A Survey of Off-Road Terrain in Modern Machines
For bright and sunny Day 4 of the 2014 Four Wheeler of the Year and Pickup Truck of the Year, we headed for new terrain in the opposite direction of the previous days. We found dirt roads, more sand, mud, silt, twisty highways, rocky trails, and some smooth, high speed desert trails. Our capable test fleet of eight, 2014 model year SUV and pickup trucks included a Dodge Durango, Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Range Rover Sport, Toyota Tundra, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram 2500, held up great throughout the day. We encountered no notable problems and despite the many miles of rock-infested terrain, we had no flats.
If you are used to off-roading in something more rudimentary, then you’d probably be shocked by the technologies these new vehicles provide. With modes and controls for nearly every situation, half the battle was in “mastering” the cockpit controls. Although you might not often put a brand new vehicle in some of today’s situations, it was reassuring to know that they all were confidently capable off the highway as well as on-road. If you think this terrain doesn’t look “that bad,” consider that these are bone-stock brand new vehicles, where underbody and exterior damage is not acceptable.
Impressions seem to be all over the place. What one judge likes, another dislikes. Any of the vehicles could take it right now. Here are just a few of my impressions, which count for nothing because I am not a judge. For the trucks, I liked the Silverado. It’s super quiet inside and performs well. One complaint I’ve heard against it is its lower ground clearance, even for a Z71. The Tundra had some fans, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it has enough. I think the group is going to favor the Ram.
For the SUVs, my vote would be the Range Rover Sport, as you’d expect for the nearly six-figure SUV. It was liberating in the sand and badass on the street. The only problem in rocky terrain were its lower profile 21-inch tires. Taking the Range Rover out of the equation, I’d take home the EcoDiesel Jeep Grand Cherokee. Taking into account fuel economy, torque, off-road and on-road performance, and exterior looks, I think it was an appealing package. However, I’d snag the Cherokee seats, as they were surprisingly my overall favorite.
Let’s face it – we would gladly own any of these vehicles if they landed in our driveways. In fact, in moments of honest frustration, I bet we’d all admit that these new vehicles would outperform our money-pit gremlin-riddled dinosaur off-road projects any day of the week.
Welcome to 2014.