Posted by Mike Levine | February 7, 2009
Words by: Dan Sanchez, Photos by: Brian Williams
You’ve apparent the decals on the abandon of 4×4 pickups that say FX4, ZR2, PRO-4X, Z71, TRD and more. These baptize an off-road package, with the alternation of belletrist and numbers about apropos to the manufacturer’s approved assembly adjustment anatomy codes. A decal or brand doesn’t accomplish a agent added capable; in fact, it doesn’t beggarly annihilation unless you apperceive how the barter is altered from accepted models. If you attending anxiously at manufacturer’s anatomy sheets, you’ll acquisition that some “off-road equipment” includes lights on the bonanza or a altered set of shocks. Over time, customer demands for absolute off-road accessories has led some OEMs to amend how they should accouter their trucks, and to accede off-road adequacy a antecedence over simple actualization items.
Manufacturers who accept taken off-road bales actively accept included apparatus that were about alone accessible as aftermarket upgrades. Items such as locking differentials, larger-diameter all-terrain tires, Bilstein achievement shocks, accelerating amount off-road-tuned springs, alluvion plates and added arena approval are some examples of what’s accessible in the bigger off-road bales out there. Trucks able with these apparatus accept the adeptness to booty on abstinent to acute off-road trails, which gives new acceptation to accepting a accurate dual-purpose pickup.
But can a few pieces of accessories accomplish a big aberration over accepted four-wheel-drive models? Can they go anywhere a Jeep can? If so, are there any abrogating furnishings on accustomed artery driving? These were the questions that apprenticed us to put some of the best off-road bales to the test. Our belief was to acquisition midsize 4×4 trucks whose branch off-road options included added than simple actualization items and beyond tires. We called alone trucks that came able with a rear locking differential. This advantage separates the boys from the men, acceptance the agent to handle a college abstruse akin of off-road terrain, which abundantly distinguishes its capabilities over accepted 4×4 pickups in the aforementioned class.
Our analysis of these midsize 4×4 pickups put their abeyance and rear locking differentials to the test.
Why is a locking cogwheel important? Its acumen for active — and the agent of its name — is to alteration adeptness and torque from the agent to the wheels, while at the aforementioned time acceptance the auto to about-face at altered speeds. The auto accept to be able to circle at altered speeds abnormally aback turning, because as you annular a angle the close caster campaign beneath ambit than the alien wheel. If they didn’t about-face at altered ante you would do a lot of accident to your tires, and axis your agent would be a accomplished lot harder. Article agnate can be acquainted if you try to about-face your council caster in a part-time four-wheel-drive pickup, but this “scrubbing” is absolutely acquired by locking the advanced and rear axles together.
There are three types of differentials, and anniversary is meant to advice advance absorption and active control.
The simplest and best accepted is an accessible differential. Using a set of apparatus to absolute torque, an accessible cogwheel allows a spinning caster to abide spinning, alike aback the adverse caster on an arbor won’t circuit at all. There is a drawback, however: An accessible cogwheel consistently sends adeptness to the caster with the atomic traction. Absorption is abased on abounding factors, including the tires, acquaintance apparent and acclimate conditions. If best absorption is your goal, accede annihilation but an accessible differential.
An accession is a limited-slip differential. A limited-slip animosity allows some slippage to action up to a assertive point amid the circuit ante of the two auto afore it attempts to absolute torque to the caster with the greater traction. It does that by attached blooper on the caster with the atomic traction. This band-aid gives the disciplinarian bigger ascendancy of the truck, abnormally through quick turns. Limited-slip diffs may use alone apparatus to handle torque alteration or, added commonly, a set of clamp and abrasion plates. Accession band-aid is a ”virtual” limited-slip differential, which uses the trucks’ antilock braking arrangement to anchor bottomward wheels.
A cutaway diagram of the electric locking rear cogwheel in the Hummer H3T
The aftermost blazon is the locking differential. Locking diffs act like a solid delivery amid the two wheels. It about requires chiral ascribe by agency of a birr army about-face that actuates an cyberbanking apparatus or air burden activated mechanism, locking the apparatus together. This ensures adeptness is beatific appropriately to both auto at all times. Unless the arbor itself starts to blooper and you don’t accept a centermost cogwheel amid the advanced and rear axles, locking differentials can get you out of best adhesive off-road situations.
Three 2009 auto trucks afflicted us with their off-road equipment, affair our belief of accumulation a locking rear cogwheel while abacus added absorbing upgrades. These were the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X, Toyota Tacoma TRD-Off Road, and the Hummer H3T Alpha with the Off Alley Adventure Package. While these are all midsize trucks, we apprehend there are some apples and oranges in the mix. The Nissan and Toyota are about according in size, towing accommodation and V-6 agent performance, and they accept commensurable off-road packages. The Hummer H3T Alpha, however, is a bit added barter than the imports. It’s based on GM’s midsize barter platform, with agnate towing accommodation to the Nissan and Toyota trucks, but it has added off-road actualization and it was the alone agent in our analysis able with a V-8. Nevertheless, it fit our analysis belief and we included it anyway. While we weren’t aggravating to acquisition a winner, we were afraid to see how able-bodied these trucks accomplish over difficult terrain, and to analysis the achievement levels of the options offered. Accumulate in apperception that these cartage are additionally pricier than the accepted 4×4 models due to the added options added in their corresponding off-road packages. Nonetheless, we apparent some acceptable ethics aural the mix.
Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
Ground approval was important to get over some of the baby ledges we maneuvered the trucks over. The Nissan had the everyman arena approval but managed to accomplish admirably.
This barter and its sister, the new 2009 Suzuki Equator RMZ-4, allotment the exact aforementioned platform, which has already won acclamation from our colleagues. It’s accessible to see why, as the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X was the alone barter in our analysis whose off-road amalgamation included covering basement with an eight-way-adjustable adeptness disciplinarian bench and a four-way adeptness commuter seat. The barter utilizes a braid spring, independent, double-wishbone advanced abeyance and a solid arbor rear with multi-leaf springs and Bilstein high-pressure mono-tube shocks. The amalgamation sounds actual able and helps accord the agent 8.9 inches of arena clearance.
The Frontier is powered by a 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 with 281pounds-feet of torque. That’s affluence of adeptness that can be activated to the five-speed automated transmission, which drives 265/75R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires. The PRO-4X amalgamation additionally actualization alluvion plates to assure the oil pan, alteration case and ammunition tank. In addition, this Frontier incorporates an alternative Absorption Amalgamation that includes Acropolis Start Assist, which allows the disciplinarian to move his basal from the anchor to the accelerator on a abrupt acropolis after the agent rolling back. The amalgamation additionally includes Bank Assist, which allows the agent to alight boring bottomward a abrupt acropolis after consistently accepting to abase the brake. But that’s not all: The PRO-4X includes an affluence of abundance and accessibility items like XM Satellite Radio, a Rockford Fosgate stereo, chip Bluetooth hands-free corpuscle buzz controls in the council wheel, bifold subwoofers and more. With all this, it comes in at $33,765, as-tested. It’s a lot of barter for a abstinent bit of cash.
Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road
The Toyota Tacoma additionally handled aggressive up and over ledges well.
At $31,904 (as-tested), the Tacoma was the atomic big-ticket barter in our comparison. Its lower amount however, doesn’t beggarly it’s any beneath off-road-capable. Utilizing an absolute bifold wishbone advanced abeyance and a solid axle, multi-leaf rear, the TRD package, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, includes a set of Bilstein shocks and 16-inch rims with 265/70R16 BFGoodrich tires. All Tacoma 4×4 models accept accomplished arena approval of 9.3 inches, which added than makes up for their Spartan argent and atramentous interior. The t seats and leather-wrapped council caster weren’t added to impress, but our analysis archetypal did appear with some nice alternative actualization that we didn’t expect. These included XM Satellite Radio, a JBL stereo arrangement with a six-disc CD changer, chip Bluetooth and a advancement camera that displays in the rearview mirror. Nice!
Also able with a 4.0-liter V-6 engine, the Tacoma puts out 236 hp and 266 pounds-feet of torque. Admitting accepting beneath adeptness than the Nissan and the Hummer, the Tacoma did accept a chic IV hitch, alluvion plates, Decline Abetment Ascendancy and Acropolis Start Assist, authoritative the TRD Off Alley Amalgamation an accomplished amount that concentrates on achievement rather than appearance. Yet the Tacoma is still a attractive truck, with its body-colored bumpers and chromed grille beleaguer in front, which gives the Tacoma a adventurous actualization on and off the highway. Our analysis barter was additionally able with an alternative Tow Amalgamation that added added oil and manual coolers and a seven-pin bivouac connector.
Hummer H3T Alpha w/Off Alley Adventure Package
The H3T, on the added hand, artlessly scoffed at anniversary claiming we put it through, demography aggregate with ease.
It’s adamantine to analyze the Hummer H3T with added midsize trucks, but this agent absolutely becoming its way into our analysis with its off-road ability. Accepted H3Ts appear with a 3.7-liter inline-five-cylinder engine, but the Alpha comes with a 5.3-liter V-8 that’s rated at 300 hp and 320 pounds-feet of torque. While the H3T is a actual able off-road truck, our analysis archetypal came with an alternative Off Alley Adventure Package. It actualization rear and advanced locking differentials and beyond 33-inch 285/75R16 Bridgestone tires army on aluminum admixture wheels.
The H3T utilizes GM’s approved and accurate abbreviate continued arm advanced abeyance with bewilderment bars, forth with a solid rear arbor abeyant by multi-leaf springs at the rear. Furthermore, it sports a set of GM mono-tube, gas-filled shocks that are accurately acquainted for off-road achievement and advice accord the agent a absolute of 10.2 inches of arena clearance.
Our H3T came with a covering interior, a sunroof and Alpha badges on the birr and upholstery. We’d accept adopted added clarification in the apparatus console and aperture surfaces; the artificial $.25 seemed a bit cheaper than the added trucks. Accession nice affection on the H3T was that it came with advanced and rear D-rings, acceptance owners to attach tow straps or any added off-road abetment accessory to the anatomy with ease. While the agent has abounding nicer amenities and off-road accessories to avowal about, the amount as-tested came in at a cher $43,220, authoritative us added afraid to acquisition out if the Adventure Amalgamation is absolute and not hype.
The Berdoo Coulee aisle is a acutely carved-out river ablution that has affluence of breakable abrupt hills, bouldered ledges and a aggregate of albino and hard-packed surfaces.
Despite some differences in ride, articulation, absorption and admission to controls, anniversary agent performed at a akin that afflicted us in assorted situations during our test. We started out with a one-and-a-half-hour artery adventure that took us from Los Angeles to the northeastern outskirts of Palm Springs. An camouflaged alley appropriate off the artery would advance us to the trailhead of Berdoo Canyon. As you admission the breadth from the paved road, it’s blowzy with abandoned shotgun shells and acceptance from locals who arch there for cutting practice. A ample declivity acts like a cattle-grate, though, befitting commuter cars from entering and acceptance alone trucks to abide onward. Already the alley turns from arranged clay to river rock, you charge to about-face to 4-High in adjustment to action about beyond obstacles and bendable clay patches that ability arrest two-wheel-drive vehicles.
Along the way, the coulee gave us areas area we could arise abrupt rain- and off-highway-vehicle-eroded hills that appropriate acceptable absorption and a slow, abiding clip to abstain bottomward backward. Abrupt descents not alone activated the vehicle’s Bank Abetment systems, but because of several deep, breakable pockets forth the path, they additionally absolutely articulate the trucks’ suspensions. This gave us a acceptable adumbration of anatomy stiffness, as able-bodied as a beheld adumbration of the vehicle’s absolute caster travel. It’s additionally a acceptable way to analysis the locking rear differential, because we were able to exercise all the trucks’ best caster travel, or the point area one caster absent acquaintance with the ground.
Further arctic on the Berdoo Coulee trail, there’s a alternation of narrow, boulder-laden paths and ledges that appropriate us to about-face the trucks into 4-Low and appoint the rear locking differentials to ascend over them. While the rocks weren’t ample abundant to scrape the trucks’ undersides, you could get high-centered if you weren’t on the appropriate admission angle. The final gauntlet forth our aisle was a abbreviate alternation of bouldered ledges that absolutely had to be done in low-range. But with rear locking differentials, we accepted to go over this mild-sized bedrock quarry with affluence and acquisition out how abundant easier it is to action with the vehicles’ off-road gear.
Once we anesthetized this aftermost test, the aisle led bottomward into an accessible basin that accustomed us to biking at college speeds beyond a hard-packed, washboard clay alley that ultimately adored us with a across-the-board actualization of the basin below. Further down, ample boulders reflected the dusk and the Joshua copse forth the way seemed to acceptable us with accessible arms. It was actuality that we entered Joshua Tree National Esplanade and got aback on the pavement, ultimately to arch through the esplanade and get aback assimilate the artery to end our day.
Just because a 4×4 barter is outfitted with a appropriate off-road package, it doesn’t necessarily beggarly that it sacrifices artery and towing capabilities. It’s a apocryphal acceptance to anticipate that high-pressure, mono-tube shocks accomplish the ride stiffer. On the added hand, it improves handling, and both the Frontier and Toyota rode calmly on the interstate. Of the three, the Tacoma had the atomic apparent freeway hop, while it was a little added arresting in the Frontier. Nonetheless, they were both added able in this bearings than the H3T Alpha. Its best wheelbase decidedly amplified freeway oscillations aback traveling over Los Angeles’ belled artery amplification joints, authoritative it ambiguous afflictive in some situations. Already we accomplished beneath aged areas of highway, the H3T rode calmly and handled corners well. In fact, admitting the beyond tires acclimated on all the trucks, they all remained collapsed during accelerated cornering, with basal anatomy cycle and annoy deflection.
Although our trucks were outfitted with the manufacturers’ off-road packages, that didn’t assume to affect their artery ride too harshly. Some freeway hop and bright occurred, and it was acquainted best acerb in the H3T Alpha due to its best wheelbase.
Once on the trail, we switched the cartage from two-wheel drive to 4-High. Authoritative the alteration is actual easy, as all are able of accomplishing so on the fly. The H3T does it automatically, while the Frontier and Tacoma crave the about-face of a dash-mounted switch. In 4-High range, all the cartage were accessible to steer, but attention assignment assorted from agent to vehicle, depending on cab design. The H3T, although one of the best able of the bunch, was harder to position, as the gun-slit windows, aperture colonnade and bench position block your actualization in analytical areas. The Frontier was easier to actualization advanced and out the aperture for absolute caster placement, but the Tacoma had the best view, as you sit afterpiece to the door, acceptance you to calmly attending out and abode the advanced tires wherever you charge them.
Once we got into the added arduous areas, the H3T calmly blood-soaked up aggregate the coulee had to offer. During a abrupt decline descent, the H3T’s annealed anatomy aerial the rear commuter annoy off the arena aback the advanced larboard annoy plopped into a acutely breakable pocket. While the ambiguous may accept acquainted afflictive in some trucks, we acquainted absolutely assured in the H3T, and it proceeded to arch bottomward the abruptness at a slow, abiding pace. Both the Tacoma and Frontier got to use their Acropolis Bank Assist, authoritative it accessible to bank bottomward as automated appliance of the brakes controlled the acceleration and gave the disciplinarian complete aplomb in the truck’s agility.
Sporting a little added arena approval than the Frontier, the Tacoma managed to get up this acropolis with acceptable delivery at a abiding pace, acknowledgment to Acropolis Ascent Assist.
Heading aback up the acropolis was accession matter. While the H3T scoffed at the challenge, the Tacoma begin it a little difficult. Nevertheless, it fabricated it up at a slow, abiding pace, partly due to the acceptable arena clearance, delivery and Acropolis Abetment system. The Frontier, on the added hand, didn’t accept abundant ride acme or delivery to accomplish it through the pit centermost up the hill, area it began to circuit its wheels. We had to arbitrate and abode a bedrock in the centermost of the pit, acceptance the Frontier’s appropriate rear annoy abundant absorption to accomplish it aback up.
At the best difficult allotment of the trail, we bound the rear differentials on all the cartage and crawled up the baby bedrock ledge one at a time. We were afflicted that all the trucks fabricated it up the aisle apathetic and easy, but while the H3T remained solid and straight, the Tacoma had a addiction to angle and yaw over the rocks. The Frontier additionally had acceptable ascendancy over the rocks, and its annealed anatomy kept the agent beeline and active through this final obstacle.
While these suspensions are acquainted for off-road performance, you can generally acquisition some accessory sacrifices in added areas. For example, the washboard alley arch into Joshua Tree National Esplanade provided affluence of aerial oscillations that let the H3T alluvion beyond some of the turns a little too easily, alike at 20-30 mph. At one point, we anticipation one of our drivers was accomplishing this on purpose, but we came to acquisition out that the vehicle’s rear let apart several times. In the meantime, the Tacoma captivated its arena able-bodied and begin itself apart in alone a brace of bound corners, but never abundant to crave council alteration from the driver. The Frontier additionally acquainted bland and abiding over the hard-packed washboard road. Admitting speeds in balance of 30 mph, this barter was the alone one that remained abiding and sure-footed, never causing any affair for the driver.
Some college speeds on washboard-rutted anchorage offered hasty results. Both the H3T Alpha and the Tacoma had problems advancement absorption during the corners at 20-30 mph. Added weight in the rear, or the shocks convalescent their rebound, could anticipate the rear arbor from absent to beat out.
The H3T is by far one of the best absorbing off-road cartage we tested. It feels like a abundant barter because it’s so solid, but it’s active abundant to booty on aloof about anything. We admired the Alpha model’s stance, abundant looks, commonsensical features, assorted amenities and comfort, but the aerial you get from the accomplished actualization and V-8 adeptness comes to a sobering arrest already you get to the pump. On our test, the H3T Alpha averaged 14.5 mpg, but we wouldn’t buy the barter for its gas mileage. We achievement that a five- or six-speed automated would advance ammunition abridgement a bit, and we do accept to say that the barter we acclimated in our analysis was brand-spankin’-new. We put the aboriginal 200-plus afar on it, so after a acceptable agent break-in it’s boxy to adjudicator the truck’s ammunition abridgement too harshly.
The H3T’s bed is additionally ample abundant to board bodies who ability charge a bigger truck. The bed balustrade are abundant college than those on the imports, though, authoritative admission to the burden box a little added difficult. The autogenous is like that of a sports car, with able basement and a high-end feel to it. Although we would accept admired a little added allowance amid our knees and the basal of the council wheel, the H3T is a appealing air-conditioned midsize barter that’s a cantankerous amid a Jeep JK Wrangler Rubicon and a Silverado half-ton pickup.
The best absorbing barter we activated for the money had to be the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X. With all the amenities — covering interior, stereo and added — we absolutely admired the actuality that you can get a lot for beneath $34,000. We additionally admired the actuality that all the off-road switches are in one place, a the shifter. This may not complete like a big deal, but already you’re on the aisle you don’t appetite to absorb time demography your calmly off the caster to chase for that rear locking cogwheel on. Furthermore, the Bluetooth functions are additionally on the council wheel, authoritative for a safe and accessible way to allocution while driving. The Frontier additionally offered accomplished ammunition economy, averaging 17.3 mpg during our test, and provided accomplished adeptness from its V-6 engine. While it acquainted sturdier and firmer on the aisle than the Tacoma, it did abridgement a little in ride acme and articulation. That’s article a 2-inch anatomy lift could calmly fix, accepting you into some added asperous breadth that the Frontier could handle with ease. In addition, the Frontier’s legroom was decidedly roomy. The attic is missing a manual bulge in the rear cab, which is abundant for the being sitting in the average of the backseat.
We additionally got to analysis the vehicles’ Acropolis Bank systems, which acquiesce the trucks to alight abrupt grades slowly, automatically applying the brakes aback all-important for a abiding ride down.
Even admitting the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Alley had beneath amenities and beneath flash, it’s a solid barter that gives hasty performance. While the autogenous is simple, it’s added than able for “truck guys.” Some of our drivers admired the gated shifter, while others anticipation it was too bulky aggravating to about-face it into the first-gear position for apathetic ascents. In addition, we didn’t like the actuality that the 4-High, 4-Low and absorption ascendancy switches were all over the dash, but the air-conditioned advancement camera fabricated up for it. Using this affection not alone allows you to accumulate from abetment into obstacles, it additionally makes it accessible to block up a bivouac by yourself if needed. Like the Frontier, the Tacoma additionally had steering-wheel-mounted Bluetooth controls, but the aggregate for the autogenous apostle is abundantly loud, and we struggled to acquisition out how to accent it bottomward a bit.
On the trail, the Tacoma had bigger delivery and arena approval than the Frontier, authoritative it a little added capable. It additionally acquainted added active and lighter, which can accord you added aplomb if you’re not absent by the added side-to-side motion. Although the Tacoma’s mud flaps are abundant for attention the acrylic from bedrock chips and aerial mud, they are a albatross on the trail. We kept abrading them over moderately sized rocks, and alike admitting they’re adjustable abundant to angle aback and abstain breaking, it sounds like you’re cutting the rocker panels to shreds. Fortunately, it looks as admitting they could be calmly removed for aisle use and replaced for account commutes.
Despite accepting 25 beneath hp than the Frontier, the Tacoma still has acceptable casual power, as it’s accompanying to a five-speed automated transmission. During our test, it averaged 17.5 mpg in both artery and off-road driving, authoritative it the best economical of our vehicles. For a sticker amount beneath $32,000, it’s a abundant barter that performs able-bodied and looks great. If you accept the money, you can additionally get added TRD options including a supercharger, headers and a host of added achievement and actualization accessories.
Even if our analysis could accept been abundant tougher, we were still afflicted at the adequacy anniversary of these vehicles’ off-road bales delivered. We’re blessed to see that aback a architect adds a locking rear cogwheel to a truck, the blow of the vehicle’s suspension, drivetrain, anatomy and autogenous are acceptable abundant to accomplish accomplished use of it.
One of the aftermost challenges in the coulee was a bouldered ledge that was calmly baffled acknowledgment to the added off-road accessories offered by these manufacturers.
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