Which is the worst off-roader?

Article by Lesley Wimbush

Some of my fondest childhood memories feature my brother’s classic 1970 Ford Bronco, through which I had my first induction into the wonderful world of off-roading. To my lumpen 12-year-old self, anything my big brother did was automatically cool – so an invitation to go trail-crawling was the holy grail of opportunities. Those teeth-jarring rides, clinging to the roll bar, top down, gritty wind in my hair, while the chunky little beast plunged through the local gravel pits were an epiphany – never again would I view cars as mundane transportation.

The boxy little Bronco, with its characteristic removable hard top and fold-down windshield, was exchanged for a Blazer, a veritable workhorse that’s still bushwhacking the back roads of my brother’s cottage, three decades later.

In the past, 4×4 vehicles were rugged, indomitable vehicles riding on truck frames and forgoing comfort and luxury in the name of trail-blazing prowess. They forded streams, wallowed through mud-pits and clambered over rock strewn paths and thick brush, earning dents and gouges as badges of honour. With the introduction of the “crossover”, the market exploded with “soft-roaders” – car-based all-wheel drive vehicles designed for comfort and practicality over trail-rated ability – more at home in the mall parking lot than the forest road.

Where have all those off-roaders gone?

Are there any left that truly rate serious consideration by the hard-core 4×4 enthusiast?

We’ve compiled a list of twelve off-road vehicles, which we’ve dubbed “The Dirty Dozen”.

Here, without further ado, are a dozen worthy of consideration – some of which I’ve experienced first-hand.

Ford Raptor
Ford Raptor. Click image to enlarge

Ford F-150 Raptor

Starting with an ordinary Ford F-150 frame, Ford engineers threw away all the stock suspension bits and created a setup capable of devouring the most rugged terrain. Teaming up with off-road damping specialists Fox Shox, the Ford team developed a shock able to absorb huge bumps and even small jumps thanks to almost a foot of suspension travel. Unlike regular shocks which overheat and become limp, the triple bypass Fox dampers have extra chambers of highly pressurized fluid to ensure stiffness and prevent the Raptor’s bottoming out.

The track was widened by seven inches, with beefy cast-aluminum lower and forged-steel upper control arms. Its underside is protected from rocks, stumps or what have you by thick steel skid plates.

Coupled with huge 35 inch BF Goodrich tires – there’s enough bump absorption to suit the princess of the proverbial pea. Surprisingly, despite the huge cleat-like tread, there’s little road noise and the Raptor’s as well behaved on the highway as any Ford F-150. However, those steroidal pumped fenders and haunches present an outline eight inches wider than a base F-150, so wide in fact, that there’s a row of additional marker lights on grille, roof and tail in order to comply with DOT regulations.

Navigating a crowded parking lot is a bit of a challenge, but the backup camera is an immense help. Inside, the “molten orange” paint scheme is continued on dash and console. The beefy black leather-wrapped steering wheel has an orange centering mark to help with tricky manoeuvring. Black and orange leather seats are comfortable with extra side bolstering, and the floors are protected by thick rubber mats. Taking it off the pavement, the driver can select either 4 Hi, or 4 Lo by turning a console-located dial. Pulling the dial out locks the centre differential and an “Off Road Mode” button recalibrates and firms up shift points. Activate the hill descent mode, and the Raptor crawls downhill, feathering the throttle and brakes when needed – no footwork required.

Roughly $10,000 more than an F150 FX4, and the same functional practicality – the Raptor has a 2,722 kg towing capacity.

Base price runs from $56,599 – 58,599 and fuel consumption is rated at 18.5L city/12.8L highway.

It’s a guilty pleasure that can almost be justified.

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