Impression: AEV 20th Anniversary Edition Ram 2500 Prospector XL

Dec. 13, 2016 By Josh Burns

American Expedition Vehicles, known by many as simply AEV, is turning 20 years old in 2017 after its humble beginnings in founder Dave Harriton’s one-bay garage in Montana. To mark the occasion, AEV is offering two limited-edition 20th Anniversary models of its Jeep Wrangler JK 350 and a Ram 2500 HD Prospector XL packages, and there will only be 20 of each 20th Anniversary vehicle made.

The current-generation JK, entering its last year of production with the new Wrangler JL coming, is significant since it sparked the growth explosion of AEV in the last decade. The Ram, on the other hand, signifies a new direction for the company in heavy-duty truck conversions, and the XL Prospector is a look into the company’s future.

AEV invited us to test drive the rigs recently – both on road and off – in Southern California to get a first-hand impression of both packages. During our day with the rigs, we had the chance to speak with Marketing Manager for AEV Matt Feldermann, who explained to us the underlying theme behind AEV’s conversions: improve vehicle capability without greatly compromising stock drivability. We looked forward to seeing if they lived up to AEV’s billing.

Diesel Power
The first vehicle we hopped in is the 20th Anniversary Prospector XL (we’ll follow up on the JK 350 in another story). Based on a Ram 2500 with a 6.7L Cummins turbo-diesel, our first thought was “Power Wagon with a Cummins.” We quickly found out there’s a whole lot more going on once we got behind the wheel.

We always loved the idea of a diesel Power Wagon, but for a variety of reasons (weight being a key factor) Ram has kept a gasoline engine as the power train for its flagship off-roader. AEV, however, is exploring the diesel angle on its XL Prospector, and we were excited to see how it performs.

“Our whole philosophy with the 2500 is to fill a void in the market for a super capable heavy-duty truck,” Feldermann said. “It’s not to be a desert runner or a hard-core rock truck; it’s really an adventure vehicle. So it’s for the guy that still needs to tow a trailer or wants to use a slide-in camper and wants all of the advantages of a lifted truck but doesn’t want to compromise ride quality and handling.

A 3-inch lift and HighMark Fender Flares from AEV help fit 40-inch Toyo muds underneath the 20th Anniversary Edition XL Prospector.

“We focused on keeping the center of gravity as low as possible and fitting the biggest tire possible on it. So we really wanted a large-tire truck without the drawbacks of lifting a truck 8,9, 10, 12 inches. So what we focused on first is the suspension, and it’s extremely important to us to retain the factory coil springs. For the variety of spring rates that are offered from the factory, we didn’t want to sacrifice any of that engineering. We designed a 3-inch suspension lift and we designed a high-clearance fender flare system, which we call our HighMark Fender Flares, and with that combination and moving the axle forward slightly it allows you to fit a 40-inch tire with 3 inches of suspension lift with no issues at all.”

AEV retained the stock coil springs but moved the front axle two inches forward to center the large 40s in the carved-out wheel wells. Bilstein 5100 monotube shocks are fitted on each corner, and just behind it you can see the driveshaft extension for the axle relocation.

The Prospector XL package, which is available for both the diesel-powered 2500 and 3500, relies on a low-COG design that combines wheel well trimming and large tires with a moderate lift kit, though the 20th Anniversary Edition will only be available on the Cummins-powered 2500. To make the kit work they did have to make some adjustments to the front axle placement. AEV also re-gears the Ram’s gear ratio to 4.30 to accommodate the massive 40” Toyo Open Country M/T mud-terrains that are mounted to AEV’s Katla wheels, and PSC hydraulic steering helps the 3/4-ton turn smoothly.

“When we use our high-clearance fender flares it opens the wheel well up close to 3 inches around, so if the wheel and tire would stay in the same position as it comes from the factory it would be off center in that larger opening – plus you’d run into interference with the body when you turn that 40-inch tire,” Feldermann said. “So what we did is we moved the axle forward by relocating the front radius arms, and what that does is that not only centers the wheel and tire back into the larger wheel well opening but it also gives you clearance all the way around for turning a larger tire.”

The end result is a mean-looking truck that is nicely engineered to drive more like a stock vehicle and less like a heavily modified one. After our brief intro on the AEV XL Prospector Ram, it was time to head for a spin.

Impressed Impression?
We met up at Hungry Valley SVRA in Gorman, California, which gave us the chance to take a quick trip up and down the backside of Grapevine to see how well the truck rides on the road. We were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t feel quite as hefty as the 3/4-ton truck on 40s appears. The overall handling and drivability of the truck is, for the most part, on par with a standard heavy-duty truck. The steering input is not quite as crisp as a stock vehicle, though it’s pretty darn good considering the truck’s sporting 40s. The 6.7 Cummins and the 4.30 gear ratio feels like a great pairing with the larger tires, and we confidently passed cars as we made our way up the steep grade on the backside of the Grapevine with ease.

We then made our way to the obstacle course inside the Hungry Valley SVRA to see what the 20th Anniversary Prospector XL could handle in the dirt. We immediately headed to the mogul hill climb and quickly found out that the ground clearance afforded by AEV’s upgrades and the 40s provided plenty of space when the suspension is really flexed. AEV relies on Bilstein 5100 monotube shocks to complement the 3-inch lift, with the shocks built to AEV’s application-specific valving specs. Keeping in mind this isn’t intended to be a hard-core wheeler, we thought the Bilsteins performed well on any obstacle or deep rut we encountered, and we weren’t dying for additional damping or remote reservoirs (cool, but it would be overkill).

Even though it only features a 3-inch lift, we couldn't find an angle where the 40s rubbed on the wheel wells or frame.

Having spent a decent amount of time in Ram Power Wagons the last few years, it was cool to drive a Cummins version (on 40s). Although we’ve always felt the 6.4L Hemi in the Power Wagon performs very well and we have never been wanting for more power, just the idea of having that addition low-end torque from the 6.7 turbo-diesel always sounded awesome – and it is awesome. Pretty much every obstacle (other than the rock garden, which was too tight for the bulbous 3/4-ton) we drove up and down at the obstacle course relatively easy to scale if you picked a good line, even though we were fully aired up to 35 psi. Crawling up the rutted, whooped out hills was no problem for the turbo-diesel engine, and the considerable ground clearance thanks to the wheel well trimming and the tires meant we didn’t really worry about rubbing the tire when the suspension flexed during deep ruts or we got a tire airborne.

Aside from the AEV diff cover (and of course the 40s), the backend of the 20th Anniversary Edition XL Prospector doesn't look horribly different from a stock 2500. AEV adds pieces where needed without bypassing all of the quality engineering in the stock vehicle.

AEV does a good job of building packages that include a collection of complementary parts. The 20th Anniversary Edition, which is only available on the 2500, features the AEV front bumper which is a nice addition because it houses Vision X fog lights, a Vision X light bar and a Warn winch. The Heat Reduction Hood helps ensure the engine won’t overheat on low-speed crawls, and black grille and AEV logos helps give the truck its custom look. Inside, AEV instrument cluster badging can be found, along with AEV logos on the headrests and an AEV build plague signifying the 20th Anniversary model.

The XL Prospector package runs closer to $17K, but the 20th Anniversary Edition will be closer to $25K thanks to additional upgrades (the raised air intake, Warn winch, etc.) and unique styling cues (like the 20th Anniversary logos and badges).

The base package for the XL Prospector starts out at roughly $17,350, and as is the case for all of the company’s packages, each kit can be customized with additional upgrades that include air intake kits, Mopar tube side steps or AMP Research power steps, video display systems and even AEV leather options. The 20th Anniversary XL Prospector will run a little more (close to $25,000, though AEV hasn’t officially released pricing yet) because it comes with additional parts not included in the base package such as the Raised Air Intake, Bed Rack, internal Switch Pod for accessories and more. The only thing the 20th Anniversary Edition doesn’t include is a front or rear locker, which we surprisingly didn’t really need (the aggressive 40-inch Toyos worked well). We’d likely want to add them in the event we did encounter a section where we did needed them, and fortunately air lockers are an upgrade AEV offers and can easily add.

Overall, the 20th Anniversary Edition XL Prospector is a very cool kit that pieces together useful upgrades and unique styling elements to make a Cummins-powered 2500 into an amazing adventure truck. AEV also does a good job with branding the truck to have a unique appearance that isn’t overly flashy, and we like that the upgrades are engineered to work in harmony with many of the stock Ram components. One important thing to note on the 20th Anniversary Edition is AEV backs the parts and their installation for 36 month/36,000 miles, even parts related to engine upgrades whether they are AEV parts or Chrysler/Mopar pieces.

When it comes to someone actually equipping a vehicle with AEV products, there are a few paths one can take. If purchasing a new vehicle, one option is to find an AEV Certified Dealership (there are quite a few across the country), select and customize the kit desired and wrap the cost of it into financing. Individual parts can be purchased from AEV directly as well, such as the bumper systems, fender flares, diff covers, heat reduction hood, wheels and other goodies. There will only be 20 of the 20th Anniversary Edition XL Prospectors produced, and AEV expects to have them ready for order next month.

We like that the AEV upgrades work in harmony with many of the stock Ram components.

The base kit for the 20th Anniversary Edition XL Prospector package includes:
-AEV Premium Front Bumper
- Vision X LED Light Bar
- Warn Winch
- AEV Heat Reduction Hood
- AEV Raised Air Intake
- AEV 3” DualSport Suspension
- AEV HighMark Fender Flares
- AEV Katla Wheels
- 40” Toyo Open Country M/T
-PSC Hydraulic Assist Steering
- AEV Differential Covers
- AEV Switch Pod (for accessories)
- AEV Bed Rack
- Satin Onyx Exterior Components
- Satin Bronze Details
- 20th Anniversary Badging
- Unique Seat Patter w/Accent Stitching
- Body Side Decal

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