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Top Gear USA: Desert Trailblazers

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Top Gear
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Top Gear USA: Desert Trailblazers

Bill Crittenden
June 16, 2014

Season 5, Episode 2
Episode aired June 10, 2014

This off-road episode was impressive on a lot of levels, and the vehicles picked really set up the ultimate test for one of them.

First off, Adam picked an American Expedition Vehicles Brute Double Cab, which is basically a Jeep Wrangler 4-door with a pickup bed modified with a lifted off-road suspension and a Hemi V8.  It cost well over $100,000 and is in no way subtle.  It is also, in no way whatsoever, held back by anything.  It set an impressive benchmark for an off road trip.

The Brute was, probably, the best vehicle choice that Adam's ever made (or had made for him).  He really should buy one and become as associated with it as Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Hummer H1.  It's even got a Hemi, just splash a wild Mopar muscle car color across it, it's perfect for him.

The second vehicle was Tanner's $70,000 Land Rover LR4 Overland Journal edition.  Technologically impressive, it did keep up with the Brute in every test, and held together in all but trim when Fat Right Foot Foust ran it too fast into a rut and slammed it nose-first into the dirt.  Not bad, England, but not the most impressive of the bunch.

Because when you spend $130,000, or $70,000, you expect the truck to go anywhere and maybe even wash the laundry when it gets to camp.  You can do anything if you throw enough money at it, but what's impressive is what happens when someone spends about $45,000 on a small SUV...

Rutledge Wood came with a 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition, the swan song for the soon-to-be-discontinued FJ Cruiser, and while $45,000 sounds like a lot (way out of my price range) it's a little less than 2/3s of $70,000 and a little more than 1/3 of $130,000.

Consider also the driver disadvantage (sorry, Rut!) of having a guy who isn't the most experienced off roader around.  Even he says his off road experience is mostly dirt roads.

So my question going into watching this adventure was whether or not an SUV built by the same people who made the indestructible Hilux pickup truck (featured riding down an apartment building being demolished on Britain's Top Gear) could withstand Rut's inexperienced off-roading.

Spoiler alert, by the way...

It wasn't pretty, or fast, and a few times he held up the caravan, but in the end the little blue retro wagon put its front wheels in the Colorado River next to the Brute and the Land Rover.  And if these vehicles had been bought by our hosts, Rutledge would have had enough to buy a small cabin on the river, and a steak dinner for the crew, repair Tanner's damaged Land Rover, and still come out ahead of Adam.

That's a respectable little SUV.  The underdog didn't win, but it proved itself in the same league, and that's enough for me and should be for anyone else who can't spend over $65,000 on a new Land Rover.

Bonus bit of information: obviously a used FJ Cruiser is going to cost a lot less than $40K, and the 2011 Trail Teams edition comes in army green. I'd consider one now that I know it's capable of so much more than hauling shopping bags at Woodfield Mall.

Best Vehicle: 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition
Best Driver: Adam, for his detour in the river.  Twice.
Episode Rating: 7/10, with links to the episode on YouTube to be filed away in a convenient spot for when someone says that FJ Cruisers can't handle real off-road driving.

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