You might think that the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, with its solid front and rear axles, locking diffs, and stock 33-inch tires, is the most capable all-around modern off-road vehicle. And while that may be true, under the conditions of a recent comparison test in Spain, one reviewer found the Mercedes G-Class and Toyota Land Cruiser Prado (similar to the U.S.-market Lexus GX) both superior. Here’s a look at that test.
The video begins by running through the features and specifications of the Wrangler, G-Class, and Land Cruiser to see how they stack up on paper. This part seems logical for the most part, with the host of the video, posted to YouTube by Spanish-based car website Diariomotor, comparing features like approach and departure angles, differential locks, low range transfer case availability, traction control systems, ground clearance, tire diameter, tire type, underbody protection, torque-to-mass ratio, and even exterior cameras.
I’d have liked to have seen some sort of Ramp Travel Index comparison to assess overall articulation of all three machines, but those figures may not be readily available, though I do think metrics other than mass would be used to reward 4x4s with smaller overall dimensions, since that’s so important off-road.
In any case, by the end of the “on paper” comparison, the Wrangler ends up with 94.8 points out of 100, the G-Class with 93.4, and the Land Cruiser Prado with 85.1. But “on paper” and “in the dirt” are two different things, as you’ll see in the off-road footage below:
The off-road comparison, conducted at an off-road course in Ocaña in the Spanish province of Toledo, begins with a crawl through some deep holes (“axle twisters,” as the host calls them) that try to lift all three vehicles’ tires off the ground in a test of both articulation and traction.
It’s no surprise that the Wrangler does well in this area, with its locking front and rear differentials, front disconnecting sway bar, and solid axles. The independent suspension Land Cruiser Prado can be seen lifting tires high off the ground, and rolling significantly as its front wheels drop into the holes. By contrast, notice how level the Wrangler stays as its axles flex to keep the wheels on the dirt. The Mercedes seems to roll quite bit more than the Jeep, though Diariomotor seems to say otherwise in its written review, writing (translated from Spanish):
“The turn of the Mercedes G-Class arrives and the thing only improves. The suspension paths are equally formidable and the result is that the cabin barely tilts a few lateral degrees
All three vehicles make it though the obstacle with ease. The Land Cruiser’s Crawl Control system seems to ensure that traction goes to the wheels with grip, sending the Japanese SUV through the holes without a problem. And the G-Class’s lockers, along with its plush cabin, make the little “axle twisters” apparently feel like “slight potholes.”
The next obstacle shown in the video is a steep 35-ish degree grade, which the host struggles to limb with his own two feet. All three vehicles ascend the grade, though the Mercedes stands out due to its cameras, which help provide a better view of what’s in front of the car as its nose is pointed straight at the sky. The Wrangler also stands out, but only because its giant belly scrapes against the hill’s crest.
The Wrangler’s small breakover angle becomes a bigger problem later in the video, when the host drives the machine up a steep grade, and attempts to summit the hill. Both the Jeep and the Land Cruiser high-center, and are unable to continue on, while the G-Class manages to make it up the hill without any trouble.
There’s also a portion where the vehicles try to tow one another up a 30 degree, smooth grade; The Land Cruiser tows the Jeep up, and the G-Class tows the Land Cruiser most of the way up before the rope snaps. But the Jeep doesn’t have the grip to tow the Land Cruiser up the grade.
You can read the full written review, translated from Spanish, on Diariomotor’s website, but the gist of it is that even without proper locking differentials, the Land Cruiser’s Crawl Control system—though rather loud as the brake calipers work to engage the rotors—gets the vehicle through tough obstacles. The Mercedes is a quiet and refined beast, and has very little trouble throughout the video even with its less-than-off-road-oriented tires, and the Jeep does great, but is hindered by its huge belly.
In the end, the Mercedes takes the top spot, with Diariomotor writing on its website:
The Mercedes G-Class is an incredible car in its 4×4 skills, demonstrating a power and solvency over its rivals, at least in this particular circuit and in these specific conditions.
The Land Cruiser gets second place:
The Toyota Land Cruiser Limited is the car that we would take to cross Africa or South America for its hardness, for its reliability, for its road qualities on any terrain and for being the only one capable of accommodating up to 7 passengers. The Crawl Control has been proven almost as capable as the triple lock and I think it is the second ranked of the test, although at some point it has suffered more than the Jeep.
And the Jeep is, in the conditions of this test—which the website admits did not really thoroughly put the tires to the test—third (last):
In this Unlimited version the battle is so long and the [breakover] angle is so small that it will limit us many times when crowning tops. Since the tires have not done him any favor in the drag test, it is the car that has been defeated in more tests and therefore has to be our third classified.
Of course, this kind of thing is totally normal in off-road comparisons. The one that’s best “on paper” doesn’t always win, because what matters are the conditions of that particular course on that particular day. And that, of course, holds true not just for reviewers, but for all off-roaders.