Experts put the best trucks, SUVs and CUVs to the test.
Recently I found myself in Texas for the 2015 Texas Truck Rodeo. If you’re wondering what the heck is the Texas Truck Rodeo is, well, it’s a two-day event where automotive journalists and 100-plus manufacturer representatives from throughout the nation meet for an evaluation of the industry’s best trucks, SUVs and CUVs (crossover utility vehicles, for the uninitiated). This year it was sponsored by the Steel Market Development Institute, which also sponsored my participation at the event.
With all the attention car and truck makers have gotten by replacing steel bodies with aluminum to reduce weight and increase MPG, the Steel Market Development Institute found the Truck Rodeo to be the perfect place to show how ultra high-strength steel, also used to reduce weight in vehicles, is important to building strong vehicles that can haul cargo, haul kids and can hug an off-road course.
Winner in my book: Dodge Ram Rebel 1500
The 2016 Dodge Ram Rebel 1500 was my absolute favorite truck at the event. Although it didn’t win, I felt like it should have. This truck is a beast. I took it on an off roading course that was so intense one of the other vehicles – I won’t name names – broke! The Dodge Ram took the same course with no problem. We went up a hill so frighteningly steep I thought we we would flip the truck, but the Dodge Ram climbed right up like it was nothing. The air suspension system is what makes it so capable of climbing up rock hills.
The interior of the Ram Rebel interior we drove is a beautiful red and black. I’m a Texas Tech Red Raider fan, so I am a little biased. The Ram has many great places for storage, including bays tucked into the sides of the truck bed and bins under the rear seats. One of my favorite interior features was the phone holder in the console.
The Ram Rebel gets 15 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway, and its price runs right around $52,000.
Lexus RX 350 SUV brings a little luxury to the rodeo
The 2016 Lexus RX 350 is a stunning vehicle. Lexus made some changes to the 2016 model like the making the backseat is more spacious and the increasing the gas milage a bit. It now averages around 23 mpg – and it also comes in an even more fuel-efficient hybrid. One really important change Lexus made was to the structural integrity of the RX. They increased the strength of panel joints with high-tech adhesives and laser welding, making the joints stronger while reducing the weight of the car’s components (that’s where the added MPG comes from). Lexus also implemented a new process called “annular frame construction” that strengthens frame sections around the front and rear doors, and used high-tensile strength steel throughout the RX including on the underbody, which is what makes the RX series off-road worthy: it can withstand the scraping and stress of an off-road path.
Go Pro and Go Toyota
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma was one of the trucks I was most excited to drive. I drove a Toyota Tacoma back in the 90’s in high school and loved it. Well, I can tell you that it’s a completely different truck now than it was in 1997; it’s much larger and tougher. Toyota also used high-strength steel to enhance rigidity and overall strength. Even though it’s bigger, Toyota reduced weight by using ultra high strength steel in the body shell. They have also added a GoPro mount on the inside of the windshield. I love my GoPro, so obviously I’m a fan of this feature.
And the winner…the 2016 Nissan Titan XD
After two days of journalists driving all the trucks entered, The Truck of Texas was crowned: the winner of the Texas Truck Rodeo was the 2016 Nissan Titan XD, which won for its off road performance and luxury appointments. This truck, which features a 5.0L V8 turbo diesel, has retooled its engine to create maximum durability in a lightweight package. The Titan also features a high-strength steel frame, a larger, fully boxed “ladder frame” that along with the rest of the components, has been bolstered for added stiffness, but also accommodates vertical and lateral bending, which can happen when the truck goes off road or when hauling a trailer.
Because after all, maintaining your strength while bending to meet the road is the true measure of a Texas-worthy truck.
Note: I was a guest of the Steel Market Development Institute, which provided travel and accommodations to attend the Truck Rodeo. Opinions expressed are my own.