Off-Roading

AutomotiveMap's top tips for driving on sand dunes

Imperial Sand Dunes, a few hours east of San Diego, provide some of the best dune driving terrain in the world.

Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

This wasn't a dream. The sounds of Pat Benetar's "We Belong" flowed through the cabin at near-concert levels as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan dove from sand dune to sand dune at speed. The magic carpet ride was keeping the 6,000-pound car's occupants stable but the expert driver behind the wheel was keeping them from sinking in the Imperial Sand Dunes' tough terrain.

Whether you're setting off for your first or fiftieth time in the dunes, here are the top tips for success you'll want to remember.

Remember that the dunes are always changing.

Wind, settling, water, animals, people, and other vehicles impact the dunes on a regular basis. As the wind blows, the sand settles, creatures move about, and steps are taken on them, the surfaces changes. The sun will dry out the sand, making it more easily able to be sunk into.

Where you just went, you might not be able to go again.

Because of the constantly changing dunes and tire pressures on the sand, the sand shifts once you pass and may create a space of no return for your vehicle. It's important to have a good lay of the land before proceeding and keep in mind that you might not be able to go back.

As wind whips the landscape, you'll want to keep newly forming witch's eyes in mind as well.

The sun makes the sand dry out.

When it gets hot, the sand heats up and dries out. This causes the surface to be squishier (dry sand is easier to move than wet sand). Because of this, vehicle wheels can quickly become buried in sand that was passable hours prior.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Rebelle Rally When the sun is at high noon, the sand begins to loosen up and can easily swallow a tire or two or four.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

What's dark isn't always hard.

When you go to the beach, water wets the sand causing it to darken in color. As sand dries, traditionally it lightens up. This isn't always the case in the dunes where dark sand may purely be an easily breakable crust on top of deep dry sand.

More throttle, less brake.

When driving in sand, you won't want to give the car too much gas or brake. Stopping can mean the difference between sinking down into the sand and skimming the surface. The best speed will keep the car moving at the right pace, on top of the sand, while making stopping easy should you come across an obstacle.

Midday sun is flat sun.

As the sun rises, so does the chance of getting dehydrated. It also means that you're seeing flat light, which can make even larger whoops look like small ripples. Drive cautiously as the light reaches high noon and pay attention as shadows develop later in day, hiding potential obstacles.

Don't forget your tools.

No day at the dunes is complete without at least getting stuck one time. A shovel and Maxtrax are two of your best friends. Wet wipes, goggles, and gear such as the Deadman Earth Anchor are a must as well. Something as simple like an analog compass can help you if you get lost. For deep desert driving, consider making a satellite phone standard equipment.

Ford is just one of the automakers trying to suss out how to adapt to the sudden changes to the usual automaker calendar when it comes to production and debut dates.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The year 2020 is turning out to be one for the history books. Even though we're only part of the way through March, a global pandemic is shutting down automotive production and halting economic growth. Plans to launch new automobiles have been shifted and schedules changed. But we're still expecting a big year in pickup trucks, with some pretty amazing stuff in the pipeline.

Assuming production reaches some kind of normalcy by the summer, and strong incentives to get people to buy, here's what you can expect from all the truck automakers this year.

2020 Ford Ranger The Ford Bronco will be built alongside the Ford Ranger in Michigan, eventually.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford

Starting with the largest truck manufacturer in the country, Ford has several trucks in the pipeline. The body-on-frame Ford Bronco was supposed to be revealed at the New York International Auto Show, but that show has been cancelled and an alternative reveal date hasn't been set. The Jeep Wrangler competitor has a removable roof, serious off-road components, and a design reminiscent of the iconic first-generation.

Ford has re-tooled its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan for the Ford Ranger and Bronco and word on the street is that it's ready to go.

There's also a Ford Bronco Sport that is on its way. It too was supposed to show this spring and is slated to be built at the same plant as the 2020 Ford Escape in Louisville, Kentucky.

The 2021 Ford F-150 will also debut this year and should be a complete redesign since the last mid-cycle update was in 2018. Spy shots show a new infotainment screen and instrument cluster. Don't expect dramatic changes in appearance, but expect new powertrains including a hybrid version and a full-on battery electric F-150. At this time, we'd expect to see this truck at the North American International Auto Show in June, or around that time, assuming things start to return to normal.

2022 GMC Hummer EV The 2022 GMC Hummer EV is slated to be revealed in May, but those plans may change.Photo courtesy of GMC

There is also a chance to see Ford's upcoming sub-Ranger pickup. This unibody truck will be smaller than the Ranger, likely be front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, and provide buyers an alternative to a small SUV if they really need the cargo bed. Other than some spy shots and speculation, much isn't known about the truck. If we see it this year, expect it to be towards the end of the year.

General Motors

General Motors recently updated all of their pickup trucks, including mild refreshes of both the Colorado and Canyon, so don't expect a lot happening there. Except, of course, for the revived Hummer pickup truck with a GMC badge. The fully-electric truck will debut this spring – slated for May 20th, but who knows at this point – and should do a zero-to-sixty run in about three seconds.

FCA

Ram Trucks also recently updated their entire lineup, so don't expect anything major from them for the rest of the year. But that doesn't mean that they won't roll out special editions and trims, like the Laramie Southwest version, to help drive sales.

We aren't expecting big things to happen with Jeep's pickup truck this year, since last year was the official launch of the Gladiator. A Mojave edition is hitting dealerships now, and new special editions are always in the works for the Jeep brand.

We do expect, likely this year, for Jeep to drove the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine into the Gladiator like they just did for the Wrangler. With that available engine, the Gladiator should return a respectable fuel economy number.

The new engine won't change the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the truck, meaning that the maximum towing Gladiator might still remain the gas engine.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave The debut of the Jeep Gladiator in December means that it's already headed to dealership lots.Photo courtesy of Jeep

Nissan

Nissan just finished launching their updated Titan and Titan XD trucks and is preparing to show us a significantly updated 2021 Frontier later this year. The new truck will be powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 and a 9-speed automatic transmission. Interestingly, that engine and transmission is in the non-updated 2020 Nissan Frontier.

Toyota

Over at Toyota, we should be due for an updated and refreshed Tundra pickup. While it has received small model year changes, there hasn't been an updated engine or transmission in quite some time. Toyota has said that by 2025 every vehicle in their lineup will have some sort of electrification as an option, so an updated truck with a hybrid powertrain has to be coming. Will it be this year? Depends on how far they are along with engineering that setup.

In the meantime, the Tundra, 4Runner, and Tacoma Trail, which debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in February, are the closest thing to "new "in the Toyota trucks lineup.

2020 Toyota Trail The Toyota Trail badged trucks are the newest addition to the Toyota lineup.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Hyundai

In any other year, talking about a pickup truck from Hyundai seems like crazy talk, but 2020 is different. We're expecting the production-version of the Santa Cruz concept to appear. Hyundai has confirmed that this truck (they're calling it a utility vehicle) will be built at their HMMA facility in Alabama.

We expect the truck to have a lifestyle focus appealing to people who like to get out and do things, like surf or ski or camp, and not focus on towing or payload numbers. Hyundai is aware that they can't beat the Big 3 at the truck game, but the Santa Cruz isn't designed to take sales from them.

Except it to have Hyundai's latest safety technology and phone-as-a-key technology. The real question is; will it have Smaht Pahk?

2020 Honda Ridgeline The Honda Ridgeline has gotten some new components for 2020 but it's not quite a refresh.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Honda

The often overlooked Ridgeline has gotten an equipment and features upgrade for the 2020 model year including a new nine-speed automatic transmission and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has been on sale since December. We're coming up on the timeframe for a mid-cycle fascia upgrade for the model but don't expect to see it until later this year, if that happens in 2020.

The beginning of the year looked bright for the car industry for another year, but the spread of the novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc on automotive production and automaker plans for new models. That really is the great unknown now with when we will see a new truck from a manufacturer.

Trucks like the F-150 and the Hummer are likely too far along to postpone. The Bronco is basically ready to go. Everything else could potentially be pushed back. It just depends on how serious this downturn is, how freely people can access money to buy, and whether the consumer confidence is there to buy.

We will see.

The Honda CR-V Hybrid is a competitively priced new entry into the market.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Honda has brought a new hybrid version of its CR-V to market this year, the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid. Aimed to squarely take on the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the model has a competitive starting price of $27,750.

There are four grades of the 2020 CR-V Hybrid. All trim levels carry a $1,120 destination fee. Here's how they break down by trim level.


2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid LX

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Honda has given this base model a price tag of $27,750.

It comes standard with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder hybrid powertrain with dual-motor functionality and all-wheel drive. The CR-V Hybrid has Sport, Econ, and EV drive modes. It also comes standard with an electric parking brake. This is the same for all trim levels.

Buyers get automatic LED high and low beam headlights, keyless entry and push-button start, body-color door handles, remote start black exterior mirrors, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The cabin features a USB port, single-automatic climate control, 5-inch infotainment touch screen, and a four-speaker audio system.

The automaker has make its Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver assistance technologies standard on the CR-V Hybrid, as well as a multi-angle rearview camera with guidelines.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid EX

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

The second-tier CR-V Hybrid EX has a starting MSRP of $30,260 and comes with a number of desirable bells and whistles not found on the base LX grade.

In addition to the equipment on the CR-V Hybrid LX, it gets LED fog lights and heated body-colored side mirrors with integrated turn signals. Replacing the 17-inch wheels are 18-inch alloys.

Instead of just one USB port, this model adds two rear USB ports. It also gets dual-zone automatic climate control, a one-touch moonroof, 7-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. The driver's seat gets two-position seat memory.

The model adds blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and the rearview camera has dynamic guide lines that move when the steering wheel moves.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid EX-L

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Honda adds creature comfort and convenience features to the CR-V Hybrid EX-L including a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, leather seats, power tailgate, a four-way adjustable passenger seat, four additional rear speakers, automatic dimming rearview mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-wrapped shifter, and the HomeLink. HomeLink allows users to transfer the capabilities of their garage door opener to the car so they don't have to have the opener on display in the vehicle for use.

The CR-V Hybrid EX-L starts at $32,750.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

The CR-V Hybrid Touring is Honda's top-level offering and it starts at $35,950.

In addition to all the features listed for the EX-L model, Honda has given the Touring grade wireless charging, navigation, roof rails, rain-sensing wipers, a hands-free tailgate, and an additional speaker.

The SUV sees the 18-inch wheels of the EX-L replaced with 19-inchers in this model.