Monday, April 25, 2016

All-Terrain, For Real: 16 of the World’s Most Capable Adventure Vehicles

Travel is one thing. Adventure is something else.--Humanity loves to roam, but doing so over long distances only recently has become easy. Walking speed is about 3 mph, so for most of history getting from, say, Toledo in Spain to Syracuse in Italy was a virtually impossible, treacherous 1800-mile journey that would take months with no certainty of survival. Today that’s a 4.5-hour plane trip that costs about $200. To get from Toledo, Ohio to Syracuse, New York takes about 13-hours and less than $100 by Greyhound bus. Almost everyone is certain to survive. Common as complaints about arduous travel experiences have become (“We had to wait 20 minutes for a gate to open, the idiots lost my bag, and a sandwich was $9.75!”), it’s really just travel.--Adventure is the leap beyond mere travel. Maybe it’s impossible to go where no one has gone before on Earth, but to get to places where only a few have been means crossing rugged terrain, surviving brutal elements and beating a few new paths. Adventure takes effort, skill, risk and tools. If adventure were easy, everyone would do it. It’s for the daring, the prepared and, to our point, the well-equipped.--So here are 16 of the best vehicles for going places where only the few would dare. Whether that’s across a glacier or through a mud bog, along a tight trail, or over several continents, the right tool should suit the job.--This content is part of Destination Adventure.American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) earned its bones modifying Jeep Wranglers into even more capable rock crawlers or forest explorers. But there are some things a Wrangler can’t do that a full-size Ram truck can.--The Prospector line is AEV’s push to fortify the heavy-duty Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks so they can thrive under the most extreme conditions while looking, well, awesome even when they’re just fetching giant bags of dog food from Costco. That starts at the nose where AEV fits a monstrous, die-stamped steel bumper with cast-iron tow loops extending down to also act as front skid bars. New shocks and springs work with control-arm drop brackets to raise the truck three or four inches depending on the customer’s needs. The example seen here is up 4.0-inches and wears 40-inch tall Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs on AEV’s own 17-inch Katla wheels.--Those drop brackets maintain the stock steering angles despite the suspension lift, so driving the Prospector is still a civilized and comfortable experience. Whether powered by Ram’s 410-horsepower, 6.4-liter Hemi or the torque-rich, 325-horsepower, 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel inline-six, the Prospector feels ready to lug a house down to Chile even if the truck is just cruising the I-40 in Kansas City.--And yes they sell that drop-side aluminum bed too.Mercedes builds the Zetros 6x6 as a commercial vehicle that can do any job despite insane conditions. It’s the sort of truck you just don’t see often unless you happen to work in a copper mine or laying pipeline over the Urals, places where the huge ability of the Zetros chassis and drive system pays off in completed tasks and profits. But the Zetros doesn’t have to be a dump truck or mobile crane. It can also become a fantastic mobile hunting lodge.--This particular Zetros supercruiser was built for a pair of businessmen in Mongolia, and has been finished with an ordinary-looking aluminum box into which is stashed an opulent adventure base. Think of it as every dream every member of Ducks Unlimited has ever had, powered by a 7.2-liter turbocharged diesel inline-six that muscles out 959-pound feet of peak torque. And all that power is distributed among all six wheels.--Designed and built by Hartmann in Alsfeld, Germany, and finished by RV interior specialists Huenerkopf, the walls are thickly insulated against the heat of the Gobi desert or the cold of wherever it is that it gets really cold in Mongolia.--Of course, there’s a kitchen. Naturally there’s a media center built around an Apple Mac Mini that links up via satellite. And the bathroom’s marble floors are heated. And there’s a garage for a quad ATV dinghy.--It can go anywhere. And wherever it goes, it’s the nicest lodge in the neighborhood.Sportsmobile is a venerated name in the world of adventure. Back in 1961, it started converting Volkswagen microbuses into RV campers. For the past few decades it has earned a formidable reputation for converting American full-size vans to four-wheel drive. There truly is something epic about a Ford Econoline jacked up for off-roading and ready to lug your possessions deep into the outback.--But the Econoline is history. Fortunately there’s an alternative, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, and it comes from Mercedes already equipped with four-wheel drive. And it’s still kind of American-ish Mercedes has announced that the next one will soon be built at a new plant in North Carolina.--Sportsmobile takes the basic Sprinter in either of its wheelbases (144- or 170-inches) and adds pretty much anything the customer can imagine. Besides a wide variety of floor plans for carrying equipment or as an RV, the Sportsmobile Sprinter is available with either a high- or low-roof and with options like a snorkel or lifted suspension with oversize wheels and tires. You want lights? They’ll install so many LED light bars you’ll burn retinas on low flying birds.--All the Sportsmobile Sprinters come with Mercedes’ most powerful drivetrain. That’s a 3.0-liter BlueTec turbodiesel V6 rated at 188-horsepower and 325-pound feet of torque, backed by a five-speed automatic transmission.Most of the planet is water. The remainder is called “land” but it isn’t always dry. That’s where the Argo 8x8 XTD comes in handy. It’s an amphibian–a frog you can drive. It’s got eight wheels and is built to get through all those places where water and land mix together to form swamps, bogs, mud holes and other goo. You know, the sorts of places that are filled with things that can eat you.--Though it would be lousy for commuting and a real pain to drive across the country, the Argo is exactly right for finding those spots few people have had the intestinal fortitude to explore. It can carry four people on what passes for land or two across water and it’s powered by a 1.0-liter three-cylinder Kohler Lombardini diesel engine. That engine only makes 24-horsepower, but the 1750-pound ATD can still lug 1340-pounds of payload. A two-speed steering transmission gets that modest power to the ground and it maxes out a stunning 17 mph.--If the eight wheels don’t offer enough traction, tracks can be fitted to make it something like a very small tank.Ford’s first F-150 Raptor hit back in 2010 and instantly became an icon. With thick fenders, oversized wheels and an aggressive stance, it landed in the collective consciousness like a off-road superstar. Pulling up in a Raptor pickup is more impressive than showing up in Ferrari in some places. And on the right dust-covered, sawtooth road, the four-wheel drive Raptor will be faster than any Ferrari too.--Raptor enters its second generation based on the latest aluminum-bodied version of Ford’s F-150. But Ford hasn’t screwed with the Raptor formula. Well, not much.--Under the swollen front fenders, monstrous aluminum control arms allow long wheel travel with road irregularities damped by Fox Racing 3.0-inch internal-bypass shocks. There are still leaf springs in back, but they’re also on long Fox Racing shocks that allow more vertical wheel motion than in the first Raptor. The 35-inch tall BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 tires on 17-inch bead-lock wheels should survive off-road abuse while retaining on-road civility.--Besides the aluminum body, the biggest change to the Raptor is its adoption of a 450-horsepower version of the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. And it’s paired to Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission that also features a manual-shifting mode. The 6.2-liter V8 is gone, but the truck should be quicker by a significant margin.--The first Raptor wasn’t built to gingerly pick its way along trails, but to blast across a desert or thump down a fire road. There’s little reason to expect that to change with this new Raptor.An airplane is still the ultimate way to go searching for adventure. And the new Hondajet may be one of the most versatile airplanes ever to go searching the world for something spectacular.--As a light business jet, the Hondajet is of course comfortable for up to four people in the cabin. Four may not be enough for your huge entourage, but the plane’s small size means it can land on a short 3000-foot runway and take off in as little as 4000 feet. That gives it access to far greater number of obscure airports than larger aircraft. So leave some of your posse behind.--For its class, the Hondajet is also quick. It can cruise at about 420 knots—more than 480 mph–way up at 43,000 feet over a range of 1180-nautical miles. And thanks to its over-wing engine placement it’s rather quiet too. And really, there isn’t a car, truck or boat on Earth that matches the cachet of being able to say: “That’s my jet.”--The Honda Aircraft Company asks about $4.5 million for a new Hondajet and if you buy one, you’ll need a pilot. But if you can afford it, what’s stopping you?Jonathan Ward’s Icon has established his company Icon as one of the world’s foremost purveyors of hyper-detailed, super-burnished exaggerations of classic 4x4s. He started with the Toyota Land Cruiser and moved on to little beasties like the first Ford Bronco. But he’ll build almost anything a customer wants. And among the latest projects out of his Chatsworth shop is this re-imagined and re-engineered 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.--There’s practically nothing that Ward and his crew doesn’t touch when building one of his Reformers. In the case of this K5, that means starting with a sweet original truck, stripping it down to bare metal and rebuilding it piece by piece. Unlike many of Ward’s creations, this one retains the stock frame and reworks the suspension and four-wheel drive system. The biggest mechanical improvement is the adoption of GM’s E-Rod version of the 430-horsepower, 6.2-liter LS3 V8. It’s a vastly superior and more efficient engine than anything CMG was installing in the Blazer originally. It’s paired with GM’s 4L80-E four-speed automatic transmission.--While every Icon project superficially resembles some old piece of hardware, it’s the details that make it stand out. Like ventilation pieces swiped from aircraft, modern LED lighting and gauges, and seats covered in hides from cows that apparently volunteered for the duty. Naturally the prices here are astronomical, but great adventures should never be done on the cheap.Sometimes, the only recourse an adventurer has is to take matters into his own hands and build the right piece of equipment from scratch. Hence, the Russian SHERP.--Designed by Aleksi Garagashian–listed on this vehicle’s web site as a “renowned technologist”–the trick about the SHERP is its enormous tires. They’re 63-inches tall and run at low pressures so they can mold themselves around obstacles. Or, if run at higher pressures, they can provide enough flotation for the SHERP to paddle across bodies of water. The SHERP itself is actually quite small, only 133.9-inches long, or about 10-inches shorter than the wheelbase of a Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab pickup. It’s almost 18-inches shorter than a Mini Cooper hardtop.--Weighing in at just over 2800 pounds, the SHERP is powered by a 44-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder churning a five-speed manual transmission. The welded tube frame seems rugged, but there’s so much tire that the vehicle needs to be entered and exited through the front. Top speed is a lackadaisical 44 mph, but that probably seems pretty fast on something so, well, purposeful.--If you want a SHERP–straight out of St. Petersburg, and not the one in Florida–you’ll need about $50,000. More than a spirit of adventure, this one demands a sense of humor.The abilities that make a vehicle ready to fight a war often translate well into peacetime adventure seeking. There’s no guarantee that Oshkosh’s latest Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) will ever be a hit with civilians in the way that Jeep and Hummer did, but surely some of its engineering will eventually make the transition. The JLTV is the replacement for the military Humvee, and that, in turn, makes it a lineal successor to the original World War II Jeep.--At the core of the JLTV’s abilities is Oshkosh’s “TAK-4i” intelligent independent suspension. Built of massive cast pieces, it’s been used on other Oshkosh military vehicles, offers up to 20-inches of wheel travel and can be raised or lowered to suit conditions. That’s enough, says Oshkosh, to increase speeds over virtually any terrain by up to 70-percent over Humvee-specification. Details about the suspension are not public knowledge. At least not yet. Apparently, though, this particular system doesn’t use coil springs.--Power for the JLTV comes from GM’s familiar 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8–the engine marketed as the Duramax in large GM pickups. The contract for the first 17,000 JLTVs was awarded in 2015 with deliveries scheduled to start in 2018. Initially, there will be two models; one a four-seater and the other a two-seat version, and either can be fitted with various support bodies. Armored to protect against roadside explosive devices and other attacks, it’s supposed to be more reliable and safer than current Humvees.--Let’s see how long before Arnold Schwarzenegger gets one.There’s a loner glamour about adventuring on a motorcycle. Bike riders are rebels out to explore the world on their own terms; no attachments and unmoored from conventional responsibilities. But a bike built for long roadtrips is often useless where there is no road. Meanwhile, off-road bikes can be intolerably uncomfortable on long hauls. So here’s KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure to bridge that chasm.--The Super Adventure is no twerpy enduro bike fitted with some saddle bags to make it into a tourer. A massive 1.3-liter V-twin engine produces a thundering 160 horsepower that it channels through a six-speed transmission. And all that power is managed using electronic traction control, stability control and “motor slip regulation” systems that add a level of dynamic comfort that’s almost mind-boggling. Select the right ride mode and the Super Adventure can handle anything from street cruises, on-track road courses or a few hundred miles of off-road, all-terrain cruising. Its technology that makes the long held dream of a do-anything, go-anywhere motorcycle a reality.--This is how to explore the planet on two wheels; riding a vehicle that can handle any adventure thrown at it. Of course it’s not cheap–more than $20,000 to start–but there’s never before been anything with this mix of ability, comfort and power.Wandering is severely underrated as a travel plan. Having no particular place to go and plenty of time to get wherever is almost guaranteed to produce an unexpected adventure. The EarthCruiser EXP and FX are slick wandering machines.--The EarthCruiser EXP is essentially a house bolted atop the chassis of Fuso FG 4x4 medium duty truck powered by a 161-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbo four. Not a big house—only about 92 square feet—but it’s a lightweight fiberglass structure that grows 24-inches taller when it’s time to set up camp. That means the truck retains a relatively low profile on highways. That’s good for aerodynamics and that, in turn, is good for fuel economy. If driven conservatively, EarthCruiser claims, driving range can be up to 1000 miles between fill-ups.--The FX model has a fixed roof and is built a bit taller in compensation. And thanks to seat belts in the dinette set, it can accommodate two passengers in addition to up to three in the cab.--Both EarthCruisers feature kitchens, showers and large windows to keep things feeling light and airy. There’s even a double bed and diesel-fired hot water heater. Solar panels built into the roof supply electricity. And, naturally, the EarthCruisers can be customized extensively. They’re not the sort of things that you’ll see clogging up RV parks–you may stumble across one in some obscure wilderness.--EarthCruiser started building vehicles in Australia and now builds them in Bend, Oregon. In American dollars, prices start at about $175,000.Dodge’s WC-Series of 3/4-ton four-wheel drive trucks were the workhorses of America’s military during World War II. Rugged, simple and easy to fix, the WC trucks were used as everything from ambulances and tow trucks to maintenance tool haulers. Maybe WCs weren’t as beloved as the Jeep, but troops knew their value as tools. The original, now legendary, 1945 Dodge Power Wagon was the military WC repurposed for civilian life.--The name returns on the 2017 Ram Power Wagon based on the current Ram 2500 3/4-ton 4x4 pickup muscled up with big 33-inch tall Goodyear all-terrain tires, stout Bilstein shock absorbers, electronically lockable front and rear axles, and an electronically disconnecting front sway bar to increase wheel articulation when the going gets particularly hairy.--And if the additional wheel movement isn’t enough, there’s also a standard 12,000-pound-capacity Warn winch in the nose strong enough to pull the Ram itself straight up a cliff if necessary. Although, come on, the 410-horsepower, 6.4-liter Hemi V8 in the nose is enough to overwhelm almost any unreasonable obstacle.--Reincarnated, redesigned and redecorated, the Power Wagon returns to the Ram lineup this fall as a 2017 model.Sand defines the Middle East in much the same way that ice is the inescapable reality of the Arctic or water is the main feature of the Pacific Ocean. The Zarooq SandRacer is a product of the United Arab Emirates so, of course, the point of its existence is overcoming sand.--Details about the SandRacer are, well, indeterminate. The company claims there’s a 3.5-liter V6 mounted in the center of this beast, but it’s not quite clear on the origin of that engine. The company asserts that it makes between 304- and 500-horsepower depending on the state of tune. Take your best guess. Our guess is that it’s a Toyota unit with turbochargers bolted on at the highest spec. Or maybe it’s a Nissan. Mercedes? Ford?--The two-seat SandRacer will ride on a specially built off-road, rear-wheel-drive chassis and atop a 12.4-inch suspension says the manufacturer. Beyond that, the air conditioning system is going to totally rock–“rock” meaning to get very cold.Ever try to explore a forest trail using a Honda Accord? While the Accord is a fine family sedan, it’s only so-so at off-road expeditions. Therefore Honda has an alternative for those of us looking to venture far, far off our commutes: the Pioneer 1000.--The Pioneer 1000 is a side-by-side, the mutated evolution of what started as the three wheel all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Honda pioneered (so to speak) the three-wheel ATV when it introduced the seven-horsepower ATC 90 (for All Terrain Cycle) back in 1970. With fold-down handlebars so it could fit into the back of a station wagon and bulbous tires in lieu of actual suspension, the ATC 90 was a sensation at its introduction. But over time the limitations of straddle-ridden three-wheelers–inherent instability, inability to accommodate passengers, little load carrying–led to four-wheelers becoming the norm. And side-by-side seating maximizes ability.--The Pioneer 1000 uses a 77-horsepower, liquid-cooled, two-cylinder, 1.0-liter engine and six-speed dual clutch, dual-range automatic transmission to power all four wheels. And it can seat up to five with a flip up seat in the 1000-5 model. It’s robust enough to haul up to 1000-pounds or tow a full ton. And the long travel suspension allows venturing–at least crawling–over amazingly rugged terrain.--Prices for the Pioneer 1000 start at $13,999. And it can go anywhere you want it to, except for roads that require license plates.The problem with big trucks is that there are a lot of small places they can’t go. The problem with small trucks is that they aren’t big enough to carry everything an adventurer needs. Then there’s the just-right truck—maneuverable enough to get around unexpected obstacles or through everyday traffic, but capable enough to sustain itself for weeks. That’s how the Global Expedition Vehicles’ Turtle makes sense.--Designed to be bolted to a Ford, Ram, Fuso or International medium-duty truck chassis, the Turtle is a 13-foot, three-inch long, 92-inch wide cabin built of structural composite panels. Into that box are stuffed a kitchen, a dining room, a bedroom, and a toilet and shower. It’s not the roomiest RV on Earth, but it’s strong enough to take any abuse.--When equipped with four-wheel drive, the Ford and Ram trucks offer solid off-road ability and plenty of power– particularly with their available turbodiesel engines. Beyond that, they are supported by the aftermarket with easily available equipment like winches, snorkels, lighting systems, aggressive suspension upgrades and an almost infinite variety of wheel and tire packages.--Prices for the Turtle–Global Expedition’s smallest vehicle—start at $159,000 atop the price of the truck chassis itself.There’s still adventure to be found on Earth, but the ultimate trip starts when you step off of it. And it’s then that you’ll need something like the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).--Built by Boeing in partnership with General Motors’ Defense Research Laboratories, the lightweight LRV is an all-electric two-seater that can operate even in the vacuum of space. Even the tires–really spun aluminum hubs surrounded by steel mesh with titanium chevrons for traction–don’t need air. And each wheel has its own direct current electric motor producing one-quarter of one horsepower turning a harmonic drive. That may not sound like a lot on Earth, but in a low-gravity, no atmosphere environment, it’s plenty.--The LRVs aren’t cheap: Only four were built at a total cost of $38 million. But that was in 1971 dollars–it works out to $223,430,000 in 2016 money. That’s about $55.9 million each, and one was scavenged for spare parts used on the other three.--Those three LRVs travelled to the moon aboard Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17 and are still sitting there. If you can get to them, they should be in good shape. After all, none of them has been driven since 1972 and not one has more than 4.7 miles showing on the odometer. If you’re thinking “salvage rights” there is one big problem. The silver-zinc potassium hydroxide battery can’t be recharged.
from Car and Driver Blog

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