For over 24 years we've put the latest 4x4 pickups available in our head-to-head battle that is Pickup Truck of the Year. To participate in the late-model truck showdown, the pickup has to be all-new or significantly revised from the previous model year (new cup holders don't count), have a two-speed transfer case, a production run of at least 1,500 vehicles available in the U.S., and be on sale by January 15, 2013. For this year's Pickup Truck of the Year (PTOTY) we had a head-to-head battle between two formidable contenders—the Ram 1500 Crew Cab Outdoorsman and the Toyota Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Access Cab. While Ford and GM had eligible trucks, the two manufacturers declined to participate in this year's competition.
PTOTY isn't a tow-off or an off-road drag race, but rather a weeklong on- and off-road adventure that places the pickups in a variety of scenarios. From tricky rock sections to curvy canyon roads, to win PTOTY the truck truly has to be jack-of-all trades. We began this year's competition by crawling under the rigs and gathering the trucks RTI (ramp travel index) scores at Off Road Evolution in Fullerton, California. Off Road Evolution's 30-degree RTI ramp made for a great measuring stick to see which of the pickups could flex and tuck the best. It also provided a window into what potential low hanging pieces may get bashed or beaten off-road.
Once we had taken a good look underneath, we drove the pickups to the old El Toro Marine Base in Orange County, California. The abandoned air field is home to the History channels' Top Gear television show and made for a safe and controlled environment for us to perform braking and acceleration tests. Those performance numbers reflect what the manufacturers estimated horsepower numbers really mean and what affect the modern technology has on the trucks.
After we left the tarmac, we set off on our 1,000-mile weeklong journey. Using the rugged desert terrain and mountains of Southern California we peeled away from the highway and into rocky, loose, sandy, and very hilly situations. It's not uncommon for one truck to perform extremely well in one arena of wheeling, but fall short in another. For our test we took each truck over the same lines and trail conditions, so there are no excuses and comparisons are as accurate as they come.
Getting to and from all of our different Southern California testing destinations was a feat in itself. Our wheeling destinations often pitch us through twisty canyon roads and long stretches of desert highway. Here wind noise, exhaust drone, ride quality, and interior comfort all become absorbed into the testers logbook.