Four Wheeler’s Pickup Truck and SUV of the Year 2023, Day 3: More Dirt Testing

Working at an off-road magazine like Four Wheeler has its benefits. One we look forward to each and every year is the new 4x4 vehicle testing we do to determine our Four Wheeler of the Year winner. As you may know, our testing of new four-wheel-drive vehicles for 2023 started with a track day, and continued with our first day of testing in the dirt.

This trip allows us, a passel of off-road experts and enthusiasts to spend some time with new production vehicles that come with four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case.

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The aim of the SUV of the Year and Pickup of the Year tests is to allow us to push the limits of these vehicles (within reason) so we can pass on our knowledge and experience to our readers. Let's face it, folks, no one is going to take their brand-new £80,000 to £107,000 4x4 rockcrawling or mud-bogging, so our aim is to drive these vehicles to the extent that we can judge their overall capability and give our expert feedback on what we see in the fleet.

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This year we have seven vehicles total, including two pickup trucks and five SUVs. The trucks are the Ram Heavy Duty Rebel with a Warn winch and a rear locker, and the Chevy Silverado 1500 ZR2 that has two lockers, active suspension, and a 6.2-liter V-8.

Our SUV field included the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4Xe, which features plug-in Hybrid technology along with a low-range transfer case with a locking center differential and a traction-controlled rear diff that can approach locked, the Jeep Wagoneer with the new inline-six engine and similar traction capabilities to the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4Xe, the Lexus LX600 F Sport, which is reportedly based on the current Toyota Land Cruiser that's only available overseas as a Toyota LC, the Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro, which is based on the new Tundra platform and shares its hybrid 3.6-liter engine, transmission, and a similar rear axle (with a selectable locker), and, last but not least, the Chevy Tahoe Z71, which also has a 6.2-liter V-8, active suspension, skidplates, and red-painted tow hooks.

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For day three of our OTY testing we headed towards the vast off-road expanse known collectively as Johnson Valley, California. Yeah, this is the home of the daunting Hammers Trails, but we wouldn't be hitting any of those. Instead, we traveled via dirt to the area and continued on what we would consider mild off-road trails throughout the day.

This gave us ample opportunity to test how the vehicles do on graded roads and rutted but mild desert trails that are sandy, rocky, eroded dirt, and more. This day is more about getting off-road miles under the belts of the vehicle testers and getting a feel for what a new owner might do with their new SUV or pickup. It's a great time to see how the suspension rides and works, possibly get the vehicles flexed out a little, and see how they all drive on a variety of terrains.

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So far, all of the vehicular contestants have done better than expected.

We can't tell you who will win yet--that news will come when all our comments have been collected and scoring has been completed--but for now, here are our observations about the SUVs and Pickups the manufacturers supplied to us for this year's test.

First, as has been noted, the Lexus LX600 F Sport is incredibly capable off-road. Its traction control is about as dialed as any we have met, but it's hampered by its vast front grille and fascia, which seem to hang perilously close to the ground. Also, its ridiculous low-profile tires and huge wheels are a liability on even the mildest trails or dirt roads, as even a fist-sized rock could kill a tire and bend a rim with ease.

The Grand Cherokee seems small in this group, but it's comfortable on- and off-road. It doesn't seem to be quite as capable as other Grand Cherokee Trailhawks we have tested in the past, but it does just about everything you'd want it too, and the hybrid drivetrain is more than powerful enough.

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The Toyota Sequoia (again with plenty of power) is fun on dirt roads and has ample traction when the going gets tough. Its design is very blocky, with a face that takes some getting used to, and it seems to lack any front tow-points, which will hurt it on our test.

The Chevy Tahoe Z71 does everything you'd expect and more despite frequently lifting tires when the terrain gets at all uneven. It has a very low belly just ahead of the rear axle that can and will come in contact with the ground. The Jeep Wagoneer is fun to drive and seems more capable than it has any right to be (it may in fact be more capable off-road than the Grand Cherokee that shares its stable).

Many complimented its larger sidewalls relative to the other SUVs on the trip, thanks to relatively smaller wheels in a decently sized tire.

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Getting back to the pickups, the Chevy Silverado ZR2 is a blast to drive off-road and, for us, performed exceptionally well when it came time to push the limits of its off-road traction. Two locking differentials and flexy suspension combined with what are probably the most aggressive tires on the test meant this thing was almost certainly the most capable vehicle in attendance. It even climbed a few obstacles we didn't expect it to.

The Ram Rebel 2500 is very capable for a true workhorse of a 3/4 -ton truck, but it's still a 3/4 -ton truck in the end. It's not quite as flexible and lacks the front locking differential of the Power Wagon, but it does have a higher payload and towing-capacity as a result. That's a compromise away from the dirt and toward everyday use for a big truck like this.

It also has overly large wheels (perhaps for load rating) and shallow sidewalls, which hurt it off-road, as any rough terrain is decidedly jarring despite any attempts made by the suspension to mitigate.

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