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10 Best Buys In Four Wheel Drive

Posted in Features on September 11, 2006
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Photographers: The Four Wheeler StaffCourtesy the Manufacturers

In 2005, the staff of Four Wheeler started our 10 Best Buys in Four Wheel Drive list. Unlike our Four Wheeler of the Year competition, which only includes models that are new or significantly revised, our 10 Best Buys takes in to account every available four-wheeler in the U.S. for consideration. We look at each four-wheel-drive vehicle on the market and choose, what we believe, are the best out-of-the-box four-wheelers around for the money. The winners of each category are not chosen solely on price, but rather from a mix of criteria that starts with off-pavement capability and compares that against other vehicles in their class, and how they stack up against each other when value, equipment, versatility, and overall attributes are considered. We have selected the vehicles that will get you on the trail quicker and best lend themselves to aftermarket upgrades and daily usability. Our staff nominated a field of competitors and narrowed down the list to the consensus you see here.

Suzuki Grand Vitara


Base price: $20,399 (4WD)
Year on the list: 1st

Because not everyone who wants to get into the sport of four-wheeling can afford a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon or Range Rover Sport, we decided to add a new category for 2006 to cover entry-level 4x4s. To us, this was an easy choice, as we have had a lot of pleasure from Suzuki vehicles. For the price, you get a very peppy V-6, excellent build quality, true low-range capability, and a ton of features. While we know the Grand Vitara isn't going to conquer the Rubicon, there isn't another vehicle in its price range that offers the amenities and comfort of the Suzuki. If you are looking for an affordable, well-equipped SUV that will get you to the office or take you down some dirt roads, look no further.

Others Considered: None

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model Suzuki Grand {{{Vitara}}}
Estimated price $20,399 (4WD)
ENGINE
Type 2.7L DOHC V-6
Horsepower @ rpm 185 @ 6,000
Torque @ rpm 184 @ 4,500
EPA city/highway mpg 19/23
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Five-speed automatic
Transfer case Electronic full-time, two-speed
Transfer case ratio 1.97:1
Axle ratio 4:30:1
SUSPENSION
Front Independent, MacPherson struts
Rear Independent, multilink
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 17x6.5 alloy
Tires, base P225/65R17
BRAKES
Front 11.4-inch vented disc
Rear 10.0-inch drum
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 103.9
Length, in. 176.0
Width, in. 71.3
Height, in. 66.7
Curb weight, lb. 3,628
Fuel capacity, gal. 17.4
Ground clearance, in. 7.9
Seating 5
Towing capacity, lb. 3,000

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon


Base price: $28,395
Year on the list: 2nd

Solid axles, locking differentials, mud tires, coil springs-how could the Wrangler not be on the list? The TJ is in its final year, and since 1997, it has been putting its mark on the four-wheeling world. When the Rubicon package was introduced in 2003, we knew it would be embraced by the enthusiast market and become an instant classic-and it has. With the '07 JK just around the corner, this is your last chance to own a Jeep with an I-6 from the factory, just like the good old days. The Wrangler is a true American icon that really shows its worth off the beaten path.

Others Considered: None

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Estimated price $28,395
ENGINE
Type 4.0L OHV I-6
Horsepower @ rpm 190 @ 4,{{{600}}}
Torque @ rpm 235 @ 3,{{{200}}}
EPA city/highway mpg 15/19
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Six-speed manual/four-speed automatic
Transfer case NV241 Rock-Trac
Transfer case ratio 4.00:1
Axle ratio 4.11:1
SUSPENSION
Front Solid axle, coil springs
Rear Solid axle, coil springs
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 16x8-inch alloy
Tires, base LT245/75R16
BRAKES
Front 11-inch vented disc
Rear 9-inch drum
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 93.4
Length, in. 154.9
Width, in. 68.3
Height, in. 71.2
Curb weight, lb. 3,832
Fuel capacity, gal. 19
Ground clearance, in. 8.6
Seating 4
Towing capacity, lb. 2,000

Nissan Xterra Off Road


Base price: $26,150 (4WD)
Year on the list: 2nd

When Nissan engineered the Xterra, they put it on top of a modified version of the Titan's stout F-Alpha frame, equipped it with a solid rear axle, smooth, skidplated belly, a best-in-class V-6, 32-inch BFGoodrich tires, Bilstein shocks, and a rear locker. It felt to us like they were reading Four Wheeler on a regular basis and listening to what all the enthusiasts had to say. They even included a washable, hard-plastic cargo hold with adjustable tie-downs. Well, all of that paid off, as the Xterra makes our editor's list as the best midsize SUV for a second year in a row.

Others Considered: Hummer H3

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model Nissan Xterra Off-Road
Estimated price $26,150 (4WD)
ENGINE
Type 4.0L DOHC V-6
Horsepower @ rpm 265 @ 5,{{{600}}}
Torque @ rpm 284 @ 4,000
EPA city/highway mpg 16/22
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Six-speed manual/five-speed automatic
Transfer case Part-time two-speed
Transfer case ratio 2.56:1
Axle ratio 3.23:1
SUSPENSION
Front IFS, double-wishbone, stabilizer bar
Rear Solid axle, leaf springs, stabilizer bar
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 16-inch steel
Tires, base P265/70R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A
BRAKES
Front 11.65-inch vented disc
Rear 11.25-inch solid disc
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 106.3
Length, in. 178.7
Width, in. 72.8
Height, in. 74.9
Curb weight, lb. 4,382
Fuel capacity, gal. 21.1
Ground clearance, in. 9.5
Seating 5
Towing capacity, lb. 5,000

Hummer H2


Base price: $53,855
Year on the list: 2nd

Before some of you press the "send" button on that hate mail to the Editor, let us convince you that the H2 really deserves to be on this list. Don't believe us? Look at these credentials: Optional 35s from the factory, a locker, excellent approach and departure angles, beefy tow shackles, four-wheel drive with low-range, and rocker protection. Still don't believe us? Check out www.fourwheeler.com/h2our, where we took our long-term H2 SUT cross country and wheeled it across nine states in nine days without one breakdown. In all fairness, the H2 really is great on the trail, if a bit big, and it is smooth and quiet out on the highway. What other SUV is out there that you can get all of that-plus a bed, if that's what you need? The Hummer H2 is one big boy that is tough to beat-just make sure you have room on that gas card.

Others Considered: Toyota Land Cruiser, Hummer H1 Alpha

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model Hummer H2
Estimated price $53,855
ENGINE
Type 6.0L OHV V-8
Horsepower @ rpm 325 @ 5,{{{200}}}
Torque @ rpm 365 @ 4,000
EPA city/highway mpg Not rated
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission 4L65-E four-speed automatic
Transfer case Two-speed with neutral
Transfer case ratio 2.64:1
Axle ratio 4.10:1
SUSPENSION
Front IFS, torsion bars
Rear Five-link, air springs
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 17-inch cast-aluminum
Tires, base LT315/70R17 BFGoodrich A/T
BRAKES
Front 12.8-inch vented disc
Rear 13.0-inch disc
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 122.8
Length, in. 203.5
Width, in. 81.2
Height, in. 78.5
Curb weight, lb. 6,400
Fuel capacity, gal. 32
Ground clearance, in. 10
Seating 5
Towing capacity, lb. 6,500

Land Rover Range Rover Sport


Base price: $57,250
Year on the list: 1st

There are vehicles out there that do everything well, if you are willing to pay the price of admission. Land Rover's Range Rover Sport is one of those vehicles and we are particularly smitten by its executive-express styling, comfortable accommodations, and state-of-the-art technology. The Range Rover Sport's Terrain Response electronics alter the vehicle's settings in response to the type of ground you are covering, and the center and rear lockers work with the traction control to make piloting the Range Rover Sport in the dirt a point-and-shoot affair. We can't think of a luxury vehicle we'd love to have more, especially if were able to swing the payments on the supercharged model.

Others Considered: Lexus GX470

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model {{{Land Rover Range Rover Sport}}}
Estimated price $57,250
ENGINE
Type 4.4L DOHC V-8
Horsepower @ rpm {{{300}}} @ 5,500
Torque @ rpm 315 @ 4,000
EPA city/highway mpg 14/19
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Six-speed automatic
Transfer case Electronic full-time, two-speed
Transfer case ratio 2.93:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
SUSPENSION
Front Independent, air springs
Rear Independent, air springs
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 19x9-inch alloy
Tires, base P255/50R19
BRAKES
Front 13.3-inch vented disc
Rear 13.8-inch vented disc
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 108
Length, in. 188.5
Width, in. 85.4
Height, in. 71.5
Curb weight, lb. 5,468
Fuel capacity, gal. 23.2
Ground clearance, in. 8.9
Seating 5
Towing capacity, lb. 7,718

Dodge Ram 1500 TRX4


Base price: $29,970
Year on the list: 1st

You might call it Power Wagon Light, but the TRX4 is pretty good in its own right. We think it is the best 11/42-ton 4x4 on the market and instead of being merely an appearance package, like some of its competition, the TRX4 adds real equipment such as aggressive 32-inch Goodyear tires, unique shocks, functional tow hooks, skidplates, and an excellent rear limited-slip differential. It is so comfortable that it easily eats up miles of pavement getting you to your favorite trail, and if you opt for the 5.7L Hemi V-8 with MDS, it gets decent fuel economy too. We liked it enough to award it our 2006 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year.

Others Considered: Ford F-150 FX4, Toyota Tundra TRD

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model {{{Dodge}}} {{{Ram 1500}}} TRX4 Regular Cab
Estimated price $29,970
ENGINE
Type 5.7L OHV V-8
Horsepower @ rpm 345 @ 5,400
Torque @ rpm 375 @ 4,{{{200}}}
EPA city/highway mpg 14/18
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Six-speed manual/Five-speed automatic
Transfer case Electronic part-time, two-speed
Transfer case ratio 2.72:1
Axle ratio 3.92
SUSPENSION
Front Independent, coil spring
Rear Solid, leaf spring
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 17x8 alloy
Tires, base LT275/70R17
BRAKES
Front 13.2-inch vented disc
Rear 13.8-inch solid disc
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 120.5
Length, in. 207.7
Width, in. 79.5
Height, in. 75.5
Curb weight, lb. 5,065
Fuel capacity, gal. 34
Ground clearance, in. 7.3
Seating 3
Towing capacity, lb. 8,800

Nissan Frontier NISMO


Base price: $22,450
Year on the list: 2nd

Like the Angels and the Athletics in the AL West, the Frontier and Toyota Tacoma have become perennial archrivals in the midsize pickup truck category. We usually spend a lot of time debating which way to go on this choice. Where the Toyota has grown in size and has climbed a rung in refinement, the Nissan still feels rugged and unbreakable, ready to take you down any trail. In addition to an excellent platform shared with the Xterra, the Frontier fun-to-drive factor is what gives it our nod over the Tacoma. The Toyota is no slouch on the trail, but the Frontier is even better.

Others Considered: Toyota Tacoma TRD

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model Nissan Frontier NISMO King Cab
Estimated price $22,450
ENGINE
Type 4.0L DOHC V-6
Horsepower @ rpm 265 @ 5,{{{600}}}
Torque @ rpm 284 @ 4,000
EPA city/highway mpg 15/20
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Six-speed manual/five-speed automatic
Transfer case Part-time two-speed
Transfer case ratio 3.692:1
Axle ratio N/A
SUSPENSION
Front IFS, double-wishbone, stabilizer bar
Rear Solid axle, leaf springs
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 17x7.5 alloy
Tires, base P265/75R16
BRAKES
Front 11.65-inch vented disc
Rear 11.25-inch solid disc
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 125.9
Length, in. 205.5
Width, in. 72.8
Height, in. 73.9
Curb weight, lb. 4,{{{323}}}
Fuel capacity, gal. 21
Ground clearance, in. 10.1
Seating 4
Towing capacity, lb. 6,{{{300}}}

Dodge Ram Power Wagon


Base price: $37,775
Year on the list: 2nd

The bottom line is that Dodge's Power Wagon is a four-wheeler's dream come true-pure pickup perfection in our eye, with its solid axles, Bilstein shocks, supple suspension, 33-inch BFGoodrich tires, front and rear lockers, 4.56:1 gearing, electronically disconnecting front sway bar, factory Warn winch, and rocker protection, all without losing its 31/44-ton capability. We've wheeled the snot out of this truck from the Sierras to Moab, and nothing else available even comes close to doing what the Power Wagon can do. Here's to the Gold Standard in fullsize trucks.

Others Considered: None

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model Dodge Ram Power Wagon Regular Cab
Estimated price $37,775
ENGINE
Base Type 5.7L OHV V-8
Horsepower @ rpm 345 @ 5,400
Torque @ rpm 375 @ 4,{{{200}}}
EPA city/highway mpg Not rated
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Six-speed manual/five-speed automatic
Transfer case Part-time two-speed
Transfer case ratio 2.72:1
Axle ratio 4.56:1
SUSPENSION
Front Solid axle, coil springs
Rear Solid axle, leaf springs
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 17x8 alloy
Tires, base LT285/70R17D
BRAKES
Front 13.9-inch vented disc
Rear 13.9-inch disc
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 140.5
Length, in. 229.7
Width, in. 79.5
Height, in. {{{80}}}.6
Curb weight, lb. 6,200 (est.)
Fuel capacity, gal. 35
Ground clearance, in. 8.4
Seating 3
Towing capacity, lb. 10,500 (est.)

Ford F-350 FX4


Base price: $26,855 (4WD)
Year on the list: 2nd

The Super Duty wins this one based on the sheer number of configurations, enabling it to fit anybody's needs. You can get it optioned from basic-a regular-cab longbed work truck-to the Town Car-like luxury of a Lariat or King Ranch Crew Cab dualie and everything in between. With all of the engine, bed, and cab configurations, as well as available features like Tow Command and an off-road package, there is no question why Ford has the best-selling truck line around.

Others Considered: Dodge Ram 3500, Chevrolet Silverado 3500

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model Ford {{{F-350}}} Super Duty Regular Cab
Estimated price $26,855
ENGINE
Type 5.4L SOHC V-8
Horsepower @ rpm {{{300}}} @ 4,750
Torque @ rpm 365 @ 3,750
EPA city/highway mpg Not rated
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Six-speed manual/five-speed automatic
Transfer case Part-time two-speed
Transfer case ratio 2.72:1
Axle ratio 4.10:1
SUSPENSION
Front Solid axle, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Rear Solid axle, leaf springs
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 17-inch stamped steel
Tires, base LT245/75R17E
BRAKES
Front 13.66-inch vented disc
Rear 13.39-inch disc
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 137
Length, in. 226
Width, in. 79.9
Height, in. Not listed
Curb weight, lb. 6,162
Fuel capacity, gal. 38
Ground clearance, in. Not listed
Seating 3
Towing capacity, lb. 12,500

Hummer H3 Adventure Package


Base price: $30,875
Year on the list: 1st

For the vehicle that we want to drive every day on our commute, take our friends out to a nice evening on the town, and-most importantly-tackle Telluride or Moab, the Hummer H3 is our choice. It may be a bit underpowered, but you won't notice that too much when you are crawling over boulders in low range. What makes the H3 so good are its oh-so-perfect size, 33-inch Bridgestone tires, 4.56:1 gears, rear locker, excellent ground clearance and angles, optional 4.00:1 transfer case, factory rock protection, and a price that even a magazine editor could almost afford. Get it with the stick to keep the engine on the boil, and the H3 will reward you with a rated 20 mpg on the highway. As we've written before, this is one of the few vehicles we don't feel guilty using in the dirt, and most of us on staff would consider adding one to our own garage.

Others Considered: Dodge Power Wagon FW

QUICK SPECS
Vehicle/model Hummer H3 Adventure
Estimated price $30,875
ENGINE
Type 3.5L DOHC I-5
Horsepower @ rpm 220 @ 5,{{{600}}}
Torque @ rpm 225 @ 2,800
EPA city/highway mpg 16/20
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Five-speed manual/Four-speed automatic
Transfer case Electronic part-time, two-speed
Transfer case ratio 4.03:1
Axle ratio 4.56:1
SUSPENSION
Front Independent, torsion bar
Rear Solid, Hotchkiss with leaves
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base 16x7.5 alloy
Tires, base LT285/75R16C
BRAKES
Front 12.4-inch vented disc
Rear 12.28-inch disc
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in. 111.9
Length, in. 186.7
Width, in. 74.7
Height, in. 74.5
Curb weight, lb. 4700
Fuel capacity, gal. 23
Ground clearance, in. 9.1
Seating 5
Towing capacity, lb. 4,500

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