trail ahead, especially with the light bars switched on. The ditch lights gave us plenty of side vision while the rock lights did their duty lighting up the ground around the 4Runner.
When we finally got close to the highway, this is where the ARB compressor came in handy. We stopped and used this short break to quickly clean out the air filter on our Airaid intake. The dry flow filter popped right out, and a couple quick bangs on the bumper got a ton of dirt and dust out of it. We knew it would be dirty, but we were still surprised by how much grime it trapped. Next, we pumped our tires back up to 45psi, then headed back to civilization with ease.
HIGHWAY & STREET DRIVING
While not as exciting, we should note that we feel our experiences on the highway are an important part of this build because we’ll be spending so much time here. Between daily driving and the journeys to off-road locations, the 4Runner will see its fair share of tarmac, and to be honest, it feels great. We were worried the lift and bigger tires would throw things off, but it feels very similar to stock in its behavior. If anything, the ride has gotten smoother! We were also worried about tire noise from the oversized Ridge Grapplers, but we’re happy to report that the sound levels are similar to the stock Terra Grapplers.
On a side note, we noticed a 2mpg drop in fuel efficiency. With all the upgrades and the drastically increased rotating mass with 35-inch tires, we added a good amount of weight.
END OF THE DAY IMPRESSIONS – BY CHRISTIAN REYES
I believe every piece of this build contributed to the overall experience and my confidence during this trip. Each part we added played a role, and even though some were definitely more noticeable, sometimes the things you don’t notice play just as big a role.
It was almost 90 degrees in Lucerne Valley, and we had the A/C blasting most of the day. We didn’t experience any abnormal engine temps, so we knew our CSF radiator was doing its job. I’m confident that moving forward, it will easily handle the extra heat from the planned supercharger upgrade on hot days, both on and off the highway.
The extra little bump in power from the intake and exhaust were noticeable in helping us climb hills and fly through the trails; however, most gearheads will tell you the sound is half the fun, and boy does it make a good sound! The MBRP system really gives the 4Runner a mean exhaust note and adds that little extra bit to the experience when climbing. The high clearance design also did its job as we didn’t see any damage to the system when we got back.
The Titan 7 wheels will probably be one of the biggest unsung heroes as it’s really hard to measure their improvement. I’m confident in saying that weight savings played a role in ride quality and fuel economy. We added quite a bit of unsprung weight and rotating mass, so those 4-10 pounds of savings per corner definitely helped counteract some of the negative side effects.
The Westin front bumper and Superwinch were two parts we didn’t get a chance to evaluate. Not complaining here, as testing out the bumper would have meant we hit something pretty hard. The winch would have also been a little unfortunate as I wasn’t looking to get the 4Runner stuck on its first trip out. I would say, though, that I was much more comfortable tackling the bigger obstacles knowing I had this beefy bumper in the front that could take the brunt of the damage if I happened to make a mistake.
Last but not least, I have to mention the amazing graphics. While not a performance upgrade, we really wanted something extra to help set the #CSFTRD apart and give ourselves a nice canvas to mention all the partners that were a part of this build. Inspired by other mountain-style graphics on other rigs, our graphic designer Kevin Clarkin knocked it out of the park with this original design. Fortunately, our friends over at Rhino Films & Detailing could squeeze us into their busy schedule. Alex, the owner, worked after hours the week before for the show, so we’d have it back for the off-road test. They did an amazing job, and it really gives the 4Runner that extra flair we were hoping for.
Overall, this was one of the greatest (and most exhausting) experiences of my career. It was an absolute treat working with the team at Pit+Paddock, who helped bring this build to life in such a short time. The feedback and advice I received from the crew at Turn 14 Distribution and here at CSF was nothing short of phenomenal. I could not be happier with the #CSFTRD build! Moving forward, the only items left on my wish list are a supercharger and maybe a big brake kit to balance the power from that. For now, I’m just looking forward to exploring the truck’s limits as I gain more off-road experience.