2015 4x4 Challenge: Results

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We like that more truckmakers are getting serious about offering stronger and more capable off-road packages. Certainly Ford has received notoriety for its well-executed Raptor, and if you've ever driven a Ram Power Wagon, you know it climbs a mountain trail like a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

But what about worthy 4x4s that can't compete at those highest levels?

That's where this comparison test was hatched; we wanted to take as many "tier two" off-roaders as possible and put them in a head-to-head Thunderdome match. Unfortunately, as we sifted through all the half-ton packages, we could only come up with two qualified players: the 2015 Ram Rebel and 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro.

As with some of our other tests, we chose not to weight any of the scored categories so that if you want to recalculate our test, you can add weight to categories that are important to you. We encourage you to do so to find the winner that matches your particular tastes.

We had 15  empirical tests, some of which focused on off-road capability, while others emphasized more traditional pickup truck strengths, including overall value. The largest single portion of the results, effectively a quarter of the total, was determined by voting from our three expert judges, who spent the week living and breathing these pickups, with much of each day spent suffering under triple-digit temperatures.

Of course, we could have included more tests or been more meticulous about keeping the scored results aimed only at 4x4 function, but in the final analysis we know that even if a new-truck buyer is purchasing a vehicle for its superior off-road prowess, it's more than likely it will still have to carry family members, haul some cord wood and maybe even tow a small boat. After all, no matter what the trim package, it still has to work like a pickup.

Here's how we scored the 2015 4x4 Challenge.

First Place: 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro: 1,925.5 points

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Winning our competition by less than 1 percent (in fact, just a little more than one-half of 1 percent), the Tundra takes one of PickupTrucks.com's narrowest victories in the history of our comparison testing. Among its more impressive feats, the Tundra had the best payload number and the best overall ground clearance of the two 4x4 packages. It's also worth noting the Tundra was much cheaper than the Ram Rebel and had some of the best off-pavement drag race performances we've ever seen.

With the exception of its two-wheel-drive "normal" operating parameters, our judges couldn't stop praising the Tundra's snappy throttle response, quick-shifting transmission and super-smart traction control setup. Although the Tundra, when simply looking at its 15-event test scoring, comes up short of the Rebel by 26 points (out of more than 1,400), the judges' votes were enough to tip the scales back in favor of the Tundra, giving it a 12-point lead when all was said and done. In every category except for interior layout and features, the judges unanimously selected the Tundra as the winner.

It's worth noting that if it wasn't for the optional BFG All-Terrain tire upgrade (costing nearly $3,300), the actual cost of the Tundra off-road package would have been closer to $45,000 and $7,000 less than the Rebel. Can there be a better bang-for-the-buck off-roader anywhere else in world?

Second Place: 2015 Ram Rebel 1500: 1,913.5 points

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The Rebel is an excellent combination of parts and performance features that makes for one of the strongest outdoor-oriented adventure packages. Its all-around abilities are obvious when you look closely at the scoring. The Rebel won the majority of our 15 head-to-head contests, finishing 26 points ahead of the Tundra.

Our judges gave the Rebel high marks for its polished and comfy interior, especially when exploring the remote open land in and around Death Valley, and sang the praises of the large-screen Uconnect system that offered a detailed look at the 4x4 trails we found ourselves lost on several times.

Unfortunately, even though the Rebel came out ahead during our head-to-head test scores, it lost points to the Tundra in our judges' scoring. There's no question the Rebel was capable of conquering all the nasty terrain we could find to throw at it, but when compared to the more athletic, nimble and responsive Tundra, it missed the tape by mere inches.

Similarities and Differences

It's difficult to remember when we've had a more evenly matched comparison test. Both competitors have much in common. They both have:

  • Strong V-8s
  • Significant interior strengths
  • Upgraded suspensions
  • Dual exhausts
  • Weigh within 40 pounds of each other
  • Off-road-dedicated big wheels and tires
  • Part-time 4x4 systems with 2.64:1 low-range ratios
  • Sporty, active-lifestyle personalities
  • Upgraded front and rear seating

We discovered many differences between these two trucks as well: The Rebel works hard to get attention, while the Tundra is more subtle. The Rebel's eight-speed transmission is thoughtful and shifts smoothly, where the Tundra's six-speed is responsive and wants to play, never shying away from a quick shift. The Rebel's interior is lush and full of quality details, while the Tundra looks like a sport package designed for function and purpose. The Rebel's Toyo tread patterns are more vertical, while the Tundra's BFG All-Terrains are more horizontal. The Rebel's dual exhaust is actually just dual tailpipes, but the Tundra has a true dual exhaust setup.

Where All the Points Come From

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We've discussed and identified some of the 15 scored categories, and reviewed the five different judges' scoring categories, but let's explain where the awarded points for each 4x4 competitor came from.

Although we did not require Ram or Toyota to meet a specific price limit, we did ask them to send us their best-equipped (however they wanted to define it) off-road Rebel and Tundra TRD Pro. We calculated actual payload for each truck by weighing them and subtracting their scaled weight from their listed (on the door tag) gross vehicle weight rating. We took the manufacturer's listed maximum trailer tow rating for each pickup and scored them accordingly.

Because this was a test of four-wheel-drive trucks, we measured and awarded points for front and rear ground clearance, crawl ratios (1st gear multiplied by axle gear multiplied by low-range gearing) and suspension flexibility. We also scored the results of our four sand drag races; each of those runs was conducted using a different powertrain and traction-control setting.

Finally, we included daily-driving categories such as fuel economy (measured on deserted highway stretches and elevation-climbing two-lane roads) and interior sound.

Of course, the final piece of our 4x4 Challenge scoring — approximately 25 percent of the total — was drawn from the impressions of our expert judges. All totaled, and speaking to how good both of these pickups are, our head-to-head competitors had close to 2,000 points to fight about, and in the end they were separated by just 12.

Final Impresssions

Although we believe the scoring tells a complete story, we discovered some interesting issues about each off-road-biased pickup that we don't want to let slip past without note.

It's somewhat troubling to us that the Rebel has only 900 pounds of payload capacity, which is less than a normal amount of tongue weight for a pickup that is supposed to offer 10,000 pounds of towing capacity (and that doesn't account for the driver's weight, additional passengers or actual payload). As a pickup truck, that doesn't look good; either the towing number is over-promised or there's something odd about having such a low GVWR (6,800 pounds for a 5,900-pound pickup).

Since this 4x4 Challenge targeted remote deserts, high-elevation mountains and rugged obstacle course performance, maybe it makes sense that the truck that performs those duties best overall should be the winner, but this decision, once you've decided you want a superior off-road cruiser, could easily be made on price alone. We'd expect quite a few people would happy saving several thousand dollars and opt for the Tundra, while another group surely wouldn't mind paying the extra cost for a quieter, more luxurious, living-room-like interior.

Naturally, with a score this close, we'd anticipate a lot of people being happy with either pickup choice here, whether the Rebel with its initial empirical points victory or the Tundra with its judges' and overall point victory. But we can have only one winner.

 

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Thank Yous

We'd like to thank both Toyota and Ram for getting these half-tons to us for this contest and the state of California for providing us with such a diverse set of nasty geographic obstacles all within easy driving distance.

Be sure to let us know what you think, and we'll try to answer as many questions as we can. Finally, where should we go for our next comparison test and how should we set up the test?

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

 

Overview | Fuel Economy | Test Measurements | Going Slow | Going Fast | What the Judges Said | Results

 

 

 

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Comments

The Ram Rebel only has a 900 lb payload? So if you've got 4 adults in the cab that means you can throw a cooler of beer in the back and that's it? Ouch.

Rams payload numbers include a driver and a full tank if fuel. So as the truck sits, with no passengers, it is 1050. Still weakish, but not bad. Others have been known to game numbers by taking out equipment and fluids.

Not that Payload should really matter in an offroad competition but the Fiat for a full size truck is embarrassing. I know the Raptor is only 100ish lbs more but at least it breaks the 1K barrier and well it offers so much more Raptor toyish fun insanity than the Fiat.

Qantas, hemi et al

Why you allowed Japanese to floor you?

Wouldn't Ram's payload of 900 lbs automatically reduces it's towing capacity to a max of 9,000 lbs and for safety sake more like 8,000? That's if the 10% tongue weight is to be believed.

Well that wasn't surprising...

Just goes to show how good the fundementals of the Tundra really are. Slap a mild suspension upgrade on a 9 year old pickup and it still tears azz. As it should--it is basically a long wheelbase Land Cruiser with a bed and a less sophisticated (but still good) 4x4 system.

"...we chose not to weight any of the scored categories so that if you want to recalculate our test, you can add weight to categories that are important to you. We encourage you to do so to find the winner that matches your particular tastes."

Excellent idea. Thanks!

Toyota Tundra. Made in Texas by Texans.

The pathetic payload numbers on the ram point out that these trucks really need about a 2000# payload. That way, when you have a full cab, you still have enough left over for tongue weight.

Curious why you fueled the RAM with 87 octane when the owners manual recommends 89 octane?

Doesn't this call to question the F/E and performance numbers?

Great comparison. Knew the Toyota would be better than the ram. Yota makes some very good cars and trucks. I just can't help but look at that grille on the ram and think of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The TRD Pro Tundra won the Baja 1000 in the stock class. No competition here.

The Fiat heap couldn't hang with Texas Toyota Muscle!

Payload and tow ratings are two separate things. They do not need to match percentage wise to be rated where they are. So the ratings are not fishy at all, just not well understood by your avg Joe.

Think of tandem semi tractor trailers as an example. If a semi were to pull a single unit trailer equal in length to that of the dual or triple tandem trailer, the semi would not be able to likely due to exceeding it's payload capacity well before it's towing capacity. But the semi can pull the tandem trailers just fine because it only needs to carry the payload weight of just the first trailer. That is the case of plenty of tow capacity and not enough payload.

tundra=fundra!

Stairs? Not a ramp? Really?
Are you sure it was axle articulation and not a Toyota frame twist ?

$3300 for four BFG tires..a bit overpriced I would say..aren't worth more than a Grand for those.

Toyota makes reliable off-road beasts. Always has. I always see tacos when I go offroading with my wrangler. After jeep, Toyota is the most common brand in the back country.

I knew the Tundra would beat the ram,

If these guys added RELIABILITY as one of the tests,
The Tundra would've WON by 1000%

I would take the ram over a cheap pos! Toyota anyday!

Actually the previous tundra looks like the creature from the black lagoon. The rebel looks like a 58 gmc. The 58 really looks better

No, the ram just has a sad look to it.

Its somewhat silly to compare MSRPs for the two trucks and use them to make a point that the Tundra is cheaper. Ram runs *massive* incentives on its trucks year round, particularly at year end. Toyota runs nearly zero incentives. A Ram 1500 can virtually always be had substantially cheaper than an equivalently optioned Tundra.

I'm also not sure suspension travel is even worth being a category when discussing the Ram Rebel (or any air suspension equipped vehicle really). The entire operation of the air suspension will always result in absurdly reduced suspension travel compared to a traditionally sprung counterpart.

At the end of the day I just don't see the Rebel as a very serious "off road" truck. It is certainly nice for what it is, which is a nice overall truck with a (very) mild lift and a fantastic multi-purpose air suspension system. That suspension system can raise the body somewhat when travelling in obstructed terrain, and can help level loads, but its certainly not the ideal setup for a serious off-road rig. The biggest problem I see with the rebel is that it commands a substantial price premium over a regular Ram 1500 which, when equipped with air suspension, is going to perform nearly identically to the rebel.

You guys can also take my vote for (if possible) throwing a jeep wrangler unlimited in to future off road tests that you pull off. It would make for a really nice benchmark.

No that ram front grille does look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon from any angle you look at it. Thanks JC Whitney.

Take that grill off the Ram and put the color matched sport grill on and it would look sick looking.

Jc Whitney? Don't they supply the headlights for the f150? Cause nobody would design such hideous lights from the factory right? Those are some gd butt ugly lights.

Cummins,
Then why do you use MSRP to compare Aussie pickup and US pickup prices if it isn't reliable?

It doesn't suite your current argument?

Cummins,

It would be silly to not compare MSRP. That is the only way you can standardize the prices. Incentives can vary from month to month and vary based on different regions. There's no way to take that into account when you're trying to run a test without confounding variables.

Sure the incentives vary, but their is a clear and obvious difference between the brands. The difference is so wide and so clear that it is virtually completely useless to compare the two vehicles. The incentives difference is roughly a full order of magnitude no matter what time of year you look and what section of of the country you look in.

So, to be clear. When comparing the Tundra and Ram 1500 using MSRP is a completely useless task, and is a foolish metric to use for any sort of comparison between the two.

Nope JC Whitney did not supply the F150's headlights. They have an exclusive deal with ram to supply grills and they cant work with Ford on that one. Besides, is this thread about Ford? nope its about Toyota and that ram with the JC Whitney grill.

I agree with throwing a jeep into the testing to set a benchmark. I find it odd that this site covers full size vans but doesn't cover jeeps and the like which are much more similar to pickups than vans.

I have seen red Rebel in person yesterday and it looks much better than picture.
If Rebel is faster in sand drag 2wd mode, traction control on , it has better rear axle road and offroad stick than competition .
I am assuming , PUTC tested this race in Offroad mode 2 and handicapped Rebel with less front wheel travel. I could also see, that Toyota started to accelerated sooner than Rebel and I would prefer at least regular stop watch for each truck, than this unscientific 3rd grade racing without any device to count, when to start.
PUTC always surprises me over and over again with basic mistakes I would never expect from dedicated web site, but I guess, they have to make living any way possible. They call themselves the experts, which bothers me a little, but it's normal this days.

Toyota is a good truck, but I can make exactly same test with completely different outcome , so basically , this test is useless for somebody who reads just test results, which is 95% of readers.

It will be interesting to see how far ahead the new Raptor is when it debuts in every category, especially Power and Price.

@ common sense
The reason the Tundra only lost the 2x4 drag with all the nannies on is because they are incredibly intrusive on the Tundra--I am guessing that is how their legal department "added value." That is why most owners shut them off as soon as they turn the key.

this site does not cover just vans. they cover specifically cargo vans which are more similar to pickup trucks than jeeps because they are a vehicle suitable for hauling. the other reason they cover cargo vans and not suvs is because there aren't many sites covering cargo vans but there are already many sites for suvs and jeeps.

@Dav
Maybe yes, maybe no. We don't know, because PUTC didn't test it properly.
They didn't use any 21st century device to measure. The professionals.

That's a hegebloom designed grille. No telling where he came up with that atrocity but maybe jc needs a halfwit designer. It's nearly universally hated but does look better in person. Still ugly. Btw, f150 headlights are still hideous

@uh huh - can you separate towing and payload? There is such a thing as gross combined weight ratings. GM and Ram do not post those ratings. I don't really know of any trailers that can be towed behind a pickup that don't put weight on the pickup. Hay wagons, or "jeep" or "pup" dollies under a fifth wheel come to mind but those tend to be commercial.

Please post common trailers that are routinely pulled behind a pickup that do not "load" a pickup.



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