Join Date: Jun 2009
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First of all, I have to say I have no experience with the new Chevy's but anyhow here goes...
WARNING : Long rant ahead!
I've done a bit of off-roading with my '88 SWB stepside Chevy. The first year with the IFS. It's been converted to the old 6.2 l diesel engine, but otherwise stock. It does have the "off-road kit" Z71. (Two small skid plates.)
I've gotten it stuck a forest trail once in a fearly easy conditions. And with that run I also got my exhaust bent and transmission lines cut. So, so much for that Z71 kit... ...but as for power? There never was a lack of that, even with the old 6.2 l diesel. - And that is NOT a powerful engine. It is quite fuel efficient and reliable, but not powerful.
But that was with the old "bus tyres". I got a new set of Bridgestone A/Ts (I drive mostly on road, so no M/Ts for me thanks), and that made ALL the difference! The tyres are a bit larger than stock (285/75 R 16), but thats all. I drove the same trail in similar conditions with no problems at all.
So, my point is that yes the V6 will have power enough for off-roading. It's propably not as good for pulling loads or drag racing off the lights as a V8, but for off-roading yes. Specially with automatic transmission. With manual, you might concider lowering gearing ratios, specially with larger tyres. - And on the subject of tyres. THEY make or brake the off-roading experience. I've actually tried the same trail with Jeep Wrangler (TJ) with no success on regular GoodYear Wranglers, even with anything semi-decent like BFGoodrich M/Ts it was no problem.
Back on the subject of transmissions. Automatics are GREAT for off-roading. You can apply power very smoothly to climb a small obstacle. The trade off is going downhill. Some automatics don't give you enough engine braking even on 4WD-LO. But that shouldn't be an issue on new automatics. Also you might want to concider a proper transmission (oil)cooler if you're doing any serious off-roading. It is heat that kills an automatic. I have one in my Chevy, as it was used for towing heavy boats before I got it. The Jeep Wrangler I had was manual, and it was a pain crawling in the forest with it. Even with regular sized tyres and 4WD-LO, you still had to smoke the clutch if starting agains an obstacle.
As for your choises. I'd go for the newer V6 automatic, definately. It will have enough power! The stock skid plates are a joke, and stock lockers are usually just friction thingies. BUT my Jeep didn't have any skid plates (and never broke anything under the car), and my Chevy doesn't have any locker (and never got stuck, that a locker would have prevented). So even the stock ones are nice additions.