Trail Access Vehicles

by John Washington on November 17, 2019

(Images by Keri Kirby and Brenda Priddy)

It’s that time of year when the weather in Southern AZ has cooled to the point where we Zonies can enjoy the outdoors a little more without having to set an alarm clock for 0400, or try to find an AirBnB in San Diego, or fight the traffic up I-17 or the Beeline Highway to northerly parts of the state.

I’m especially inspired now by the social media posts of Peter Corbett, Roger Naylor, Greg McGowan, and others I follow, who’ve been teasing me all summer.

Our Pleasure-Way Class B Camper Van in Prescott

We’ve already made one weekend trip this fall in our little Pleasure-Way camper van. I’ll share details as soon as I get that far down my list of articles-to-write.

But we’ve also been thinking about replacing my ancient Silverado crew-cab work truck (and/or my even-more-ancient 4Runner) with what I’ll call a “trail access vehicle.”

That is to say, we want a chariot to get us a little closer to the action than our tall and only-slightly-less-bulky-than-a-Class-A-motorhome camper van can get. It’s hard to beat traveling with your own bed, bathroom, kitchen, and portable espresso maker. But I get a little anxious on unimproved roads in a vehicle with plumbing on the underside and a tall roof above.

Yet we’d like to retain the option of throwing a foam mattress in the back and taking a nap after a hike… or spending the night out there instead of having to cut the day short and haul buns back home in the dark. Or pitch a tent and sleep on the ground. I’m too old for that.

My Silverado is a full-size truck. That would do the trick. Good room in the cab, but it takes up a lot of room when parking, and doesn’t get the best fuel economy.

Being a crew-cab, it has a bed that’s about “that much” too short for me to lay down without my feet hanging out onto the tailgate. I’ve done that, and awakened with wet feet after an otherwise pleasant night’s sleep under a gentle rain on the camper shell.

Plus, I’m starting to replace parts on the truck at a rate that makes me think twice about taking it off the beaten path. Ditto that last point on the 4Runner.

The Toyota is a great vehicle, with even more ground clearance (courtesy of a previous owner’s lift kit) than my Silverado, and fold-down back seats that yield room to stretch out…though the tailgate makes for awkward ingress and egress when bedding down.

As we consider replacement vehicles, we don’t necessarily want to do a lot of hardcore off-roading or rock crawling. We just want to get deeper into the great outdoors than the van allows, before we dismount for recreation. Interior comforts and fuel economy are considerations, however, as this ride will also be a daily driver. Light towing capability would be helpful, too, as it will double as a work vehicle.

Via good timing, we recently had an opportunity to join the folks at Southwest Lifestyle Media for their multi-manufacturer, journalist “Drive” event at the Crowne Plaza Phoenix Chandler Golf Resort in Downtown Chandler, Arizona. That area is one of my old favorites from back when I was stationed at Williams Air Force Base (now Gateway Airport and home of Arizona State University’s Poly Tech campus).

We got to drive two vehicles at the event that fit our niche: The new Kia Telluride and the new Chevrolet Traverse.

I’ve been very impressed with the styling progress of the Korean manufactures over the years, though I haven’t driven a Kia or Hyundai in a long time. I also haven’t owned a NEW vehicle in a while, as my tastes and the amount I’m willing to spend trend toward, shall we say, “the classics?” So, I have to keep that in mind as I describe the Kia Telluride as impressive.

Kia Telluride

The Kia was comfortable, had plenty of power with smooth delivery, and included safety and modern driver-assist features that will give comfort to any parent of a soon-to-be-licensed driver. Truth be told, even though I still think of myself as a damned good vehicle operator, I’m becoming more accepting of the “assistance” that the Telluride and other modern vehicles offer.

We dutifully folded down the Telluride’s rear seats to evaluate the lay-down length. Perfectly adequate for the aforementioned nap or overnight bed-down.

The Telluride has seating for up to 8 people and a 5000-pound towing capacity, and an all-wheel drive option. Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $31,600 (with trim up to $41,490), and includes Kia’s impressive 10-year/100,000-mile Limited Powertrain Warranty, with 5yr/60k “limited basic warranty.”

The Chevy Traverse was also impressive. Frankly, the truckishness of my old Silverado is wearing a little thin, and I’m pleased to say that the Traverse was much more refined!

Chevy Traverse

Chevy Traverse

Chevy touts the interior volume of the Traverse as best-in-class, and the 5000-pound towing capacity is prominently featured in their marketing. It also seats 8, and has an all-wheel-drive option. It’s a solid candidate for our new trail access vehicle, at an MSRP of $29,800 (with trim up to $51,895). Traverse comes with a 5yr/60k “limited powertrain warranty.” The “basic bumper-to-bumper” warranty is 3yr/36k miles.

I intend to spend a little more time with a Traverse in the near future. I’ll keep you posted.

We didn’t have time to drive the Ford Explorer (specs look promising) or the Subaru Outback (which may be a tad small for our needs). We did however take a spin in the cute and sporty non-candidate Hyundai Kona (which is probably great for the zoomer generation) and the surprisingly polished Kia Soul, which also unfortunately doesn’t fit our specs.

Hyundai Kona

2019 Kia Soul

The 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio took me by surprise with it’s exuberance. Wow. More power than I would have expected in an SUV-like vehicle, though I suppose the segment has gone that direction with other import offerings from Porsche, BMW, etc, which I have never driven. However, I doubt many of those will risk Arizona pinstripes from our back roads.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

Probably the biggest surprise for me was the solid-yet-refined feel of the new Jeep Gladiator. Frankly, I was expecting a rough ride, like when I drove a much shorter-wheelbase Wrangler sibling at this event a couple of years ago.

Jeep Gladiator

The Gladiator is more like my Silverado in terms of size and how I might use it. The flip-top is super-cool. Unfortunately, it has the same trade-off as my Silverado: Extra seats in exchange for a shorter bed.

However, the Fiat Chrysler Automotive reps said there are a full-range of options and accessories. I’m guessing some of those might address this area.

Stay tuned for more investigation of trail access vehicles, and some interesting travels around AZ and the Southwest!

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