Four-wheel-drive vehicles come and go, and they all leave a legacy. We know that sounds weird, but it’s true. Sometimes the legacy is good, and sometimes it’s best forgotten as soon as possible.
Often, four-wheel-drive enthusiasts look back on the early 4x4s of fifty or sixty years ago and wax eloquent about their simplicity, looks, or whatever, and we’ll be the first to admit that many of those old rigs make us drool, too. But wait. There’s no denying that there are some pretty incredible modern-era 4x4s.
These are exciting times in the four-wheel-drive world. Over the past 30 years (that’s what we consider the modern era) manufacturers have built some amazing 4x4s. Some of these vehicles have exhibited trend-setting styling, some have been masters of functionality, and others have been integrated with off-highway tech that has raised the bar for other manufacturers and even the aftermarket.
We thought it was time to give credit where credit is due, so the Four Wheeler staff was polled and each staffer was asked to provide a few of their personal choices of the most influential modern-day 4x4s that they thought were worthy of a pat on the back. We also asked them to elaborate as to why they chose what they chose. And then we asked each staffer to weigh in on the others’ choices. That’s where it got even more interesting in some cases. Polled were Editor John Cappa, Technical Editor Sean P. Holman, and Senior Editor Ken Brubaker.
The following are our choices for the most influential modern-day 4x4s, as chosen by at least a two-thirds majority of the Four Wheeler staff.
1993 Toyota FJ80 Land Cruiser
Nominated by: Cappa
Overview: The FJ80 Land Cruiser was introduced in 1989. It had a longer wheelbase than the FJ60 it replaced and its overall measurements were also longer, wider, and taller than the FJ60. In 1993, the FJ80 got a power increase from the inline-six engine, but more importantly it became available with front and rear lockers. In addition, the solid front axle was a high-pinion model.
Cappa’s take: When new, it was priced way outside of what a typical enthusiast would pay for a 4x4, but it certainly provided a look into the potential of what a real off-road package could be. Ironically, it didn’t include any of the gaudy stickers that were common with the 4x4 packages at the time.
Holman’s take: Back then, Toyota had a huge following in the off-road market. Its products were pricey, but they got it. You couldn’t beat the solid axles, fullsize versatility, and relatively economical and bulletproof straight-six.
Brubaker’s take: When I think about a tough SUV, the Land Cruiser name pops into my head. These rigs were built for the long haul. The FJ80 was most definitely ahead of its time by offering locking differentials.
1994 Dodge Ram
Nominated by: Brubaker
Overview: The Ram underwent a total transformation for the 1994 model year, but the engine offerings stayed the same as the previous-gen truck. Sales more than doubled from 1993 to 1994 and quadrupled by 1996, which proved that the Ram was a hit. All versions of the Ram were fitted with a solid front axle and coil spring front suspension.
Brubaker’s take: The ’94 Ram was a total break in styling from what had been produced to that point from any manufacturer. It had a significant impact on Dodge truck sales and made them a player in the light truck segment. The 2500 and 3500 models could be had with the Cummins diesel in a truck that wouldn’t rust away before the owner made all the payments. Too bad the stock transmissions in the 1500s were awful.
Cappa’s take: Yeah, before this truck everyone knew that old Dodge trucks would simply fall apart around the drivetrain. I really liked how the styling of the new Dodge seemed to mimic the swoopy fenders and hood of a Freightliner big rig from that era.
Holman’s take: Well, I guess all my jokes and points have been covered. Move along folks, nothing else to see here.
2010 Ford Raptor
Nominated by: Cappa
Overview: It was based on the 10th generation F-150, and features 11 inches of front wheel travel and 12 inches of rear wheel travel. Hardware included a Raptor-specific suspension with Fox Racing shocks; 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires; electric rear locker; 4.10:1 gearing; and a special composite hood and front fenders.
Cappa’s take: Obviously Ford got the suspension pretty dialed. If you want to wallop on your truck at speed down dirt roads (with a light load) then this is your monkey. But if you want to use it as a real truck the capacity is limited. I’ve towed and daily-driven the 6.2L Raptor now for a couple months. It’s a pretty amazing truck. The only thing it really sucks at is fuel.
Holman’s take: This is Ford’s take of the ultimate factory 4x4, a nice contrast to the philosophy of Jeep, Ram, and Toyota. Ford took it a different direction, and to the next level and did some things never before seen from the factory. Features such as Upfitter switches, Off-Road Mode, and the ability to activate the locker at any speed represent new freedoms to the end user not available anywhere else.
Brubaker’s take: It may be modeled after a desert truck, but the Raptor’s appeal stretches far past the desert southwest. Heck, even wheelers in the black-soil farmland of America dig the Raptor. On looks alone the Raptor is a winner.