Sometimes old school rules, and that was the case of the Power Wagon and H3. Fully locked and loaded, they both negotiated the course without breaking a sweat or scraping a skidplate. The Land Rover almost provided the same experience, the only difference being a slow-to-lock rear diff that robbed the LR3 of valuable momentum over a series of stepped rocks.

We heard a "scrrrrape!" as the Touareg cleanly tore off one of its plastic undertrays on a hump on the trail--with the suspension fully extended in off-road mode. Although the Touareg exhibited great gobs of grip, we wished for more suspension flexibility and a few steel skidplates under the 'Egg. It doesn't help much to gain all that ground clearance if a suspension is as stiff as a board.

Surfing the Sand
Leaving The Slide, we caravaned to our next venue, Blow Sand Hill, for a romp in deep, soft, powdery sand--probably one of the most challenging surfaces for a heavy SUV to navigate--it's a barrel of fun and, oh, so easy to get stuck in. Seeking out the desert's powder, we quickly learn that the Touareg isn't a happy camper on the beach: With both differentials locked, the ESP nanny off, in low-range, shifting manually, the stability program still kicked in, pulsing the brakes and cutting power until the Touareg stopped dead in its tracks. A voice over the radio crackled, "Who's got the tow strap?" The Grand Cherokee found itself in a similar dilemma, a victim of inefficient tread and big torque that allowed the Jeep quickly to dig four holes.

With an unladen bed, the Dodge exhibited plenty of axle hop over the sand dunes, but the combo of Hemi power and aggressive tread easily kept the Power Wagon on track, especially after we let out about 30 psi. We quickly learned that judiciously blipping the throttle while turning transformed the big BFGs into sand paddles, tightening up the turning circle. Piloting the Toyota required little finesse on the fine particles. It was content to respond to driver input and the ever-changing surface as though it was another day in the park.

In sand mode, the LR3 was unstoppable and never quibbled about skiing down the face of a dune or clambering back up for more, seemingly finding traction in well-trafficked areas where we expected momentum loss. Stable and predictable, our H3 was perfectly geared for the soft stuff and remained tractable in deep ruts, keeping its cool on the sand, even while taking flight.