2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test: Hummer H3T Alpha v. Nissan Frontier PRO-4X v. Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test
Words by: Dan Sanchez, Photos by: Brian Williams

You’ve seen the decals on the sides of 4x4 pickups that say FX4, ZR2, PRO-4X, Z71, TRD and more. These designate an off-road package, with the series of letters and numbers typically referring to the manufacturer’s regular production order build codes. A decal or badge doesn’t make a vehicle more capable; in fact, it doesn’t mean anything unless you know how the truck is different from standard models. If you look carefully at manufacturer’s build sheets, you’ll find that some “off-road equipment” includes lights on the bumper or a different set of shocks. Over time, consumer demands for real off-road accessories has led some OEMs to rethink how they should equip their trucks, and to consider off-road capability a priority over simple appearance items.

Manufacturers who have taken off-road packages seriously have included components that were typically only available as aftermarket upgrades. Items such as locking differentials, larger-diameter all-terrain tires, Bilstein performance shocks, progressive rate off-road-tuned springs, skid plates and increased ground clearance are some examples of what’s available in the better off-road packages out there. Trucks equipped with these components have the ability to take on moderate to extreme off-road trails, which gives new meaning to having a true dual-purpose pickup.

But can a few pieces of equipment make a big difference over standard four-wheel-drive models? Can they go anywhere a Jeep can? If so, are there any negative effects on normal street driving? These were the questions that urged us to put some of the best off-road packages to the test. Our criteria was to find midsize 4x4 trucks whose factory off-road options included more than simple appearance items and larger tires. We selected only trucks that came equipped with a rear locking differential. This option separates the boys from the men, allowing the vehicle to handle a higher technical level of off-road terrain, which greatly distinguishes its capabilities over standard 4x4 pickups in the same class.

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test
Our test of these midsize 4x4 pickups put their suspension and rear locking differentials to the test.

Why is a locking differential important? Its reason for living -- and the origin of its name -- is to transfer power and torque from the engine to the wheels, while at the same time allowing the wheels to turn at different speeds. The wheels have to be able to rotate at different speeds especially when turning, because as you round a corner the inner wheel travels less distance than the outer wheel. If they didn't turn at different rates you would do a lot of damage to your tires, and turning your vehicle would be a whole lot harder. Something similar can be felt if you try to turn your steering wheel in a part-time four-wheel-drive pickup, but this “scrubbing” is actually caused by locking the front and rear axles together.

There are three types of differentials, and each is meant to help improve traction and driving control.

The simplest and most common is an open differential. Using a set of gears to direct torque, an open differential allows a spinning wheel to continue spinning, even when the opposite wheel on an axle won't spin at all. There is a drawback, however: An open differential always sends power to the wheel with the least traction. Traction is dependent on many factors, including the tires, contact surface and weather conditions. If maximum traction is your goal, consider anything but an open differential.

An alternative is a limited-slip differential. A limited-slip diff allows some slippage to occur up to a certain point between the spin rates of the two wheels before it attempts to direct torque to the wheel with the greater traction. It does that by limiting slip on the wheel with the least traction. This solution gives the driver better control of the truck, especially through quick turns. Limited-slip diffs may use only gears to handle torque transfer or, more commonly, a set of clutch and friction plates. Another solution is a ”virtual” limited-slip differential, which uses the trucks’ antilock braking system to brake slipping wheels.

Hummer H3T Electronic Locking Rear Differential
A cutaway diagram of the electric locking rear differential in the Hummer H3T

The last type is the locking differential. Locking diffs act like a solid link between the two wheels. It typically requires manual input by means of a dash mounted switch that actuates an electronic mechanism or air pressure activated mechanism, locking the gears together. This ensures power is sent equally to both wheels at all times. Unless the axle itself starts to slip and you don't have a center differential between the front and rear axles, locking differentials can get you out of most sticky off-road situations.

The Trucks

Three 2009 pickup trucks impressed us with their off-road equipment, meeting our criteria of incorporating a locking rear differential while adding other impressive upgrades. These were the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X, Toyota Tacoma TRD-Off Road, and the Hummer H3T Alpha with the Off Road Adventure Package. While these are all midsize trucks, we realize there are some apples and oranges in the mix. The Nissan and Toyota are about equal in size, towing capacity and V-6 engine performance, and they have comparable off-road packages. The Hummer H3T Alpha, however, is a bit more truck than the imports. It’s based on GM’s midsize truck platform, with similar towing capacity to the Nissan and Toyota trucks, but it has more off-road features and it was the only vehicle in our test equipped with a V-8. Nevertheless, it fit our test criteria and we included it anyway. While we weren’t trying to find a winner, we were anxious to see how well these trucks perform over difficult terrain, and to test the performance levels of the options offered. Keep in mind that these vehicles are also pricier than the standard 4x4 models due to the extra options added in their respective off-road packages. Nonetheless, we discovered some good values within the mix.

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Specs

Nissan Frontier PRO-4X

2009 Nissan PRO-4X
Ground clearance was important to get over some of the small ledges we maneuvered the trucks over. The Nissan had the lowest ground clearance but managed to perform admirably.

This truck and its sister, the new 2009 Suzuki Equator RMZ-4, share the exact same platform, which has already won acclaim from our colleagues. It’s easy to see why, as the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X was the only truck in our test whose off-road package included leather seating with an eight-way-adjustable power driver seat and a four-way power passenger seat. The truck utilizes a coil spring, independent, double-wishbone front suspension and a solid axle rear with multi-leaf springs and Bilstein high-pressure mono-tube shocks. The package sounds very capable and helps give the vehicle 8.9 inches of ground clearance.

The Frontier is powered by a 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 with 281pounds-feet of torque. That’s plenty of power that can be applied to the five-speed automatic transmission, which drives 265/75R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires. The PRO-4X package also features skid plates to protect the oil pan, transfer case and fuel tank. In addition, this Frontier incorporates an optional Traction Package that includes Hill Start Assist, which allows the driver to move his foot from the brake to the accelerator on a steep hill without the vehicle rolling back. The package also includes Descent Assist, which allows the vehicle to descend slowly down a steep hill without constantly having to depress the brake. But that’s not all: The PRO-4X includes an abundance of comfort and convenience items like XM Satellite Radio, a Rockford Fosgate stereo, integrated Bluetooth hands-free cell phone controls in the steering wheel, dual subwoofers and more. With all this, it comes in at $33,765, as-tested. It’s a lot of truck for a moderate bit of cash.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road

2009 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
The Toyota Tacoma also handled climbing up and over ledges well.

At $31,904 (as-tested), the Tacoma was the least expensive truck in our comparison. Its lower price however, doesn’t mean it’s any less off-road-capable. Utilizing an independent double wishbone front suspension and a solid axle, multi-leaf rear, the TRD package, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, includes a set of Bilstein shocks and 16-inch rims with 265/70R16 BFGoodrich tires. All Tacoma 4x4 models have excellent ground clearance of 9.3 inches, which more than makes up for their Spartan silver and black interior. The cloth seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel weren’t added to impress, but our test model did come with some nice optional features that we didn’t expect. These included XM Satellite Radio, a JBL stereo system with a six-disc CD changer, integrated Bluetooth and a backup camera that displays in the rearview mirror. Nice!

Also equipped with a 4.0-liter V-6 engine, the Tacoma puts out 236 hp and 266 pounds-feet of torque. Despite having less power than the Nissan and the Hummer, the Tacoma did have a class IV hitch, skid plates, Downhill Assist Control and Hill Start Assist, making the TRD Off Road Package an excellent value that concentrates on performance rather than appearance. Yet the Tacoma is still a good-looking truck, with its body-colored bumpers and chromed grille surround in front, which gives the Tacoma a sporty appearance on and off the highway. Our test truck was also equipped with an optional Tow Package that added supplemental oil and transmission coolers and a seven-pin trailer connector.

Hummer H3T Alpha w/Off Road Adventure Package

2009 Hummer H3T Alpha
The H3T, on the other hand, simply scoffed at each challenge we put it through, taking everything with ease.

It’s hard to compare the Hummer H3T with other midsize trucks, but this vehicle definitely earned its way into our test with its off-road ability. Standard H3Ts come with a 3.7-liter inline-five-cylinder engine, but the Alpha comes with a 5.3-liter V-8 that’s rated at 300 hp and 320 pounds-feet of torque. While the H3T is a very capable off-road truck, our test model came with an optional Off Road Adventure Package. It features rear and front locking differentials and larger 33-inch 285/75R16 Bridgestone tires mounted on aluminum alloy wheels.

The H3T utilizes GM’s tried and true short long arm front suspension with torsion bars, along with a solid rear axle suspended by multi-leaf springs at the rear. Furthermore, it sports a set of GM mono-tube, gas-filled shocks that are specifically tuned for off-road performance and help give the vehicle a total of 10.2 inches of ground clearance.

Our H3T came with a leather interior, a sunroof and Alpha badges on the dash and upholstery. We’d have preferred more refinement in the instrument panel and door surfaces; the plastic bits seemed a bit cheaper than the other trucks. Another nice feature on the H3T was that it came with front and rear D-rings, allowing owners to attach tow straps or any other off-road assist device to the frame with ease. While the vehicle has many nicer amenities and off-road accessories to boast about, the price as-tested came in at a pricey $43,220, making us more anxious to find out if the Adventure Package is real and not hype. 

The Trail

Berdoo Canyon Trail Entry Sign
The Berdoo Canyon trail is a deeply carved-out river wash that has plenty of eroded steep hills, rocky ledges and a combination of sandy and hard-packed surfaces.

Despite some differences in ride, articulation, traction and access to controls, each vehicle performed at a level that impressed us in various situations during our test. We started out with a one-and-a-half-hour highway jaunt that took us from Los Angeles to the northeastern outskirts of Palm Springs. An inconspicuous road right off the interstate would lead us to the trailhead of Berdoo Canyon. As you enter the area from the paved road, it’s littered with empty shotgun shells and brass from locals who head there for shooting practice. A large drop-off acts like a cattle-grate, though, keeping passenger cars from entering and allowing only trucks to continue onward. Once the road turns from packed dirt to river rock, you need to switch to 4-High in order to maneuver around larger obstacles and soft dirt patches that might hinder two-wheel-drive vehicles.

Along the way, the canyon gave us areas where we could ascend steep rain- and off-highway-vehicle-eroded hills that required good traction and a slow, steady pace to avoid slipping backward. Steep descents not only tested the vehicle’s Descent Assist systems, but because of several deep, eroded pockets along the path, they also fully articulated the trucks’ suspensions. This gave us a good indication of frame stiffness, as well as a visual indication of the vehicle’s total wheel travel. It’s also a good way to test the locking rear differential, because we were able to exercise all the trucks’ maximum wheel travel, or the point where one wheel lost contact with the ground.

Further north on the Berdoo Canyon trail, there’s a series of narrow, boulder-laden paths and ledges that required us to shift the trucks into 4-Low and engage the rear locking differentials to climb over them. While the rocks weren’t large enough to scrape the trucks’ undersides, you could get high-centered if you weren’t on the right approach angle. The final gauntlet along our path was a short series of rocky ledges that definitely had to be done in low-range. But with rear locking differentials, we expected to go over this mild-sized rock quarry with ease and find out how much easier it is to maneuver with the vehicles’ off-road gear.

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test

Once we passed this last test, the trail led down into an open valley that allowed us to travel at higher speeds across a hard-packed, washboard dirt road that ultimately rewarded us with a panoramic view of the valley below. Further down, large boulders reflected the sunset and the Joshua trees along the way seemed to welcome us with open arms. It was here that we entered Joshua Tree National Park and got back on the pavement, ultimately to head through the park and get back onto the interstate to end our day.

On-Road Performance

Just because a 4x4 truck is outfitted with a special off-road package, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it sacrifices highway and towing capabilities. It’s a false assumption to think that high-pressure, mono-tube shocks make the ride stiffer. On the other hand, it improves handling, and both the Frontier and Toyota rode smoothly on the interstate. Of the three, the Tacoma had the least noticeable freeway hop, while it was a little more pronounced in the Frontier. Nonetheless, they were both more comfortable in this situation than the H3T Alpha. Its longer wheelbase significantly amplified freeway oscillations when traveling over Los Angeles’ notorious roadway expansion joints, making it borderline uncomfortable in some situations. Once we reached less battered areas of highway, the H3T rode smoothly and handled corners well. In fact, despite the larger tires used on all the trucks, they all remained flat during high-speed cornering, with minimal body roll and tire deflection.

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test
Although our trucks were outfitted with the manufacturers' off-road packages, that didn't seem to affect their highway ride too harshly. Some freeway hop and beaming occurred, and it was felt most strongly in the H3T Alpha due to its longer wheelbase.

Off-road Performance

Once on the trail, we switched the vehicles from two-wheel drive to 4-High. Making the transition is very easy, as all are capable of doing so on the fly. The H3T does it automatically, while the Frontier and Tacoma require the turn of a dash-mounted switch. In 4-High range, all the vehicles were easy to steer, but precision maneuvers varied from vehicle to vehicle, depending on cab design. The H3T, although one of the most capable of the bunch, was harder to position, as the gun-slit windows, door pillar and seat position block your view in critical areas. The Frontier was easier to view forward and out the door for precise wheel placement, but the Tacoma had the best view, as you sit closer to the door, allowing you to easily look out and place the front tires wherever you need them.

Once we got into the more challenging areas, the H3T easily soaked up everything the canyon had to offer. During a steep downhill descent, the H3T’s stiff chassis lifted the rear passenger tire off the ground when the front left tire plopped into a deeply eroded pocket. While the teetering may have felt uncomfortable in some trucks, we felt totally confident in the H3T, and it proceeded to head down the slope at a slow, steady pace. Both the Tacoma and Frontier got to use their Hill Descent Assist, making it easy to coast down as automatic application of the brakes controlled the speed and gave the driver complete confidence in the truck’s agility.

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test
Sporting a little more ground clearance than the Frontier, the Tacoma managed to get up this hill with good articulation at a steady pace, thanks to Hill Ascent Assist.

Heading back up the hill was another matter. While the H3T scoffed at the challenge, the Tacoma found it a little difficult. Nevertheless, it made it up at a slow, steady pace, partly due to the good ground clearance, articulation and Hill Assist system. The Frontier, on the other hand, didn’t have enough ride height or articulation to make it through the pit halfway up the hill, where it began to spin its wheels. We had to intervene and place a rock in the center of the pit, allowing the Frontier’s right rear tire enough traction to make it back up.

At the most difficult part of the trail, we locked the rear differentials on all the vehicles and crawled up the small rock ledge one at a time. We were impressed that all the trucks made it up the trail slow and easy, but while the H3T remained solid and straight, the Tacoma had a tendency to pitch and yaw over the rocks. The Frontier also had good control over the rocks, and its stiff frame kept the vehicle straight and agile through this final obstacle.

While these suspensions are tuned for off-road performance, you can often find some minor sacrifices in other areas. For example, the washboard road leading into Joshua Tree National Park provided plenty of high oscillations that let the H3T drift across some of the turns a little too easily, even at 20-30 mph. At one point, we thought one of our drivers was doing this on purpose, but we came to find out that the vehicle’s rear let loose several times. In the meantime, the Tacoma held its ground well and found itself loose in only a couple of tight corners, but never enough to require steering correction from the driver. The Frontier also felt smooth and stable over the hard-packed washboard road. Despite speeds in excess of 30 mph, this truck was the only one that remained steady and sure-footed, never causing any concern for the driver.

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test
Some higher speeds on washboard-rutted roads offered surprising results. Both the H3T Alpha and the Tacoma had problems maintaining traction during the corners at 20-30 mph. More weight in the rear, or the shocks improving their rebound, could prevent the rear axle from wanting to swing out.

Overall Impressions

The H3T is by far one of the most impressive off-road vehicles we tested. It feels like a heavy truck because it’s so solid, but it’s agile enough to take on just about anything. We loved the Alpha model’s stance, great looks, utilitarian features, multiple amenities and comfort, but the high you get from the excellent features and V-8 power comes to a sobering halt once you get to the pump. On our test, the H3T Alpha averaged 14.5 mpg, but we wouldn’t buy the truck for its gas mileage. We hope that a five- or six-speed automatic would improve fuel economy a bit, and we do have to say that the truck we used in our test was brand-spankin’-new. We put the first 200-plus miles on it, so without a good engine break-in it’s tough to judge the truck’s fuel economy too harshly.

The H3T’s bed is also large enough to accommodate people who might need a bigger truck. The bed rails are much higher than those on the imports, though, making access to the cargo box a little more difficult. The interior is like that of a sports car, with comfortable seating and a high-end feel to it. Although we would have liked a little more room between our knees and the bottom of the steering wheel, the H3T is a pretty cool midsize truck that’s a cross between a Jeep JK Wrangler Rubicon and a Silverado half-ton pickup.

The most impressive truck we tested for the money had to be the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X. With all the amenities -- leather interior, stereo and more -- we really liked the fact that you can get a lot for under $34,000. We also liked the fact that all the off-road switches are in one place, near the shifter. This may not sound like a big deal, but once you’re on the trail you don’t want to spend time taking your hands off the wheel to search for that rear locking differential button. Furthermore, the Bluetooth functions are also on the steering wheel, making for a safe and easy way to talk while driving. The Frontier also offered excellent fuel economy, averaging 17.3 mpg during our test, and provided excellent power from its V-6 engine. While it felt sturdier and firmer on the trail than the Tacoma, it did lack a little in ride height and articulation. That’s something a 2-inch body lift could easily fix, getting you into some more rugged terrain that the Frontier could handle with ease. In addition, the Frontier’s legroom was surprisingly roomy. The floor is missing a transmission hump in the rear cab, which is great for the person sitting in the middle of the backseat.

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test
We also got to test the vehicles' Hill Descent systems, which allow the trucks to descend steep grades slowly, automatically applying the brakes when necessary for a steady ride down.

Even though the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road had fewer amenities and less flash, it’s a solid truck that gives surprising performance. While the interior is simple, it’s more than adequate for “truck guys.” Some of our drivers liked the gated shifter, while others thought it was too cumbersome trying to shift it into the first-gear position for slow ascents. In addition, we didn’t like the fact that the 4-High, 4-Low and traction control switches were all over the dash, but the cool backup camera made up for it. Using this feature not only allows you to keep from backing into obstacles, it also makes it easy to hitch up a trailer by yourself if needed. Like the Frontier, the Tacoma also had steering-wheel-mounted Bluetooth controls, but the volume for the interior speaker is incredibly loud, and we struggled to find out how to tone it down a bit.

On the trail, the Tacoma had better articulation and ground clearance than the Frontier, making it a little more capable. It also felt more nimble and lighter, which can give you more confidence if you’re not distracted by the extra side-to-side motion. Although the Tacoma’s mud flaps are great for protecting the paint from rock chips and flying mud, they are a hindrance on the trail. We kept scraping them over moderately sized rocks, and even though they’re flexible enough to bend back and avoid breaking, it sounds like you’re grinding the rocker panels to shreds. Fortunately, it looks as though they could be easily removed for trail use and replaced for weekly commutes.

Despite having 25 fewer hp than the Frontier, the Tacoma still has good passing power, as it’s coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission. During our test, it averaged 17.5 mpg in both highway and off-road driving, making it the most economical of our vehicles. For a sticker price under $32,000, it’s a great truck that performs well and looks great. If you have the money, you can also get additional TRD options including a supercharger, headers and a host of other performance and appearance accessories.

Even if our test could have been much tougher, we were still impressed at the capability each of these vehicles’ off-road packages delivered. We’re happy to see that when a manufacturer adds a locking rear differential to a truck, the rest of the vehicle’s suspension, drivetrain, chassis and interior are good enough to make excellent use of it.

2009 Midsize Pickup Truck Off-Road Comparison Test
One of the last challenges in the canyon was a rocky ledge that was easily conquered thanks to the added off-road accessories offered by these manufacturers.

Comments

The Toyota really needs to improve it's interior seat cloth options. They should offer leather. The TRD interior cloth seats with that odd mesh are not impressive and this prevents me from making a purchase of the vehicle.

Leather on an off-road vehicle....yeah that is an important feature. Try that leather out for a few years out in the back country and then see if it still makes the better truck.

Even when sold with the off-road packages, the majority of these vehicles will never leave the asphalt, so yes, leather is an option that alot of buyers will request, and manufactures will be happy to accomodate.

There is nothing off-road about taking a truck driving in the dry desert. If you want real off road conditions, try driving through 2 feet of fresh snow. I'm so sick of these so-called offroad tests...rocks and dry ground make for perfect traction conditions.

That doesn't make any sense. The TRD Off-Road, PRO-4X, and Off-Road Adventure packages respectively are all geared 100% towards off-road ability. There's nothing in there that gives them an edge over the base model (or, in Toyota's case, the TRD Sport model especially) pertaining to on-road ability. So tell me, why would any logical person dish out the extra money for a TRD Off-Road, a PRO-4X, or an Adventure Off-Road if it were "never going to leave the asphalt?"

Putting a rock under the Nissan...uuuh.. we call that cheating. The H3T would be the only real off-road truck at the top when the so called test was finished..

theres a lot thats different between the TRD Off Road and TRD Sport package. first the TRD Sport has an Open Diff and also are little bit lighter then the TRD Off Road models. the shocks are different and for that the rides are abit different.

The H3T the only off-road truck at the top?

No mention of the vehicle weights and balance, this is key for off-roading and I am sure the H3T is heavier than the others which would put it at a disadvantage in a real test.

The price of the Tacoma vs. the H3T is the tell tale. The over $10,000 saved by buying a Tacoma can be used to beef it up from the factory to destroy the H3T and still be under what the H3T would cost.

The H3T is for yuppies that want a tough image on the suburban roads, few will fix them up for serious off-roading if they dare to venture out.

According to Edmund's, the H3T is only capable of towing 5900lbs, which is less than either of the other trucks.

You stated otherwise.

Hey Mike Levine!

Regarding your 2008 (or is it 2009?) shoot-out:

http://special-reports.pickuptrucks.com/2008-light-duty-shoot-out.html

Looks like Car and Driver got it right, check it out, Buddy!

http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/comparison_test/pickups/dodge_ram_vs_ford_f_150_and_chevy_silverado_comparison_test

"There is nothing off-road about taking a truck driving in the dry desert. If you want real off road conditions, try driving through 2 feet of fresh snow. I'm so sick of these so-called offroad tests...rocks and dry ground make for perfect traction conditions."

Hey Matt, try the Baja 500 and see how well these trucks survive in a stock class? I bet the Hummer would not make it.

Me thinks the Tacoma would win!

Really, just put in a roll-cage and fuel cell and allow for a tire carrier and leave the rest of the trucks alone and race them at the Baja 500. The Tacoma should win!

@oxi

I suggest you check the facts first. The first stock vehicle to finish the 2007 Baja 1000, and 2008 Baja 500 and 1000 was the H3 Alpha. HUMMER vehicles also swept every stock category in SCORE and Best in the Desert season points.

If you want leather seats buy a car not a truck!!!

Leather seats are ALOT easier to clean mud off of than cloth seats. I have a H3 and it is great off-road AND in snow so dont be hatin' on the H3T! its a Great 4x4 vehicle

I suggest you check the facts first. first the TRD Sport has an Open Diff and also are little bit lighter then the TRD Off Road models. the shocks are different and for that the rides are abit different.

This was a good set of tests for performance numbers and gives a good idea of what real-world conditions might bring to a specific truck. However, I must admit that I was leaning the way of the Tacoma before I even read the report and after it was finished, I still like it the best even though it's not the top performer of the 3. Toyota really gets truck styling now for some reason... Their newer Tundras and Tacomas are the nicest looking pickups I've ever seen, bar none.

Thanks for a helpful review. Right now it is time to buy a new ride and, I am trying to decide between a Hummer H3T, and a crewcab Tacoma or Dodge Dakota. I like the looks of the H3T but everyone tells me the Tacoma will hold up better, even though the Dakota has the lifetime powertrain warranty.

These vehicles are all huge, to me. I wish someone would offer a scaled down model like the compact pickups of the 1980s.

Dude, Go for the H3t!!! My H3 has held up way better than my brothers Toyota!

Not that it makes or breaks the test, but you stated the nissan was the only truck to have leather and power seats, yet, "Our H3T came with a leather interior, a sunroof and Alpha badges on the dash and upholstery"...

The Alpha package is available either as a cloth package with optional driver's side power seat, or as a leather package that comes with the obvious plus dual power seats, chrome wheels and a few other items that make up the package.

Sometimes I wonder if magazine tests are done with a hand tied behind the back, or not enough research (not picking on this one, I'm just speaking in general)...It's really not fair to include the other two trucks as a comparison; meaning, guess you have to be nice these days and act fair, lol...

I know, out xxx amount in y and have z, blah blah blah...we're comparing off-the-shelf here. If it were the other way around though, you could bet things would read differently.

I have a 2008 Nissan Frontier NISMO 4x4, which in my opinion is superior to the new Pro-4X models. Why? You can get every single option in one truck, something that Nissan doesn't do with the newer Pro-4X models. There's no doubt that the Toyota Tacoma is an absolutely beautiful truck and blows the Nissan out of the water as far as looks are concerned.

However, I never cease to be impressed with my Fronty. Whether it's off road here in the desert or driving through snow up in northern AZ, it performs. It has a nice big engine (30 hp more than the Tacoma's), locking differential (Tacoma has limited slip), a fully boxed frame (the Tacoma is only partially boxed), a metal bed (Tacoma is a composite material), a good bed rail system (unlike the Tacoma's flimsy little rails), and a console that looks like a truck console (the Tacoma's is somewhat akin to a sports car). Those are the things that sold me on the Frontier.

Anybody who is going to do any serious off-roading is going to eventually need to install a lift kit, so the ground clearance on either the Tacoma or the Frontier is pretty much irrelevant. Both ride very well on the streets and have a nearly identical turning radius'. If you want a better off-road vehicle, go with the Frontier. If you want a nicer looking truck, go with the Tacoma.

If I could buy a Frontier with a Tacoma body, that'd be the ultimate off-road vehicle, in my opinion. When Toyota does its next Tacoma re-design, if they add those things I mentioned, I'll trade my Fronty in a heartbeat. Until then, I'm gonna keep on lovin' it!

Just to be clear, the Tacoma and TRD Sport come standard with a limited slip diff, not an open diff. The TRD Sport has an electronic rear locker.

Personally I bought the TRD Sport over the Off-Road because I like the visual features (hood scoop, color keyed everything, smoked headlight surrounds, lack of chrome, etc) and I planned on a 3" lift, aftermarket wheels, larger tires and quality skid plates... which the factory ones are not. Yes, I sacraficed the rear locker and the downhill and hill start assist. However, truth is that (in my opinion) the rear locker alone over limited slip is only a slight advantage. Now, front AND rear lockers as an option would have swayed me the other way. So, I got the looks that I wanted, and with a small additional investment I got a very capable off roader.

Sorry gang, that should have said the TRD Off-Road has an electronic rear locker... you knew what I meant.

Smitty

Hey everyone,

I own a 2009 H3T Alpha. It is capable of almost any task you put in front of it. As of right now I've replaced the stock wheels and tires with XD Series 778 22" Monster wheels and Nitto Terra Grappler tires. Today I am installing a custom 3" stainless dual cat back exhaust, Jet performance chip and cold air intake system. So to the folk's who think this vehicle is for yuppies, YOU'RE SOOOOO WRONG! This is my 3rd Hummer and am totally loyal to the brand. I've taken them through mud, snow, gravel, rock etc. They don't just look good - they are good!

See ya on the trails.

This was a midsize truck test, but you know, looking at those prices, and the fuel economy achieved...

I have to wonder: how would the Kia Borrego take this same trip? Its not a truck, and its fullsize, but it offers ground clearance that's acceptable and more power, while offering better fuel economy. Plus, its available for either $30,000 or (with some luxuries) $32,000. Similiar prices as we see here.

Interesting review but it's a shame that what used to be compact trucks are now 'mid-sized' trucks which are as big as or bigger than the full-sized trucks of yesterday. Is it too hard to build a lightweight truck that has 4 doors and a truck bed...wait that's what the previous gen Tacomas were.

Where are the rest of the midsize trucks??

If there 09 models arent out yet....why didnt you guys wait?

Where is the dakota, ranger, colorado, where is the nissan clone from suzuki?

You guys tested 3 trucks.....thats a comparison? Don't you guys test the tacoma and frontier nearly every single year??

I am a Dodge dakota owner,

but if you put a regular cab, short wheel base 4x4 ranger out there, its going to win the offroad comparison (maybe not againts the hummer), if "offroad" is actually the factor that this was based on. You have two LONG and LOW trucks out there. They are bad offroad contenders.

I have a TRD sport 4x4, and I used for work is great in gas milage, they should lifted at least 2 inches more from factory for the ofroad (better results)
pro ; gas milage "the better of the three"
con ; no vertical ajustment for the seats

I have a 2009 h3t with the inline 5 cylinder engine. For whomever says its not a good truck or for yuppies your deffinatly wrong. So far it has gone through everything, snow, mud, water, rocks ext. While i agree that many peopl buy hummers and never take themm off-road and these people might give the brand a bad name, but my truck is great. I am soon to replace my stock 33 in tires with 35 in bf goodrich MT and a 3 in lift kit. THis should make the truck even more bad ass.

Wish you had included the Ridgeline in this test:

1. It's a mid-sized 4x4
2. It's the Baja 1000 winner as well

Sure it lacks the true off-road capability (no 4-low) but where you tested it would've been a contender.

Why buy a midsize truck when the Full Size trucks get better gas mileage with more power?

I'll rather keep my '93 Land Cruiser, Offroad ready with bunch of accessories and I barely spent $10k will do anything these three little trucks do and more for 1/4 of the $$$$......be smart, with the rest you can buy a New honda civic for your everyday driving...

I had an 07 TRD Off-Road & I traded it in because I couldn't figure out a slight sway in the truck. This happened after the hubs froze to the drum--therefore holding the truck in place. I bumped the rpms up to 2.5 then instantly the truck jumped forward while being in 4-wheel drive and it has been swaying at high & low speeds (It seems the hesitation in the turning causes the swaying). I noticed a lot of wear on the outside edges of the front tires. Numerous dealers have told me that nothing was wrong; "I feel something different". Now my 2009 is exhibiting the same behavior... It was perfect when I bought it but after towing a boat the 1st time, while being 4-wheel. I accessed firm ground-on a flat surface, and stopped the truck so that I could put it back in 2wd. I noticed the sway from then on (again)... Ps, it's not the alignment.

I would never buy a hummer. Its fat, slow and ugly. In addition, the truck will be falling apart around you, when the warranty expires. 'nuff said.

I have a 95 Tacoma 4 wheel drive,My next truck will be a new Tacoma . I live in Florida so we have mud and sand.Never come close to getting stuck anywhere.Within Reason! Oh yeah, first mod you must do. Supercharger, put one on my 3.4 and holy crap! Love Nissan,could care less about Hummer.

i want that nissan midsize crew cab truck for free! ;-)

i really love the nissan pro 4x pack becuase of the transition made over from the nismos(which of course is a awesome truck) which overall to me were more street/race performance and the pro 4x is strictly offroad ready. in comparison to the tacoma it is heavier but the in all the other aspect really excels like in torque, hp, and plus some of the pluses are that it already comes with factory spray on bedliner, utilitrak system, full boxed frame like the full size titan and of coarse the awesome rockfordfosgate sound system, yes also factory ready:). i love my frontier, just put a lift on that baby. Overall i would pick it over a toyota or hummer anyday

The H3 is nice out in the open but after i spent the fortune to buy one would i really want to be pounding it off-road?#1 AND #2 This thing is a billboard wide! Where around here in NE are you gonna drive this thing without destroying it? Once in the thick wooded trails a jeep would be doing circles around it!
Lets face it, Its an over priced rig for the "Not so well endowed" as is the vette and so on;)

I have a 2005 Ford Ranger FX4 Level II. Bilstein shocks, stiffer dampeners, fully skidplated, Alcoa forged rims, BFG AT 31x10.5 tires, Limited Slip TORSEN 4:10 rear diff, Leather seats, 6 disc 300 watt system... just loaded, ALL STOCK. Never been stuck, never will be stuck and it looks good.

Ford does not make Level IIs anymore and the old ranger is going out, but it could have gone anywhere these trucks did.

I went in my stock Taco 2010 through snow of Utah, full backcountry. Got stuck in about 12inch snow as truck got hung - it has less than 10inch clearance. Got out with help of rear locker through I shreaded cables in the process.

Truck could use few things extra but for the price it kills H3. For $10000 I can kill *any* H3 period. There is no comparison.

I am sure you can do the same with Nissan. Maybe H3 would be more of an option for at least 10k less.

The Nissan frontier pro-4x king cab with a manual gets 10.1" of ground clearance (at least in Canada)

@non-biased

Well I wouldn't really call that cheating I'd call it problem solving. I mean sure you have to get out and assess the situation, and do a little manual labor, but at the end of the day it gets the job done.

Did anyone expect the Hummer not to win? More power, wider (more stable) stance, locking front and rear diff, lower gearing and bigger tires. I honestly don't know why anyone would expect the other two to win? Of the 3 I would probably BUY the Nissan but I WANT the Hummer. I would buy a Colorado Z71 before any of them anyway, tho.

I own a Ranger 4.0, 4x4 and my wife owns a Hummer H3T. I can go anywhere without fear because she comes and pulls me out anytime I get stuck. Oh, and by the way, with the discounts and rebates the Hummer was purchased for $3000. more than I could have purchased the Nissan and Toyota.

First, Dodge, Ford, Chevy, etc. were not included because the reviewers decided to use a locking diff. as the ticket in. That's their choice; deal with it. Second, the author stated that a 2 inch body lift would fix the lack of capability over rocks... False. A body lift doesn't affect ground clearance, it just lifts the body, not the differential where the ground clearance is most limited. Third, although the Toyota has the least measured horsepower, it has the highest tow rating AND has the best acceleration of the three, so the comments that make the Toyota appear weak should be taken with a grain of salt when compared to actual performance. Put a Tacoma on a dyno for actual wheel horsepower, and you'll embarrass the other two yet again. Fourth, interior control location is superior on the Nissan, but is only a problem for a new driver of a vehicle; after a week or two of ownership, controls become second nature even if they were to be located behind the passenger headrest. Fifth, the comments about price difference hold true - the Hummer would easily fall behind the others if the price difference were used to beef up the others, but this review is for off-the-rack. The Ridgeline... it wouldn't make it in rock climbing, sorry; it's not at all designed for that anyway. Finally, the reviewer forgot to mention Toyota's A-Trac. It simulates a front locking diff and makes the off-road capability even more superior to the Nissan. A-Trac is actually in some ways similar to a true locking differential, because it simultaneously combines the benefits to a locked AND unlocked diff. I have to say, with all this in mind, the Tacoma is very clearly the best buy, at least in my humble opinion.

I must add that I still feel it was mostly a good review, it just needed a little fixing in addition to some really important holes filled.

I forgot to add - to the person (Arcane) that commented on the "flimsy" toyota deck rail system. Read the manuals for cold hard facts...

Here's Frontier, page 9-20:
Install only one cleat per section of
channel. [Well, that sucks, you don't have that restriction on the Tacoma]
Applying loads at angles to the cleats
greater then 45° or loads greater than
150 lbs. (header and floor channels) or
200 lbs. (side channels) may cause
damage to the channel or bed.

And now for the Tacoma manual, page 195-196:
Side rail: 3-4 locations per side (depending on whether you have the short bed or long bed).
Headboard rail: 3 locations.
Max 440 lbs per rail.
No restrictions for angle loads.

Tacoma's "flimsy" rails are literally rated more than TWICE as strong as those on the Frontier, and you have more versatile mounting options too, despite their being conveniently smaller and less invasive of the bed area.

I have an H3T with the V8. I have used it off road several times and couldn't be happier. I have had 2 jeeps (a CJ and an X), an IHC Scout, and various pickups. It doesn't have the turning radius of a stock jeep but that is about it. The ability to tow trailers (or a friends broken down jeep) through difficult terrain including hills and mud is awesome.

I can verify that these electronic limited slip systems are highly effective. My 07 Frontier Nismo would transfer enough power to smoke the tire with solid traction while hardly spinning the one on ice, mud, etc. That truck was nearly unstoppable in anything.

Electronic limited slip is a great feature, but there are situations that demand at least a rear locking diff. On a steep slippery incline, if a wheel spins and the power is shifted--too late, it's all over. You're sliding all the way back down, tires plowing ahead to no avail. A locker will prevent you from ever losing it in the first place. It was appropriate for that to be a mandatory feature in this comparison.

I now drive a 2010 Pro-4x IDENTICAL to the one in this test and I am very happy with it. I just don't see why they had to put a rock under the wheel. I've had mine balanced over a ditch with one in the air and it crawled right out.

It's very situational - based on previous posts, I am obviously a strong fanboy for the Tacoma, and although I see it in a lot of ways more fitting for me than the Frontier, I still get into situations where I have to move rocks too, get out the high-lift jack, or even the tow strap, and I'd be willing to bet I'd even have to do it in the Hummer or a heavily modified Jeep in a lot of situations.

They probably had to do that on the Frontier because it doesn't have quite as much wheel travel on the suspension as the competitors (or ground clearance for that matter), but instead a suspension that seems to keep the tires in contact better on higher speed, smaller bumps than the competitors.

On that note, they should have aired down the tires to hug the bumps more, as this is common practice for better grip in off-road applications. This would have prevented the subtle rear-end slipping that was noted on the Tacoma's cornering on bumpy trails, and would have improved the results for all three pickups.

you guys are all rating these truck, as they are when they come from the dealership, when there off-roading. You need some kind of after market parts if your really gonna do any kind of real off-roading. But then again most "common city people" think of off roading as driving in a field, or across a desert of something stupid like that. You NEED ground clearance and after market tires if you thinking of doing any real off roading. But to each there own.

2009 Tacoma TRD off-road
6 inch lift
35' BF Goodrich KM2 tires
ARB front bumper
rock guards on both sides
double skid plate, and rear differential armor


Oh yeah, and to those of you that by a truck for looks, your the kinda guys that are married to soccer mom's and don't belong on any kind of blogs even similar to this. Go buy a SUV.



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