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September 2006 Best 4x4 Buy - Limited Articulation

Posted in Features on September 1, 2006
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For us, this is the time of year when we turn our attention to the raft of new 4x4s that are on the verge of hitting the marketplace. In just a few weeks, we'll see all the new models rolling into our parking lot--and from there we'll embark on our Pickup Truck of the Year test, followed by our SUV-only Four Wheeler of the Year test. We'll fill you in on the details in our January and February '07 issues--but as a hint, it seems like we'll be looking at a lot of heavy metal from the Big Three this year.

This month, though, we take a look back at what we've had a chance to testdrive over the past 12 months, and offer up some recommendations if you're looking to buy an end-of-year 4x4--or if you just want to start up a good argument. We call our picks the 10 Best Buys in Four-Wheel Drive. If you're a typical reader, you'll probably call a few of them--or all of them--a bad joke, but heck, a little hate mail always gets our creative juices flowing ... so by all means, feel free to write in after you've seen our picks starting on page 30, and tell us what you think.

This year's Best Buys debate was quite a bit more spirited than last year's. For one, the definition of a "Best Buy" seemed to expand this year to include the topic du jour around our office (and amongst our readership, too, judging by recent mail): mileage. The Hummer H2, for instance, may well be the most trail-capable fullsize SUV ever made, but at 10 mpg and $3.50 gas, does it really qualify as a "Best Buy" compared to a slightly-pricier Toyota Land Cruiser that gets 50 percent better mileage? "The Hummer beats everything else on the trail like a redheaded stepchild," argued one staffer. "You're fired," said another. Hey folks, it gets ugly around here sometimes.

But we weren't finished yet. After a few rounds of insults, we haggled over whether we should consider the cost of replacement parts when comparing, say, a Volkswagen Touareg (read: expensive) versus a Ford Explorer (less so). Of course we also considered base pricing, and what you get for it--whether you get an all-for-one-price package such as you find with Suzuki's Grand Vitara, or whether you need to slog through a bewildering array of option packages (e.g., almost any GM product) to get everything you want. We considered tow ratings and cargo capacities, horsepower and torque per dollar, and ease of modification via the aftermarket ("Can you lift it? Are there kits for it? Will a Hemi fit in the engine bay? Does anyone make rims to fit the bolt pattern?" and so on). We even thought about hiring a feng shui expert to tell us which rigs have good or bad chi, but we opted to put the money to better use and ordered pizza for the staff instead.

In the end, our picks came down--as they seem to inevitably do each year--to a combination of price, appointments, and out-of-the-box four-wheelability. Some of our picks are repeat winners from last year--including, yes, the H2--and some are new, such as the Suzuki. But all of them, to our minds, are a bargain for their price. And best of all, nobody got fired. At least not this year. For now, have a look at our picks, and let the debate begin.
--Douglas McColloch

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