(note: this is not an April Fool’s post like the Voltswagen) This is almost exactly how my xB will look soon. Son Ted and his GF have been doing various Backcountry Discovery Routes each summer in a group, and this year the destination is the Nevada Backcountry Discovery Route (“NVBDR”). And this year I’m going to join them. But instead of buying a 4WD vehicle, I’m going to push the boundaries with my trusty old FWD xB.
Why? Because that’s just how I roll. Who needs 4WD anyway?
I guess I’ll be finding out.
I’ve been taking the xB on our Forest Roads and such for years. And I’ve been meaning to rip off the stupid air dam in front, which I cracked on a tall curb the first week I owned it. Here it is 15 years later and I still hadn’t done it.
Last week we went snowshoeing, our new winter recreation avocation. It was coming down on and off the whole time we were tramping in the woods.
Upper Salt Creek Falls
When we got back to the Snow Park lot, the new snow was right up to the bottom of that front dam. I got out ok, with the snow tires, but it made me realize how stupid this was. A couple of more inches and I might well not have gotten out. The xB is not a good snowplow.
The on the way home, on a very short stretch of I-5, a woman in a CRV cut me off in the small gap between a semi truck. No big deal really, but the three of us were way too close together. Suddenly I saw a black object for a fraction of a second in front of me, and then a bang under the car, and then I saw what was probably a piece of truck tire go flying behind me. Stephanie looked at me startled. No big deal…
I didn’t think any more of it until we got on surface streets and I hear this odd scraping sound following me. I looked in my outside rear view mirror and saw that the bumper was loose and dragging and bouncing on the pavement. We needed to get a few things at the grocery store, so I sort of kicked it back into place, a flimsy thing held on by a few clips.
But that was the impetus to move on de-skirting my xB. And then I decided to google “lifted xB” and the image at the top came up, and I was instantly smitten. That’s how I want it to look! And I texted Ted and told him I was going to come on the tour this year, in my xBox.
Before I actually started on the car, I decided to check out what I was in for. Ted’s group had decided to do the northern half, starting in Tonopah and ending in Jarbidge, the last week of June. There’s a great series of detailed trail reports with fab pictures by adventuretaco.com. They did this whole route, heading south last summer. Their detailed report is here. Here’s a couple of shots from that trip.
They started at the north end (Jarbidge) about the same time we’re planning to go, the last week of June. The route goes through numerous mountains, as high as 8800′. And they only barely made it; if they’d gone a week earlier, almost certainly not.
I’ll have to confirm it, but based on the poor snow pack in California this year, I’m guessing it’s going to be mostly gone by the time we get there, on our last day.
These Backcountry Discover Routes are put together primarily for adventure motorcyclists, but of course four wheelers follow these routes assembled from public “roads”. Most of the distance looks quite easy; lots of various kinds of gravel and some dirt roads. There are a few tougher sections, like this one. Some of the worst was the mud from the melting snow.
But it was this picture that almost changed my mind. Yikes! Can my lifted FWD xB make this ditch? We shall see. At least the xB has very little overhangs and therefore good angle of approach.
I was a bit anxious after seeing this, but then I decided that realistically, the odds are good I’m going to get stuck somewhere, or more than once, possibly. But I’ll be in in good company, the kind that can pull me out, including one in the group that has a winch. And I’ll have a tow strap. So I’m just going to accept that as a fairly likely scenario, and prepare for it. But 99% of the route (or more) should be manageable.
And well worth it, given the scenery.
Lots of ghost town and old mines all along the way. And just enough hamlets to get gas and a few supplies. The longest leg between gas stations 219 miles. Let’s see, my gas tank holds 12 gallons… better bring a jerry can along, even though I could probably make it. The xB is going to be the most economical rig out of all the ones in the group.
Nice places to camp. Speaking of, I’ve got a plan on how I can sleep comfortably in the xBox. More on that later.
The route follows the Pony Express route a couple of times.
This I can handle. Even the Promaster could.
This is probably pretty typical. Some of these roads will be smoother; other rougher. Where’s my Peugeot 404 wagon when I need it?
One last shot. And then back to reality.
I got home yesterday afternoon at 4:15 after renovating a rental all day. But I was eager to get going, and taking things apart is so fun and satisfying. Off comes the lower half of the rear bumper. Not even ten minutes.
Then the front air dam. That took a bit longer, like 20 or so minutes.
Then off with the side skirts! Another ten or fifteen minutes. So satisfying.
Here’s the pile of discards. Unfortunately, they don’t amount to much weight-wise. All flimsy plastic.
With the jack, I can simulate the 2″ lift kit I’m going to install. They’re just spacers that extend the tops of the shock/spring perches, essentially. Less than $100.
It looks so much better already.
The big question is going to be tires. I don’t want to get any too big, because it will really affect the gearing. The 105 hp 1.5 L mill will be working hard enough as it is. The stock size is 185/60R15. I put on slightly bigger 185/65R15s years ago. But they don’t make all-terrain tires in these small sizes. Who would want them?
The smallest all-terrain size I’ve found are Yokohama Geolandars in 205/70R15. That’s 10% bigger than stock. Will that bog me down too much? Hmm.
I found a forum where they discussed this problem, and some of them recommended using a cheap snow tire, like the Firestone Winterforce, because it has a relatively open tread pattern for a winter tire. These come in a wide variety of smaller sizes, like 186/65R15 like I have now, or 195/60R15. And they’re under $100. I’m kind of leaning to them. The tread looks chunkier than the Geolandar, and the size is like my current one.
By the way, the knobby tires on this one that inspired me are mud retreads, as he’s back East and spends quite a bit of time in mud and such. They’re 205/60R15s, a bit big, and he says they’re very noisy on the road. Something like that was my first thought, but I’m leaning to just using the all-terrain or snow tires, as I doubt these knobbies will ever make the difference between getting stuck or not.
Have fun with this!! I’m looking forward to seeing your progress and even more the trip report. Great idea on the snow tires. By the way, I follow Ted’s friend Dan’s trip reports and he was a major inspiration for one of the days (four wheeled and two-footed) on our recent Mojave trip.
I will, one way or another. Glad you had a good trip; look forward to hearing about it one of these days.
I wish they still made that vehicle.
A factory off-roadified update of the gen 1 xB would be a more compelling and competitive entry in the subcompact CUV market than the overstyled, under-windowed, impractical hot mess that is the C-HR.
Long live the XBox! These boxy little runabouts are ideal outdoor cars that won’t break the bank. Plus, they look the part, IMO. When we got our kayaks, I knew that our xD was going to be recipient of the roofrack and j-cradles. I also sometimes wonder if 4WD is overrated. No doubt there are situations when it’s best, but…my wife had a family friend as a kid who regularly went up into the Cascades on some of the worst roads imaginable in nothing but a puny Datsun 510 (so it was rear-wheel drive!). Have fun and looking forward to watching your progress!
Great concept. Are you going to fabricate/install any shields underneath?
I just started on this, and am still mulling over issues like that. The engine is pretty far forward and the sump and the transaxle are certainly a bit exposed. A simple angled shield to protect them from rocks and just dirt piling up against them is something I’m going to seriously consider. But otherwise not. I’m not planning to go boulder hopping with it.
Cool, sounds like fun.
The problem using something a winter tire is they will chunk very easy on gravel roads, the higher the temp the worse it will be. Now if you could still get mud and snow tires then yes that would be a good option.
Make sure you make some previsions for strong and accessible recovery points
I wondered about that, regarding the tires.
The factory hold downs for transport are very accessible now that the lower bumper dams are gone front and back. I assume they will be adequate.
The factory transport hold downs should be more than sufficient unless you sink it deep in a mud hole.
Here is one that has a decent tread pattern and being a truck tire should have a sturdy carcass that can handle the abuse with ease. However you do pay a weight penalty because of that high capacity.
Or maybe not the reviews aren’t too great no that I look at them.
Thanks. Not very aggressive tread, though.
I’ll keep exploring options. I’ve got some time.
Would gravel rally tires work?
Then again, I don’t know how available or affordable they are in the US.
I had the VancoFourSeasons on my 2016 Winnebago View RV from the factory. They come on the MB Sprinter, and other heavy duty vans. I personally thought they were terrible. Even in the context of a box truck/RV application, they were noisy and very rough riding. I replaced them about a year ago with Toyo H/T 2’s, which have the same 10 ply rating (in that same size I needed, anyway). MUCH smoother ride, and dead quiet on the interstate (though there is plenty of other wind noise, etc.)
Yeah these don’t sound all that good but it does show that at least there is a vehicle out there that needs “truck” tires in that size so maybe there are other choices.
And spend the money for 5 tires so the spare is the same height as the others, that way you can go back out the way you came.
An option may be to look for some used tires and wheels with the desired OD. That way you can check for clearance and see how the change affects the effective gear ratio before spending money on new tires. I’m guessing the bolt pattern is shared with a lot of other Toyotas and other cars so you should be able to find a little bigger car that came with bigger tires.
Good idea on the used tires to trial fit.
I’ve done a bit of Googling, and although the disclaimers about using winter tires are there for a reason, it appears the Firestone Winterforce tires are quite popular with off-road users, year-round. Most aggressive tread, and the users have had no issues in the summer.
There’s a sense that more recent winter tires are better at coping with heat than in the past.
I will have one or two full-size spares on the roof rack; probably my current tires, if I get the same size. I already have a set of extra wheels for my current winter tires, which are on it currently. But they’re getting worn down.
I’ll keep looking into this. I have three months yet.
Even just a single of the proposed size would allow you to check clearances much better than trying to measure the current clearance in all possible positions on the front.
For measuring with the OE tire here are my tricks. Scrounge through your pile of wood and first make a block or blocks that can go under a tire to preload the suspension as much as you can. Some ~1′ chunks of 2×6 or 2×8 work well. Temporarily undoing a sway bar link for this isn’t a bad idea if it is easy to do. Then find a chunk of 1×2 and maybe a little chunk of 1/2 plywood to use as go no-go gauges. Easier than trying to get your head in there and use a tape measure to check many of the clearances.
Good idea. Thanks.
Curious- do any of these off roaders use them in the kind of very hot environment where you’ll be going? The aggressive tread of the Firestones certainly fits the bill and the price is attractive.
CHP uses the Winterforce tires here in California and even though that’s in “snow country” only, I suspect they see some decent temps on one of those warm January days, and especially later in Spring and at sub-5000′ elevations in the Eastern Sierra or western slope foothills. Then again, you it can get pretty warm in Nevada in June. I think you’ll be fine with the transport tie-downs for recovery purposes; I’d recommend against spacers unless you just need 1/4-1/2″ to clear struts; but I would recommend some underbody protection, and in general just look for vulnerable spots such as low-hanging, snaggable fuel lines, e-brake cables etc. Toyota A/C receiver-dryers can be pretty vulnerable. Even on that route there may be water crossings so see if you can reroute/raise the air intake. Here’s an exploded view for your benefit; I think I posted this on CC a few years back.
My take is that while it’s not the best practice, as they wear faster in the heat and stopping/cornering forces are reduced, it sounds like it’s not something to fear either. I’d avoid doing 130 like the last time I was in Nevada. 🙂
I ran Winterforces on the Fit and they did great in snow and ice. Never offroaded them, so no input there.
I use winter tires all year on the pickup, including summer heat. Tirerack told me to expect about 2/3 tread life compared to an all-terrain. I need to measure tread depth to verify now that they have about 12,000 miles on them. We only put about 4000 a year on the truck. Have not experienced any “chunking”. However, these are not the P-metirc Firestones, but General Arctic LT load range E truck tires. The soft tread has one issue that you may not like in Oregon, not a big deal here. They make strange noises on wet pavement in warmer weather, and the anti-lock brakes engage more often.
Another issue is spacers for the wheels. I forgot about that. The guy with the featured xB put on 2″ spacers, which is quite visible. But then his front mud tires are quite big, and I guess he needed the clearance.
Are there issues with doing that?
Changing the effective offset no matter if it is with different offset wheels or using spacers does create issues.
#1 scrub radius goes up. That means higher steering effort and increased tire wear. In stock form if you draw a line between the pivot point at the top of the strut and the ball joint it will hit the road near the center of the tire patch. Note increasing tire diameter also affects scrub radius and do so in the opposite direction as adding spacers. So they do offset each other somewhat.
#2 it changes the loading on the wheel bearings. In theory in stock form load is being taken evenly on the top of hub/bottom of the bearing bore. By moving the wheel center line you end up with the load being on the top on one side and the bottom on the other. That of course can shorten the bearing life.
#3 you increase the suspensions lever arm. That means the effective spring rate goes down as you increase the leverage the wheel has on the spring.
#4 more dependent on the exact vehicle but it can create clearance issues on full steering lock.
That said small spacers are not a bad thing, can be good in someways and won’t cause big problems, but I’d be very hesitant to do 2″ spacers on the xB.
So for me on the front especially I try to keep the effective offset change as small as possible.
Thanks. Those are all issues I was generally aware of but not of all the details.
I’m pretty hesitant to do anything too radical. I don’t want to compromise its normal and use too much.
I should re-word that I’d be hesitant to change the effective offset 2″ on the steering end of any vehicle that was intended to do duty as a daily driver. Personally I’d limit it to 1/2″ ~ 15mm or under.
How crazy you go is of course a line you will need to figure out where to draw.
That is why I suggested the used tires as a relatively cheap and easy way to see the effects on the acceleration, braking and general driving. Even just a pair on the front would tell a lot.
I love the concept!
I would be cautious about running winter tires year-round (or at least look further into it first). Winter tires are specifically compounded for low temperatures, and will likely lose grip (and wear out quickly) when exposed to high operating temperatures.
My family took a dilapidated JDM courier-spec 100 series Corolla wagon rental through some seriously treacherous terrain in the Altai mountains in Siberia back in the mid 2000s, where there’s a will there’s a way. At one point we had water come up over the hood at a water crossing, just briefly thankfully.
Just like this one in afghanistan, where these basic JDM cargo-spec 100 series Corollas are likewise incredibly popular. The rear suspension on them is a leaf sprung beam, which is easily lifted. Front is a regular Mac strut, and yes simple perch spacer lifts are employed I’d imagine.
Toyota builds some damn tough cars. They may not look the part, but there’s a reason why Corollas are so popular worldwide.
This sounds great, and I’m sure the xB will do fine, after all, the “x” in the name means it’s offroad-ready!
Looking forward to reading all about it! 🙂
I didn’t want to say anything further, but feel free to do so…
On first look, the raised xBox resembles the current Bronco Sport.
Very boxy, upright, not afraid of the mud.
+1, I like it.
This is very timely for me, as I am thinking about a lift kit for our Smart car. No kidding! I have it set up to tow behind the RV now, but for gravel roads and such in Yellowstone and places like that (no serious off-roading of course), a little more clearance would be nice. There is a 2″ lift for the tops of the struts as you mention, and then you get larger tires for a 4″ overall lift effect. Apparently quite a community of people doing this to their Smarts in Canada and other snowy climes. I will anxiously await your further installments!
To get a 2″ lift from larger tires, you’d need 4″ taller tires. That’s going to make a massive change in your effective gearing. Something to consider, given its little engine.
Not to mention the effect on braking.
Good point…..I am not looking for a “macho” look, in which case a Smart would be a poor start. I’ll probably do nothing, but I am anxious to see how this works out for Paul!
Thanks for pointing that out…..I do see some pretty crazy looking Smarts online that have been “lifted”, but yeah, I’m not looking to get crazy….
Paul, if you end up with Yokohamas, I can attest to their quality. I have a set on my Yukon XL as a year-round tire. They’re relatively quiet on pavement. I drove many miles of rough gravel and sharper, bigger stones in Alaska last summer with no issues. And best of all, the snow traction has been excellent. I notice no difference in fuel economy versus the mismatched all-seasons that were on the truck when I bought it.
Very interesting idea, I’m looking forward to seeing the result and reading about the trip.
I am jealous of someone who can remove all that lower body cladding after all these years and still see nothing but white paint. We in the salty north usually get unpleasant surprises when we remove lower body trim. 🙁
There was some bare metal on the rockers from a minor little dent just above the cladding. Not a spot of rust. Or anywhere else underneath. It’s our healing rains. 🙂
Wow that xB in the lead photo looks great. For years I ran Mega Mudd retreads from Tire Cappers out of Nashville TN in a 195/75/R14 for fun on my w123 post taxi life. Very similar to the tread on that xB. Noisy as all get out around town, but fun on the fire roads of SWVA. I was 20-something and figured what the hay. My gf at the time ran, and may continue to run the same tire in a 33″ size on her TJ, she loved them.
When I rally crossed my 07 Cobalt (until it developed a bottom end engine knock in the 2019 season….) I ran a 205/60/R15 gravel from Maxxis, great for my application, but $$$$$. On regular commuter days I ran Wally World Douglas tires in the same size for street duty
I used my Cobalt as a fire road/field car and also to scope out put ins along the waterways in Appalachia, I kayak like crazy, and learned forward momentum is key. And a tow strap, as you mentioned. The underside of my car is relatively dented up and I crushed my exhaust resonator once on a poorly chosen line, but it never bothers me.
FWIW I do own a full size truck, but due to MPG I used my Cobalt and will use my 03 project Outback as my primary off road-ish river runner adventure rig.
Your comment encouraged me!
Over at SiennaChat lifting both 2WD and 4WD Gens 2 and 3 Siennas is a pretty popular mod. I need ground clearance more than an extra set of drive wheels.
Re: tall tires, I thought manual xBs were geared pretty low, at least compared to the automatics. That’s what kept me from buying an otherwise ideal car several years ago. Just too many RPMs on long 80mph interstate drives.
When I bought my Xb in 2004, I HATED the look of the skirts. I figured I could just take them off and it would look like the unskirted JDM version, but unfortunately the US bumpers were made differently. I couldn’t achieve the same clean look as in this photo.
I think you’ve cracked the code, Paul. The lifted overland look solves the problem and looks pretty badass.
How could I forget that the JDM bB didn’t have that cladding and the bigger, lower bumpers? Looks much better.
I wish the Fit had separate skirting that I could remove. Front bumper is one piece and always scrapes on steep driveways, etc.
My little addition is that I currently have 195/60 R 15 tires on my Yaris and they work fine. I checked before purchasing and they were within the 3% guidelines for deviation from stock diameter. They ride smoother on the highway than the 195/55 R 15’s I had on it before, although there is some increased sway and “squshyness” on turns. I do not notice any significant difference in acceleration with them on, have had no issues with rubbing, and gas mileage is the same. I would go back to the 55 series if I were going to keep it a long time, as it was a better handler that way, but 60 series in the 195 width should work fine for you.
You may recall that in the country we just put “mud and snow” (what we now call Winter) tires on the back axles of our pickups and ran that way all the time on our unpaved roads. This was before everyone needed four wheel drive to get to the store, of course. In the winter we just threw some tractor weights in the back and carried chains for the deep stuff and drove through the snow just fine. So long as you are spacing your shocks as well as your springs, and you protect any exposed underparts you should be fine. Check your shocks for wear while you are at it, the back ones are a very easy replacement and KYB’s are a good and relatively inexpensive part.
I think there is a limited slip front differential for this drivetrain, but that might be out of keeping with the spirit of your build. There is a little spot in my front bumper where you can punch out the plastic and attach a very nice little tow hook that I’m sure someone on eBay would be happy to sell me, in anodized aluminum no doubt. I wonder if the Xb has the same feature? Happy Trails!
I had to come back and read this because on April 1st I glanced at the photo, thought “Sure Paul, happy April fools'” and forgot about it.
Then I saw you mentioned elsewhere that you were serious. Looks like good fun, and you’ll be travelling with others who can yank the xB up/through/over if it can’t quite make an obstacle.