Knibbe Ranch Spring Branch, Texas
“It’s boots and chaps, it’s cowboy hats, it’s spurs and Latigo; It’s the ropes and the reins and the joy and the pain, and they call the thing rodeo.” The Rodeo, recorded by Garth Brooks
It may not be calf roping, or bronco and bull riding, but it can be rough and grueling to the average automotive journalist; which is taking a multitude of truck-oriented vehicles through their paces for two solid days of evaluations. That’s what the Texas Autowriters’ Association (TAWA) has been doing every October since 1994, now globally known as the Texas Truck Rodeo; an event that has gone from humble beginnings to what Donald Trump would say as, HUGE!
The 25th TAWA Truck Rodeo, sponsored by the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) with lunch sponsors BFGoodrich and Michelin Tires, was held at the historic Knibbe Ranch near San Antonio Oct. 7-9. The event was especially competitive this year with 88 vehicles available for 69 TAWA media members to test both on and off road. TAWA members evaluated the off-road vehicles while climbing rocks and crossing creeks, while the smoother drives on the road could include pulling trailers.
The event has won so much credibility since its conception that manufactures can’t wait to get their new products in front of the TAWA membership to hopefully win its category, or better yet, the top award; using that acclaim in promotional advertising. So especially during Super Bowl season you’ll note commercials that say “voted best truck by the Texas Auto writers”, which would be us.
TAWA’s first truck rodeo was focused on just that, pickups, big and small. But as SUVs became popular it was time to split the top award into top truck and top SUV. This year the Truck of Texas award went to Nissan for its totally new redesigned Titan pickup. The SUV of Texas went to a previous winner with its first-generation design, the all-new redesigned 2016 Volvo XC90.
This year, by far, was the biggest Texas Truck Rodeo, with the participating vehicles having combined sticker prices totaled almost $4 million. As always manufacturing engineers were available to give overviews and answer questions. It was also beneficial to have side by side comparisons for on/off road driving and towing capabilities. Ford got the nod for Best Technology with its innovative Pro-Trailer Backup Assist, making trailer backups as easy as Ford’s parallel parking assist.
“The members of the Texas Auto Writers Association always enjoy the Texas Truck Rodeo,” said Michael Marrs, TAWA president. “It’s a unique chance to compare vehicles back-to-back in a timely manner on the same course and provide honest, real-time feedback to our industry partners. The 2016 Nissan Titan XD with the Cummins Diesel engine really impressed TAWA members at this year’s event; there’s no doubt that innovative powertrains, impressive designs and new technologies paid off for the Titan.”
Taking that top spot marked the first time for Nissan to win such a prestigious title. The Nissan Cummins® 5.0L V8 Turbo Diesel and Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission powering the new Titan also received Best Powertrain Award, while the Titan XD Pro-4X won best off-road pickup; the Titan XD Platinum Reserve won luxury pickup truck; and Nissan’s Murano Platinum won mid-size CUV award.
Nissan took a calculated risk, coming from the abyss of the full-size truck market. Its current Titan has been around since 2003 pretty much in the same wrapper, so to say it is long in the tooth would be an understatement. However, that wasn’t by design; had an agreement with Chrysler LLC gone as plan, today’s Titian would have been a rehashed Ram. Thank God for things not going as planned, for Nissan has created a bonofide game changer by introducing a truck that’s between a light and medium duty pickup, and at launch, giving it the absolute best powertrain possible, which was specifically designed for the Titan XD series.
Fred Diaz, President of Nissan Trucks, said, “As someone raised in Texas, this Truck of Texas award means so much to me as well as to the company. We were thrilled to be able to bring the new Titan to the truck rodeo so TAWA media members could be among the very first people to drive the truck.”
Since official launch is still a couple of months away production models were not available, using instead pre-production units. Unfortunately driving impressions have been embargoed until November 15th; however considering the truck pretty well swept the awards tells you the Titan XD has set a new bar. This beating out the 2016 F-150 Limited and 2016 Ram Linited, which are new premium luxury trim model that’s more contented than the previous Platinum and Laramie Longhorn models respectively.
The Mid-Size pickup category was just as hotly contested which The all-new redesigned 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road & TRD Sport & Limited beating out last winner, the Chevrolet Colorado Z71, even though this year the Colorado came with the 2.8 liter Duramax Diesel. This diesel engine ought to be popular for its torque as well as its anticipated fuel rating of 30 plus highway mpg. Coming in third was the 2015 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X, which just as capable as the Toyota and Chevrolet, is now as equally long in the tooth as the previous Titan.
The Volvo XC 90 is another interesting story, not only originally winning Top SUV of Texas but the grand prize of Top Truck of Texas. The entire automotive world was set on its ear in 2002, when the winner was neither a pickup nor a true SUV. The first-generation XC 90 was that good to win its initial year and do well the succeeding years it was campaigned. The rebirth of the XC 90 further instills that Volvo still has the magic. Volvo also won an award for Best connectivity with its Sensus infotainment system.
In the compact CUV category the trail-rated 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk took top honors, with the 2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD placing second. The 2016 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD and Lounge FWD placed third. What’s somewhat ironic is that the Renegade and 500X, being FCA products, share similar powertrains and platforms.
Other vehicles in the category were the brand-new to the segment 2016 Mazda CX-3, as well as the equally new 2016 Honda HR-V EXL AWD, and veteran of the bunch, the Nissan Juke Nismo. All in this segment were extremely capable, with different features to distinguish their virtues.
The Full-size SUV contest was a rather surprise with the now 4-year old designed 2015 Dodge Durango RT AWD and Citadel AWD beating out the more contemporary redesigned 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser and popular 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ 2WD. This validates just how good the underappreciated Dodge is, no matter how now aged it is.
In the Off-Road Vehicle category it was a David versus Goliath matchup between the new kid on the block Toyota 4-Runner TRD Pro and the venerable Jeep Wrangler. However this time Goliath won hands down. This in no way takes anything away from the 4-Runner, which was a beast on and off-road, hinting to the same durability and ruggedness as the now discontinued FJ Cruiser.
The TRD Pro series, offered for the Tundra and 4-Runner, debuted last season and continues for 2016 with slight enhancements. The package was offered for the 2015 Tacoma, but will take a hiatus because of the truck’s redesign, and hopefully return for 2017.
The Off-Road Pickup contest was somewhat a surprise as well with the Nissan XD PRO-4X beating out the former champion, the Ram Power Wagon, and the equally capable Toyota Tundra TRD Pro.
Minivans have always been an important part of the rodeo; however this year had no entries, unless one includes Mercedes-Benz’s new to market compact van, The Metris Passenger van. However it was lumped into the Commercial Vehicle category, along with its Metris cargo van stable mate, the Ram Pro Master City SLT Wagon and Tradesman, Ford Transit 150/250 Medium Roof XLT and Nissan NV3500 SL HR. Also in the hunt was the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500 4×4 Cargo van, which was a dually that take the rugged off-road course with the best of the best.
The Heavy-Duty Truck category included first-place Ram Laramie Longhorn, second-place Ford F-250 Super Duty Platinum 4×4 Crew Cab and third-place Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD diesel. However, the all-new ballyhooed 2017 Super Duty pickup was on static display just to wet our appetite for next year’s competition.
The 2015 award categories and winning vehicles were:
- Truck of Texas: Nissan Titan XD (Cummins Diesel)*
- SUV of Texas: 2016 Ford Explorer*
- CUV of Texas: 2016 Volvo XC 90*
- Truck line of Texas: Ford
- Heavy duty pickup truck: 2016 Ram 2500
- Best commercial vehicle: 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris Cargo and Passenger van*
- Luxury pickup truck: 2016 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve 2*
- Off-road pickup: 2016 Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X*
- Full-size pickup: 2016 Ram 1500 Rebel*
- Midsize pickup: 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road & TRD Sport & Limited*
- Best technology: Ford Pro-Trailer Backup Assist
- Best connectivity: Volvo Sensus
- Best powertrain: Nissan Cummins 5.0L V8 Diesel & Aisin
- Off-road utility vehicle: 2016 Jeep Wrangler
- Full-size luxury SUV: 2016 Lexus LX 570*
- Mid-size luxury SUV: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4×4
- Compact luxury SUV: 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE LUX
- Full-size SUV: 2015 Dodge Durango RT AWD and Citadel AWD
- Mid-size SUV: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited Diesel
- Compact SUV: 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and Limited
- Full-size CUV: 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
- Mid-size CUV: 2015 Nissan Murano Platinum*
- Compact CUV: 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
- Luxury CUV: 2016 Volvo XC90 T6*
*Denotes an all-new or significantly enhanced model
Click here to see a current video of this years event
The Texas Auto Writers Association, Inc. was founded in 1985 by automotive journalists who wanted to provide an avenue of professional growth, development and networking. These professionals sought to create an automotive event that was unique to Texas, and the result was the TAWA Truck Rodeo. Since 1994, Truck Rodeos have been held in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Granbury and Spring Branch.