Driver’s Seat Editorial: The Factory Off-Roaders
Not Just a Jeep Thing
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of getting a bit dirty from time to time. I’ve written in the past about the off-road trucks that I own and several of my off-highway exploits. So then it should also come as no surprise that I’ve been watching the rise of the factory off-road truck pretty closely. And with the all-new F-150 Raptor, Tacoma TRD Pro, and Colorado ZR2 all coming to market for the ’17 model year, it’s turning out to be one heck of a year for those of us with likeminded sensibilities.
There’s no doubt that Jeep pioneered the whole factory off-roader thing when they offered what was then a military vehicle to the public after World War II. For the remainder of the decade, Jeep vehicles definitively ruled the four-wheel-drive scene. Even today it’s impossible to argue that anyone has even come close to the success that Jeep has had in the off-road realm. General Motors tried to launch an attack on Jeep’s dominance with the Hummer brand in the early 2000s. The Alpha models of the H2 and H3 came equipped with electronic locking front and rear differentials, a 4.0:1 transfer case, and healthy V-8 engine (5.3L for the H3 and 6.2L for the H2). However, in their best years, the H2 sold only 34,000 units and the H3 54,000. Compare that to the Jeep Wrangler’s worst year in the last two decades, selling 64,000 in 2002 and its best year 255,000 in 2015.
So now Jeep is off in a world of its own, and Hummer shut the doors in 2010. The vacuum of Hummer going belly up, and the wake of Jeep expanding like crazy created a bit of a feeding frenzy among the other OEs to develop vehicles that could fill the desire for factory built off-roaders. Ford was first to the party, launching the F-150 Raptor as an ’09 model. This truck was like none seen before. It had a long-travel suspension, wide body, and large racing shocks. The Raptor was an immediate hit. It sold out the initial allotment quickly and continues to beat sales goals. After a short two-year hiatus (the first generation Raptor ran from ’09 to ’14), the second-generation ’17 Ford Raptor is on the road now. With more power, more travel, bigger shocks, and a steeper price tag, the second-gen Raptor is more truck than most people will ever need.
Thankfully if you can’t afford (or don’t need) a Raptor, Toyota’s got you covered with the second-generation ’17 Tacoma TRD Pro. Fit with an electronic locking rear differential, Crawl Control on automatic-equipped models, and Fox internal bypass shocks, this truck will get your blood pumping, fit in your garage, and not totally break the bank. Not a Toyota fan? That’s cool, you’ll be happy to hear that Chevrolet has just announced a return to the factory off-road game with the ’17 Colorado ZR2. Taking what they learned from Hummer, the ZR2 has locking front and rear differentials, increased wheel travel, super-trick Multimatic dampers, and the company’s available 2.8L diesel engine.
Want something a bit larger? We didn’t forget about the Ram 2500 Power Wagon. Now in its second-generation and updated for ’17, the Power Wagon has front and rear electronic locking differentials, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, solid front axle, and healthy 6.4L V-8 engine. The Power Wagon is more akin to a Rubicon Wrangler than its Baja-blasting off-road pickup counterparts.
Hopefully this is just the beginning of the legacy of the factory off-roader. Jeep is releasing a new Wrangler next year and a pickup in the near future. Nissan has potential to offer up competition with the new Titan and Armada. The Patrol, which Armada is based on, is one of the most capable SUVs in the rest of the world. And we can’t forget the luxury utes that still exist from Land Rover, Toyota, and Lexus.
It’s an exciting time if you like to live the dirty life. And all I’ve got to say is keep them coming!