4x4 Envy: Four Things A Street Car Guy Loves About Off-Roading
I’ve been into cars my whole life. Actually, not just into them but obsessed with them. In the nearly 20 years I’ve had my drivers license I’ve owned cars of all types. Old cars, new cars, American cars, Japanese cars and European cars. Some were heavily modified and some were left bone stock. My automotive tastes are about as wide-ranging as they come, yet there's one area of the hobby I've yet to explore for myself and that's off-roading.
But it's not that I dislike off-roading. Not by any means. In fact, having friends into 4x4s and having spent so much time with cars built for the street and occasionally the race track, there are lot of things about off-roading that I'm seriously envious of.
And in the event that I do ever do jump into off-roading myself, these will be some of the big reasons why.
Who Needs Speed?
As fun as it is to hop behind the wheel of a performance car, whether it's one built to go fast or one built to handle, there's always risk—and yes temptation involved. For a lot of enthusiast cars, particularly modern ones, their performance limits are so high that it's impossible to approach them on a public road. Even just a little bit of "fun" can have serious consequences, and that's something every enthusiast needs to mindful of.
Even if you are an experienced driver out for a spirited, but responsible, drive on a familiar backroad, there is always going to be elements you can't control—and that's before you get to law enforcement who never seem to be far away.
Off-roading on the other hand, is going to have much slower speeds, less worry about unpredictable traffic and less temptation to break the law. Of course there are plenty of safe and legal ways to enjoy a street car, and we highly suggest those—but that also brings me to my next point.
No Race Track? No Problem.
Attending a track day or even an autocross event is one of the funnest things you can do in a car, but they require some serious commitment. First you have to live within reasonable distance of a track or venue, which many people don't.
Then you need to find an organization hosting an event that works with your schedule, pay what can be a substantial entry fee, then prepare your car and show up at the track bright-and-early for a tech inspection and drivers meeting. And once you are all set up you can still count on plenty of downtime in between your actual driving.
That's not to say a day out off-roading doesn't require its own commitments, but it's just a very different process. There's usually no formal event to enter or scheduling conflicts to worry about. You can explore spots near or far, and take things at your own pace, driving as much or as little as you want—something that's not often possible as road car enthusiast.
Continuing on from my previous point, as a car enthusiast, I always dream of a mythical place where you could just show up any time you want and enjoy your car in a "freestyle" environment. Maybe you want to practice 0-60 runs, take some corners, or just have some sideways fun. For us regular car enthusiasts, such a place doesn't really exist, but many off-roaders and 4x4 owners have access to basically that exact thing.
I'm talking about public "vehicular recreation areas" which for a minuscule entry fee allow you to enjoy your rig with a variety of different terrain and obstacles, and they even have these California where regulations and rules can make it notoriously difficult for enthusiasts. These parks cater to off-roaders of all skill levels, and there's simply no equivalent for us road car guys.
The Practical Side
As someone who has spent a lot of time driving lowered cars with stiff suspension, keeping my head on swivel for speed bumps and just accepting the stiff ride and minimal comforts as something that comes with the territory, I can absolutely see the appeal of something built to handle all sorts of terrain. Not only that, but some of the funnest street cars are often the most impractical as well.
For example take the iconic Mazda Miata. It's a fantastic car and almost universally loved by people who enjoy driving. Yet it's also tiny, has just two seats and it's always been a challenge for tall guys like myself to comfortably fit into. Even just getting in and out of a lowered sports car can be a major chore sometimes.
That's not to say that an off-road rig is the most comfortable thing to drive around town but they definitely seem more appropriate for today's pothole-riddled roads, steep driveways and other obstacles that can wreak havoc on a modified road car or even a performance car that is bone stock.
Throw in the fact you're gonna be driving either a pickup truck or an SUV that can handle all sorts of daily chores and hauling and it's all quite tempting.
There's a chance these thoughts are misguided or maybe even straight up fantasies? Perhaps there are plenty of things veteran off-roaders envy about street car hobbyists. Maybe the grass is just always greener on the other side? Whatever the case, as many of my friends and acquaintances have, I find myself more and more looking to try out this side of the hobby for myself.