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Even The SWAT Team Wanted To Drive The USSV Rhino GX

Posted in Features on June 12, 2016
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Photographers: Jorge Nunez

At first glance, the US Specialty Vehicles (USSV) Rhino GX looks like it could be an armored paramilitary machine built for SWAT teams. And that’s partly true. Although the unit we drove was not armored, the Rhino GX’s body can be upfitted through one of USSV’s affiliates to meet that demand. However, the buyer who has made USSV successful building customized 4x4 vehicles like the Rhino GX is more likely to be that high roller with a collection of supercars, luxury vehicles, and high-end sports cars, and is now looking for something a little different. Priced at just under $200K, the Rhino GX is the sort of vehicle that “the most interesting man in the world” would find impressive.

We got the chance to drive the Rhino GX when the folks at USSV spirited us away to a top secret law enforcement training facility so we could romp this thing with wild abandon for a few hours. We gladly accepted the company’s offer, and as the saying goes, we drove it like we stole it. We climbed hills, we flogged it through the mud, and we put the pedal to the metal.

The USSV Rhino GX is based on a Ford F-450 4x4 cab-chassis. The cab is removed, and all that USSV uses is the powertrain, drivetrain, and frame to begin the construction of the Rhino GX. It’s not a bad place to start. The frame is shortened in back a bit, and the front bumper bracket and front body mount is removed and replaced with units designed by USSV. The frame is also modified slightly by USSV to accept a smart hydraulic rear suspension system. The 12,000-pound GAWR solid rear axle is augmented with a hydraulic suspension system to allow for as much as 7 inches of ride height adjustment that can be manually controlled or it can be left on automatic to adjust as the vehicle’s sensors direct. The rear hydraulic system’s controller also features a rollover protection algorithm to enhance driving safety. Up front, the 7,000-pound GAWR Solid Twin-Coil Monobeam axle gets special custom-tuned shocks and an upgraded antisway bar. Custom 20x10-inch, 10-lug aluminum wheels are wrapped with 38x15.50R20 Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ Radial SLT tires.

Power comes from the generous (362 hp at 4,750 rpm and 457 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm) 6.8L three-valve V-10 SOHC engine hooked up to a TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission, with a BorgWarner two-speed transfer case that houses a 2.64 low range ratio sending power to the axles.

The body of the USSV Rhino GX is built at the company’s plant, which we were allowed a tour of, but no photos were allowed. However, we can tell you that the bodies are hand-assembled and welded to create a dual layer of 20-gauge steel and built right on top of the chassis skeletons with an integrated steel rollcage inside the body. They are painted and prepped in-house, so no details of their construction get outside the walls of the USSV production facility. The fenders and bumpers are made of a composite material, two Webasto Spoiler sunroofs are incorporated into the roof of the Rhino GX, and four LED pod lamps sit on a lightbar built into the roof. The Ford F-450’s Class IV towing hitch is retained.

Inside the Rhino GX we found a very non-paramilitary setting. The seats were super plush, and the six-way driver power seat and eight-way second-row power seats were covered in premium leather. The ceiling offered a perforated leather headliner, and the dash and steering wheel were leather wrapped, too. Even the doors and seat bases were covered in leather. Dark burl wood and chrome accents graced the cabin. An Alpine dash-mounted nav system, and the optional App-Tronics Smart Nav5 Rear View Mirror Navigation system (allowing us to see the cabin area behind us and view a nav map in the mirror) were onboard, as well as a backup camera and ultrasonic radar perimeter sensors.

What was it like to drive this beast? Highway manners were polite, if a bit heavy feeling. Sort of like that mid-’70s Lincoln your uncle cruised around in. Once it was up on the cam, though, it was like driving an armored personnel carrier built on a 1-ton solid-axle truck frame, with a sturdy, yet responsive, suspension system that soaked up the bumps and holes, and an engine that would throttle up with growling gusto. We imagined pulling off A-Team-style stunts like flying through the air after cresting a ramp and crashing through a brick wall to rescue the hostages.

Regardless of speed or terrain, the lush interior appointments lured us into a sensation of calm inside a wild storm. Steering on highway and dry dirt was accurate and predictable, but once the clay-like mud we were doing donuts in clogged up the voids in the tires, it was more like ice-skating with 350hp rockets attached to our heels. And that was fun! Back on dry dirt, a couple of high-wheel-speed throttles threw all the mud off, and soon we were back to that super-lux driving experience on the pavement. However, the ultimate feeling of satisfaction that day came as we passed a group of SWAT team members practicing the art of taking down bad guys. They all gave us a thumbs up as we headed out of the training center.

The body of the Rhino GX is built at USSV’s plant. Each body is hand-assembled and welded to create a dual layer of 20-gauge steel. The body sits on a Ford F-450 4x4 cab-chassis. The fenders and bumpers are made of composite material.

Seeing well at night isn’t a problem thanks to four forward-facing LED pod lamps that sit on a lightbar that’s built into the roof. These lights supplement the F-450 headlamps.

The Rhino GX is powered by a 6.8L V-10 engine that makes 362 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque. This power is routed through a TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission to a BorgWarner two-speed transfer case with 2.64 low range ratio prior to being carried to the axles.

There’s no confusing the tail-end of the Rhino GX (or any other part of the vehicle) with another SUV because there’s nothing like it in mass production. Note the easy to access spare tire, which also opens up lots of interior cargo space.

For $200K, you expect to be comfortable and the Rhino GX doesn’t disappoint. Plush power seats, a leather-wrapped dash, burl wood and chrome accents, and the latest electronics were some of the amenities. For added safety, there’s an integrated steel rollcage inside the body.

The rear seating area is no penalty box. The area includes a pair of leather seats and a pair of Webasto Spoiler sunroofs keep it bright.

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