Pop Sci Hits the Dirt

Off-road romp at annual car-driving fiesta

This city boy rarely gets to drive a pickup truck. But I did that yesterday (with a red Nissan Titan), and tried out eight SUVs, at the International Motor Press Association's Drive Days in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The annual event unites dozens of car makers and their latest models (with keys in the ignition) with dozens of car-crazed journalists.

Day one's highlight is an off-road extravaganza of climbing over boulders and crawling through deep gullies alongside a ski slope. Every truck I tested was quite competent on the roughshod course. Here are the highlights:

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

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Is it possible to fall in love with a truck? After driving the Rubicon, I think so. The Rubicon was my favorite of the day: a rustic, burly beast that crawls over any terrain like a crab. Its secret: You can disable the vehicle's anti-sway bar, allowing the axels to pivot at extreme angles and dip the tires into deep holes and ruts to maintain traction.

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Toyota FJ **Cuiser
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Very close to the Rubicon in handling, the FJ can tramp over any terrain. But it will bang you around in the process. Think of it as a crazy, hard-partying friend. You have a blast with it but might feel a little thrashed afterwards.

**AMG G55
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My god! This thing is scary—in a good way. Coming from Mercedes' muscle-car division, the G55 accelerates like a sports car even on a bumpy, gravelly road. Unfortunately, low ground clearance kept it off the best parts of the course, but it tore through the rest with a sense of authority—and entitlement.—Sean Captain