On the Road
Once on the road, dodging big-rigs and scouting for "smokeys," our wagon train of hardcore 'wheelers ran straight into the funneling high winds of the Tehachapi Mountains. Nothing like being in high-profile, slab-sided SUVs during a windstorm. Not surprisingly, the mammoth H1 seemed to win the impromptu stability/crosswind test as we headed through canyons on Interstate 5 toward the San Joaquin Valley; however, since our H1 had a soft-top, the noise inside was deafening. Meanwhile, testers in the Lexus and Range Rover sounded like they were speaking from a quiet living room. Throughout the week, the Lexus was the clear "on the road" winner, as each test driver seemed to get out of the vehicle more refreshed than when he went in, whatever the terrain.

Once settled in our touring modes, we decided to safely see how each vehicle competed in a standard at-speed passing maneuver, with a head-to-head twist. This is where the bigger-horsepower players could stretch their muscles. Interestingly, there were no real surprises on the top and bottom ends, but some odd things happened in the middle. We knew the weight of the H1 and size of the Wrangler's motor were going to be liabilities for both, with the extra gearing and size helping the Jeep a small amount. We also knew the Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG had the most horsepower and the sweetest-sounding purr at wide-open throttle. But with the biggest gas engine of the bunch, the H2 was beaten by the hard-breathing GX 470. Later, the Range Rover and Nissan Titan put down the H2 and GX without much drama. And in probably the biggest surprise of our head-to-head, the much bigger and more powerful Nissan Titan couldn't stretch ahead of the Range Rover. Of course, the Mercedes engine and transmission combination, not to mention almost 50 more horsepower than its nearest competitor, was just too much.

After a quick lunch stop, we headed through 60 miles of farmland, pastures, dirt paths, vineyards, and wooded coastal mountains. After reaching the town of Hollister, we ran up to the Ranger station to let them know we'd be exploring their toughest trails the following day, and then did a little scouting. The Hollister Hills SVRA is a beautiful adventure park in central California with hundreds of miles of motorcycle trails, 4x4 obstacle courses, and too many 4x4 trails to count, running throughout the hills and valleys.

Track Testing
Empirical testing has always been one of our hallmarks, so we've included off-the-line acceleration, as well as mash-the-pedal stopping power. We awarded points based on the two separate categories. Low numbers win.

Ramp Travel Index is a measurable score of a vehicle's suspension flexibility, and thus, clear evidence of how serious the engineers were about building in real-world trail capability. The higher the number, the better a vehicle's suspension can articulate over rugged terrain.