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2015 4x4 Of The Year - New-Vehicle Shakedown

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on February 2, 2015 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Harry Wagner

Every year we here at Petersen’s 4Wheel & Off-Road assemble as many of the new off-road–capable vehicles as we can for one grand “apples to oranges” dirt-bustin’, rockcrawlin’, mud-churnin’ shootout. This allows us back-to-back seat time in several of the latest and greatest off-road vehicles fresh off the lot. With that knowledge we are able to make an informed decision about what is the best all-around new 4x4.

The requirements for vehicle eligibility are simple. A vehicle must have been significantly changed or improved over last year’s model. It must have a drivetrain with low range gearing and be available early in the model year (no late entries). And it must

Every year we here at Petersen’s 4Wheel & Off-Road assemble as many of the new off-road–capable vehicles as we can for one grand “apples to oranges” dirt-bustin’, rockcrawlin’, mud-churnin’ shootout. This allows us back-to-back seat time in several of the latest and greatest off-road vehicles fresh off the lot. With that knowledge we are able to make an informed decision about what is the best all-around new 4x4.

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

The requirements for vehicle eligibility are simple. A vehicle must have been significantly changed or improved over last year’s model. It must have a drivetrain with low range gearing and be available early in the model year (no late entries). And it must have a minimum production of 2,500 (no one-off ringers). For anyone who wonders, the “significantly changed or improved” requirement means the vehicle must have some fairly major new off-road gewgaw or widget that was not available on the previous model year. This excludes new sticker packages, new tires, or new wheel patterns, but could include a new traction control system, a selectable locking differential, a new suspension system, a larger engine, different transmission, and off-road performance bumpers or body mods.

As usual, we don’t always get exactly what we want. Some new vehicles that are eligible were not available for our test (cough Chevy, cough Ford). Availability is usually determined by the manufacturer, so if your favorite new hybrid/electric rockcrawler was excluded from this test, don’t yell at us; it’s not our fault. The manufacturer just could not get us the rig in time for our test.

Also we won’t be comparing these new vehicles to your favorite 4x4 of all time. Sure, a 2003-present Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is a pretty amazing off-road vehicle right off the dealer lot, but we won’t be firing up the hot tub time machine to include any in the 2015 4x4 OTY test (the Rubicon saw no significant changes for 2015). Despite this, this year’s lineup was one of the most capable groups of all time, but off-road capability is not the only attribute we test and value.

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Out of all five vehicles, four came to us with at least one selectable locking differential, and all had traction control that worked remarkably well off-road. This year we had three pickup trucks and two midsize SUVs. One contestant came to us with solid axles front and rear, each containing a selectable locker. One SUV came with fully independent suspension and a rear selectable locker. The rest were running independent front suspension and a solid rear axle with body-on-frame construction. Two trucks had fire-breathing V-8 engines, with the other three motivated by healthy V-6s. All five vehicles had tires that would, at a bare minimum, be considered fairly aggressive all-terrain tires. All five vehicles featured some special off-road tuning to the suspension, and a couple featured traction control knobs that when set basically allowed the vehicle to drive itself up difficult obstacles. Shockingly, these electronic widgets actually worked as promised . . . sometimes better than when a human was in charge of the controls.

Despite all this, nearly all of the vehicles were stuck at one time or another during the test, and every vehicle received at least one ding or dent on a skidplate or low-hanging body part. This test is not easy but does give a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. What did best off-road? What won the competition all around? You’ll have to keep reading to find that out.

PhotosView Slideshow

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Let’s not sugarcoat things. The new Cherokee is a car. If it was called a Liberty instead of a Cherokee, the off-road community would not be up in arms about the KL. It has a transverse mounted engine and uses independent suspension front and rear. That set the bar pretty low for our test, but the Trailhawk Edition we got from Jeep, with its rear locker and Selec-Terrain system, repeatedly impressed us. Unlike other vehicles we have tested in the past, the Cherokee was never at a loss for traction.

The 3.2L Pentastar V-6 engine felt well matched to the size and weight of the Cherokee, and the nine-speed automatic transmission did an excellent job of keeping the engine in the powerband without ever feeling like it was hunting for the proper gear. Instead of a traditional transfer case, a Power Transfer Unit splits the torque from the transmission to the front axle and rear axle. The torque split is selectable through the modes in the Selec-Terrain switch, which worked incredibly well in the varied situations we encountered. In low range, instead of a two-speed transfer case the torque is multiplied through planetary gears at the front and rear axles. It sounds complicated because it is, but we did not have any issues with the drivetrain in our test Cherokee.

The Jeep Cherokee had the cleanest designed interior of all the vehicles in competition for 4x4 of the Year, which is a huge compliment to Chrysler when you consider that the Cherokee was up against three Toyotas, which have a reputation for excellent fit and finish. All of the stereo, navigation, and HVAC controls are controlled through the 8.4-inch touchscreen that is well integrated into the dash instead of looking like an afterthought. Intuitive redundant HVAC controls sit below the screen, resulting in simple use. While we have concerns about the long-term reliability of touchscreens in all vehicles, this is the direction manufacturers are going. Seating in the Cherokee was comfortable and provided excellent visibility on the road and the trail.

The first dirt we encountered was the high-speed, rough roads on our way to a hillclimb. The relatively low ride height and lowish-profile tires on the Cherokee made it feel somewhat fragile, but it performed well over all but the biggest bumps. When we reached our climb, that lack of ground clearance was an issue again, resulting in belly bangs and bumps over boulders, but the surefooted Jeep made it to the top as long as we avoided the bigger holes.

The next day we traversed some backroads and gullies. Fun was the word that kept coming up to describe the Cherokee. “It has as much suspension flex as driving a 4x8 sheet of plywood,” one judge noted, “but it is still a hoot to drive.” When we reached our rockcrawling location, the Cherokee didn’t have the clearance to get very far. The vehicle had enough traction to make it farther but not without body damage, and we try to save body damage for our own vehicles, not loaners. We would recommend Mopar rock sliders as the first upgrade to the new Jeep Cherokee owner who is considering trail use. In the sand, the Cherokee’s traction control really shined, as did the nine-speed transmission.

When we put it up on the rack, the Cherokee had the best-protected undercarriage of the group. That is a good thing, since it also has the least ground clearance. Once again our expectations were low, thinking of the Cherokee as a converted Fiat product. To our surprise, everything was tucked up nicely, well protected, and laid out better than any of the other competitors.

The Pros
• 9-speed automatic
• Rear locker
• Best skidplating in the test

The Cons
• Low ground clearance
• Limited wheel travel
• Complicated 4WD system

Specifications
General
Manufacturer Jeep
Model Cherokee Trailhawk
Base Price $29,895
Price As Tested $36,683
Options As Tested $6,788

Engine
Type 60° V-6, liquid cooled
Displacement (L/ci) 3.2/197.7
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.58x3.27
Compression Ratio 10.7:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/15.9
SAE Peak Horsepower 271 @ 6,500 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 239 @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission
Type 9-speed planetary automatic Model 948TE
Ratios First: 4.71:1; Second: 2.84:1; Third: 1.91:1; Fourth: 1.38:1; Fifth: 1.00:1; Sixth: 0.81:1; Seventh: 0.70:1; Eigth: 0.58:1; Ninth: 0.48:1; Reverse: 3.80:1

Transfer Case Type Fully disconnecting 4x2 mode with automatic 4x4 engagement, electronic 4x4 Low and neutral range shifting, full-time 4x4 mode with active on demand clutch
Model Jeep Active Drive Lock
Low-Range Ratio 2.92:1

Axles
Front Type IFS
Front Diff N/A
Hubs Fulltime, Iljin USA Corp.
Rear Type IRS
Rear Diff N/A
Ratio 2.73:1
Traction Aid Brake-based electronic traction control (front), electronic locker (rear)

Suspension
Front McPherson strut, long-travel coil springs, 1-piece aluminum subframe, aluminum lower control arms, stabilizer bar
Rear 4-link rear suspension with trailing arm, aluminum lateral links, isolated high-strength steel rear cradle, coil springs, stabilizer bar

Steering
Type Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock 2.67
Turning Circle (ft) 38.1

Wheels
Size (in) 17x7.5
Material Aluminum
Tires
Size P245/65R17
Brand Firestone Destination A/T

Brakes
Front Tandem diaphragm, vacuum-assisted 13x1.1 vented rotor with 1.89 twin-piston floating caliper
Rear 2.6x0.47 solid rotor with 1.69 single-piston floating caliper
60-0 mph as tested (ft) 116

Acceleration
0-60 mph as tested (sec) 8.6

Weight (lb) Curb Weight 4,108
Advertised GVWR 5,500
Trailer Tow Capacity 4,500

Mileage (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 19/26
As Tested 16.24

Dimensions (in)
Wheelbase 107
Overall Length 182
Overall Width 74.9
Overall Height 67.8
Front/Rear Track 63.5/63.5
Approach Angle° 29.9
Breakover Angle° 22.9
Departure Angle° 32.2
Min. Ground Clearance 8.7

Ram Power Wagon SLT
Coming into 4x4 of the Year, the Power Wagon looked like a shoe-in. Solid axles. Lockers front and rear. A disconnecting sway bar. Even a winch! While we had lowered our expectations for the Cherokee, we set the bar pretty high for the Power Wagon. The honeymoon was over before we left the pavement though. This is a big, heavy truck that feels like…well, a big, heavy truck. Despite a 410hp 6.4L Hemi under the hood, fast is not a word we would use to describe the Power Wagon. The power all seems to be high in the rpm range, lacking the low-end torque needed to move the truck in a hurry. The Ram folks tell us that a Cummins diesel engine would upset the vehicle’s balance, but we still want one! Visibility out of the truck was also limited on the pavement and on the trail.

The issue is that manufacturers are scrambling to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy ratings, and the gear ratio on the Power Wagon has changed from 4.56 to 4.10 despite being heavier than the previous generation truck, to eke out every last mile per gallon. This isn’t to say that the Power Wagon is terrible. Far from it. The interior is comfortable, well laid out, and spacious enough to transport four adults comfortably. The Ram boxes are incredibly useful for storing tools and recovery gear as well, and we appreciate that they are keyed to lock and unlock with the doors. We could do without the loud graphics on the side that seem to take their cues from the “digital mud” of the competition’s Ford Raptor.

As we left the pavement, the Power Wagon felt heavy and somewhat harsh at speed when trying to keep up with our trio of Toyotas. Once we got to the hillclimb though, the Ram really shined, easily walking up any line we chose. The ditches in our test area that were fun to play in while driving the Cherokee didn’t even cause the Power Wagon to break a sweat. We used the rear locker and electronic disconnecting sway bar a handful of times, but any situation where the front locker would be required put the body in harm’s way long before we ran out of traction.

That was the case in the rocks, where the low-slung rocker panels were the biggest limitation. We appreciate the aesthetics of the Ram compared to the low-hanging frame found on GM trucks, but this does put the sheetmetal in a bad location. A set of rock sliders would go a long way to helping the Power Wagon reach its full potential. Larger tires would help too, since Ram uses the 111⁄2-inch AAM rear axle now (up from the previous 101⁄2-inch rear axle). We love the beefy rear axle, but it was an anchor on the trail with 33-inch tall tires. Fitting a set of 35s would be easy but would come at the expense of fuel economy.

The coil rear suspension on the Heavy Duty Rams has some quirks, and the Power Wagon left our testers longing for leaf springs. The suspension had significant wheelhop in the sand and was unsettling at speed on dirt roads. When we put the Power Wagon on the lift we were puzzled by some of the things we saw. There is a supplemental shock mounted on top of the rear axlehousing to the chassis that doesn’t inspire confidence in the rear coil suspension. The drivetrain was protected by tubular cross bars, but they were several inches below the framerails, robbing valuable ground clearance. “This looks like something I built at home with a chop saw and a stick welder,” was the scathing comment of one judge. Still, with solid axles and lockers, the Power Wagon is the vehicle in the test that would be the easiest to modify for hardcore wheeling duty.

The Pros
• Solid axles
• Lockers front and rear
• Warn winch

The Cons
• Quirky rear suspension
• Needs bigger tires
• Needs more torque

Specifications
General
Manufacturer Ram
Model Power Wagon SLT Crew Cab
Base Price $49,145
Price As Tested $56,455
Options As Tested $7,310

Engine
Type 90°, Hemi V-8 with VVT
Displacement (L/ci) 6.4/392
Bore & Stroke (in) 4.09x3.72
Compression Ratio 10.0:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/31
SAE Peak Horsepower 410 @ 5,600 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 429 @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission
Type 6-speed automatic
Model 66RFE
Ratios First: 3,23:1; Second: 1.84:1; Third: 1.41:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.82:1; Sixth: 0.63:1; Reverse: 4.444:1

Transfer Case
Type 2-speed, manual shift
Model BW 44-47
Low-Range Ratio 2.64:1

Axles
Front Type Beam
Front Diff AAM 91⁄4
Hubs N/A, axle disconnect
Rear Type Beam
Rear Diff AAM 111⁄2
Ratio 4.10:1
Traction Aid Electronic locker (front), electronic locker/ limited slip (rear)

Suspension
Front 3-link with track bar, coil springs, electronic disconnecting stabilizer bar
Rear 5-link with track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar

Steering
Type Hydraulic
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.33/15.58:1
Turning Circle (ft) 47.7

Wheels
Size (in) 17x8
Material Aluminum

Tires
Size LT285/70R17
Brand Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac

Brakes
Front Dual-rate, tandem diaphragm vacuum (gas) 14.17x1.54-in disc with twin-piston pin-slider caliper and antilock braking system (ABS)
Rear 14.09x1.34-in disc with twin-piston pin-slider caliper and ABS
60-0 mph as tested (ft) 110

Acceleration
0-60 mph as tested (sec) 10.1

Weight (lb)
Curb Weight 6,700
Advertised GVWR 8,510
Trailer Tow Capacity 10,810

Mileage (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) N/A
As Tested 10.7

Dimensions (in)
Wheelbase 149.3
Overall Length 237.3
Overall Width 79.1
Overall Height 81.0
Front/Rear Track 68.6/68
Front/Rear Overhang 33.75/42.25
Approach Angle° 34
Breakover Angle° 25.5
Departure Angle° 23.5
Min. Ground Clearance 8.5

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The 4Runner, like the other Toyotas, was eligible for 4x4 of the Year due to the addition of the TRD Pro package. The success of the Ford Raptor has not been lost on Toyota. Toyota clearly wants a piece of the factory off-road market. The TRD Pro package most notably adds Bilstein remote reservoir shocks and revised spring rates with an extra inch of ground clearance, along with special tires and wheels and an aluminum front skidplate. Not as drastic of modifications as Ford made to the F-150 with the Raptor model, but the suspension changes on the TRD Pro 4Runner are certainly not trivial.

True to Toyota’s reputation, the 270hp 4Runner had enough power to move the vehicle efficiently, but it was no rocket ship. Since restraint isn’t a strong suit for our testers, the V-6 engine provides reasonable mileage and acceleration without concerns about scattering the drivetrain. There was adequate power for passing on the Interstate. The 4.0L engine is backed by a five-speed automatic transmission and a chain-driven transfer case that was engaged with a lever, which our testers loved.

When we left the pavement it was immediately obvious that Toyota had done its homework regarding the shock damping and spring rates. The 4Runner soaked up any irregularities with aplomb and asked for more. Upon reaching our hillclimb, things got really interesting. The host of knobs and buttons scattered throughout the interior of the 4Runner (some on center stack, others to the left of the steering wheel, and still more on the overhead console) presented overwhelming options for traction. The most controversial was Crawl Mode, which is best described as off-road cruise control. Set the speed for the system, listen to the grunt of hydraulics and hum of electric motors, and just hang on and enjoy the ride. No need to touch a pedals; just point the 4Runner where you want it to go. This system works incredibly well, which is both impressive from a design standpoint and disconcerting to grizzled judges who want complete control over their vehicle. Currently Toyota only offers Crawl Mode on the high-end Land Cruiser and the Trail Edition and TRD Pro 4Runners.

This was reiterated in the ravines we traversed and the rocks as well. You could put a novice driver behind the wheel of the 4Runner, activate the Crawl Mode, and send him through terrain he wouldn’t have been able to traverse otherwise. Whether that is a good thing or not was the subject of great debate during our test. Performance in the sand did not require Crawl Mode, but was still impressive. The multilink rear suspension and reservoir shocks allowed speed to be maintained over rougher sand and provided grins for all of our testers. After beating the 4Runner in the sand, we returned to pavement and loaded all of our testers to drive to dinner, demonstrating to the diversity of the 4Runner.

On the lift, the 4Runner appeared well built with body-on-frame construction and large, strong suspension and steering components. The plastic gas tank hangs lower than we would like, but this has been an issue in every 4Runner model since it was introduced 30 years ago. And while the aluminum front skidplate is functional, protecting the transmission and transfer case would be worthwhile as well. Our testers felt that Toyota provided the front skidplate more as a visual statement than out of concern for protecting the drivetrain. Fortunately the aftermarket has options for the fifth-generation 4Runner if you want to add more armor to the undercarriage.

The Pros
• Crawl mode
• Excellent approach angle
• Great shock and spring rates

The Cons
• Crawl mode
• Busy interior
• Love-it-or-hate-it styling

Specifications
General
Manufacturer Toyota
Model TRD Pro 4Runner
Base Price $33,010
Price As Tested $41,995
Options As Tested $8,985

Engine
Type 60°, V-6 with VVT
Displacement (L/ci) 4.0/244.1
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.70x3.74
Compression Ratio 10.4:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/23
SAE Peak Horsepower 270 @ 5,600 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 278 @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission
Type 5-speed automatic
Model A750F
Ratios First: 3.52:1; Second: 2.042:1; Third: 1.40:1; Fourth:1.00:1; Fifth: 0.716:1; Reverse: 3.224:1

Transfer Case
Type 2-speed, manual shift
Model Toyota
Low-Range Ratio 2.57:1

Axles
Front Type IFS
Front Diff 8-inch
Hubs N/A
Rear Type Beam
Rear Diff Toyota 8-inch
Ratio 3.73:1
Traction Aid Electronic brake-force (front), electronic locker (rear)

Suspension
Front Coil spring independent double-wishbone suspension with stabilizer bar
Rear Coil spring 4-link rigid type with stabilizer bar

Steering
Type Power-assisted and variable gear rack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 2.7/18.4:1
Turning Circle (ft) 37.4

Wheels
Size (in) 17x7
Material Aluminum

Tires
Size P265/70/R17
Brand Nitto Terra Grappler

Brakes
Front 13.3-in ventilated disc
Rear 12.3-in ventilated disc
60-0 mph as tested (ft) 108

Acceleration
0-60 mph as tested (sec) 9.9

Weight (lb)
Curb Weight 4,750
Advertised GVWR 6,300
Trailer Tow Capacity 4,700

Mileage (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 17/21
As Tested 14.8

Dimensions (in)
Wheelbase 109.8
Overall Length 191.3
Overall Width 75.8
Overall Height 71.5
Front/Rear Track 63.2/63.2
Min. Ground Clearance 9.6
Approach Angle° 33
Breakover Angle° N/A
Departure Angle° 26

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
While many manufacturers are scrambling to meet fuel mileage standards with the addition of multispeed transmissions, electric steering, and cylinder deactivation, Toyota just keeps doing what it has always done. Maybe the Prius and the boost it brings to Toyota’s overall mileage rating isn’t such a bad thing after all? This generation Tacoma debuted in 2005 and has been relatively unchanged since. It doesn’t have electric steering, and the engine doesn’t shut off at a stop light. Instead it uses a modestly powerful 4.0L V-6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Since Toyota owns a huge slice of the downsized truck market, we can’t blame Toyota for not messing with a good thing. Will things change when GM introduces the new Colorado? Perhaps, but for now Toyota does not seem worried.

The dated design of this truck was both a blessing and a curse at 4x4 of the Year. Some testers liked that the Tacoma was simple and felt familiar, while others were of the opinion that the truck lacked features found on the competition. Our testers liked the size of the crew cab Tacoma, with one noting that “this is the perfect size vehicle for people who think that they need a truck but usually don’t.” The same size that is useful for parking in suburban areas was helpful on tight trails, allowing for different lines than were possible with the larger Power Wagon and Tundra. Visibility out of the Tacoma is quite good as well, further boosting confidence on the trail.

We expected the 4Runner and the Tacoma to be basically the same vehicle, but that was not the case. While they do share the engine and transmission, there are several notable differences. Despite the same engines, the Tacoma uses a different exhaust than the 4Runner, which most testers found to be overly loud. More significantly, Tacoma uses traditional leaf springs in the rear instead of coils, and the interiors are entirely unique to each model. Perhaps the biggest difference though is the lack of Crawl Mode on the Tacoma. This put the Tacoma at a disadvantage to its sibling on our hillclimb and in the rocks, where traction was at a premium.

On dirt roads, the Tacoma inspired lots of confidence at speed. Like the other TRD Pro models, the spring rates and Bilstein reservoir shocks kept the vehicle settled at any speed over any terrain we encountered. The same was true in the sand, where the Tacoma was the only vehicle that did not get stuck. This was largely due to the driver, but the Tacoma clearly was at home in the sand. That left the small pickup to pull out the other vehicles, which is when we realized that there is no recovery point or hitch on the back of the Tacoma. On a vehicle targeted at the off-road market, this seems like an inexcusable oversight on the part of Toyota.

On the rack, the Tacoma was surprisingly simple underneath. Gas tank on one side, exhaust on the other. Partially boxed frame, independent front suspension, rear leaf springs over a solid axle equipped with a selectable electronic locker. Once again this reaffirmed our feeling that the Tacoma is somewhat dated, and our judges were split as to whether this meant that it was behind on technology or that simplicity is a benefit when it comes to reliability and future repairs. Whatever their opinion, all the testers agreed that the Tacoma is a great little truck for a variety of tasks.

The Pros
• Great size for trail use
• Excellent shock damping
• Selectable rear locker

The Cons
• No rear recovery points
• Somewhat dated styling
• Annoying exhuast note

Specifications
General
Manufacturer Toyota
Model TRD Pro Tacoma Double Cab
Base Price $20,765
Price As Tested $38,300
Options As Tested $17,535

Engine
Type 60°, V-6 with VVT
Displacement (L/ci) 4.0/244.1
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.70x3.74
Compression Ratio 10.0:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/21.1
SAE Peak Horsepower 236 @ 5,200 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 266 @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission
Type 5-speed automatic
Model A750F
Ratios First: 3.52:1; Second: 2.042:1; Third: 1.40:1; Fourth:1.00:1; Fifth: 0.716:1; Reverse: 3.224:1

Transfer Case
Type 2-speed, manual shift
Model Toyota
Low-Range Ratio 2.57:1

Axles
Front Type IFS
Front Diff 8-inch
Hubs N/A
Rear Type Beam
Rear Diff Toyota 8-inch
Ratio 3.73:1
Traction Aid Electronic brake-force (front), electronic locker (rear)

Suspension
Front Coil spring independent double wishbone with gas filled shock absorbers
Rear Leaf spring rigid suspension

Steering
Type Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.64/17.3:1
Turning Circle (ft) 40.7

Wheels
Size (in) 16
Material Aluminum

Tires
Size LT265/70/R16
Brand BFG All Terrain AT K/O

Brakes
Front 12.48-in ventilated disc
Rear Leading-trailing drum 10.0 in
60-0 mph as tested (ft) 111

Acceleration
0-60 mph as tested (sec) 10.1

Weight (lb)
Curb Weight 4,220
Advertised GVWR 5,500
Trailer Tow Capacity 6,400

Mileage (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 16/21
As Tested 13.68

Dimensions (in)
Wheelbase 127.4
Overall Length 208.1
Overall Width 74.6
Overall Height 70.1
Front/Rear Track 63/63.4
Min. Ground Clearance 9.3
Approach Angle° 35
Breakover Angle° 25
Departure Angle° 20

Toyota Tundra TRD Pro
While the Tundra was down 30 hp to the Power Wagon on paper, it was the hot rod in our test this year. The 5.7L iForce V-8 engine is rated at 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque, with a torque peak 300 rpm lower than the Power Wagon. Additionally, the Tundra weighs a full thousand pounds less than the Power Wagon, as delivered. Like the other Toyotas in our test, the Tundra was eligible this year due to the TRD Pro package, which adds revised spring and shock rates, BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO tires on forged TRD rims, and a grille that looks conspicuously similar to a Ford Raptor. Unlike the 4Runner and the Tacoma, the TRD Pro package did not include a selectable rear locker for the Tundra’s giant 101⁄2-inch rear differential.

As with the rest of the Toyotas, the interior of the Tundra offered polarizing love-it-or-hate-it styling. While the Chrysler offerings have become clean and simple inside, Toyota seems to be mocking American buyers with its oversized, shiny plastic HVAC controls. These looked out of place when the big Tundra was redesigned for 2007, and the controls have not aged well, especially when compared to the competition. That said, the controls were all intuitive and within easy reach of the driver, and both the front and rear seats were comfortable. Our test truck had the double cab, but the TRD Pro is available with the larger Crew Max cab for those who want even more space for rear passengers.

The double cab, short bed Tundra provided good visibility on the road and felt notably smaller and lighter than the Power Wagon, with precise steering and firm handling. On fast dirt roads, the big brother was just as sure-footed and confidence inspiring as the TRD Pro 4Runner and Tacoma. And the V-8 Tundra was more enjoyable than its smaller siblings when mashing the gas on rally roads. We were somewhat concerned on our loose hillclimb, as the Tundra was the only vehicle in the test this year without a mechanical rear locker. The long wheelbase helped keep the Tundra out of the holes though, and it made it to the top of the hill without issue.

Throughout the test the Tundra continued to perform admirably and never seemed to be at a loss for traction. In the rocks, the long, low body and sheer size of the Tundra was the limiting factor to progress. This is a testament to just how far electronic traction control has come in the past decade, and Toyota’s A-Trac is the best in the business. When we reached the dunes, the iForce V-8 produced grins at full song as we whipped the Tundra through the sand. This reinforced our belief that Toyota tuned the suspension on the TRD Pro for fast off-road driving—that’s where the Tundra really shined.

On the lift, the Tundra looked downright Spartan underneath. While the Power Wagon had crossmembers and control arms, the Tundra had a single exhaust down one side with nearly a mile between it and the transfer case. There were no skidplates to speak of beyond the front aluminum TRD offering, and the frame is riveted together to form a C-channel. This was not particularly confidence inspiring, and it appeared like Toyota just scaled up a mini truck, resulting in all of the wasted space. Like the Tacoma though, there is something to be said for simplicity when considering long-term reliability and ease of service.

The Pros
• Best power-to-weight ratio
• Excellent shock damping
• Great tire and wheel package

The Cons
• Poor fuel mileage
• No rear locker
• Plastic interior

Specifications
General
Manufacturer Toyota
Model TRD Pro Tundra Double Cab
Base Price $29,020
Price As Tested $41,285
Options As Tested $12,265

Engine
Type 90°, V-8 with VVT
Displacement (L/ci) 5.7/347.8
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.70x4.02
Compression Ratio 10.2:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/26.4
SAE Peak Horsepower 381 @ 5,600 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 401 @ 3,600 rpm

Transmission
Type 6-speed automatic
Model AB60F
Ratios First: 3.333:1; Second: 1.960:1; Third: 1.353:1; Fourth: 1.000:1; Fifth: 0.728:1; Sixth: 0.588:1; Reverse: 3.061:1

Transfer Case
Type 2-speed, electronic shift
Model Toyota
Low-Range Ratio 2.64:1

Axles
Front Type IFS
Front Diff 8.7-inch
Hubs Automatic
Rear Type Beam
Rear Diff Toyota 10 1⁄2
Ratio 4.10:1
Traction Aid Electronic brake-force distribution, active traction control (A-Trac)

Suspension
Front Independent high-mounted double-wishbone front suspension with stabilizer bar and low-pressure nitrogen shock absorbers
Rear Live axle with trapezoid multileaf springs and inboard-mounted low-pressure nitrogen shock absorbers

Steering
Type Power-assisted rack-and-pinion with fluid cooler
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.71/18.1:1
Turning Circle (ft) 44.0

Wheels
Size (in) 17x8
Material Forged aluminum

Tires
Size LT285/70R17
Brand BFG All-Terrain AT K/O

Brakes
Front 13.9 ventilated disc
Rear 13.6 ventilated disc
60-0 mph as tested (ft) 111

Acceleration
0-60 mph as tested (sec) 8.54

Weight (lb)
Curb Weight 5,470
Advertised GVWR 6,900-7,200
Trailer Tow Capacity 10,000

Mileage (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 13/17
As Tested 11.7

Dimensions (in)
Wheelbase 145.7
Overall Length 228.9
Overall Width 79.9
Overall Height 76.4
Front/Rear Track 67.9/67.9
Min. Ground Clearance 10.4
Approach Angle° 26
Breakover Angle° N/A
Departure Angle° 21

Results
Test Structure
Category Ranked Highest
Ride & Drive (50% of total points)
Urban/Highway Toyota 4Runner TRD/ Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk (tie)
High-Speed Dirt & Gravel Toyota 4Runner TRD
Sand & Mud Toyota 4Runner TRD
Rockcrawling Ram Power Wagon
Hillclimbing Ram Power Wagon
Overall Toyota 4Runner TRD

Empirical (25% of total points)
Torque/Weight Ratio Toyota Tundra TRD
1⁄4-mile Acceleration Toyota Tundra TRD
60-0 Braking Toyota 4Runner TRD
Load-Carrying Capacity Ram Power Wagon
Fuel Economy Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Price As Tested Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Overall Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Mechanical (10% of total points)
Engine’s Avail. Power Toyota Tundra TRD
Transmission Toyota 4Runner TRD
Transfer Case Ram Power Wagon
Steering Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Brakes Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Suspension Toyota 4Runner TRD
Overall Toyota 4Runner TRD

4-wheeling Attributes (5% of total points)
Clearance Ram Power Wagon
Protection Ram Power Wagon
Recovery Ram Power Wagon
Overall Ram Power Wagon

Interior (5% of total points)
Ergonomics Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Appearance, Fit & Finish Jeep Cherokee…
Perceived Noise Level (NVH) Jeep Cherokee…
Overall Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Exterior (5% of total points)
Body Styling Toyota 4Runner TRD
Cargo Ram Power Wagon
Fit & Finish Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Overall Ram Power Wagon

Previous 4x4 of the year winners
2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport (Supercharged)
2013 Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition JK (3.6L V-6)
2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon JK (3.6L V-6)
2011 Land Rover LR4 HSE
2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor (5.4L V-8)
2009 Suzuki Equator Crew Cab RMZ-4
2008 Toyota Land Cruiser
2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon JK (3.8L V-6)
2006 Dodge Ram 1500 TRX4
2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee (IFS)
2004 Volkswagen Touareg V-8
2003 Lexus GX 470
2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee (4.7 HO V-8)
2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee (5-speed automatic)
2000 Toyota Tundra
1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee (4.7 V-8 Limited)
1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee (5.9 V-8 Limited)
1997 Jeep Wrangler Sport TJ
1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee (w/ center diff lock)
1995 Dodge Ram (2500 V-10 longbed Club Cab)
1994 Dodge Ram (1500 V-8 shortbed regular cab)
1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee
1992 Chevrolet Blazer (fullsize)
1991 Dodge Dakota
1990 Nissan Pathfinder (4-door)
1989 Toyota pickup
1988 Jeep Cherokee (4.0 engine)
1987 Nissan Pathfinder (2-door)
1986 Ford Ranger
1985 Isuzu Trooper II
1984 Jeep Cherokee (2.8 engine)
1983 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer

PhotosView Slideshow

Winner! Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
Back in 1984 the world saw the first Toyota 4Runner. Even as just a slightly modified pickup truck with a fiberglass rear top, a roll bar, and a pass-through from the mini-truck cab to a cramped bench seat in the back, the first 4Runner was simple yet effective. At the time, this vehicle was revolutionary and without a doubt helped form the foundation of the modern SUV craze. In fact, the few survivors from the first years of 4Runner production, if still in good shape, can fetch a pretty penny.

The 2015 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is the modern evolution of the first 4Runner, and it has it all: on-road manners, aggressive good looks (to some); and the off-road capability it takes to stand atop the pile that is the Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road 4x4 of the Year for 2015.

With its custom-tuned suspension aimed at go-fast desert play, it’s no wonder we like Toyota’s four-door wagon so much. The tuned coils and Bilstein shocks soak up bumps on fire trails and desert gravel roads like a fat guy with a bowl of gravy and a biscuit. The aggressive stance (1 inch taller than a regular 4Runner TRD) and 1⁄4-inch-thick front skidplate make the 4Runner look the part—and trust us, it acts the part too. Once drivers figured out which switches to hit (there are just about as many switches as in the Space Shuttle) like the rear locking differential, Multiterrain Select and Crawl Control, Hill Start Assist Control, Downhill Assist, and Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) button, the 4Runner was as close to unstoppable in the dirt and rocks as you can get from a stock-off-the-showroom-floor SUV. This included being able to drive itself in the Crawl off-road cruise control mode (with a little steering input) up obstacles that even seasoned wheelers failed on (with the rear differential locker engaged). All that plus the supple suspension, reasonable power (we always want more power), refined interior, and great on-road manners is why the 4Runner was an early standout for many, if not all, of the judges (OK, Péwé blindly loves all things Jeep and Williams likes big lumbering Ram [read: Dodge] trucks with locking differentials and winches) and why it eventually convinced everyone that it was a winner.

In the end, most of us were right when we said we would prefer to take the 4Runner home. The numbers clinched the iconic SUV as our 2015 4x4 of the Year. Is it the hands-down best rockcrawler of the group? No. Does it get the best mileage? No. However, it does everything we asked of it very well, and many of the judges felt it was the best high-speed off-road vehicle of the group. It flat out “got it” in the sand, desert roads, and fire trails and was always comfortable for the four judges to load up in on our way to dinner. It’s hard to deny that kind of all-around utility.

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