Optic Onslaught: Here Are Two Bold-Looking, Off-Road Trucks
The electronic warning indicator might be the single most vexing (albeit informative) automotive invention of all time. Not that it’s new or anything—its existence predates World War II—but the lovingly christened and begrudgingly tolerated “idiot light” can be equal parts empowering and frustrating. Especially when you’re trying to have a good time in an off-road truck.
Ah, the off-road pickup. The niche’s profile has really been elevated over the past half-decade even if sub-brands such as Pro-4X, FX4, and Z71 have propped the field up longer. Ford‘s F-150 SVT Raptor went on sale in 2009, and suddenly it seemed everyone was an off-road enthusiast. The Raptor was a flared-fender sight to behold, more accessible and generally easier to justify to a spouse than a heavy-duty Power Wagon.
Naturally, every owner survey and OEM market research slideshow we’ve seen concedes a different reality. By and large, truck buyers don’t care about off-roading. Or the off-roading occurs so infrequently it’d make you question the whole business of selling off-road trucks … but think of how cool you’d look behind the wheel! To those who actually use their off-road trucks off-road, our plaudits. If glossy brochures aren’t nudging the rest of you with the imagery of towing trailers, pulling tree stumps, or doing other hard, honest work, there’s going to be a shot of a forest/desert/mountain trail or mud pit appealing to your ego. “I can do that, too!” Optics go a long way in selling anything.
“Transmission temp warning,” associate road test editor Nate Martinez hollers out the driver-side window. “Probably the left-foot braking.”
He’s at the helm of a 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, and we’re at the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area just north of Los Angeles for some midweek wheeling. It’s a mild summer morning, not much warmer than 80 degrees.
For the princely sum of $10 USD in gate fees, the Tundra and a 2015 Ram 1500 Rebel 4×4 Hemi have gained admission to Hungry Valley. Five dollars a pop is a drop in the bucket compared to the two trucks’ MSRPs. The new Rebel, the most off-road-oriented Ram 1500 model on offer since the previous-generation, dealer-assembled Ram Runner, starts the bidding at $42,465 USD. That only gets you the Pentastar V-6 and rear-wheel drive. For added boldness, tack on another $5,100 USD for four-wheel drive with the 395-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, as our test truck did. Select $4,885 USD worth of options including a limited-slip rear differential, RamBox, skidplates, and Uconnect with the 8.4-inch touchscreen, and you end up with our two-tone Flame Red/Brilliant Black, $52,450 USD all-inclusive truck.
Ram concedes the Rebel isn’t intended to be as manic off-road as the Ram Runner, but the Rebel still received big changes to honor its debut. The new-design exterior with the prominent, mustachioed front end encompasses the most drastic Ram 1500 aesthetic transformation since the 1994 model year. Chassis and suspension tweaks aim to give the Rebel greater off-road performance credibility while retaining the fantastic on-road behavior that helped earn the half-ton Ram its back-to-back 2013 and 2014 Truck of the Year crowns. Air suspension comes standard with Rebel-specific Bilstein dampers, and the adjustable ride heights have been altered from the standard Ram to better reflect its off-road mission. (Example: The Rebel’s “Normal” height is roughly equivalent to other Rams’ “Off Road 1” height.)
The Tundra TRD Pro has its own set of Bilstein shock absorbers working in conjunction with the front coil and rear leaf springs, all tuned to harmoniously cooperate whether it’s traversing concrete highways or a fire road up in the mountains. Positioned a rung above the optional TRD Off-Road package, the Tundra is the TRD Pro flagship. This Inferno orange specimen starts at $45,195 USD for the CrewMax cab. An extra $3,200 USD for the 17-inch forged TRD wheels swathed in BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires is money well-spent, and $410 USD for a drop-in bedliner and a two-piece mini tie-down set with hooks push the Toyota‘s total to $48,805 USD.
Not included with the price? The transmission temperature warning on the Tundra’s instrument cluster, which had illuminated while Martinez and I were messing around in Hungry Valley’s four-wheel drive practice area. We had been tackling the manmade obstacles, taking turns driving and spotting. Of course, the warning turned itself off once the truck started moving and passing air where it needed to go. The flash in the pan case of concern gave way to the true worry we had to mind with the Tundra: making sure the mud flaps and exhaust outlet tips sitting immediately behind the wheels (and therefore in danger of getting whacked by the objects that were just driven over) get nicked as few times as possible.
Neither truck is ideal for the Rubicon Trail (too much front and rear overhang and wheelbase) but the TRD Pro and Rebel can soak up the blows the creepy-crawly conditions were throwing at them. Both trucks come with outstanding sightlines and comfortable perches to watch where to go and where not to go, with lots of low-end grunt to promote effortless idle-creeping through the hairiest terrain. But it didn’t take long to gauge the differences. The Tundra’s BFGs have a bit more stick at the points of contact and locate traction a smidge more easily than the Ram’s Toyo Open Country A/T IIs. Not that the Rebel was fighting for grip. Conversely, the Ram took a little less human muscle to handle while bounding from rock to rock. The Tundra’s steering effort was higher at slow speeds, and its cab jiggled more and needs more time to settle as the tires dropped and rose. The Rebel glided over the same jagged topography, its suspension masterfully controlling the cab whether the air springs were set to Normal or inflated to the 1-inch-taller Off Road.
Both Ram and Tundra excelled at comfort in this arena. In fact, pickup trucks are among the most comfortable vehicles on sale today. Automakers have been able to contain unloaded-bed, rear-axle hop, while better tires, enhanced cab insulation, and smart suspension tuning make the TRD Pro and Rebel a pleasure for commuting. Tire noise abatement is remarkable for the pair, so much so that the primary noises registering to the driver are wind-sourced (on the Rebel) or originate from the burbling and deep TRD exhaust (on the TRD Pro). Ram continues to score highly for on-road comfort, and the TRD Pro is the most comfortable Tundra we’ve experienced yet.
That comfort and smoothness allow the trucks to build speed deceptively quickly. Sitting higher off the ground has a strange way of dulling the sensation of speed. Yes, the V-8s are roaring, and the exhaust pulses are firing, but there’s not as much drama in the speed manufactured, unlike, say, in a low-slung Ariel Atom. In a straight line, the two keep pace with one another up to 40 mph; the 14-hp less powerful Tundra comes alive thereafter, besting the Ram to 60 mph (6.6 versus 6.8 seconds) and through the quarter mile (15.2 seconds at 91.8 mph to 15.3 at 89.4). Though both engines rate their power peaks at 5,600 rpm, the Tundra’s double-cam V-8 feels much happier high up in the rev range.
The gas-powered motivation comes in handy when we remove ourselves from the 4WD practice area and into Hungry Valley’s interior, where dozens of trails awaited our exploration. After marking out a short loop where we’d be able to stage repeatable runs, we set off, with Martinez bringing up the tail in the Rebel while I take off in the TRD Pro.
For the next few minutes, I felt like I was back in Baja California. Last year, Martinez and I did 2,500 miles of Baja primarily off-road with the then-brand-new TRD Pro lineup over seven days (“We Are the Baja Stormtroopers,” April 2015). Whipping the Tundra around in America’s California helped me remember those moments, like the consternation of being in a “foreign” place that melts with seat time. The fun that can be had in the dirt with a little more speed. During instrumented testing, the BFGs limited average lateral acceleration to 0.66 g (the Ram did 0.71), leaving the Tundra to clock a laid-back 30.6-second figure-eight time at 0.53 average g (the Ram took 29.1 seconds at 0.60 g). In the loose stuff, where the stability control isn’t actively working to induce understeer once the meager grip gives out on pavement, the Tundra’s power and handling can be harnessed by the driver. You steer, it steers. You gas, it goes. You brake, it slows down.
“Watch out,” Martinez warns while sitting in the Rebel at our start/finish point. “Traction control is super aggressive.”
The first mistake I make is trying to drive the Rebel like the TRD Pro — the Ram promptly makes me feel like an idiot. With the cluster display alternating between “service throttle” and “service brakes” warnings, it was quite clear the Ram didn’t like my left-foot braking or the speed I was trying to carry. The steering, its effort calibrated to be heavier for a greater sense of directness and working so optimally when rock crawling, feels even heavier as the truck fights my inputs. The Toyos’ grip off-road isn’t bad, but the Tundra’s BFGs cling a bit harder. The Ram gets into the ABS sooner, and in more frantic instances, the stability control takes the gas pedal out of the driver’s control. You can work up a sweat hustling the Ram.
“I just want to stay out here all day,” Martinez wistfully says when we’ve finished while eyeballing work emails on his iPhone.
“Yea, but I don’t want to run in the Rebel again,” I determine.
The Rebel and TRD Pro are very close in everyday livability, comfort, and fuel economy (14.4-14.5 combined Real MPG). Ram puts out great, consumer-focused features, and the superbly appointed interior still heads the class. Off-roading isn’t everything, but the fact is we’ll happily take more (tiebreaking) off-road capability in our off-road truck.
Now for the real item of interest. We know many readers have doubts about the Rebel’s appearance. Heed these words:
“It’s no secret. The most controversial part of the new Ram is its bold, big-rig-influenced styling. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it look that generates passion and sets the truck boldly apart from its more conventional competition. Like it or not, the Ram turns heads on the street faster than a Ferrari F40 in Omaha.”
We penned this in our December 1993 issue upon declaring the 1994 Dodge Ram Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year. Cheer up; there’s room for the Rebel to grow.
2nd Place: Ram 1500 Rebel 4×4 Hemi
Looks special but doesn’t drive too special.
1st Place: Toyota Tundra TRD Pro
Ready to feel like an off-road pro gone incognito?
How To Boost Your Off-Road-Truck Street Cred
Before hitting the aftermarket scene and splurging on a certain bumper/hitch receiver-dangling accessory that resembles a part of the male anatomy, how can you elevate your off-road truck’s street cred for cruising the boulevards? Here are the factory insights we gleaned from the Ram 1500 Rebel and Toyota Tundra TRD Pro.
Big Badges Don’t let anyone forget where your allegiance lies. The Tundra pushes things in the “Pro” direction with specially stamped side panels in the bed and satin black badge trimmings. Mindful of potential cases of amnesia, the Ram features enormous “Ram” lettering splashed across the tailgate. Also a good idea, apparently: hood vents that don’t actually channel air.
Rad Tires If you think tires are only meant for redistributing dirt, grass, rocks, mud, snow, water, and parking lot debris or lightening your wallet at inopportune times, think again. You have to make sure the tread pattern is pleasing to the eye, too. Ram was so excited about the Toyo Open Country A/T II that it embossed the tread pattern into the seat inserts. The Tundra’s optional BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO is a well-known quantity in the truck community. Owners have self-reported more than 100 million miles of accumulated mileage through tirerack.com surveys, nearly 8 million more than the second- and third-place tires combined (within the on-/off-road all-terrain category).
Actually Go Off-Roading The United States offers a fantastic array of outdoor off-highway touring possibilities, everything from wintry forests to sand dunes, rock gardens to water bogs, extinct volcanoes, river crossings, swamplands, and more. Enjoy it all, and always remember to tread lightly.
|2015 Ram 1500 Rebel 4×4 Hemi||2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro 4×4|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD||Front-engine, 4WD|
|ENGINE TYPE||90-deg V-8, iron block/alum heads||90-deg V-8, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||OHV, 2 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||345.1 cu in/5,654cc||345.6 cu in/5,663cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||395 hp @ 5,600 rpm||381 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||410 lb-ft @ 3,950 rpm||401 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|REDLINE||5,800 rpm||5,900 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.9 lb/hp||15.4 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||6-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, air springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, air springs, anti-roll bar||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs|
|BRAKES, F;R||13.2-in vented disc; 13.8-in disc, ABS||13.9-in vented disc; 13.6-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.0 x 17-in, cast aluminum||8.0 x 17-in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES||285/70R17 121/118R M+S Toyo Open Country A/T II||285/70R17 121/118R M+S BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO|
|WHEELBASE||140.5 in||145.7 in|
|TRACK, F/R||68.6/68.0 in||68.7/68.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||229.0 x 81.5 x 75.3-79.1 in||228.9 x 79.9 x 77.2 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.8 ft||44.0 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,885 lb||5,851 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||56/44%||56/44%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||41.0/39.9 in||39.7/38.9 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||40.9/40.2 in||42.5/42.3 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||65.9/65.7 in||65.7/65.5 in|
|PICKUP BOX L x W x H||67.4 x 66.4 x 20.0 in||66.7 x 66.4 x 22.2 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||50.3 cu ft||56.9 cu ft|
|WIDTH BET. WHEELHOUSES||51.0 in||50.0 in|
|PAYLOAD CAPACITY||915 lb||1,349 lb|
|TOWING CAPACITY||10,150 lb||9,800 lb|
|GVWR||6,800 lb||7,200 lb|
|GCWR||15,950 lb||15,300 lb|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.3 sec||2.3 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.6||3.5|
|QUARTER MILE||15.3 sec @ 89.4 mph||15.2 sec @ 91.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||138 ft||145 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.71 g (avg)||0.66 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||29.1 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)||30.6 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,550 rpm||1,600 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$52,450||$48,805|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/100,000 miles||2 yrs/25,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||32.0 gal||26.4 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||15/21/17 mpg||13/17/15 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||225/160 kW-hrs/100 miles||259/198 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.13 lb/mile||1.33 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||13.5/16.1/14.5 mpg||13.5/15.6/14.4 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded midgrade||Unleaded regular|