Nothing stays the same forever, and the only thing constant is change. We've seen that for ourselves over the past year, as we bade abrupt and unexpected farewells to some magazines we used to read each month (Sport Compact Car), and to some machines we once thought would be around forever (Pontiac). Those kinds of changes are almost always painful, as they involve separation and loss. A death in the family is never a welcome change.
But some kinds of change can be very good indeed-particularly if enough people actually want them to happen.
A few months ago, we asked you, our readers, for your thoughts on splitting up our annual Top Truck Challenge event into separate Truck and Buggy classes for competitors. The reasoning behind this was the opinion, often voiced by longtime readers, that modern-day tube buggy technology (not to mention the considerable expense required to build one) puts owners of old-school framed-based Jeeps and pickup trucks at a competitive disadvantage; as one astute reader noted, the top four finishers at last year's event were all ground-up buggies.
And, as more than a few of you have told us, the omnipresence of custom tube creations at Top Truck has rendered the event increasingly irrelevant to you, the fullsize truck or Jeep owner who doesn't have the need, the time, the money, or the fabrication skills to build your own tube buggy. Since TTC was originally conceived as a "run whatcha brung" reader-generated event, we thought this situation suggested a remedy.
The verdict, as delivered by dozens of you, was near-unanimous: break 'em up into two distinct classes. So now we've received your TTC entries and published them this month starting on page 32. Luckily, we have plenty of capable-looking rigs that obviously fall into either "Truck" or "Buggy" categories (with some considerable overlap, of course), so fill out the ballot on page 45 and send it back to us. As always, feel free to stuff our ballot boxes with as many ballots as you can. (Translation: Buy lots of magazines!) We'll invite the five trucks and the five buggies, along with one alternate from each class, that garner the most votes, and we'll hand out separate winners' trophies in each class when we run TTC this summer. Who says you can't influence the course of history with a few letters and e-mails?
Also this month, we announce the winner of our annual Four Wheeler of the Year, in which we evaluate the newest crop of 4x4 SUVs and proclaim one king of the hill for the upcoming model year. This year's pick was fairly easy to make. Toyota's all-new 4Runner, which was already a pretty utilitarian vehicle, has now been made even more trail-friendly with the addition of some goodies formerly found only on the (more expensive) Lexus GX and/or Land Cruiser-namely, the Kinetic Dynamic suspension system, which uses hydraulic fluid to partially or fully disconnect the swaybars to provide extra articulation and Crawl Control, the loud and rattly (but undeniably effective) supplement to low-range that allows the driver to maintain an ultra-slow vehicle speed in off-pavement environments without the need to apply throttle or braking. (Purists will hate it, but unless you want to swap in an old Muncie truck tranny or an Atlas transfer case, it's the next best thing to a granny-low gear.)
Of course, you can still get a 4Runner with a rear locking diff and Active-Trac traction control, too, and when you add 'em all together in one midsize package, the result is one of the most off-road-capable SUVs we've driven in a long time that doesn't cost a small fortune. It's a crawl-worthy winner for 2010, and you can read our evaluation on page 26.