During testing, the Four Wheeler staff rotates through the vehicles on a regular basis. During this time, drivers are evaluating every aspect of the vehicle and these observations are verbally logged onto mini-cassette recorders. At the conclusion of testing, the actual written scoring takes place. Trail performance is paramount, so this category accounts for 30 percent of the final score. It includes the vehicles' performance on washboard roads, rocks and sand as well as overall maneuverability and tire type and performance. Mechanical (engine, transmission, transfer case and so on) accounts for 25 percent, interior 15 percent, exterior (including skidplates, tow hooks and fit-and-finish) 10 percent and highway ride and handling 20 percent. After each judge completes his scoring, the numbers are entered into an Excel spreadsheet that has been programmed to calculate and weigh the final scores.
|Final Scores |
|1. Power Wagon ||84.5 points |
|2. Tacoma ||79.0 points |
|3. Frontier ||63.9 points |
|4. Dakota ||58.2 points |
|5. Silverado ||47.7 points |
|6. Super Duty ||42.7 points |
What is the measure of a good pickup truck? We feel that said truck absolutely must exhibit exceptional four-wheeling abilities. Check the title: Our name is Four Wheeler, not Pavement Pounder. This is why we do the lion's share of Pickup Truck of the Year testing on the trail. Of course, this means procuring the mandatory Forest Service and BLM permits to access and photograph on public land. This year we began testing by invading Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale, California for acceleration and brake testing. We completed these two tests with the cargo beds both empty and at half-payload. From the dragstrip we headed east, past Lucerne Valley to Soggy Dry Lake to run our infamous tire-eating, rocker-panel-crunching loop. On day two, we drove north on Highway 395 to the Olancha Dunes ORV area for a morning of sand testing and then we continued up 395 to the labyrinth of trails in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine. Day three found us on the trail all day, exploring the Inyo National Forest with White Mountain District Off Highway Vehicle Officer Stan Overholt as our guide. We 'wheeled through the Buttermilks, Coyote Flat and Coyote Ridge before dropping down near the Lidner Prospect mine, where we had a great view of the Sierras' famous South Lake nestled below the snow-capped mountains. Day four found us blasting back to Los Angeles to run the numbers and sort through the hundreds of photos.
A vehicle's Ramp Travel Index (RTI) score is a good indicator of that vehicle's ability to flex off-highway. Good flex, as we all know, is one of the key ingredients of good four-wheeling performance. This is why Four Wheeler pioneered this concept of measurement.
Following are the RTI scores of the six trucks in this year's test on a 20-degree ramp. Note that the Power Wagon's score reflects the front antiroll bar disconnected, with the connected score listed with an asterik. An RTI score relies on three measurements. First, the vehicles overall wheelbase, second the distance traveled up the ramp and third, the angle of the ramp.
| ||Distance (in.) ||Score |
|Chevy Silverado ||64 ||444 |
|Dodge Dakota ||56 ||427 |
|Dodge Power Wagon ||81 ||578 |
| ||*56 ||*400 |
|Ford Super Duty ||53.5 ||431 |
|Nissan Frontier ||51 ||404 |
|Toyota Tacoma ||57 ||445 |
Spend several days off-highway with a few trucks and you're going to form opinions. We certainly did. To gather those opinions, we asked staffers to tell us which truck they would spend their own hard-earned money on. After all, points are one thing, but ultimately, it comes down to personal preference based on individual needs. Here's what the staff had to say:
Ned Bacon-"If Power Wagon offered a Cummins, then no question where my money would go. But a wimpy Hemi? Sorry, my bucks go to Toyota. Solid product, practical size for all around use."
Ken Brubaker-"Power Wagon. Incredibly capable. Raises the bar. Lots of goodies that are fully warrantied. Hemi not quite enough, but adequate."
Edward Sanchez-"The Nissan combines good looks, power and capability in a fun-to-drive package that would be easy to live with as a daily driver."
Greg Smith-"For the most bang for the buck, the Tacoma is the obvious choice for me with its roomy cab, powerful engine and great trail abilities."
Robin Stover-"The Power Wagon is essentially my dream truck, minus a Cummins powerplant. But I'm sure the wise folks at DCX are working on that."
Jon Thompson-"Best value? Most usable for the kind of driving I do, and for what I expect from a vehicle? The Tacoma, for sure."