TheTom, AMW Buffalo - 735.59 Points
After grabbing an early lunch with some of the FTC testers at a local diner, (It's a Jersey thing...) I was handed the keys to my second vehicle of the day. I had surrendered my O11 keys for a set to the Buffalo produced by well-known Austrian manufacturer AMW. I was pleased to see this truck be entered into the competition and I was curious to see if a company with such a wide lineup could manage to bust into the American Pickup market. I was sure that AMW had plenty of engineering experience, but did they have what it takes to make an American Pickup?
By the looks of things, the answer to that question seemed to be "yes." From the outside, though, you could tell that this truck was a bit of an foreigner. If you look at a Ford, GM, Dodge, or many of the trucks entered into this competition, they tend to go with a large, imposing, yet relatively simple grille design. The Buffalo certainly had a presence, but I'm not sure if it fit the American Pickup mold. I also hated the tail light placement. Their molding required the tailgate to have a cutout to accommodate them. It also meant that you couldn't load wide items like plywood, or a couch, or your ATV straight into the bed. You needed a crane to get wide items over the bed rails and that's just a foolish mistake. Not to mention, you reduce the surface area of the external bench seating you have available, which is particularly important to me for farm use. Of course, after a few minutes of griping to the team about an innocuous blunder on the behalf of the design team on a pre-production model, I realized that I was complaining about a side dish while the main course was getting cold in front of me. So I decided to move past the non-scored issues I had, and dug in.
My first taste of the mighty Buffalo was under the hood where I found an all-AlSi 5.7L MOHV V8 with Direct Injection. It was a modern twist on a classic pushrod design. The motor was also massively under-square with a bore measurement of 3.642", but a stroke length of of 4.173" which warranted a rev limiter at a mere 5200 RPM. The motor managed to produce a modest 345 Ft-Lbs of torque at a very early 1600 RPM and a sub par 248 HP at 4800 RPM. The torque was quick, but it slowly trailed off and dropped to almost 250 Ft-Lbs at the rev limiter while the HP built steadily, leveled off, and stayed constant for the last 400 RPM. The engine's cam set-up coincided nicely with that early torque and the DI helped optimize fuel usage where the engine was making the most of its stroke. I must be honest though, I was expecting more out of a 5.7L V8, although the engine was pretty bulletproof but cheap despite the expensive alloy and use of good quality components in its construction. Not to mention, you could barely hear this thing run. I could see American buyers looking into aftermarket exhausts or taking a hacksaw to the stock setup to get rid of one of those pesky mufflers. I decided to reserve final judgement until my foot was firmly planted against the firewall.
Before I put the motor to the test, I wanted to do my walk around to see exactly what I'd be launching down the country roads and backwoods trails. The Buffalo was a little smaller in the cab area than the O11, but it still had 4 doors, although I hesitated to call the rear two "full doors" even though that's what they were supposed to be. The bed was plenty long to load up, much like the O11 (minus my tailgate issues from earlier.) The truck was an all-corrosion resistant steel body on frame construction with MacPhearson Struts up front and a solid axle and leaf springs in the rear. This thing had a completely active suspension though in order to maximize ride comfort. We would definitely have to see how that worked in practice. I was also again surprised by the OEM wheel choice. For starters, I wasn't a fan of the rims, but that's not important. What caught my attention was how narrow these wheels were. 215/75R20 up front and 225/70R20 in the rear was all you had in the way of rubber. I was stunned to then see a rim offset of 1.575". I would have rather had that in rubber all the way around. I was concerned for offroad capabilities as well as how much traction this thing would have under braking. The 20" rims were going to give me plenty of braking power, but could the tires transfer it to the pavement? I decided I might need to be a little more cautious with this truck than the O11.
Inside, the truck was fitted with 6 standard seats and the slightly smaller cab was making itself apparent. I was curious as to who AMW used to decide how wide each seat needed to be. They certainly didn't use my girth as a benchmark and I had to fight the seat belt a little to manage to get it around me. (For reference, I'm 6' 1", 280 lbs. with 52" shoulders/chest. I'm big pretty much everywhere.) The seats were okay and the radio only had a CD player. The safety consisted of 2 airbags and the 6 seat belts with the middle of the bench seats being lap belts only. The seats did not recline because they were a bench and moving them back far enough for me to comfortably situate my legs was a pain. If I had a guy in the middle of the front bench, we would definitely be fighting for legroom, especially with the transmission tunnel of the 4x4 being very apparent in the middle of the truck. I also just personally hate not having a console, and this wasn't helping my pleasantness. The quality of the interior was pretty much on-par with the O11, albeit standard. What stood out to me though, was the safety rating. This was the least safe truck of the Top-5. Mostly due to the lack of good safety equipment and the longer stopping distance. The tire size certainly didn't help much here with a braking distance of 147' 9" which was one of the longest we tested. This was despite very good brakes, but more on those later. Caution was going to be paramount with this truck. I didn't want to be on the receiving end of any collisions in the Buffalo.
The truck was pretty easy to drive. It was a little lighter than the O11 and weighed in at 5366.0 lbs. You could feel that weight savings in the steering as well as in the drive line. I was infuriated at this trucks acceleration though. I know I complained about the O11, but I was instantly wishing I was driving that again. 10.1 seconds for a 0-60 sprint. Are you kidding me? 50-75 MPH wasn't much better with a time of 7.3 seconds. This truck had a 6-spd auto and the truck just didn't have any power once you were out of the low gears. Although, it got a decent fuel economy of ~14.7 MPG, give or take a tenth depending on how you drove it and how you calculated it based off of miles driven, and gallons pumped when you filled it up next. There was no info display in the Buffalo, just analog dials and an odometer. The truck also barely registered 0.7g on the skid pad and ran a 17.73 at the strip which was the second slowest of all the vehicles tested and the slowest of the Top-5.
At this point you may be saying to yourself, "Kyle, how in the world is this truck 4th? You've only complained thus far." You're completely right good reader, but fear not, for I have run out of things to really gripe about. When we loaded up for the utility testing, the Buffalo showed its might and earned plenty of points. To start, this truck was the second most reliable of the Top-5, it had the best utility rating of the Top-5, it was the second most practical overall and missed the honor of most practical by 0.1 raw points. It also had the second highest environmental resistance. It was also decent offroad, and the median of the Top-5 as far as drivability went. It wasn't really prestigious or comfortable, but it was cheap. How cheap say you? Well if you were good at negotiating, you could probably walk out with the model, as tested for less than $30k. Yes, that is less than $30,000. The MSRP is an astounding $30,030.00 with the 5% profit. Have you ever heard the saying "you get what you pay for"? Well with the Buffalo, you also do not pay for what you don't get. While that may be a whole laundry list of things you can read above, this truck is cheap because of it. The only truck we tested that hits you less in the wallet is the Repreni and you do not get nearly as much truck with that design.
So, why 4th place? The Buffalo is remarkably cheap, much more so than much of its closest competition, and it does astoundingly well in the areas that mattered most to our testing. In exchange, you give up speed, comfort, and safety. That seems like a decent trade off right? Well, not really. The problem is, that in search of being a superior bargain, the designers at AMW really missed the ball on the fact that this is some people's office and some families' only means of transportation. You certainly wouldn't want to drive your kids around in a truck that clawed and scratched its way to a 3-star overall safety rating. It was probably the worst modern body truck we tested when it came to safety. It also goes to show that the little things matter in a exercise of building a truck. You can't just say that your the best value for the price. That will really only work in fleet sales. People are looking for something to draw them into the interior of their vehicles. The truck was amazing in extracting the full utility and practicality out of a budget. I really did not think a truck with such a low price tag could score this high. The truck did everything that it needed to do, but nothing more. It was that "more" that separated it from the podium finishers. In all honesty, I had actually liked my time in the O11 more than I did in the Buffalo, and I think that speaks volumes.
Now like I indirectly stated, this is by no means a bad truck. The Buffalo is probably the most accessible pickup that can get work done that I've ever seen. You don't even have to settle for a V6 base motor, and I know there's more to be had in that 5.7L power plant. Towing, the truck did well with early torque that encouraged you to stay low in the rev range. Not only is the motor durable, but in everyday use, you're not going to wind out the gears and keeping the tachometer low will add miles onto your engine's wear parts' lifespan. The brakes had plenty of power left in them, even when under heavy braking with a trailer. Vented discs that measured 375mm in the front and 350mm in the rear exerted so much force, that the ABS was often times put to good use when the narrow tires just gave up. It also wasn't a terrible interior and you had every driver assist save for launch control (which you would never need in this truck anyway). It was an average standard truck otherwise. Like I said, fleet managers will be all over this thing. Not to mention, if you were looking for a bargain in the Repreni, you have so much appeal on tap from the Buffalo to try to convince people to save their money to just buy a better truck for another few thousand dollars. With the right sales and financing tactics, this truck will own the budget truck market.
The final prognosis was that this truck just couldn't be the best on the budget. The podium finishers decided to spend a little more money and find points that were simply out of the reach of the Buffalo's budget. Had the money spent and points gained been perfectly linear and negatively associated, the Buffalo would probably sit atop the leader board. However, if we learned anything from the Buffalo, it's that buyers will value some stats more than their monetary costs. Thus, the budget champion brings home 4th place overall.