I bought a 99 4runner SR5 to replace my 88 Bronco. I've taken it on a few trips on moderate rock trails in the CA sierra Mountains. The 99 runner easily out wheels my 88 Bronco. Narrower and better clearance. Better articulation AND an elec rear locker and 4.30 axle ratio. Even with the diffs open, the runner does better than the bronco. Bronco is a 351 EFI C6 with 373s. Bronco has 32s, runner has 31s.
This is my second bronco (used to have a beater 78), but it's too big, too wide for trails. Is great for open areas and wide trails but...
Anyway, I looked at explorers because of the greater towing ability with the V8 and determined that in no way would an explorer be acceptable. Too low, too soft, no aftermarket mods, the list goes on. The interior was not as refined as the runner. the stereo was a yawner, tires were puny. The runner has 265/70-16s. This is what I see on Expeditions.
What I liked about the 4runner was 1) my wife was willing and happy to drive it (so much she has since made it "hers") 2) it pulls the Ski Nautique just fine, great for snow trips to Tahoe, and an all around great rig. Not quite the pull that the 351 had, but the brakes are much better.
What I don't like is the stock skid plates are not strong enough, the rear bumper is too flimsy to withstand the rig dropping on it when coming off a rock, and the gas tank will be crushed on a breakover climb if the center drags. I also don't like the fact that there is not a diff relocating lift for the Inferior Front Suspension so the most lift without destroying CVs is 2 inches. No manual hubs are available because Toyota selected a different front hub than both the Tacoma and the Tundra so to put manual locking hubs would require a new set of spindles, 1/2 shafts and a bunch of $$. I know I'm talking about a toyota, but I'm sure explorers have similar issues.
So, what would I like to see built?
A medium short wheel base (100 inch) 4 door SUV with either a peppy V8 or a Kick Ass six and a bullet proof drive train. Solid front axle -- D44 up front . Fix the 8.8 rear end so it doesn't have a C-Clip design. keep the 31 spline axles. A 5 speed tranny like an NVG 4500 tranny would be great. Make sure the tranny will easily mate to marlin crawler type transfer case so the crawl can be improved. Disks brakes on all corners.
1) standardize on one frame platform for this new rig and the grocery getting explorers and matching F-series or Ranger line so that the aftermarket companies can focus on one thing to build upgrades for. Make sure the axles have an upgrade path for lower (numerically higher) gears. Make sure that an ARB or a soft locker is available for the front. Make sure a detriot or an ARB and or limited slip is avail for the rear. Give us options for upgrades.
2) put oversize brakes on it. have an option for disableing ABS which SUCKS when you are on dirt roads.
3) move the shock mounts on top of the axle so they don't get torn off.
4) develop a real off road upgrade package that includes an mild lift, electric locker, sway bar disconnects and a Hi-Lift jack mounted inside or underhood. Hell, partner with the after market gang and make a special package using after market parts, but built at the factory. Kinda like a "shelby mustang" type explorer, but direct from FOMOCO.
5) make the running boards easy to take off and put back on. Make sure the flares don't look dumb when the rockers are removed. Here's a bizarre Idea? build the running boards so they can go on the roof and become part of a Safari Rack for back country action, and running boards for city action. Ok, its a dumb Idea, but I've had to remove the running boards on a trip so I wouldn't destroy them and ended up with them inside...
6) build a very strong rear bumper that will hold the weight of the truck when it drags on a rock. Have an option for a swing away spare.
7) Build inside or underhood storage for a highlift jack (Oh I said this already) Must mean I really want this.
8) strong factory roof rails for aftermarket racks like Yakima and Thule
9) I really like the power window lift hatch on the 4runner. Nice to be able to open the back window from the driver cockput, but still have a lift back.
10) make the fender openings big enough for 33x1250s without cutting.
11) room up front for a second battery.
12) six disc,in dash CD changer and room for big, deep speakers in the doors.
Ok, its just a rambling, and I probably still wouldn't buy one but its a start.
99 4Runner (wifes grocery getter)
88 Bronco XLT * FOR SALE *http://www.jps.net/~khoover