This is our fourth annual 10 Best Buys in Four-Wheel Drive list, which differs from our Four Wheeler of the Year competition in that it includes every four-wheel-drive vehicle on the market for consideration, and not just those that are all-new or significantly improved. We pick what we feel are the rigs in each category that will get you on the trail fastest, work as a solid foundation for aftermarket upgrades, and give you the most factory capability for the money. We have changed up our categories slightly from years past and now include recognition for the best four-wheel-drive system available. Here are our picks for 2008's 10 Best Buys in Four-Wheel Drive. Feel free to tell us what you think, or what your picks would have been, at www.fourwheeler.com.
Base Price: $28,240
Consecutive years on the list: 4There is only one true contender in this category, at least until Hummer's anticipated H4 comes out in a couple of years. But for now, the Wrangler is unchallenged in how it goes about its business. With go-kart maneuverability, solid axles, front and rear lockers, long-travel coil-spring suspension, a 4:1 transfer case, 32-inch BFGood-rich Mud-Terrains, monotube shocks, electronic disconnecting front sway bar, and factory rocker protection, the Wrangler is a solid choice for anyone with a need for some serious trail work. Add in a configurable hardtop system (or soft top, if you prefer) and navigation system availability, and it is also refined enough to be used as a daily driver.
Others Considered: None
Base Price: $33,560
Consecutive years on the list: 1With a reasonable base price and all-around great city manners, the H3 has always been a favorite of the Four Wheeler staff, and this year it has managed to woo enough staffers to bump Nissan's Xterra off of the list, despite the Nissan's lower base price. Perhaps it is the available rocker protection and 4:1 transfer case with a 69:1 crawl ratio (on manual transmission variants) that makes the difference to our experts. For less than $35,000 you get a solid body and chassis, rear locker, and an adequate 3.7L I-5 that gets a respectable fuel economy rating of 14/18 and really shines on the trail. For trail work, the I-5/manual is our favorite combination. With that suggested setup, you will be able to lug down to 350 rpm without stalling and will have enough torque down low to crawl over just about anything in your way.
Others Considered: Toyota FJ Cruiser, Nissan Xterra NISMO
Base Price: $57,590
Consecutive years on the list: 4There is no question that the H2 is the most trailworthy fullsize SUV available. With its 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, a rear locker, and seating for seven, the H2 will get you and your family through all but the narrowest of trails. We've spent thousands of miles in the H2 covering freeway commutes, cross-country jaunts and hard chase and race miles on the Baja Peninsula, and they are built stout and have arguably the best drivetrain and body protection of anything on the market. One look at its recovery shackles, and you know the H2 is a serious player. For 2008, the H2 gained a more upscale interior and a more powerful and fuel-efficient drivetrain in the form of a 6.2L V-8 and six-speed automatic transmission with a lower First gear that bring the crawl ratio to a satisfying 39:1.
Others Considered: Chevrolet Suburban Z/71
Base Price: $64,100
Consecutive years on the list: 1The all-new Toyota Land Cruiser comes with more bells and whistles than a Boeing Dreamliner and concedes little luxury to its Lexus brethren at a lower price, yet it is still as capable on the trail as ever. Based on a heavy-duty frame with a unitized body on top of it, the Toyota is a solid piece of machinery. It is dead quiet on the Interstate and features a smooth and powerful 5.7L V-8, every gizmo you'd ever want to keep you comfortable, and many more to keep you going on the trail. Take Crawl Control, for instance: You select the terrain and the vehicle handles the throttle to keep you going. It is a point-and-shoot affair that only requires the driver to pick a good line and steer. The new Cruiser also comes standard with the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System and a Torsen center differential, as well as the latest active traction control and Vehicle Stability Control for the ultimate in techno-wheeling, if you are in to that sort of thing.
Others Considered: Lexus LX 570
Base Price: $23,780
Consecutive years on the list: 4The Nissan Frontier NISMO has been on our 10 Best Buys list for four straight years now-and for good reason too. First of all, the Frontier has a solid foundation in Nissan's F-Alpha architecture, shared with the fullsize Titan. The Frontier NISMO also has a potent 4.0L V-6 with standard six-speed automatic transmission. Trail equipment includes BFGood-rich Rugged Trail 32-inch tires, full skidplates, Bilstein shocks, and a rear locker. And if that wasn't enough, it is also a blast to drive-probably the most fun four-wheel-drive pickup out there, especially if you like to make tires suffer in the first two gears and chirp in the third. In the dirt, the locker makes all the difference and when you factor in such standard features as a factory spray-in bedliner and a Utili-track Channel System, it just makes the case stronger for why it is such a good pickup.
Others Considered: Toyota Tacoma TRD, Dodge Dakota TRX4
Base Price: $28,470
Consecutive years on the list: 4The Z/71 Off Road package is a steal at $625, because it includes heavy-duty shocks, off-road jounce bumpers, a 34mm front stabilizer bar, a high-capacity air cleaner, an automatic locking rear differential, and a skidplate package, but you have to ante up for the $6,805 1LT trim level before you can check off the Z/71 option box, and the all-terrain tires will cost you another $200. However, you can order almost everything in the Z/71 (if you can live with the similar Z85 suspension package, minus the off-road jounces and no Z/71 stickers on your rear fenders) a'la carte for $595, which brings the price of a regular-cab WT-trim level to $22,260 with the 4.3L V-6. Now that's a deal, especially when you factor in available small-block power and fuel economy from the optional 5.3L V-8 that gets more miles per gallon (14 city/19 hwy) than the V-6 or 4.8L V-8 (14 city/18 hwy).
Others Considered: Dodge Ram TRX4, F-150 FX4, Nissan Titan NISMO
Base Price: $39,360
Consecutive years on the list: 4Last year, we called it pure pickup perfection, and we are still on board with that descriptor. The current HD Ram body style may be close to retirement, but until the HDs are replaced for 2010, this Power Wagon is the best fullsize pickup for those who need HD capability and plan on hitting the trail. The Power Wagon's Hemi is perfectly capable of hauling a load or towing your favorite rig to the trailhead, but it is equally good at taking on the trail. A robust foundation, a hearty V-8, solid axles, Bilstein shocks, 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires on forged wheels, front and rear lockers, 4.56:1 gearing, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, a factory Warn winch and rocker protection-all standard. What else could you want in a four-wheeler? A 4:1 transfer case and selectable hubs may be the only thing from our wish list that the Power Wagon doesn't offer. While it may not necessarily be suited to the Rubicon, we know from experience you can have a lot of fun in a wide-open and technical place such as Moab. We've also seen them popping up more and more as BLM and National Park Service vehicles. With unconfirmed rumors of its demise in the air, we suggest you buy this ultimate wheeler's pickup while you can.
Others Considered: None
Base Price: $35,470
Consecutive years on the list: 4While it may not offer the comprehensive off-road equipment that the Power Wagon does, it certainly makes up for it in configurations, options, and the ability to tow competently just about anything you can hook to it. The Super Duty offers three different cab styles, two beds, three engines, manual or automatic transmissions, and single or dual rear wheels. The Super Duty also has one of the most luxurious and functional interiors of any fullsize truck, with a quiet and comfortable ride that rivals any 1-ton and even some 3/4-tons. We also have high praise for the TorqShift transmission's tow/haul mode, as well as Ford's integrated trailer-brake controller. A capable FX4 trim level that includes Rancho shocks, 33-inch tires, a rear limited-slip, and skidplates seals the deal for the Super Duty to remain on our list for the fourth year in a row, especially fitting since it is also our 2008 Pickup Truck of the Year champion.
Others Considered: None
Base Price: $31,250
Consecutive years on the list: 2It came down to the wire this year: H3 Alpha versus Wrangler Unlimited-a grudge match that pitted IFS critics against solid-axle survivors, with debates that raged well into the lunch hour, past quitting time, and on to our BlackBerrys after hours. But when the arguments concluded and the thumbs wore out, value and equipment won out, and this round went to the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon for its lower price and front locker, although our FWOTY winning H3 Alpha with its sultry V-8 was right there up until the decision time. It's hard not to go with a value-packed rig that has incredible wheeling capability along with removable doors and top, a standard "Sport Bar" and a real honest-to-God transfer-case shift lever. It also comes with a manual for the ultimate in crawl ratio, while the H3 Alpha can only be had with an automatic. It's a nearly perfect rig, with tons of aftermarket support, and it is just small enough for the trail and just big enough for the family. So for the second year in a row, the 10 Best Buys Editors' Choice award goes to the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.
Others Considered: Hummer H3 Alpha FW
Consecutive years on the list: 1While we are often smitten with the latest techno gadgetry, one area we enjoy Old School is in our four-wheel-drive systems, where we prefer to grab levers whenever possible and rely on the effectiveness of mechanical traction aids. For these reasons, the Dodge Power Wagon earns the distinction of having the best four-wheel-drive system available. Solid axles, backed with lockers front and rear with a lever-actuated transfer case, a disconnecting sway bar, and a helical rear limited-slip in the rear axle when the locker is disengaged. These are the specifications of dreams, and we are glad a vehicle can still be purchased to wheel without all the electronic nannies.
Others Considered: Land Rover Terrain Response, Jeep Wrangler RockTrac, Toyota Land Cruiser Crawl Control