The purpose of our 39-year-old Four Wheeler of the Year competition is to test and rate all-new or substantially-revised sport utility vehicles. The goal of this test is to assist you in your SUV buying decision, or at the very least, keep you up to speed on what's new in the SUV world and how that newness works. To be eligible, each vehicle must also have a two-speed transfer case, a production run of at least 1,500 vehicles available in the U.S., and be on sale by January 15, 2013.
To complete the task of intricately testing these vehicles we spend a week with them on a wide variety of terrain. For 2013, two vehicles qualified for Four Wheeler of the Year (FWOTY) and they were both Jeep products: the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk and the Wrangler Unlimited Moab. We began the test by driving them from our El Segundo, California, headquarters to Off Road Evolution (ORE) in Fullerton, California. There we completed ramp travel index (RTI) testing on ORE's 30-degree ramp. Leaving ORE, we traveled to the abandoned runways at the former El Toro Marine Base in Orange County, California, for acceleration and brake testing. We finished our first day with road testing on interstate and twisty paved mountain roads as we traveled to our base of operations in Palm Desert, California. We spent the rest of the week testing the vehicles in places like the remote Soggy Dry Lake area near Lucerne, California. Characteristic of the test, we covered a wide range of terrain during this year's testing. In addition to highway and track testing the list included steep hillclimbs and descents, rocky trails, deep sand, sandy washes, high-mountain trails, deep silt, and dry lakebeds. Temperatures varied, which gave us the opportunity to test the vehicles air conditioning and heating output as well as related controls. We drove at night, to experience interior and exterior lighting, both on- and off-road. We also ran into some rain, which gave us the opportunity to test the vehicles in the wet, both on- and off-road. In the end, we put approximately 1,000 miles on each vehicle. During the test, our five judges were furiously taking notes in the official judging books, and they were scoring each vehicle using our extensive testing criteria that included five weighted categories (more on that later).
So what's new with these rigs? What attributes did they have that worked well? What needs improvement? Which vehicle is the 2013 Four Wheeler of the Year?
The answers to these questions are on the following pages.