The Value Equation
At a time when some truck makers are looking to keep themselves back in the black with more luxury option packages, appealing to an increasingly smaller demographic, we wanted to reward the competitors in our Shootout for offering an off-road package for the lowest price.
We could have tried to create a horribly complicated mathematical equation or software algorithm to determine who offered the most 4x4 bang for the buck based on what parts are included and at what cost. Instead, we decided simply to reward the least expensive qualifier and let the rest of the off-road packages measure themselves against that truck.
Not surprisingly, the least complicated of the packages was the least expensive player. Coming in at just $31,275, the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X was awarded the full 100 points. At a little over $5,000 more, the Toyota Tacoma Baja scored 86 points; at over $13,000 more, the entry-level Ram Power Wagon ST scored 70 points; and at over $22,000 more expensive, the Ford SVT Raptor scored 58 points.
For event scoring, we indexed the Frontier at 100 points, Tacoma Baja 86, Power Wagon 70 and Raptor 58.
How Much Do They Haul?
Since these are pickup trucks, we thought at least one test should reward pickups that best work like a pickup and can carry a hefty load. Conversely, if they can't carry much in their bed — meaning their personalities are too one-dimensional — they don't score well. Yes, we know this is an off-road test and most trucks that do this kind of prioritized dirt duty don't usually carry a full load of cement footings, but if it's going to look like a duck and act like a duck, it dang well better be able to quack like a duck and carry more than just passengers and fishing gear.
We calculated each truck's payload number by subtracting the actual weight (no passengers, full tank of fuel, CAT scales) from the listed gross vehicle weight rating. We believed this was a good test to score because it would clearly call out those specific truck engineers who sacrificed too much or too little to achieve any extreme suspension capabilities. If pickups are anything, even ones biased for serious off-road use, they need to be able to perform many tasks, and that should include carrying a good load.
Again, the results may not surprise you. The Power Wagon, sitting on a stout three-quarter-ton chassis, came in first place with 1,850 pounds of payload. In second place, the Nissan and Toyota tied with 1,120 pounds. And in last place, with a measly 800 pounds of maximum payload, the SVT Raptor.
For event scoring, we indexed the Power Wagon at 100, Tacoma Baja 61, Frontier 61 and Raptor 43.
This test was scored during our fuel-economy run in and around Ann Arbor. Each judge rotated in and out of every truck over the 150-mile loop. At the end of the full day’s rotation, and after making thorough notes regarding each truck, the judges came together to discuss each truck’s assets and liabilities during the various high-speed freeways, city traffic and country two-lane byways we encountered during the route.
Each judge awarded 10 points to the winner, and then we determined how well the other competitors scored in comparison. For many of the categories, the judges kept it simple. If the scoring was close, first through fourth place could be scored 10, 9, 8 and 7. However, if a particular judge believed more separation was needed in a given category, scoring could be 10, 8, 5 and 4.
For event scoring, we indexed the Raptor at 100, Tacoma Baja 80, Power Wagon 70 and Frontier 57.
As it turned out, scoring was pretty consistent. The winner — the SVT Raptor — got a unanimous score from the judges and collected 100 points. Each judge named the Raptor the truck with the best on-pavement ride quality and the one they’d most want to drive daily. The responsive throttle, sporty high-lux interior and tight suspension feel were key strengths.
In second place, the Tacoma Baja scored 80 points, with drivers noting some excessive suspension stiffness at slower speeds. Relatively close behind with 70 points, the Power Wagon was a little heavy and plodding compared with the rest of the group, and the heavy-duty chassis didn’t help, either. Finally, the Nissan was the unofficial rough rider of our group, with a numb and wandering steering feel and sometimes-unnerving front-end feel, especially over choppy dirt and broken paved roads.
Ultimate 4x4 Shootout