Half a mile up the trail, a series of steep hills is usually a motorcyclists' playground. We, however, would use all four hills to test how well our six vehicles handled a descent down a 37-degree slope of silt.
Over the Ledge
Curious how the techno-wonder vehicles would do, the Touareg was the first to point its nose over the ledge. With 4-Low engaged and Hill Descent Assist selected, the VW slithered down with only a hint of drama, its ABS pulsing the brakes like a drummer in a speed-metal band, and only near the end of the course did we need to apply the binders when a section of loose topsoil gave way, confusing the system.
Fitted with a slightly more sophisticated Hill Descent Control, enhanced with algorithms embedded in its Terrain Response system, and making noises resembling the Titanic going down, the LR3 literally was a "hands-and-feet off" experience. While it didn't sound pretty in the cabin, the Land Rover tiptoed down the face at a touch under four mph.
Traditionalists, like the H3, throw high-tech out the window in favor of gearing, relying on a stunning crawl ratio (first gear x axle gears x low range). Hummer's latest 'ute walked its way down at a scant three mph. No muss, no fuss, no brakes required. Equally at home was the tried-and-true Land Cruiser. Though not geared nearly as well as the Hummer, the Toyota's ABS kept the Land Cruiser well under control with minimal skidding.
The Pucker Power Award was handed to the Dodge. Even with its 37.2:1 crawl ratio, its front-biased weight distribution and high center of gravity made for a quick and slippery ride, with the tail bouncing out of line and skidding. The 'Wagon shows its yin and yang: Ascents are a cakewalk while descents, especially with an empty bed, require rosary beads.