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February 2010 4Word - Editorial

4word
Phil Howell | Writer
Posted February 1, 2010

What's the best 4WD vehicle out there today?

In December, we talked about Jeep vehicles and some of their features. There have been, and are, many other makes that work well in the backcountry and are contenders for the best 4WD vehicle.

The International Scout arrived in 1961 and lasted until 1980 in Scout II form. While I was in high school, a friend purchased a 1964 Scout 80 with the 152ci four-cylinder mill. This Scout had belonged to the U.S. Postal Service, so it was two-wheel-drive, blue, and had a Dana 44 rearend. We added a Model 20 transfer case and a 44 frontend, then proceeded to take that Scout places we thought were remote. We had a lot to learn about which roads were hard and which weren't, but the Scout was dependable and capable. Internationals are tough, quality four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Ford introduced the Bronco in 1966 and offered it through 1977. In 1978, it became truck-based and fullsize. The Bronco had a Dana 44 frontend and a Ford 9-inch rear end, with straight-six or V-8 engines. The front coil/radius arm suspension was good, but had a tendency to chatter/hop when pushed with larger tires installed. The Bronco's weight distribution allowed it to climb very well, but it would lift its rear tires on steep descents. The early Bronco today is still the fine vehicle it's always been, but can be pricey if in good shape.

The Chevrolet Blazer (1969) and GMC Jimmy (1970) joined the Suburban and Jeep Wagoneer as full-size off-highway vehicles. Based on GM's light-duty trucks, the Blazer and Jimmy were very capable and great looking, too. They were available with engines ranging from the 250 straight-six to the 350 V-8 and transmissions including the TH350 automatic and super stout SM465 four-speed manual with granny low first gear. The transfer case was a New Process 205 in automatic models and a Dana 20 in the manuals. The 12-bolt rearends were a bit weak considering the weight of the vehicle, but Dana 60s and corporate 14-bolt rearends found their way into many. The Dana 44 frontend continued several years into the Blazer's production. The last fullsize Blazer was produced in 1994. The earlier models had weak frames, along with every other truck of that vintage. Weak frames can be strengthened. Few people don't like the '69-to-'72 Blazer. I like them, too.

The FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser was built from 1960 to 1984. Yes, Toyota fans, I know that Toyota started building the BJ in 1951, but we're talking about the FJ40 here. The early models had a 3.9L inline-six. This engine was replaced by the 4.2L inline-six in 1975. Land Cruiser drivetrain components are strong, although I don't care for the closed knuckle frontend. About the only weakness Land Cruisers have is that many are found with heavy rust. Toyota pickups are fantastic 4x4s that are fun to own and drive, but I'm running out of room so will have to discuss them later.

Suzuki Samurais proved that 4x4s don't have to be behemoths to work well. With the dimensions of a Jeep flatfender, the Samurai was able to wind through trees and rocks where other vehicles couldn't fit. There are plenty of aftermarket parts available, too. If only a manufacturer had the smarts to build another fuel efficient, Samurai-style, body-on-frame 4x4 today. They'd sell as many as they could build.

There are many other fine 4x4s, including the Hummer, but I'm out of room.

So, what's the best 4WD vehicle out there today? The answer is...(drum roll, please)...THE ONE YOU OWN!

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