By Mark Williams
One of the most popular trim levels for any pickup truck nowadays is its four-wheel-drive off-road package. Every manufacturer has one (sometimes two) and they typically reflect how well the manufacturer's engineering teams understand how pickups are used and abused by buyers who want the extra traction.
In that vein, we asked pickup manufacturers to send us their best full-size off-road factory package — our only criterion for our 2017 Monster Factory Off-Road Challenge — to find out which one has the most capable and most versatile off-road performance.
That leaves out the mid-size players — so no Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro or Chevrolet Colorado Midnight Edition, not to mention the coming Colorado ZR2 — making this a contest of full-size pickups. GM decided not to send any contestants this time, so we did not have Chevy or GMC competitors.
The competitors were:
- 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor (all new)
- 2017 Nissan Titan Pro-4X (all new)
- 2017 Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X (carryover)
- 2016 Ram 1500 Mopar Rebel (new package)
- 2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon (new design)
- 2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro (carryover)
We conducted this test in Tucson, Ariz., which allowed us to take advantage of the desert sunsets, the Tucson Dragway and several extreme 4x4 off-road trails outside Catalina State Park in Oro Valley just north of the city. Because this particular test focused on off-road capability, we did not conduct our normal battery of trailer towing or maximum payload track and fuel-economy testing. In their place, we added several categories that are either quantifiable (such as ground clearance and crawl ratios) or qualitative (such as off-road prowess).
We put the competitors through 17 different tests that totaled a possible 1,700 points. Four expert judges' scores accounted for 220 total points distributed across 11 subjective categories such as interior quality, braking, overall value, gearing, suspension and more. The total possible points that could be won by a pickup were 2,580. Given how competitive pickups are today, we expected the winner's total to be much lower than that.
We have not weighted any of these categories; that allows readers the chance to total the scores for themselves, weighting any category as they wish: i.e., giving more emphasis to fuel economy, zero-to-60-mph acceleration or ground clearance. We performed our acceleration and brake testing (zero-to-60 mph, quarter-mile and 60-mph-to-zero) at the Tucson Dragway, gathered our fuel-economy numbers over a 170-mile loop through both urban and suburban areas of Tucson, put each truck on a dynamometer at the same location on the same day and had each judge drive each competitor over the same 40-mile loop to better understand exactly how each one performs in real-world settings.
We also spent three days driving each full-size pickup over several extremely difficult, rock-strewn mountain trails above Oro Valley. Our four expert judges for this battle royal were:
- Joe Bruzek, Cars.com senior road test editor
- Greg Whale, freelance journalist and expert off-roader
- Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com editor
- Brian Wong, Cars.com Los Angeles bureau chief
Here are the details for each competitor:
2017 Ford F-150 Raptor
This is an all-new Raptor with several significant upgrades, not the least of which is its new all-aluminum body, a new high-output 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost (benefiting from bigger turbos, unique pistons and a stainless-steel exhaust), a new 10-speed automatic transmission, an upgraded Baja-style soft-ride suspension and a unique multiterrain, multiposition four-wheel-drive system.
Our short-wheelbase SuperCab test truck had a base price of $49,520 (all base prices include destination) but came to us with quite a few options. To start, our Raptor had the pricey 802A Equipment Group ($9,345) that includes Ford's Sync 3 multimedia system, a power sliding rear window, a front Torsen differential, Pro Trailer Backup Assist, a blind spot information system with tow monitoring, LED box lighting, LED side lamps, remote start and voice-activated navigation. Our test truck also had the power moonroof ($995), a foldable bed extender ($250), a tailgate step ($375), 17-inch aluminum wheels ($1,165), a heated steering wheel ($155), the Raptor Technology Package with adaptive cruise control ($1,950), stowable loading ramps ($595) and a spray-in bedliner ($495). The total price for our Raptor was $64,845.
For a larger version of the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor Monroney, click on the picture above.
2017 Nissan Titan Pro-4X
The 2017 Titan light-duty pickup is all new, with an all-new frame, suspension and powertrain setup. It's the long-awaited replacement for the oldest half-ton pickup in the segment; some of its competitors have been redesigned twice in the same time frame. Unlike the Titan XD, which debuted as a 2016 model, the new Titan half ton has better driving and handling dynamics, offers better fuel economy and will be a better fit for families. But the question is: How well will it compete with other more established half tons, especially those with strong four-wheel-drive packages? We've always liked the Pro-4X package in the mid-size Frontier, but how will it do in a bigger pickup?
Our crew-cab Pro-4X Titan came to us with a 5.6-liter V-8, a seven-speed automatic transmission, a transfer case, Bilstein shocks at each corner, extra skid plating underneath including a huge skid plate under the front bumper, an electronic locking rear differential and two strong front tow hooks at a manufacturer's base price of $46,215. Add to that the Pro-4X Utility and Tow Package ($1,820), which offers front and rear sonar, Nissan's Utili-Track tie-down bed system, a power sliding rear window, a locking tailgate, a brake controller, extendable mirrors, a premium audio system, under-rail LED lights and a rear bed step. Our test truck also had the Pro-4X Convenience Package ($3,520), which added heated front and rear leather seats, a heated tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote start, the NissanConnect multimedia system, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, and Pro-4X embroidery on the seats and carpet, making the price climb quickly. The final options on our test truck were ventilated front seats and a 360-degree camera system, part of the Pro-4X Luxury Package ($750). That brought the total price of our test truck to $52,305.
For a larger version of the 2017 Nissan Titan Pro-4X Monroney, click on the picture above.
2017 Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X
We're told the most popular trim level ordered for new Titan XD models is the Pro-4X, and after spending a few weeks with the truck in off-road environments, we can understand why. Although not significantly changed from 2016, the Titan XD Pro-4X performs differently than its lighter-duty Titan brother. Yes, they look similar and the Pro-4X trim is essentially identical between the two — Bilstein shocks, extra skid plating, locking rear differential and the same two-speed transfer case — but the XD's heavier-duty frame, longer wheelbase and torque-loving turbo-diesel V-8 Cummins engine and heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission makes for a completely different weight category. The XD weighs almost 1,500 pounds more than the Titan. Regardless, we needed to see if it could stand up to some serious off-road punishment.
Our base crew-cab Titan XD Pro-4X test truck starts at $53,425, but also had a few options. The Pro-4X Utility and Audio Package ($1,400) included the Utili-Track channel tie-down bed system, front and rear sonar, bed illumination, a 120-volt bed outlet, an electronic locking tailgate, a premium audio system and a rear bed step. It also had the Pro-4X Convenience ($3,520) and Luxury ($1,510) packages, which added heated and cooled front leather seats, heated rear leather seats, a power heated tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote start, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, the NissanConnect multimedia system, a 360-degree camera system and a HomeLink transceiver for opening garage doors, etc. Finally, the Solar Flare Yellow paint cost an extra $395, for a grand total of $60,250.
For a larger version of the 2017 Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X Monroney, click on the picture above.
2016 Ram 1500 Mopar Rebel
The Mopar Rebel with the 5.7-liter Hemi and eight-speed transmission is probably the closest thing that Ram has to an off-road package. All Rebels have the larger and more aggressive Toyo Open Country E-load-rated tires and our test Rebel had the four-corner air suspension as well. That afforded us the ability to choose between three height settings, the tallest of which is "Off-Road," providing the maximum amount of ground clearance but a much stiffer and more punishing ride.
Our base crew-cab 4x4 Rebel had a starting price of $46,395, but it did have quite a few options. Our test model had the Mopar moniker because it includes some select Mopar accessories packaged to give the Rebel a unique, more aggressive look. Our test truck had the Luxury ($695) and Protection ($195) groups, which added LED bed lighting, heated power mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, a garage door opener and extra skid plating; it also had remote start and an alarm system ($395) and rear camera parking assist ($595). The biggest add-on was the Custom Shop Package ($2,800) that includes flat black rims, extended fender flares, unique graphics and a small power steering underbody skid plate. Other add-ons included the eight-speed automatic ($500), the rear limited-slip differential ($395), a tonneau with the Ram's head ($500), the V-8 Hemi ($1,150), a power sunroof ($995), keyless entry ($300), dual-zone climate control ($100), a reconfigurable gauge cluster ($195), tubular side steps ($425), a 32-gallon fuel tank ($145), the Uconnect multimedia system ($505), a 9-inch subwoofer ($345) and a spray-in bedliner ($495). That brought the total of our Mopar Rebel to $57,125.
For a larger version of the 2016 Ram 1500 Mopar Rebel Monroney, click on the picture above.
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon
The 2017 Power Wagon, although not much different mechanically, has a dramatic new look that brings it more in line with its Ram Rebel little brother. The new hood and graphics package combined with the new swooping front grille gives it a stronger and sportier front-end look. Add to that the new fender flares and vertical Power Wagon graphics behind the cab, as well as the new tailgate look and bold block lettering front and back, and the new Power Wagon should attract more attention than ever before. Underneath, the 2017 Power Wagon is still a 2500 HD pickup with softened front and rear coil springs, a pair of heavy-duty live axles with a locking differential in each and the only electronic sway-bar disconnect for any pickup.
The base crew-cab Power Wagon with the 6.4-liter V-8 Hemi and six-speed automatic transmission costs $53,015, but our test unit came with the Leather and Luxury Group ($4,995), which gave us leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, the Uconnect multimedia system with the 8.4-inch touchscreen, front and rear parking assist, a backup camera, electric foldaway mirrors, a security alarm and more. It also had the lockable RamBox cargo management system ($1,295), a power sunroof ($1,095), a tonneau cover ($545), auto high beams and wipers ($395), navigation with XM Traffic and Travel Link ($500), a spray-in bedliner ($495), dual batteries ($395), a center high-mounted spotlight with a cargo-view camera ($345), a CD player ($295), remote start ($245), a rear window defroster ($195), power folding mirrors ($195), keyless entry ($195), power pedals ($195), a roadside safety kit ($195) and an engine block heater ($95). The total for our Power Wagon came to $64,685.
For a larger version of the 2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon Monroney, click on the picture above.
2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro
Although nothing has changed for the Tundra TRD Pro since its introduction two years ago, it is the most capable off-road trim Toyota offers in its half-ton configuration. Unfortunately, Toyota just began building 2017 models, so we were not able to get the newest version, which will be offered only in Red, Cement and White. Our 2016 model was Magnetic Grey.
We like the simplicity and restraint Toyota engineers have employed here; slightly taller and softened coil and leaf springs, extra aluminum skid plating, deceptively grippy P-metric Michelin tires, multistage Bilstein shocks (the rears with a remote reservoir) and a dual TRD exhaust.
Our CrewMax test truck came with just one option, a $595 spray-in bedliner. So the rather spartan TRD Pro trim comes standard with the stout 32-valve 5.7-liter V-8, six-speed transmission, 38-gallon fuel tank and 4.30:1 ring-and-pinion gears. The pickup also comes with a unique old-school front grille that spells out Toyota across it and a TRD Pro stamp in the side of the bed. The Tundra TRD Pro — ringing up at $46,834 — was the least expensive player of our group, with price differences ranging from around $5,000 to almost $20,000.
For a larger version of the 2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Monroney, click on the picture above.
To download a comparison of what these trucks come equipped with, click on our What You Get chart below.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears