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Power trip

If you don’t want more power and torque from your vehicle, look away now. If, however, you’d like a bit more grunt behind the grille, a bit more pep to play with, then here’s an introductory look at what your options might be.

The Beatles got it wrong. Sometimes power is all you need. Not love. Sometimes you need to beat that boy racer at the lights (they don’t seem to like it when a big ol’ 4WD leaves them behind). Sometimes that steep, muddy hill that’s always tripped you up needs to be conquered once and for all. It’s astounding what a few extra horses, a few extra newton metres, can do to make life that little bit more interesting.

So if you’re towing a heavy load, need better fuel economy or generally want more grunt for on- and off-road use, we’ve taken a bit of a look at what’s available and put it together as an overview. Not every option mentioned here will suit you or your vehicle, but we just want to give you an idea of where to look and what to consider. Obviously we can’t answer the question for every make and model, but hopefully it’s a good start.

A power upgrade will, of course, depend on what you’re driving, what you use the vehicle for and who you speak to, but we thought it might be a good idea to look at three well-known diesel 4WDs and see what can be done: a 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3-litre, a 2007 Nissan Patrol 3-litre and a 2013 VW Amarok with its 2-litre unit. Most of the techniques outlined in this story can be applied in some way to petrol vehicles and are available from the people mentioned, and the principles are largely comparable even if the technical execution and specific products differ. Naturally aspirated petrols obviously benefit from turbo or super charging, with chips and remaps also available. Any modifications will mean optimised tuning is required.

Each of these three vehicles offers a hypothetical situation that gives us a great way to open the discussion with the industry. Take what you need out of this and get in touch with the people who you believe can help. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we hope it’s a good springboard.

One obvious option for getting more power is relatively simple, very satisfying, although potentially too expensive: rip the engine out and throw in a bigger unit. I worked on a couple of off-road magazines while I was away in the UK and we had a 1986 Land Rover powered by a standard and rather tired 2.5 diesel. As a V8 fan I pushed my case and a 3.5 was soon bolted in. The thing sounded great and pulled the vehicle along with new-found enthusiasm – we got an extra 15mph (24km/h) out of it at the top end, which doesn’t seem like much, but it got there quicker and with more excitement. On the down side, we found worse fuel economy and slightly less torque at low revs. There are options other than this wholesale approach, but it was an interesting exercise and an engine transplant from diesel to a big petrol unit is something a lot of people look at doing to get more from their vehicle.

Anyway, the Patrol is included here because a few years ago I occasionally drove a 2007 model with a 3-litre diesel (130kW, 363Nm at 1800rpm). This always seemed a little underpowered considering the vehicle’s size and workhorse characteristics. We put Prado into the mix considering our 2014 model test in this issue – I know of farmers who use older ones like tractors or in place of a quad, and a 1999 example that’s potentially taken a hammering (from farm or family) over the years could probably do with a bit of extra oomph.

We added Amarok, as many people are surprised it’s only offered with a 2-litre engine. Some say they find it a little under-powered, but bear in mind this unit is more effective than it might seem, with 132kW and 420Nm from the 8-speed auto (compare this with the 3-litre Hilux, which weighs about the same: 126kW and 343Nm). In any case, some are saying the VW needs more under the bonnet, and I reckon it would be great with the 3-litre Touareg engine.
The first thing we looked at was the installation of power upgrade modules or ‘chips’, which are many owners’ first port of call…

For the full story, see the March issue of NZ4WD

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