Born of a need to reach the north 40 or remote regions not served by paved arteries, the humble four-wheel-drive pickup workhorse has evolved to include civilized, luxury-appointed SUVs, making off-roaders one of the fastest-growing vehicle markets. These dirt devils are based on trucks, cars, or even minivans, with myriad drive systems to entertain, liberate, and confuse buyers. In this lesson, we'll give a segment overview, then engage 4Lo to explore the equipment and driving strategies needed for off-road adventure.
What to drive
While each vehicle class has certain defining characteristics, distinctions applicable to off-road travel cross over classes. You may find that although you wanted an SUV when you started your new-vehicle research, a crew-cab pickup better suits your intended uses. As you hone your shopping list, don't forget to check how each of the vehicles you're considering might affect your insurance and registration costs.
Big pickups are among the best vehicles for power, basic strength, modifying, and by virtue of their long wheelbases, hill-climbing stability. Downsides include heavy weight, often on a narrower tire (read: they sink faster); bulky size; difficult maneuvering in close quarters; and less-than-stellar fuel economy for gasoline models. Breakover angle (the relative height of an obstacle between front and rear wheels) and departure angle (that between the rear tire contact patch and the rear bumper, hitch, or fuel tank) are lower on pickups. As a rule, bigger is better regarding "angle" specifications. In the full-size pickup arena, the new Dodge Power Wagon is the most purpose-built off-road package, though there are compelling packages available on each major model, such as the Chevrolet Silverado Z71 and Ford F-150 FX4.
Although they don't have the big-block muscle, cargo capacity, plowing ability, or towing grunt of full-sizers, compact pickups offer improved maneuverability, ride comfort, ground clearance, and fuel economy. GM's Z71 option, along with the Nissan Nismo and Toyota TRD Off-Road packages, add adventure-ready mechanical components to the smaller-scale trucks.