More photos! Click image to enlarge.
The off-road course at Head Lake provided a thorough, if not severe test of the off-road capability of the trucks. The trucks navigated a rough hilly trail, crossed a fallen stone wall, followed a trail, traversed a loose earth course and a log strewn pit then returned doing the course in reverse – to assess both approach and departure angles, as well as performance descending and ascending a steep hill.
Essential ingredients for the off-road test were sufficient ground clearance, a good approach angle and at least all-wheel drive. We tried the course with one rear-wheel drive truck, but it was a no go, so we kept the two-wheel drive trucks out of the competition. As well, we did not test the one-ton trucks off road, as their size precluded navigation of narrow sections of the course and, we presumed, most buyers of these trucks would be more interested in their hauling and towing capability.
What we learned would be fairly obvious to most buyers – the large 4X4 trucks had no problem covering the off-road course. Testers rated the Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra TRD, Dodge Ram 1500 Hemi and Chevrolet Silverado 1500 as the best in the boonies. These four could cover the course in two-wheel drive if needed. We liked the easy-shifting transfer case on the Tundra.
Although the two 3/4-ton diesels were impressive – their massive torque pulling them up and down the slope with ease – their size made them less manoeverable.
The fancy King Ranch Ford was out of place off-road, it’s capability limited by its running boards. With a less well-equipped (at least in the comfort department) model, the result might have been different.
More photos! Click image to enlarge
Among V6 trucks, the Chevrolet Silverado was surprisingly adept off-road, although its low range was slow to engage. The floor-mounted shifter harkened back to another time, but was in keeping with this cost-effective ($28,350 as tested) work truck. The other 4X4 V6’s were all mid-sized trucks and the Toyota Tacoma 4X4 Doublecab was the standout. Ground clearance (240 mm or 9.4 in.) made the difference, as both the Nissan Frontier and the Dodge Dakota made good use of their skid plates. But all three were very manoeverable and their size just right for off-road enthusiasts.
Less suited to off-road endeavours, the Honda Ridgeline and Chevrolet Avalanche managed to complete the course, but only with considerable effort, in the case of the Honda, and the loss of some minor bodywork on the Avalanche. The Avalanche has a deep front overhang, which hinders its approach at the bottom of a gully. On one pass, the rubber skirt at the bottom of the front facia got caught on a tree stump and, well, disappeared. Both these trucks could handle the course, but with care and planning.