Review and images by Russell Purcell
The first time I laid eyes on a TOMCAR, it was being used as a patrol vehicle for the Edmonton Police during the Edmonton Indy. The impressive-looking little buggy stood out from traditional event transportation like golf carts and side-by-side ATVs, and its menacing appearance and obvious all-terrain capabilities probably help with crowd control.
The TOMCAR was initially designed and built in Israel where it was engineered as a relatively low cost, reliable runabout for military use. It is a compact utility vehicle (UTV) with all-terrain capabilities and is available in three different body configurations - 2-passenger (TM2), 4-passenger (TM4), and 2-passenger cargo model (TM5). North American units are assembled in the USA.
The TM2 (as tested) is just shy of three metres long, and almost 1.75 metres wide. These compact dimensions allow it to venture into tight spaces, making it the perfect vehicle for industrial and farm use, but hunters and sportsmen are starting to adopt them due to their comfort, safety, and obvious performance. Tour and adventure outfitters are also embracing the vehicles as they are approved as a “Tread Lightly” off-road vehicle and recently became endorsed by Environment Canada.
In late August, I ventured to the arid region of Kamloops, BC, a Mecca for fans of off-road activities, and met up with Brad Ewen, TOMCAR Canada’s enthusiastic sales manager. The TOMCAR is street legal in most regions of the United States, but Canada has yet to follow suit, so we loaded the TM2 test rig onto a trailer and headed to one of the region’s most popular off-road areas.
I have to admit that I was almost immediately impressed. Once we were strapped in, Brad took me over a wide variety of terrain and obstacles so that he could introduce me to the capabilities of this rugged little vehicle.
The TOMCAR is two-wheel drive, features a mechanically integrated differential lock, and a belt-driven CVT transmission. Motivation is derived from either a 1.0-litre, fuel-injected 4-cylinder engine or a 1.4-litre, naturally aspirated 4-cylinder diesel, and both engines are liquid cooled. The TM2 test rig I experienced was fitted with the gas-fed unit, and while not a speed demon (75 km/h is reachable), it proved strong enough to hustle the vehicle (and its two XXL occupants) up the steep slopes and over any obstacles we encountered. A quick look at the images accompanying this article of Brad airborne in the TM2 will speak volumes about the performance potential of the TOMCAR.
The TOMCAR features four-wheel independent suspension consisting of heavy-duty wishbones up front, and equally robust trailing arms in the rear. Infinitely adjustable, dual-coil, hydraulic shocks absorbed the bumps with such ease that the passengers remain fresh at the end of the day, not bruised, abused, and tense like the poor saps faced with extended seat time in a typical side-by-side UTV.
The TOMCAR features lightweight bucket seats equipped with four-point racing-style harnesses to keep you in place, but they almost seem like overkill when you experience the calmness of the passenger compartment even when tackling the rough stuff at speed. Your eyes and mind continually trick you into instinctively preparing yourself for what you expect will be an uncomfortable impact or suspension rebound as you approach a washout, dip or boulder by making you stiffen up and grab onto something for support, but once you get familiar with how well the TOMCAR’s suspension has been engineered, you soon relax and actually relish the opportunity to tackle the most difficult terrain. Brad likens the ride experience to that of a trophy truck, and he is not far off, as there is in fact a category for TOMCARs in SCORE competition.
Brad became enthralled with the TOMCAR during some extreme running in Arizona. He couldn’t believe how well a two-wheel drive in full differential lock could perform.
“Having the engine sitting right over top of a pair of bulletproof final drives, this little buggy would go anywhere I pointed it. I drove the TOMCAR harder than I have driven any off-road machine and it just took the abuse. Driving down a dry river bed at 35 km/h with helmet-sized rocks strewn everywhere had me feeling badly for the car, but the TOMCAR skipped over them like a rock on water.”
As Brad and I explored the hills and dales well off the beaten path, I continued to be blown away by the civility of the experience. Sure, it was dusty, but there was no real jostling, head slap or head movement whatsoever.
Brad pointed out that due to its intended use for military applications, the TOMCAR is both overbuilt and easy to maintain.
“Just looking closely at this machine, you can appreciate how simple and overbuilt it really is; heck, the brake pedal assembly weighs 18 pounds! In fact, all the part numbers on the left-hand side of the car are the same as those for the right side, and my service department requires no special tooling to work on it. If you’re somewhat mechanically inclined, you can service and maintain the unit yourself largely with an adjustable 10-inch crescent wrench.”
“Another clever feature about the front end is that the ball joints are adjustable. If you get any play in them, you just tighten them up to remove the slop. The ground clearance is outstanding at 15 inches, and there is 13.5 inches of wheel travel on all four corners. The TOMCAR’s suspension has been developed to absorb impacts and easily articulate over the rough stuff.”
Much of the TOMCAR’s prowess comes from the fact that it has been designed with lightness in mind, especially up front. The front clip houses a 12-volt battery, the master cylinder, rack-and-pinion steering, air intake, a simple wiring harness, windshield washer reservoir bag and a small jack. This allows the vehicle to skip over obstacles while the full-length skid plate protects the drivetrain from damage.
The TOMCAR frame is constructed of military grade steel tubing which has proven very tough over its over three decades of development. A low centre of gravity inspires confidence in the driver and passenger(s) alike, as it makes it less prone to roll-over than typical UTV designs.
Mr. Ewen considers the TOMCAR to be the equivalent of the H1 Hummer in the UTV market, but he realizes that “there will always be sceptics about a two-wheel drive versus a four-wheel drive platform.” He is well aware of the fact that “there are applications where the TOMCAR will not work, but on the other hand, with respect to 90 percent of the terrain out there, the TOMCAR will eat the competition alive and take you anywhere and back.”
While not inexpensive, the TOMCAR has proven long lasting with an expected operational life of almost 20 years. Once you factor in the level of comfort, impressive payload (182 kg / 400lb – 454kg / 1,200lb), and low cost of operation, the price of admission starts to look like a relative bargain.
For more information or technical specifications check out www.tomcar.com