Our 4WD course included sand, gravel tracks, corrugations, steep rocky hills, rutted downhill runs, and a lazy pub crawl – only joking.
It was mostly low-speed 4WDing, so we dropped tyre pressures on all three vehicles to 20 psi for better off-road ride and handling, and to improve traction. We planned to drop those pressures lower if we needed to.
The Jimny has a ladder chassis, solid axles, coil springs, and it's on Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts.
This Rubicon has a ladder-frame chassis, live axles, coil springs, and it's on light-truck BF Goodrich Mud Terrain tyres.
The Raptor has a ladder chassis, double-wishbone front suspension, solid axle and coil springs at the rear, and, as mentioned, twin-tube 2.5-inch Fox Racing Shocks and BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres.
First up, we took on a patch of river sand. If you do any four-wheel driving in Australia, chances are you'll spend a fair chunk of your time on sand – either on a beach, in the bush or out in the desert.
The Jimny has a part-time 4WD system and its AllGrip Pro suite of driver-assist tech includes hill descent control, hill hold assist and more. Staying true to tradition, the Jimny still has a stubby stick – in front of the shifter – to work through 2WD, 4WD high range and 4WD low range.
This is a light and compact off-roader and its 1.5-litre engine generally punched the little unit across the sand pretty well.
The Jimny has 210mm of ground clearance so lumpier sections of sand aren't an issue, but what is an issue is the fact that, when the Jimny is driven in high-range 4WD (a good state of play for sand-driving), the electronic stability control chips in at 30km/h, bleeding all of your momentum, which is not ideal when you're driving on sand.
It's also so tall and narrow for its size that it is vulnerable, more so than most 4WDs, to sudden changes in direction, forced or intentional, as well as gusting winds on exposed slopes, any dramatic shift in onboard loads, and even abrupt changes in gradient.
The Rubicon has a dual-range transfer case (with a stubby shifter to switch into 4WD high range and 4WD low range) and driver-assist tech, helpful for off-roading, includes a dependable hill descent control system, off road pages (with off-road specific info displayed, including gradient) and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
It has 252mm of ground clearance (listed), plenty of sustained torque on tap, a nice, wide balanced stance, and those grippy muddies (tyres), so constant-pace driving on sand, almost floating across the surface of it, is easily achieved.
The Raptor has a dual-range transfer case and a six-mode switchable Terrain Management System, and it's seemingly made for driving fast on sand, where it feels right at home.
The Raptor is taller wider (1860mm), longer (5426mm) and taller (1848mm) than the other two, by a decent margin, and it's also bigger in every way when compared to the Ranger.
It has a 150mm wider wheel track than its mainstream stablemate, and always sits strong and stable on any surface. It has 283mm of ground clearance as listed.
The Raptor was the liveliest of this bunch to drive on sand – with the added bonus of being able to flick it into Baja mode, via the five-button switch on the steering wheel, which tweaks throttle response, transmission and suspension to better suit the terrain. Lots of fun.
During a set-piece water crossing, none of our contenders were in danger of not making it. There had been rain the night before and, indeed, it still sprinkled during most of our test day, but water levels weren't windscreen-high or anything like that.
The Jimny has a wading depth of 300mm, and while there was a fair bit of rocking and rolling as the little Zook trucked over the submerged rocks in the creek bed – a failure to progress was never a possibility. However, there was so much bouncing and bumping around – and water sloshing at the Jimny's sides – that it did feel, at times, as if I were out fishing in a tinnie ... in heavy seas ... in a storm.
The Rubicon has a standard wading depth of 762mm. It has a bit more ground clearance and almost 40cm more wading depth than the Jimny, so submerged obstacles – such as rocks and toppled tree branches – were more easily avoided than in the Jimny. We did, however, scrape the Rubicon's belly a few times on bigger rocks.
The Raptor has a standard wading depth of 850mm and its taller stance keeps it well clear of rocks and any water ingress – and because it's longer, wider and heavier than the Jimny and Rubicon it's less inclined to rock and roll all over the place during low-speed 4WDing such as this.
We then tackled a steep rocky hill with slippery clay sections and deep wheel ruts that the rain had made even deeper and more severe. 4WD trainers and clubs use the hill as a make-or-break scenario so it's a top track to put these three 4WDs through their paces.
The Jimny's part-time 4WD system is generally up to the task but it doesn't have any diff locks. When you force the Jimny into deep ruts or any other loss-of-traction situation, you have to keep the revs up quite aggressively and get the wheels spinning in order for the traction control to kick in. As a result, the Jimny has to work hard on this sort of terrain, but it's still a lot of fun.
It has off-road angles of 37 degrees (approach), 49 degrees (departure), and 28 degrees (ramp-over) – but just one look at the Jimny is enough to inform you that it's built for 4WDing.
A diff lock, aftermarket suspension and off-road tyres would lift the Jimny's off-road game immensely.
The Rubicon is supremely capable on terrain like this. Its deep low-range gearing is second to none, always getting maximum torque to the tyres as is possible.
It has approach, departure and ramp-over angles of 41, 31 and 21 degrees, and its long wheelbase 'eats' into that ramp-over angle, so this Jeep has to be driven with care on steep sections of rock steps, and also through deep, sharply-angled wheel ruts.
If its Selec-Trac 4x4 system is ever found wanting (not likely), the Rubicon has front and rear diff locks, as well as the sway-bar disconnect, which comes in very handy when you want to gain even more wheel travel so you can get your tyres to the dirt and grabbing ground, rather than spinning in the air.
Otherwise, the Rubicon is almost unstoppable.
The Raptor's engineered as a straight-out-of-the-showroom, high-speed dirt racer but it also does a decent job at low speeds.
Strong low-range gearing, pretty cluey auto transmission, those very grippy tyres, good ground clearance and plenty of wheel travel mean the Raptor can get through the worst of deep rutted climbs and downhills without pause.
Its extra-wide wheel track and super-spongy suspension help to keep it stable and settled through even the roughest of sections.
While its off-road measures – 32.5 degrees (approach), 24 degrees (departure), 24 degrees (ramp-over) – aren't the best around because of its bulk – the Raptor still feels highly manoeuvrable when it counts.
|Jeep Wrangler Rubicon||9|
|Ford Ranger Raptor||8|