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2008 Four Wheeler Of The Year Contest Overview - Limited Articulation

Posted in Features on February 1, 2008
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This is always one of our favorite months of the year, as we commandeer a fleet of brand-new 4x4s for a week of backcountry thrashing at our annual Four Wheeler of the Year test. It's been a staple of the magazine since 1974, and it's a chore we never tire of doing. It gives us a great opportunity to see up-close the latest advancements in technology from the manufacturers, and it also gives us the chance to play hooky for a week, and run up a monster tab on the company's dime by luxuriating at five-star hotels between trail rides. (Just kidding, boss-there are no five-stars in Twentynine Palms.)

While we travel a bit more austerely, we do treat ourselves to a few indulgences. The General Store in Randsburg (look it up) is a watering hole we frequent at least once a year, and the Bun Boy in Baker has been the site of many a Four Wheeler burger run. We've also hit just about every decent burrito joint between Reno and the Mexican border-or will, if Brubaker has his way-so if you're ever tooling around the Cali high desert and spy a gaggle of brand-new SUVs with Four Wheeler license plates parked in front of your local taco house, come on inside and say hello-and no, we're not buying drinks.

This year, we had a variety of rigs to work with, starting with two new Hummers. The behemoth H2 returns for '08 with the new 6.2L V-8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission found in the GMC Sierra Denali pickup, and with a seriously overhauled interior that (almost) makes a 'Sclade look chintzy by comparison. Its svelte stablemate, the H3 Alpha, was also along for our test, now (finally!) sporting some real power underhood in the form of the 5.3L GM truck V-8. Both of these rigs have been esteemed for their 'wheelabilty, but they've also both been horribly underpowered, thirsty for gas, and sometimes difficult to navigate. Would the new rigs outperform the old models?

We also had two Jeeps this year, intriguing prospects both. The Grand Cherokee CRD is essentially the same vehicle as last year's Grand, until you pop the hood and look between the framerails at the 3.0L common-rail diesel V-6. While small in displacement, it makes peak torque below 2,000 rpm, and while we knew that the Grand is challenged for ground clearance and tire aggression, we wondered how well it would do for crawling with 300 lb-ft on tap at ultra-low revs. Could it survive our dreaded Johnson Valley hillclimb?

Also along was the new Jeep Liberty, which on the surface appeared overmatched by some of the bigger, more powerful vehicles in our test-but as we discovered last year with the Kia Sorento, and the year before with the Suzuki Grand Vitara, sometimes the "littlest 'wheeler" in the field is the one that harbors the most pleasant unexpected surprises. Would the new Lib' similarly confound us?

Nissan's new-for-'08 Pathfinder finally boasts V-8 power, and what an engine: the same boo-ya 5.6L Endurance V-8 found in the Titan pickup truck. It's one of our favorite truck engines of all time, and with the five-speed automatic behind it, it makes for a mouth-watering powertrain in a streamlined midsize package. The Pathfinder is a two-time former FWOTY champ-would 2008 be a third-time charm?

Finally, meet the all-new Toyota Land Cruiser, now armed with the Tundra's 5.7L V-8 engine and more electronic marvels and high-end luxury features than you can count. The old Land Cruiser, renowned for its trail-friendly suspension, won our FWOTY test two years ago. Would the new model continue the standard? Turn to page 18, and you can see how they all fared against each other in this year's test.

And next month, six Bad Boys with a bed go head-to-head at Pickup Truck of the Year.
-Douglas McColloch

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