We’re guessing that Chevrolet turned to Wixom, Michigan-based American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) for help with its Colorado ZR2 Bison because AEV is one of the most respected aftermarket firms when it comes to building off-road and overlanding rigs. The company has a reputation for delivering the durability and reliability one expects from an OEM, which is rare in the aftermarket world. But AEV also builds and sells upgrades for Jeeps, as well as for heavy-duty Ram pickups, which leads us to arguably its most imposing creation: the Prospector XL. Think of it as AEV’s answer for those who wonder why Ram doesn’t build a Power Wagon with the Ram HD’s optional Cummins turbo-diesel engine.
Ram will tell you that the Cummins mill is too heavy for the Power Wagon’s intended off-road use, yet the Prospector XL certainly makes a case for such a combination. It is so big and awesome and American, it should come with its own belt buckle. Ford may promote the 37-inch tires on its F-150 and Bronco Raptors, but the Prospector XL’s rubber measures 40 inches in diameter. Let that sink in. The tires on this truck are tall enough to ride some amusement park rides. Fender flares increase the truck’s stock width by nearly five inches, to 88.2. And AEV’s DualSport RT Suspension system raises the cab height to a ridiculous elevation—84.6 inches, which is some 4.4 inches higher than a stock Ram 2500. AEV’s off-road bumpers don’t look gaudy or oversized, though. And without the perspective of a nearby normal-sized pickup truck—if such a thing exists in the heavy-duty truck segment—the Prospector doesn’t look too disproportionately enormous.
The shocking thing is that this 8780-pound truck is a relative value. As it sits, our 2020 model-year example costs $94,528, including the $19,999 Prospector XL package (which has since increased to $20,999), plus a few other options such as a full-size spare tire, additional lights front and rear, power running boards, and leather seats. The latter is an interesting upgrade that initially had us scratching our heads, but it does make some financial sense: To unlock leather upholstery in an HD Ram pickup you must step up a few trim levels. Conversely, having an aftermarket leather option enables buyers to source a lower-spec model to start with while keeping the final price within a few grand of our long-term Ram 1500 TRX. We’ve seen countless more TRXs on the road than Prospectors, and simply put, the AEV is cooler. There, we said it.
Despite each wheel and tire weighing 141 pounds—which contributed to the Prospector XL’s lowly 13-mpg average fuel economy—its acceleration was just quick enough to stay clear of our list of slowest efforts we measured in 2021. Yet while every coal-rolling, bro-dozering pickup you pass salutes the AEV’s awesomeness, you’ll be wise to steer away from any stoplight challenges. Odds are the diesel engines in those trucks have been electronically uncorked, which any Prospector XL owner could do. But we recommend following AEV’s lead and leaving the powertrain alone. Sure, there may be some additional pound-feet available from a tweak here and there. But when you modify a Cummins engine, you potentially jeopardize its notorious reliability. This 6.7-liter inline-six is as close to an industrial-grade engine as you can get in a vehicle this side of a Class 8 semi.
That 13-mpg fuel-economy figure also is better than we were expecting. Massive tires, a larger frontal area, and a curb weight flirting with 9000 pounds are not mpg friendly. A fuel-consumption average in the single digits—which would be only slightly worse than the 10 mpg our long-term TRX has managed thus far—wouldn’t have surprised us. Interestingly, the AEV achieved 15 mpg on our 75-mph highway test, which is 1 mpg better than a TRX fared.
Obviously, getting into the Prospector is a light workout. The power running boards from Amp Research deploy with alarming quickness and make the otherwise mid-thigh step-up height manageable. We deactivated them when off-roading out of fear we’d open the door and they’d drop onto a boulder, likely snapping like a major leaguer breaking a bat over his knee. Once inside, though, the visibility from the elevated driver’s perch is great. However, be mindful that Miatas and small hatchbacks can hide in this truck’s shadow. Settle in and the ride quality is about what you’d expect from a vehicle with four massive donuts insulating its body and cabin from the road, which is to say it’s pretty good. At 70 mph the interior hums with 68 decibels of noise, which isn’t only better than we expected considering the fist-sized tread blocks of the 40-inch Toyos, it’s downright good. For comparison, a 2020 Ram 2500 Laramie rolling on more street-focused rubber was 2 decibels quieter inside at that speed.
In short, the Prospector XL is over the top yet not nearly as difficult to live with as its size suggests. Ram may not build a diesel Power Wagon, but if it ever decided to, it should take a lesson from Chevy and partner with AEV. We imagine Ram could even design a fancy belt buckle to go with it.