I just had the awesome experience of putting some of the best trucks, SUVs, and CUVs of the 2020 model year to test on a Texas ranch. Each fall, the Texas Auto Writer’s Association hosts the two-day Texas Truck Rodeo event that brings automotive writers from around the state to a ranch in the Texas Hill Country along with representatives from the top truck, SUV, and compact SUV manufacturers. The 2019 Texas Truck Rodeo took place at Star Hill Ranch, which was the perfect setting to get these trucks and sport utility vehicles out into the dirt to see how they perform. The rainy day added an extra factor of mud to the off-road course, which included steep hills, logs, and undulations. This was a cool way to scout out future vehicles for my family that could handle not just daily city use, but our camping and road trip adventures as well.
At the Texas Truck Rodeo, over 50 journalists drove over 40 trucks and SUVs to rate them on the following criteria: interior, exterior, performance, value, and personal appeal. While I’m not a voting member of the Texas Auto Writers, I was glad to have the chance to check out the vehicles for myself. Here are the trucks, SUVs, and compact SUVs I got to drive at the Texas Truck Rodeo, some of the highlights from each model, and my thoughts on each.
Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro. From Toyota’s pressroom: “With its robust body-on-frame construction, four-wheel independent suspension, generous ground clearance and powerful V8 engine, the Sequoia is already one of the most capable full-size SUVs on the market. The TRD Pro version comes standard with Multi-Mode 4WD, which is optional in other Sequoia grades.”
What I loved about it: With or without the 3rd row, this vehicle had plenty of room inside for my family of four (and then some) plus whatever gear we’d need for camping or road tripping. Its 40.6 turning diameter also makes it super practical for everyday city life since it’s easy to park. Like all the TRD Pro models, it has an upgraded multimedia system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility standard. I love a vehicle that makes connectivity easy.
Jeep Wrangler Sahara. From Jeep’s press room, the Wrangler “delivers unmatched off-road capability and is produced with more than seven decades of 4×4 engineering experience. Powertrain options include a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with engine stop-start (ESS), 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with mild-hybrid e-Torque technology, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with ESS and a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with mild-hybrid e-Torque technology. Wrangler continues to offer a body-on-frame design, front and rear five-link suspension system, solid axles, electronic lockers and is one of the few SUVs to offer a six-speed manual transmission in addition to its available eight-speed automatic.”
What I loved about it: Of all the vehicles I drove, this one felt the most off-road and rugged. This one was all about sport and function. The one-touch Power Top opens the roof completely with the touch of a button, allowing you to feel the fresh air on your adventure in just seconds.
Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn Edition. With about 25% of the trucks sold in the US being sold in Texas, it is only natural that Dodge would create a special Texas edition: the Laramie Longhorn Edition. From the Ram Trucks website: “The 2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn® blends comfort, technology and southwestern appointments to make a distinctive statement… New for the 2020 Ram 1500, the available 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 engine combines 480 pound-feet of torque and an available half-ton diesel towing capacity of 12,560 pounds for impressive power.”
What I loved about it: Aside from the name (we are a Longhorn family), the truck’s combination of luxury and capability sets this one apart from other trucks on the market. This truck can do the work, but you still feel like it’s top-of-the-line when you’re inside. The stunning stitching and leatherwork on the interior befit a high-end cowboy boot or saddle. I also appreciated that the step side comes down as you open door to allow for shorties like me to be able to get inside with ease.
Lexus GX. From Lexus’ website: “With a redesigned, contemporary front fascia, enhanced off-road and on-road capabilities and new, distinctive interior trims, this is the epitome of rugged refinement… With 301 hp and up to 6,500 lb of towing capacity, you can leave it all behind while taking it all with you… With the most comprehensive safety system ever offered on the GX, security comes standard.”
What I loved about it: I appreciate luxury, and this was the most luxurious of the SUVs I drove at the Texas Truck Rodeo. I loved the comfort and style of the interior and the classy look of the body. Not just a pretty face, this vehicle was also one of the best performing on the off-road course.
Kia Telluride. From Kia Media: “The Telluride is the largest Kia ever. It provides comfortable seating for up to eight, a powerful 291-hp 3.8-liter V6, available active on-demand all-wheel drive, and an inspiring view of the world. The Telluride offers potential for exploration and adventure every time it’s on the road… Telluride is packed with high-tech, advanced automotive technology, including the “Kia Drive Wise” suite of Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems, and a long list of standard and optional equipment.”
What I loved about it: The interior passenger room is fantastic for a mid-size SUV. I also loved the look of the interior with unique stitching and soft leather. It’s also one of the most cost-effective vehicles I had the chance to drive at the Texas Truck Rodeo.
Subaru Outback. From Subaru’s website: “The all-new, most adventurous, most reliable, safest, best Subaru Outback ever. The 2020 Outback features standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive with up to 33 MPG. With upgrades to safety, capability, comfort and technology, the Outback now offers the Subaru DriverFocus™ Distraction Mitigation System for the first time ever. And it’s still designed to be the long-lasting and dependable adventure companion you love, with 98% of Outback vehicles sold in the last 10 years still on the road today.”
What I loved about it: In addition to the surprising off-road capability in this compact SUV (it was one of the easiest to get up the steep and muddy hills), what I loved the most was its unmatched safety features, which include emergency braking and throttle management that will take over if you don’t react quickly enough.
Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road. From Toyota’s pressroom: “The TRD Off-Road echoes the persona of Toyota’s legendary off-road racers. The RAV4 TRD Off-Road model shares high-rise roof rails, large over-fenders, and aggressive bumper and grille designs and fog light surrounds with the RAV4 Adventure grade, but with a TRD personality. Building on the 8.6-inch ground clearance of the RAV4 Adventure, the TRD Off-Road goes above and beyond with suspension, wheels and tires engineered specifically for rugged trail driving. Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive with Driveline Disconnect is standard and supported by and a full complement of off-road handling technologies. To take more adventure equipment along, such as personal watercraft, dirt bikes or a small enclosed trailer, the RAV4 TRD Off-Road is rated to tow a trailer up to 3,500 pounds.”
What I loved about it: The RAV4 also handled the off-road course exceptionally. The stand-out features to me were the great fuel economy (32 MPG highway, 27 combined, 25 city) coupled with 3,500-pound towing capacity, so it’s economic and practical for camping and travel. I also loved this color, which is called Lunar Rock.
It was great to have the chance to get behind the wheels of so many of the top SUVs and trucks of 2020. They all had great features and performance offerings, but if I had to choose for myself, my favorites were the Lexus GX and the Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro for the combination of style, function in the off-road scenarios, and practicality when considering my family’s travel and everyday vehicle needs. The Subaru Outback was surprising in it’s off-road abilities along with it’s size, and when paired with its safety features, it ranked pretty high on my list, too. The Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road also felt like a great overall vehicle.
Keep up with the Texas Auto Writer’s Association to see which vehicles will be awarded the Truck, SUV, and Compact SUV of Texas trophies from the Texas Truck Rodeo based on journalists’ votes. Trophies will be awarded on November 20th.