It’s an interesting hypotheses, but when the weather turns spring-like, most of us have the tendency to fall back in love with the great outdoors. I find it true that many active Americans like nothing more than indulging in a robust nature walk, hitting some fishing holes for some bass, or climbing a mesa on a illustrious spring day. Maybe it’s just in our blood, and over the years, it has become a fundamental part of who we are as Americans. You know what else is in our blood? The uncontrollable urge to forsake the beaten path and venture across the unknown in a big-ass truck.
There is just something exhilarating about saddling up in a truck outfitted with off-road tires, a winch, and some camping gear. For decades, Americans have explored the untamed wild in myriad different machines, all in the hopes of discovering uncharted lands and maybe finding something out about themselves in the process. From Suburbans and Jeeps to Broncos and Hummers, for the better part of a century, the vast expanses of the American continent continue to be the playground for adventurous petrolheads.
Today’s modern age has yielded a new generation of explorer, complete with new ideas, new goals, and new tools. Their trucks are an extension of themselves, expressing both the driver’s adventurous spirit and need to have a car that can take anything the mother nature wants to dish out that day. These trucks are more rugged, tech-savvy, and efficient than anything the world has ever seen, and offer a wide range of options for today’s adventurous nomad.
As the times have changed, so have the trucks, along with the engineering that goes into making them the most rugged products on the planet. Some are designed to handle the most extreme conditions in the world, while others are crafted to be good on gas while still handling a nice weekend jaunt in the backwoods without issue. There also are countless aftermarket outfitters out there that specialize in improving upon an existing design in the hopes of taking that adventurous outdoorsman that much further into the unknown.
This cheat sheet is for those untamed souls who feel that a truck isn’t just a tool that helps them cross a mountain range but it is an expression of the heart that beats within their chest, forever free.
1. Toyota Tundra TRD Pro
We hit the sand running Toyota’s Tundra TRD Pro, a rugged recent edition to the already capable truck lineup from the Japanese auto manufacturer. With its black-bezel headlights, oversized grille, black badging, unique TRD Pro bed stamp, and 18-inch black alloy TRD wheels wrapped in 32-inch Michelin LTX AT2 tires, this truck looks like a pro even before you climb inside. But this isn’t just some Tundra with a few aesthetic upgrades. This midsize monster has been built to handle the worst terrain on the planet and offers performance pieces like a dual exhaust system that gives the 5.7-liter V8 a sound so unique that it was labeled “the only truck to claim a spot on AutoGuide.com’s Best Sounding Engines List.”
But there’s more than just a bit of ruckus to this truck, because Toyota has outfitted this edition with a heavy-duty ¼-inch custom aluminum front skid plate, TRD-tuned 2-inch lift springs, and oversized remote-reservoir Bilstein shocks that are designed to maximize wheel travel by utilizing a three-stage compression dampening design. Up front, a powerful 5.7-liter V8 produces 381 horsepower and 401 pounds-feet of torque, giving drivers a payload capacity of up to 1,630 pounds. We also liked that a Deck Rail System comes standard on the truck, so strapping down cargo is easier than ever before. Pricing starts at $42,485 and Toyota offers a multitude of upgrades on its website for this mean machine.
2. 2017 Ford Raptor
In true Ford fashion, the next generation of its Frankenstein F-150, the 2017 Raptor, will utilize military-grade aluminum alloy to shave off 500 pounds of unnecessary weight while adding unparalleled strength and longevity to the truck’s chassis. The truck comes standard with massive FOX Racing Shox, 17-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires exclusively designed for it, a torque-on-demand transfer case that manages power distribution between the front and rear wheels, and Ford’s redesigned “Terrain Management System” that gives off-road revelers the ability to choose the truck’s performance settings on the fly as terrain changes underneath.
Another big shift in this new model is Ford’s use of a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 instead of the old iron block 6.2-liter V8. And while official numbers have not been released yet on what this direct-injection aluminum powerplant will be producing, there is little doubt that this machine won’t be cranking out anything less than 450 horses right out of the gate. The styling cues on this carnivore aren’t too shabby either; we like the truck’s oversized fenders, bold grille, dual-port exhaust, and LED lighting package. The interior is also a really cool place to be, and we like that a 360-degree camera will be an available option for anyone wanting to make sure that disgruntled buffalo isn’t still following them. Pricing has not been announced yet, as the truck will not go on sale until later in 2016.
3. 2015 Chevrolet Silverado Hennessey 6.2L
Our first aftermarket option comes to us today from famed American monster maker Hennessey Performance, with its 665 horsepower Silverado. While this truck may look relatively stock on the outside save for the wheels and some badging, its what is under the hood that really rockets this truck into the forefront of fantastic for us. A 2.9-liter Whipple supercharger system has been mated to a rebuilt motor rocking ported and polished cylinder heads and a custom camshaft. All of this newfound power is kept in check by a unique HPE Engine Management Calibration tool, and every truck is dyno-tuned and road-tested prior to being returned to its owner.
We like how subtle this truck looks from the outside too. It has a cool “sleeper” feel to it while still offering all the ruggedness and utilitarianism one can come to expect in a Silverado. This truck is one of those unique machines that can hit some trails any given afternoon for some serious mud-hugging action, and then unassumingly blend in at the supermarket on the way home. And since it hasn’t been widened or lifted beyond recognition, it isn’t a complete pain to park either. This power package comes with a three-year, 36,000-mile limited warranty, and many of the options are completely customizable upon request.
4. 2015 Nissan PRO-4X
Here is a truck for someone who wants something that isn’t too big, can handle some off-road adventuring, and doesn’t cost a fortune to buy, own, or insure. Nissan’s PRO-4X Frontier is powered by an aluminum 4.0-liter V6 that puts down a respectable 261 horsepower and can be mated to a six-speed manual transmission for uninterrupted control. Like many of the other trucks, the PRO-4X comes equipped with Bilstein off-road shocks, hill start assist, hill descent control, a toggled electronic locking rear differential, and vehicle-speed-sensitive power steering that makes parking and reversing easier.
The truck’s 16-inch six-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels are swaddled in hardcore mud- and snow-rated all-terrain tires, a factory-applied spray-on bedliner comes standard, and Nissan’s first-in-class “Utili-track” cargo-carrying system (which has channels on the bed floor and not just in the walls and header) continues to impress us. And talking about skid plates, this thing has them for the oil pan, fuel tank, and 4×4 transfer case. Hell, this truck even can be equipped with a factory rear sonar system, a Rockford Fosgate audio system, a sliding bed extender, and it can even be set up to house Nissan’s “Bed Tent,” which unfolds into a dome-shaped tent designed to turn the truck’s cargo bed into a sturdy, level sleeping area devoid of scorpions and snakes. The PRO-4X starts at $31,510 and is still one of the most customizable trucks we have ever encountered.
5. Lingenfelter 2014 Silverado Reaper Package
Our second aftermarket machine comes to us from Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, and it puts down 550 horsepower, all thanks to a Magnuson Supercharger package. With this package, a 6.2-liter Chevy gets outfitted with everything from a custom grille to a high-clearance front bumper and skid plate to Fox Racing remote reservoir shocks and a Ride Tech suspension package.
This supercharged beast comes with a Corsa Performance exhaust system, Reaper 20-inch wheels, off-road rubber, a custom Reaper gauge cluster, custom interior stitching, and Reaper-exclusive 17-inch Bead Lock Wheels with 33-inch General Grabber tires. Lingenfelter has also just released a similar package for the GMC Sierra, so GM junkies now have a contender in their corner when it comes time to battle it out with Mother Nature.
6. Mercedes Benz G500 4×4
This 82.7-inch-wide, 88.6-inch-tall, 37-by-12.5-inch mud-terrain rubber-shod German threat is perhaps the priciest and most precocious car on today’s sheet. With electronically controlled dampers that alternate remotely between “Comfort and Sport Modes,” a twin-turbocharged, 416-horsepower V8, dual side pipes on both sides, and carbon-fiber wheel arches, this is one piece of German engineering we cannot help but fear and respect.
It also is still a Mercedes at heart, so you bet your arse that this thing is comfy and customizable on the inside as well. While pricing has not been listed for Das Demon, there is still an overwhelmingly positive impression from publications like Car and Driver that Mercedes will put this bad boy into production in limited quantities down the line.
7. 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
Our final option of the day is a downright adorable off-road offering from the folks over at Jeep. The Trail Rated Renegade Trailhawk 4×4 is designed for what Jeep calls “customers who demand the most off-road capability from their Jeep vehicles,” and we cannot help but admire the automaker’s audacity with this little machine.
Since it is closely related to its Italian cousin, the Fiat 500X Crossover, the Renegade Trailhawk is this interesting blend between scrappy and happy. With its standard 20:1 crawl ratio, “Selec-Terrain System” and exclusive “Rock Mode,” increased ride height, integrated skid plates, and front and rear tow hooks, this little upstart might soon be the Mighty Mouse of the off-road world.
The Trailhawk Edition also utilizes unique fascias designed to clear obstacles, 17-inch all-terrain tires, hill-descent control, and 3,300 pounds of towing capability with the MultiJet II diesel engine once a tow package is fully equipped. This little runt even can ford up to 19 inches of water without issue, and it only costs $26,990 right out the gate.