As new-truck buyers continue to be drawn to the half-ton pickup truck segment, there can be no doubt that truckmakers will offer more specialized versions for them to choose from. Ram is probably the best at this right now, offering 11 trim levels of the 1500, each with its own distinct personality. One of our favorite personalities, no matter which brand, is the off-road package — as long as it's supported with the proper mechanicals.
A few years ago we compared several of the best 4x4 packages on the market against one another in our Ultimate 4x4 Shootout, pitting the Ford SVT Raptor against the Ram Power Wagon, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Baja and the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X. The results of that contest weren't close, with the Raptor walking away from the others. For our 2015 4x4 Challenge, we've taken a different approach.
Things have changed since our 2012 test: Ford's Raptor has taken a year off and will return with an all-aluminum 2017 version next year; the Power Wagon has upgraded to a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 with multiple new trim levels; and Toyota has created an all-new, more aggressive TRD Pro trim level for its Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner. In addition, Ram has added a rugged and athletic Rebel that not only sports a new grille and tailgate treatment, it also includes quite a few other high-adventure-oriented features.
Given that the new Raptor is still a ways off and that the Power Wagon is a heavy-duty pickup, we took the two newest 4x4 half-ton entries — the Ram Rebel and the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro — and matched them in a head-to-head competition focused on their off-road prowess. The truth is, although they might look like they're taking different strategies, these two trucks have quite a bit in common. Both trucks weigh within 40 pounds of each other, both have upgraded suspensions, aluminum wheels and aggressive tires, sporty interiors, dual exhausts, part-time 4x4 systems (with the exact same 2.64:1 low-range ratio) and powerful V-8 engines.
Here's what our challengers have:
2015 Ram 1500 Rebel 4x4
The 2015 Ram Rebel 1500 (only offered in crew-cab short-bed configurations) had a base price of $45,915 (price includes a destination fee). However, our Flame Red 4x4 test truck came with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 (a $1,150 upgrade from the base 3.6-liter V-6 only available on 4x2 models) rated at 395 horsepower and 410 pounds-feet of torque; it had the standard four-corner adjustable air suspension. Additionally, the Rebel was fitted with 3.92:1 axle gears, an eight-speed automatic transmission ($500), unique interior and exterior grille work, badges and materials, dual exhausts and 33-inch E-rated (stronger) tires. Our truck also came with these options: the RamBox ($1,295); the upgraded Uconnect multimedia system with a large screen and navigation ($1,005); a backup camera with the Park Assist Group ($595); the Luxury Group ($560) that includes heated and lighted side mirrors, auto dimming, vanity mirrors and an overhead console with a programmable garage door opener; a spray-in bedliner ($475); an integrated trailer brake controller ($230); a rear limited-slip differential ($325); the Rebel instrument cluster ($175); extra skid plating ($150); and a 32-gallon fuel tank ($75). All totaled, our test Ram listed for $52,450 and has an EPA-rated city/highway/combined fuel economy of 15/21/17 mpg.
For a larger version of the 2015 Ram 1500 Rebel Monroney, click on the picture above.
2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro 4x4
Our Inferno Red Toyota Tundra TRD Pro test truck had a base price of $45,045 (including a destination charge) and had relatively few options. All TRD Pros use the DOHC 32-valve all-aluminum 5.7-liter V-8 rated at 381 hp and 401 pounds-feet of torque. The engine was mated to a six-speed transmission and had 4.30:1 axle gears. The heart of the TRD Pro is underneath the truck; it comes standard with longer front coil springs that give the front end 2 inches of lift. The rear springs are unique as well and provide just more than 1 inch of additional lift to the rear; both front and rear springs are tamed with high-performance remote-reservoir Bilstein racing shocks specifically designed to absorb hard impacts to keep the wheels settled and calm even over the worst terrain. The Tundra TRD Pro has unique black-out exterior badging on the grille, the side of the truck and the tailgate, and a stamped TRD Pro logo in the bed; it also has true dual exhausts. The only optional pieces on our test Tundra were the drop-in bedliner ($365), adjustable tie-down hooks ($45) for the bedrails and the upgraded 285/70R17E BFG All-Terrain T/A KO tires and aluminum wheels ($3,290). All totaled, including a destination fee, out test pickup had a price of $48,700 and has an EPA-rated city/highway/combined fuel economy of 13/17/15 mpg.
For a larger version of the 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Monroney, click on the picture above. Note that the Monroney does not reflect the costs of the bedliner and upgraded tires our test truck came with.
We tested these trucks for several days on various California rock trails, hill climbs, and river washes at the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area in Gorman. We then went to one of the largest sand dune areas in the country, Dumont Dunes in the Mojave Desert, pushing each truck (and our photographers) to their heat-stroke limits. Finally, we made our way to higher elevations at Big Bear Lake, in the San Bernardino National Forest, east of Los Angeles; the lake sits at 7,000 feet. We took both trucks on a meandering mountain trail mostly made of decomposed granite that wound through rain-soaked backcountry valleys and mountain peaks. Let's see how they performed.
For a larger version of the chart, click on the picture above.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears