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AEV Prospector XL First Drive Review

The capability of this Ram HD-based adventure rig exceeds all expectations.

Apr 14, 2020
The first thing you think of when you see American Expedition Vehicle's Prospector XL is that it is a life-sized version of a favorite toy truck from your childhood. There is something about the proportions that are so out of whack that you can't even believe it's real, or even street legal for that matter. The Prospector XL stands up proud on massive tires, but it isn't lifted sky high. The look is almost factory, except for those tires; how did they shoehorn those under there? It's the truck of your nightmares in the rearview mirror of your Prius, or the truck you always dreamed of from behind the wheel.
Photo 2/25   |   002 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
AEV has a rightfully earned reputation of meticulous OE-level engineering and high quality, and the Prospector XL stays true to this trend. Based on the new body-style Ram Heavy Duty 2500 or 3500 in any single rear wheel cab configuration, with the Cummins 6.7L I-6 turbo diesel or eventually the 6.4L Hemi V-8 gas engine (gas is late availability), the Prospector is the ultimate full-size adventure machine.
Photo 3/25   |   003 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
The "XL" doesn't stand for "Xtra Large", though it could. It is actually the Roman numerals for 40, the size of the tires that give the Prospector XL its sure-footed stance. Although the Prospector looks huge—and it is—the truck is much more than just a suspension lift and big tires. The rest of the Prospector XL conversion is subtle, yet significant. AEV takes their usual attention to detail and transforms an otherwise pedestrian Ram HD into something akin to the biggest Jeep on the trail.
Photo 4/25   |   004 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
Upfitted in Michigan at AEV's factory and sold through a network of certified Ram dealers around the country, the Prospector XL comes with a full three-year/36,000-mile warranty. For those who prefer to piecemeal their builds, individual parts will be available through AEV or the company's parts dealers later in the year.
Photo 5/25   |   005 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
We recently met up with AEV out in California, where we had a chance to not only check out the Prospector XL in person, but we also got behind the wheel on the highway and the trail.
 

The Conversion

Photo 6/25   |   006 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
What is amazing about the Prospector XL is the level of engineering detail that goes into transforming a Ram HD into a PXL. To fit 40-inch tires, the donor truck requires two important modifications. The first is a surprisingly short 3-inch AEV DualSport RT suspension lift, which makes for a low center of gravity and roll center, giving the Prospector XL a stock like ride and exceptional handling. The magic is both in the tuning of AEV-specific XP8100 Bilstein big-piston monotube shocks and the fact that AEV stretches the wheelbase by moving the front axle forward 1.5 inches. This places the large diameter tires farther away from the firewall, giving the 40s room to articulate on the trail or clear on full-lock turns.
Photo 7/25   |   007 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
The second part to that equation is AEV's Highmark flares that significantly open up the wheel wells. Even though installation does require cutting into the sheet metal, AEV provides everything to give the truck a factory look, including integrated LED running lights and new fender liners.
Photo 8/25   |   008 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
In addition to the suspension, other standard equipment on the Prospector XL includes an AEV stamped steel front bumper with ductile iron tow points, an AEV front bumper low tube, AEV intercooler skid plate, and a cover plate for those not wanting to install a winch. An AEV rear bumper balances out the look, while a re-gear, AEV's hydraulic assisted steering, and 40X13.5R17LT Toyo Open Country M/T tires mounted on 17x10-inch AEV Katla wheels, along with AEV badging rounds out the package. Expect to pay $17,549 for the base PXL.
Photo 9/25   |   009 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
From there, AEV offers a ton of options to customize the Prospector XL into exactly the vehicle you need. The built-for-SEMA test truck that we spent time with had just about every box checked. Starting with an AEV brush guard, Warn 16.5ti heavy-duty winch, and four of AEV's awesome new 7-inch LEV auxiliary lights up front to the AEV bed rack and vertical spare tire mount in the bed, this thing is loaded. Other options checked off were the AEV rear bumper lighting package, AMP Research Power Steps, AEV leather seating upgrade, an AEV snorkel with Ram air, and AEV's painted appearance package. Not on our tester because of the bed rack, but also available, are a few Tonneau cover options and AEV differential covers. Speaking of the details, AEV offers splash guards, light covers, and a front license plate kit for those who live in more restrictive states that require these items to be street legal. A fully loaded AEV Prospector XL with all of the boxes checked will cost around $30,000 more than the donor truck.
 

Capability

Photo 10/25   |   010 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
This is not some poser build that only looks the part; it is a fully engineered conversion designed with some serious capability in mind. Not only does it retain the intended factory ability to tow and haul some eye raising loads, but it focuses on enhancing off-roadability to an extreme. Unlike the midsize truck category, there is no concern about maxing out your payload with a roof top tent and camp kitchen with the PXL. If it fits, it goes. AEV's Prospectors have been proven around the world in some seriously remote places and unforgiving terrain, and the new version will carry on that torch.
 

Off-Road vs. On-Road Driving Impressions

Photo 11/25   |   011 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
After our walkaround to become familiar with the Prospector XL, AEV tossed us the keys and we immediately hit the dirt. While most PXL builds will use the 40-inch Toyo tires, our test truck, built for SEMA, was equipped with even larger 41x14.50R17LT Interco Super Swamper IROK tires. Our short off-road test consisted of dirt roads, hill climbs, offset moguls, and generally lousy terrain that would challenge the Prospector XL's more-than-a-foot of ground clearance.
Photo 12/25   |   012 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
Off-road, the Prospector XL picked its way over 12-14-inch moguls like they were parking lot speed bumps. Despite not having lockers in this particular truck, the factory brake traction control worked exceptionally well with the big IROKs to keep the Ram moving, even with only three, or sometimes two corners, to work with. No matter where we pointed the PXL, it just went.
Photo 13/25   |   013 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
Even with 41-inch tires, the Prospector XL drooped and stuffed those huge tires, and not once did we experience any rubbing. That's truly amazing, considering the conservative lift height, showing just how well thought out the suspension system is in partnership with the flares. Those big 2.65-inch piston Bilstein shocks had zero issues controlling all that mass, regardless of whether the truck was crawling over obstacles at slow speed or hitting bumps at high speed. The truth is that the Prospector XL was comfortable and easy to drive on the trail, with a point-and-shoot character befitting of something rolling on 41-inch tires.
Photo 14/25   |   014 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
But you'd expect the PXL to do well in the dirt, as did we, and it does. That isn't the real story with this truck. THAT narrative belongs to the on-road experience. Commanding view of the road and audible thrum of the IROKs aside (the quiet Toyo M/Ts have a noise profile that will hardly be noticed), the Prospector XL drives unbelievably close to stock on the highway. Except, it actually might ride better than stock on all but the most broken surfaces.
Photo 15/25   |   015 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
Thanks to that low center of gravity and roll center, the Prospector XL handles more like a leveled truck on 35s and not at all what you'd expect from a truck on 41s. To get that much tire on a Ram elsewhere, the truck realistically requires so much lift that the good ride and handling characteristics of a stock truck are often lost. This is typically a tradeoff that people are willing to accept for the look. Not so with the PXL. Take it around a freeway onramp at speed, drive up to your cabin at the end of a twisty mountain road, or take it to work.
Photo 16/25   |   016 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
Wherever you need to go, the Prospector XL will take you there in comfort and style without any degradation in the driving experience over a stock truck. Throughout our test, we didn't notice any squeaks or rattles, sometimes a hallmark of lesser products. All of this left us thinking, what exactly is the compromise here? What sacrifices are you actually making by owning this truck?
Photo 17/25   |   017 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
As it turns out, not much. Maybe you need to avoid tighter trails and stay away from parking structures, but what you lose in convenience is more than made up for in having a vehicle that can go anywhere on a moment's notice.
 

Overall Takeaway

Photo 18/25   |   018 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
There was a time when 40-inch tires were only found on show trucks and fenderless tube-framed buggies. Who thought you'd see the day when they were fitted on a full-bodied factory 4x4 pickup with a 3-inch lift? Even more amazing is that everything on the Prospector XL that came from Ram works as designed, with no inaccurate gauges, check engine lights, or traction control issues. Everything modified as part of the conversion is there for a purpose, adding capability, without compromising the integrity of the base vehicle.
Photo 19/25   |   019 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
Rarely are we this impressed with a factory build, but AEV got just about everything right on the Prospector XL. If you have ever wanted a brand-new full-size truck with a full warranty and unmatched capability that speaks to the 10-year-old in you, look no further than the AEV Prospector XL. You deserve it.
Photo 20/25   |   020 AEV Prospector XL First Drive
For more information or to build and price your Prospector XL, check out the American Expedition Vehicles website at www.aev-conversions.com.

Source

American Expedition Vehicles
(248) 926-0256
www.aev-conversions.com

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