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Going Off-Road With Six of the Market's Toughest Trucks and SUVs

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author photo by Chris O'Neill December 2018

Autotrader was recently invited to drive a number of 4-wheel drive trucks and SUVs off-road in the mountains above Breckenridge, Colorado. Altogether, there were 11 vehicles involved in the event, and they were divided into two groups. The first group was made up of four crossovers and an on-road oriented trim level of the Ram 1500. These vehicles were taken down a trail of moderate difficulty. The other group featured six old-school trucks and SUVs, all of which offered low-range 4WD and were mostly designed with rough terrain in mind. These vehicles were taken up Georgia Pass, a much steeper, rockier trail crossing the Continental Divide and involving uneven terrain and multiple stream crossings. Below is an overview of each vehicle and its capabilities.

2019 GMC Sierra AT4

2019 GMC Sierra AT4

The GMC Sierra is all-new for 2019 and the new AT4 trim level builds on the off-road package offered on the previous-generation Sierra. GMC says the AT4 is to dirt as Denali is to luxury. In addition to revised exterior styling, the AT4 adds a 2-in factory lift, skid plates, a locking rear differential, beefier Rancho monotube shock absorbers, unique 18- or 20-inch wheels with two different levels of available all-terrain tires, hill-descent control and a few selectable terrain modes. The 2019 Sierra also introduces the available Multi-Pro tailgate that can be configured into a step and a load-extender, among other things. Inside, the AT4 is undeniably comfortable, offers a range of driver-assistance features and a heads-up display that can show useful vehicle information while in the dirt.

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sign at Georgia Pass

Perhaps the coolest thing about the AT4 GMC brought to the event were the two spare wheels and tires secured behind the cab. While in this case, the tires were secured in place only by a ratchet strap, GMC might want to consider offering this arrangement as an optional accessory, as the two spares really added to the vehicle's look as an off-roader, and theoretically would improve ground clearance by getting the spare tire out from underneath the truck.

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel

As the AT4 was to the new Sierra, the Ram Rebel in attendance was an adventure-ready version of the all-new 2019 Ram 1500. The Rebel features underbody skid plates, a locking rear differential, unique wheels, a unique grille, powder coated front and rear bumpers and blacked out trim pieces. While it only offers a 1-in lift compared to the AT4's two inches, the Rebel's Bilstein suspension features remote reservoirs at the rear, and while both vehicles wore the same Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires, the Rebel's were larger. The Ram Rebel is also available with an optional adjustable air suspension. Inside, the Rebel's interior features ruby red accents and is more differentiated from the standard Ram 1500 than the AT4's is from the standard Sierra.

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2019 Lexus LX570

2019 Lexus LX570

The 2019 Lexus LX570 was, in a way, both the most and least capable vehicle in this group. Most capable thanks to its Land Cruiser roots, bevy of features like crawl control, different selectable terrain modes and off-road turn assist, and its adjustable air suspension, which enables the vehicle to be raised by up to three inches. It earns the "least capable" moniker due to its approach-angle limiting front bumper, non-removable low-hanging running boards and vulnerable 21-in wheels, all of which served to cancel out some of its inherent rough-terrain capability. The LX570 was the only vehicle in the bunch to sustain damage, as its passenger side running board came into contact with a boulder.

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2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite

In Trailhawk guise, the otherwise run-off-the-mill Cherokee becomes pretty capable. The only unibody crossover to tackle the more difficult of the two trails, the 2019 Cherokee Trailhawk comes with true 4WD low range, a locking rear differential, hill-descent control, different selectable terrain modes and all-terrain tires. While going into rough terrain will likely result in some bumps and scrapes to the bodywork due to the vehicle's unibody construction and fully-independent suspension, the Cherokee Trailhawk will get you to places you never thought possible in a crossover.

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2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited

2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited

The Wrangler is all-new for 2019 and is better than ever. The all-new Wrangler "JL" offers features and refinement well beyond what was offered on the previous-generation Wrangler "JK". While there were really no surprises when it came to tackling the trail in the new Wrangler Rubicon, I had the opportunity to drive the Wrangler from Denver International Airport all the way to the event in Breckenridge, about two hours away. While the interior wasn't uncomfortable and offers a great infotainment system, the new Wrangler's on-road performance still left something to be desired, as its limited visibility, solid front axle and large all-terrain tires made highway driving a bit of a chore. Still, there probably is no better off-roader on the market today, pound for pound, than the all-new Wrangler, and I felt damn cool driving it through the Colorado Rockies on the way to the event.

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2018 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

2018 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

The Toyota Tacoma is an industry staple, behind perhaps only the Wrangler in the hearts and minds of American truck fans. With 4WD low, a locking rear differential, crawl control and all-terrain tires, the Tacoma TRD Off-Road is capable enough for almost any off-road situation you throw at it. While its interior and infotainment system leave something to be desired, the Tacoma's excellent resale value helps to account for most of its imperfections, and for the time being, it's the best compact pickup on the market.

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Off Road Test

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Going Off-Road With Six of the Market's Toughest Trucks and SUVs - Autotrader