If the best defense is indeed a good offense, then this rebodied Ford F-450 must be the most offensive—and hence best defending—mode of road transport available, at least to those whose personal defense budget can swing a quarter-million bucks. Oh, and although this U.S. Specialty Vehicles Rhino GX looks bulletproof, making it literally so (to B6-level gunfire resistance) adds considerable cost. What do you get for the price of two Hellfire air-to-ground missiles?
Quite a bit more than meets the eye—which is an entirely new SUV body where a regular-cab and 8-foot dualie pickup box was when the Ford F-450 Super Duty pickup left the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville. The original truck’s frame, firewall, A- and B-pillars are retained and heavily modified. The rest of the new bodywork is constructed of hand-worked steel, except for the hood, front fenders, and all four wheel flares, which are composite pieces. Please note the hand-holds at the roof and matching foot indentations in the lower doors that allow your retinue of expendable bodyguards to hang onto the outside of the vehicle and provide cover fire with their trigger hands as you whisk through unfriendly territory. Sharp eyes will note the last-gen Super Duty headlights have also been retained. Yes, production orders through this summer are being filled on 2016-vintage truck chassis, after which the tooling will all be revised to accommodate the 2017 and newer F-450.
The front suspension is largely stock, augmented with Bilstein adjustable shocks. The rear suspension is completely redesigned, however. The leaf springs are ditched in favor of a CLASS (Compressible Liquid Active Suspension System) from LiquidSpring (suppliers to the ambulance, bus, and RV industries). The axle is located by upper and lower radius rods on both sides with a lateral link above the axle. Hydraulic spring/damper units provide load leveling, three ride-height settings (the front is not adjustable), and variable damping.
The forged aluminum wheels are minor miracles of engineering as well, because they are interchangeable front to rear, simply by turning them around. This is no easy task, given that the donor truck places the rear wheel mounting surface well outboard of the fronts because of the F-450’s standard dual-rear-wheel setup. But by machining and painting the inside and outside, and by merely swapping the center caps, a deeply offset rear wheel can be inverted to fit on the shallow-offset front axle.
Inside, the stock front seats are dismantled, fancier foam is installed, and they’re re-swathed in a more luxurious grade of hand-sewn leather that now covers virtually everything you can see or reach—except the headliner, which is Alcantara. The second and third rows are specially constructed for USSV. The Sync system is ditched in favor of an Alpine touchscreen infotainment system that also provides control of the extensive auxiliary LED lighting that can produce near daylight all around the truck. An Executive configuration features a partition housing a big-screen TV, with more luxurious thrones set farther back in lieu of third-row seating.
So what does it feel like to drive this gigantic black Rhino? Intimidating—in the active, “I’m the intimidator” sense of the word. One enjoys a sense of respect from fellow motorists that is utterly absent from the helm of a Ford EcoSport or Chevrolet Trax. Forward visibility is good, but the view out the rear is iffy (a great high-mounted camera affords a commanding view when reversing, however). When accelerating, the Power Stroke diesel seems to pretty well shrug off the 2,500 or so pounds USSV loads the Super Duty underpinnings with. Steering is big-rig lifeless but accurate enough (to paraphrase the saying, close enough for horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear warfare).
Clearly this rig isn’t for everyone—especially not every American. Of the 300 or so Rhino GXs USSV has moved so far, only 20 of them are stomping around on U.S. soil. The vast majority are sold in China, where it’s called the G. Patton. Yes, after that iconic American champion of a good offense, Old Blood and Guts George S. Patton. But stay tuned—USSV is about to introduce its Rhino XT, a two-door rebody of a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Perhaps in China, this one will be named after a slightly less bellicose general—maybe the D. Eisenhower.
|2018 USSV Rhino GX|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-8-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||6.7L/440-hp/860-lb-ft turbodiesel OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||9,800 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||225.0 x 96.0 x 88.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.3 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|