The staff at Truck Trend and Motor Trend just got back from two very different multivehicle tests, Truck of the Year (for both magazines) and a crossover comparison (for Motor Trend), during which I got behind the wheel of the full spectrum of vehicles that can venture off the pavement. As you will see for Truck of the Year, we tested the Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and 3500, the Ford Transit Connect, Toyota's Tundra Work Truck (with the new 4.6-liter V-8), and the Ford Raptor. Shift a couple weeks, and I was in four all-wheel-drive compact unibody crossovers. This got me thinking about what a stark contrast the two stories provided.
There are a lot of people who need trucks with off-road capability for work, whether it's getting to a construction site or working your way over tough spots on ranch property. There are the search and rescue teams, who couldn't get to people in trouble without four-wheel drive. Heavy-duty trucks such as the Ram 2500 and 3500 are great for lugging nearly 10 tons of equipment. But the best thing about having a real four-wheel-drive system is that, when the work week is done, you can unhook the trailer, shift into 4-Lo, and visit parts of the country that a crossover owner could only dream of seeing.
Each summer, I go camping in the mountains a few hours from home. For me, camping includes fishing, hiking, and exploring. There are plenty of trails within minutes of the campground, and I'll either drive old familiar ones or venture off to ones I've never tried before. I always drive something that has low range and take my trusty book of local trails along, just in case. When I drive off-road, though, I don't have to think too hard about where I'll go: I pick a cool trail and look forward to whatever it is I'll see along the way.
That's the great thing about off-roading—and having the right vehicle to do it. For some, what appeals about the backcountry is finding those seemingly impossible obstacles and figuring out a way over them. It's man (and machine) versus nature, always good for incredible memories and dramatic photography. I respect and admire the driving abilities of those who live for that kind of challenge, but to be honest, when I find myself in a vehicle that's off-camber, leaning toward a deep ravine, it's a lot more stressful than it is fun. Don't get me wrong; I like a good, challenging trail—I just don't want to wonder if I'm going to roll.
For others, and I put myself in this category, the appeal is more that spirit of adventure, the idea that you don't know what's going to be around the next turn, but whatever it is, it's something you haven't seen before and only a select few are privileged enough to see.
Some of the most scenic views I've ever had the good fortune to witness have been on the trail, and that it takes some work to get there makes the reward even sweeter.
Whether your tastes lean more toward overcoming obstacles, discovering amazing views, sliding around turns in the sand, or looking for mud, we all want to find the right vehicle that can get us where we want to go. That's why we love vehicles like the go-anywhere Power Wagon, F-150 SVT Raptor, and the awesome Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and why there are hardcore fans who'll take these vehicles to their absolute limits. It's also what is so great about the versatility of pickups and body-on-frame sport/utilities in general, which are as capable of doing hard work as they are at exploring.
Which brings me back to the crossover comparison. I realize crossovers have a function, a specific purpose. They can provide mild off-road capability, certainly can give a driver the ability to get through light snow and across ice, and achieve this with decent fuel economy. We do run small stories about crossovers in the pages of Truck Trend, because we know they exist, we know they qualify as sport/utilities these days, and we like to keep track of where the market goes. But there are limits to what they can do, and you have to be more careful about where you go. Because of that, there are things you'll miss out on.
At one point during the comparison, we saw a road that had been closed off due to heavy snow. We even got the opportunity to legally get past the gate. Imagine it: a beautiful road, blanketed in fresh snow, with twists and turns that would likely follow the side of a mountain and would go—well, who knows where? I could see it, at least to the first bend, and
I couldn't help but wish I were driving a regular SUV. We had to decline the offer, because we weren't sure the CUVs would make it without getting stuck.
It was at that moment I was reminded of the limitations of crossovers, and though I appreciate the function they serve and that a big part of the market has shifted toward the crossover, when it comes down to it, they aren't built for adventure. Because of that, they just aren't as much fun.