Truck vs Car

Posted on 12 September 2011 by Adam Kaslikowski

A weekend camping trip with the guys, what could be better? Fresh air, fire, s’mores, guns, fire, star gazing, fishing, fire. Did I mention fire? Of course, all this burning required that we find a spot far from other campers and off the beaten path. What happens though, when you deviate from time-tested trucks and instead bring a more subdued vehicle to do your off-roading?  Do you still need a truck to do all the fun things you want to do? Hit the jump to find out.

Let me set the scene for you: It’s been years since my old high school group got together to do anything.  Our official 10 year reunion is just around the corner, but we decided a trip of our own would be a better time than the alternative of paying $26 each to eat bad shrimp, listen to the “accomplishments” of people we never cared about, and see how our ex-girlfriends somehow got hotter. So after months of wrangling we finally settled on a date and a destination for a weekend away.  However, when it came to transportation plans the trip devolved into a special kind of “man-drama” when one of our party insisted on bringing his Subaru Outback instead of riding along in one of the trucks that volunteered to ferry everyone.

On one side of the debate were the truck owners who doubted the Outback’s ability to hold its own on rough roads.  Their doubts were well founded for May had not only brought a series of torrential downpours here in Utah but also, believe it or not, a few snowstorms.  As a result, we expected poor road conditions on our journey to our camping spot at Pine Creek Reservoir.  The rebuttal to all this was that Subaru has carved a niche for itself with their cars’ ability to tackle these kinds of rough road conditions that leave other vehicles stranded.

For the trip we brought 2 off-road tuned Toyota Tacomas and the outcast Subaru Outback. You can see why the Suby was looked down on. Being the over-prepared men that we are, we wanted vehicles that would be ready for everything, including scaling up the side of the Grand Canyon in comfort with the AC maxed and AC/DC blaring. A couple of my friends were so convinced that the Outback was going to get stuck that they ran out the day before we left and bought a new tow strap. Ouch.

Not being a member of the Cult of the Truck (full disclosure: I’ve never owned one), I volunteered to ride along in the Subaru to witness firsthand how it performed on the trail. No one else shared my confidence, and out of 8 people it was just the 2 of us in the Outback. Undeterred, we sandwiched our steed between the two trucks and ventured into the mountains.

Boy were the doubters among us wrong. In order, the Outback had less tire noise and more legroom on the highway while also getting better gas mileage, kept our gear protected and dust free on the dirt roads, and kept up with the Toyotas while slogging through a foot and a half of slush and mud on the “road” that winds through the Dixie National Forest. In fact, we kept up with the Tacomas right up to the point when one of them got stuck in a snow bank that firmly occupied at least the next ½ mile of our trail.

We were all forced to retreat a mile down the mountain, but not before the truck owners begrudgingly admitted that the lowly car had so far done just fine. After our encounter with deep mud and snow, we came upon a 4-wheeling trail littered with large rocks, boulders, and drastic camber changes. True, the trucks handled this without even slowing down, but our little wagon still got through with no drama. From where I was sitting, the ride height difference between our tall wagon and their small trucks (especially with running bars installed) appeared negligible.

Once we reached an acceptable campsite, it was non-stop bragging from the Subaru owner. And deservedly so too; his 2-liter boxer and asymmetrical AWD system had just carried him to a remote part of Boulder Mountain where few cars would dare to tread. This begged the question in me – what do you really need a truck for anymore?

Obviously, that question has a lot of answers. What I’m really getting at though is the presumption that you need a truck for everything. This notion comes from yesteryear when you DID need a truck for driving on anything that wasn’t smooth and had yellow lines painted down the middle of it. Today though, modern AWD and suspension systems have turned relatively modest transports into machines capable of going off-road and embarrassing our WWII era Jeeps. Audi has done much to popularize AWD systems starting with the Ur-Quattro, and today the AWD ancestors of that car (the STI and Evo) are some of the best, cheap sports cars available in this generation. The Volvo XC70, and (god help me) the Honda Crosstour are also perfect examples of this tall wagon ethos. They really are the best of both worlds.

The Subaru got us into the wilderness, kept our bags dry and dust free (which the truck beds couldn’t do), and then brought us back with ample grace and better fuel economy than our bed-endowed friends.  The trucks had an easier time of it, but we kept right up with them. Now that the trip is done, the Subaru is still a car right at home on the roads too. The trucks? Well, they are gulping up gas and offering their owners more road noise and less comfort. So ask yourself this before you buy your next truck – wouldn’t a capable car or wagon make your life more comfortable 97% of the time?

Do you have a story in which your car survived (or didn’t) a similar experience? Sound off in the comments and let us know.

-Adam Kaslikowski

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