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Four Wheeler of the Year 2017: Day 2 Gallery

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on December 7, 2016
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It’s Day Two of Four Wheeler of the Year. What happens on Day Two, you’re asking with bated breath? Off-roading happens! It’s what sets Four Wheeler of the Year apart from all the other automotive awards out there. After all, if you wanna know what the best new 4x4 is you gotta actually take it in the dirt, right? It’s a tough job, but we’re happy to oblige.

Our day began with a sunrise photoshoot for our two SUV of the Year contenders. We pulled the 2017 Nissan Armada and 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk to our super-secret spot so Ken Brubaker could work his magic behind the camera, and then we had some fun twisting the SUVs up in the dirt for a while before heading back and grabbing the rest of the Pickup Truck of the Year fleet.

With the whole army of seven pickups and two SUVs, a cooler full of lunches, and more camera and video firepower than you can shake a stick at, we hit the road for the 35-mile Cerro Gordo trail loop and soon had the T-cases in low range as we climbed towards the Salt Tram Station at the top. The climb at first starts out as a loose, rocky field of small boulders that soon gives way to a rocky, undulating and twisting dirt road climb. The terrain allows us to test everything from 4WD system grip and operation, tire survivability, turning radius, and chassis and suspension flex. But as the trail climbs, the terrain goes through some more technical rockcrawl sections that highlight off-road attributes like lockers, limited slips, a flexible chassis, and good approach and departure angles.

As expected, the hardcore pickups like the Ford F-150 Raptor, Ram Power Wagon, and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro made most obstacles through this section of the trail look easy. And even the big Nissan, Ford, and Ram pickups had no trouble. On the SUV front, the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk buzzed our ears with traction control whizzing once or twice, but it had no troubles here either. And even with its low-slung running boards and no off-road hardware to speak of like lockers, the Nissan Armada’s traction control kept the big luxury SUV climbing with the best of them. Uh oh, this competition might be closer than some people thought!

After several hours of climbing through trails that got ever narrower, twistier, and more laden with trees and turns, we reached the Salt Tram Station and broke for lunch, taking a peek at some of the historic artifacts and enjoying the incredible views. Then, we pointed the noses onward and ran along the cliff-side before finally hitting the steep, tight switchbacks to the valley below. These switchbacks really test turning radius and chassis flex to the limit, so all in all, we generated some great data and got a very clear readout of where each vehicle’s off-road strengths and weaknesses lay.

On Day Three we’ll be seeing if these 4x4s sink or swim in the sand, and then we’ll hit some highway followed by another grueling off-road trail that should have some water crossings, rocks, and mud, so stay tuned and remember to follow along on all of the Four Wheeler Network social media sites for on-the-fly updates!

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