2009 Hummer H3 Alpha Adventure
Nominated by: Brubaker
Overview: The H3 debuted as an ’05 model, but in ’09 Hummer added an electric front locker to the list of available equipment. Other features available included a rear locker, 4:1 ratio transfer case, underbody/rocker protection, exterior-mounted spare, and recovery shackles. The Alpha option fitted the rig with a 5.3L V-8.
Brubaker’s take: The H3’s demise notwithstanding, this IFS vehicle was groundbreaking with its available trail-friendly goodies. But most amazing is that it was available with an electric locking front differential to go along with the rear locker. Had this ever been done before on an IFS vehicle? Has it been done since? I don’t think so, which makes it pretty gosh darn noteworthy.
Cappa’s take: I disagree. I hated this thing and all of the other Hummer derivatives (not including the H1). It was a total marketing ploy to make people think they were getting a real Hummer (at a fraction of the price). What they ended up with was a body-swapped GM 4x4 that was poorly re-engineered. The terrible visibility was included as a free bonus; you could back up over an entire schoolyard full of kids and never even know it. It’s kind of a counter-productive feature if you’re building a 4x4 to be used off-road. Of course it’s the only IFS 4x4 with a factory front locker, because the tie rods eject themselves the moment you flip the locker switch. Ultimately, Hummer H3 was the vehicular-equivalent of ordering a fine beer with a good head on it only to receive a pint of apple juice with whipped cream smeared on top. Just gross.
Holman’s take: Cappa is absolutely wrong here. He comes from a long list of Hummer haters that rather buy in the anti-Hummer feeding frenzy than take the vehicles for what they truly were. The H3 was a made-in-America GM platform, but it was re-engineered for the Hummer mission. This vehicle was incredibly tough, as proven on the racecourse in Baja and on unimproved Third World roads in international markets. The V-8 power, 33-inch tires, 4:1 ratio T-case, 4.10:1 gears, and front and rear lockers gave it the capability that was only surpassed by Jeep’s Wrangler Rubicon, but with more interior comfort and luxury. And don’t forget that the H3 Alpha was the winner of our prestigious Four Wheeler of the Year award.
1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ
Nominated by: Brubaker
Overview: The Wrangler TJ was completely re-engineered for the 1997 model year. It was wider than its predecessor the YJ, it sported a new coil spring suspension, a new interior that was more comfortable, vastly improved HVAC system, and a redesigned soft top.
Brubaker’s take: The TJ was vastly different than the YJ, yet it still retained basic Wrangler attributes like a folding windshield and removable doors. It’s an animal on the trail, yet relatively refined on pavement. Personally, I like the fact that it had no electronic crap like traction control and stability control. Unless a miracle happens, the TJ will probably go down in history as the last electronically-unadulterated, easy-to-modify 4x4 produced.
Cappa’s take: The aftermarket parts industry literally exploded when the TJ was introduced, in some cases like a rotting cow corpse. Many of the aftermarket products that became available were completely worthless and as hideous as dangling cow entrails. But the vehicle itself is indeed worthy of this list. It’s funny how a vehicle that was originally despised for its comfort and interior amenities is now embraced by the core of the 4x4 enthusiast market.
Holman’s take: The TJ was immediately panned for having expensive-to-lift coil-link-sprung suspension, but the detractors were quickly silenced as the TJ brought new levels of streetability and flex to the Wrangler platform. It proved to be incredibly popular and was the impetus to an entire aftermarket industry. Where would we be without the TJ paving the way?
2000 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab
Nominated by: Brubaker
Overview: The second-generation mid-size Dodge Dakota debuted in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2000 that it became available as a Quad Cab. This model had a slightly shorter bed, but it added rear seating for three or the seats could be folded for hauling cargo. It was available with a V-8 engine and a limited-slip differential.
Brubaker’s take: When the Dakota debuted in 1987 I thought it was a great compromise between fullsize and compact truck. It sold pretty well and looked sharp. When the Quad Cab configuration came along in 2000 it seemed to me the truck had instantly become a more viable option for families and those needing to haul gear. Aftermarket support was limited, unfortunately.
Cappa’s take: I remember when the Dakota Quad Cab was introduced. Dodge spent a mint on marketing this truck, but it just didn’t do much for me.
Holman’s take: This is at a time when Dodge was redefining itself with bold styling and products. The Dakota Quad Cab shared much with the Durango, which was good and bad. The styling, which looked great on the 4x4s with the optional 31-inch tires, didn’t translate as well to lesser models, making those trucks look awkward and under-tired. At least it offered real V-8 power at a time when gas prices were low and it was the only American sub-fullsize to offer real rear doors and seating accommodations. I’m still surprised that the aftermarket never embraced the Dakota. To me, it seemed like it was at a sweet spot of the market. Maybe this generation was ahead of its time.
1986 Suzuki Samurai
Nominated by: Brubaker
Overview: The Samurai was powered by a 1.3L four-cylinder engine that made 63 horsepower. Solid axles were used front and rear and a two-speed transfer case split power to the axles. Suzuki sold 47,000 Samurais in the first year, the bulk of which were convertibles.
Brubaker’s take: What’s not to like? They were inexpensive, they sported solid axles, and they had a two-speed transfer case. They were nimble and simple. It’s no wonder they sold so many of these. Someone needs to produce something like this again.
Cappa’s take: It was way before its time. And it’s unfortunate that it was not introduced when fuel was more expensive. The carbureted ’86 Samurai was rated at 23 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. In the late ’80s and early ’90s a gallon of gas cost about a buck, so few cared about fuel economy. Today, if Suzuki, Jeep, or anyone else created a similar fun, small, capable, easily-modified 4x4, that got great fuel economy they’d have a winner. Think mini-Wrangler.
Holman’s take: If it weren’t for the biased media outlet that destroyed the Samurai’s reputation, we might still be enjoying this nimble and fun little wheeler today. In the current market there is no doubt it would be a hit, especially for those cross-shopping little cars. Are you listening, Suzuki?