One look at the Ram Mega Cab and you might not expect it to win this test based on trail performance, and you would be right. It wasn’t the best trail rig in the group, but it wasn’t the alleged penalty box either. With great occupant isolation and supportive saddles, only the worst terrain was transmitted to the cabin.
We found the limited-slip differential to be effective and the running boards disposable. Sure, it had its hang-ups with its 12.4-foot wheelbase (more than three feet longer than the entire length of a Smart ForTwo), but with solid axles and dialed-in shocks it wasn’t horrible. The long wheelbase helped to mellow out harsh motions over whoops and stabilize the truck on our Hill Climb.
In the washes, the big Ram required more effort to keep the intended course at speed and in the sand excessive power modulation caused equally excessive axle hop. So those environments might not be ideal, but get the Mega Cab out on a hard packed dirt trail, and as long as it is devoid of major undulations, the shocks do a fine job of soaking up the road. We imagine a family and a load of gear would have no problem getting out and exploring the backcountry in one of these trucks.
The Ford, on the other hand, was much more suited to the trail, with its smaller size and rear locker. The EcoBoost was an absolute blast to drive in the dirt, especially in the wash where it was pretty easy to steer with the go pedal. This is good because steering with the wheel was a letdown. Lacking the beautifully balanced feedback of the hydraulic Raptor system, the FX4 was betrayed by a virtual steering feel that would be better left in a simulator.
We also found the rear suspension of the FX4 to be harsh in rough terrain, especially in rippled sand. The soft front seemed to absorb imperfections, while the rear transmitted them, as evidence by the suspension chatter and noticeable bed deflection. Fortunately the Ford has a locker that was quick to engage and the majority of its vitals were protected with a mix of metal and composite skidplates, giving the Ford some props in the dirt. We also liked that Ford offers more aggressive optional rubber, in the form of Goodyear Wranglers, for those who need it.
In the sand, the Ford may have been our favorite play date. Not because of the suspension, but because of the EcoBoost’s willingness to amuse us. Although, during some spirited driving for photos we did heat the truck up enough that it apparently went into a limp mode. Surprisingly, there was no light to indicate this on the dash, but power was noticeably down. After a period of cool down, the Ford was back to its playful nature again.
In most of the off-pavement terrains we tested these trucks on, it was the Power Wagon that dominated the test. Whether it was a supple suspension, increased ground clearance, or the superior tires, the Power Wagon excelled almost everywhere we drove it. We suppose the front and rear lockers and electronic sway bar disconnect didn’t hurt either.
On dirt roads, even ones with smaller whoops, the Power Wagon was able to carry a surprising amount of speed for its weight and suspension setup. The Bilsteins soaked up the larger bumps pretty good, although short sharp impacts could be felt in the cab. Bumpstops on both Rams have a nice, soft material that deadens the really big stuff without requiring those who found the suspension limits to exit via backboard.
In the washes, the Power Wagon was just as much fun as the Ford, but with more room to clear those half-hidden rocks. Plenty of Hemi power and a six-speed that kept it on the boil, the Ram, much like the Ford could be steered with the throttle, although unlike the Ford, the steering system was weighted nicely with good feedback, allowing us to easily place the Power Wagon right where we wanted it.
As good as the Power Wagon was at speed, it was exceptional in the rocks, as if Ram built this truck for our Hill Climb. With the lockers engaged, the sway bar disconnected, full steel skidplating and good clearance, our judges never had to worry about harming this truck in jagged terrain most owners would never drag a $53,000 truck through. For us, it is about one set of rock rails away from coming perfectly equipped from the factory, but as it stands, it is more truck in the dirt than the majority of buyers will ever need.
If the Power Wagon was Superman off-highway, it was sand that proved to be its only kryptonite. Soft sand was a match for the solid axles, often producing hop and causing the transmission to second guess its gear selection. We also noted that the Power Wagon lockers were somewhat slow to engage and the enormous hood made visibility a challenge when dropping over rises. Overall though, it was the Power Wagon’s go-anywhere performance that won the judges over on the trail.
So at the end of a long week of testing, we had three great trucks and a tough decision to make. After the judges were polled and scores added up, only one of these trucks walk away as winner of the 2012 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year award.
“However, it was the Ram 2500 and its massive 800 lb-ft of torque that proved quickest off the line, hitting 60 in just 7.2 seconds.”
2nd Place: Ford F-150 FX4
EcoBoost power, fuel economy, rear locker, capability
Vague steering, stiff rear suspension
A 1⁄2-ton that can play with the big boys
From the Logbook:
“The EcoBoost is like a two-stage rocket once the turbos spool up!”
“SuperCab rear seat is surprisingly comfortable.”
“The momentary switch turn signals are frustrating to get used to.”
“If you long for the classic rumble of a V-8, you will be disappointed.”
“Are you sure it is a 1⁄2-ton, it is rated to tow 11,300 pounds and haul 2000 pounds.”
“The EcoBoost was an absolute blast to drive in the dirt, especially in the wash where it was pretty easy to steer with the go pedal.”