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February 2009 Four Wheeler Of The Year Details - Limited Articulation

Posted in Features on February 1, 2009
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From the archives: The Feb. '89 issue featured our controversial Four Wheeler of the Year pick-the new-to-the-U.S. Range Rover. And yes, our testdriver really did jump it.

One great thing about our jobs is, we're never wedded to the same exact routine from day to day-at least not for very long. Sure we have a fair amount of desktop drudgery to perform, but we also get to spend a lot of time in the field, in shops, and at trade shows around the country...and yes, once in a while we even manage to squeeze in some time for wheeling as well.

And so it is this month, as some of our staff members take on the mighty Rubicon Trail in a staff trail ride. For us, this excursion provided an example of "Old Meets New," as Sean Holman, our esteemed tech editor, took on this granddaddy of all Crawler Trails for the very first time in our built-for-rocks 'Con Artist Jeep Unlimited. Now, we can remember the first time we ever drove over this trail-and if there's anything like a life-changing experience in our business, piloting a Jeep over the Rubicon is about as close as it comes. You can read Sean's impressions, and check out the 'Con Artist in operation, starting on page 22.

Under the category of "Something Old that Becomes New Again," this month's it's our 36th annual Four Wheeler of the Year test, in which we beat a passel of brand-new SUVs within an inch of their mechanical lives for the sake of determining what is the best new out-of-the-box wheeler for the coming year. This year's contenders include (drum roll, please):

The Suzuki Grand Vitara, with an all-new 3.2L V-6 and four-wheel independent suspension. Suzukis have always fared well in our testing, and have proven to stand up to a lot of abuse. Will the new GV live up to previous standards?

The Lexus LX 570, now sporting the Toyota 5.7L Endurance V-8, along with Crawl Control and all the bells and whistles one associates with a top-end luxo-cruiser. The last time a Lexus won our test, readers were outraged. Then we actually built one for Moab-our TraiLex GX 470-and the outrage subsided quickly. How would the new fullsize fare by comparison?

The new Toyota Sequoia, also now with the 5.7L V-8 sourced from the Tundra pickup. Toyotas have always done pretty well on the trail in our tests, could this new fullsize repeat the success of the Land Cruiser in 2006?

The all-new Kia Borrego. Kia's first foray into the fullsize SUV segment comes with a 4.6L V-8, six-speed automatic and center diff-lock. Our previous experience with Kias-the Sorento in particular-have largely been positive. How would a bigger Kia fare?

And finally, the Nissan Xterra, with the 4.0L V-6 and an honest-to-goodness off-road package that includes Bilsteins, BFGs, and a rear locker. Will these cool components be enough to put the X over the top for 2009? You can find out how they all performed, and who takes home bragging rights for the coming model year, starting on page 26.

-Douglas McColloch

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