It's a question we're commonly asked in our business: "What's the best truck for the buck I can buy?" That's the theme of this month's issue, along with some tips on the best first upgrades you can make to your new acquisition, whether it's new off the lot or used from the junkyard, as well as tips on buying 4x4s on any budget, whether you've only got a grand to spend or can afford to tender a bid with Barrett-Jackson.
In a related vein, I polled our staff: What's the best 4x4 you've ever driven? Their answers follow:
Senior Editor Ken Brubaker: At first, I thought this was going to be a tough question, but once I sat down and actually thought about it, I realized that this was a no-brainer. I have to go with the '05 Dodge Power Wagon. Need front and rear lockers? Got 'em. Self-disconnecting front sway bar? Got it. Ability to carry six passengers? Yep. Power? Uh huh. Ability to haul cargo, bumper-tow, or 5th-wheel/gooseneck tow? Yep, yep, and yep. All in a fit and trim package that looks pretty good, too.
Tech Editor Sean P. Holman: Out of all of the 4x4s I have driven over the years, one sticks out as my true favorite-that would be my '51 Willys CJ-3A, aka "Project Colonel Mustard." It isn't the fastest, most powerful, or even the most capable. What it is, though, is historical, pure and authentic. The old flatty has all of the things you need with its solid axles, lockers, M/T tires and transfer case, and nothing you don't. Minimal body with no doors or a roof means increased visibility and light weight, the seats are so simple that you could be sitting on a milk crate with a pillow, and every interaction with the machine must be done in a deliberate fashion. When driving the flatty, there is no distraction from a radio, no heater or A/C. Comfort comes from the way you're dressed and the weather outside. The Willys represents wheeling in its purest, most unadulterated form, which is why it is the best 4x4 I have ever driven.
Feature Editor Robin Stover: If I had to pick one vehicle as my all-time favorite, it would have to be the '06 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited. With link suspension, lockers at both ends, awesome approach and departure angles, and a 4:1 low range, nothing works better in stock form, in my opinion.
Me: My vote's for a test rig I drove long ago, a '91 Mitsubishi Mighty Max, which might've been the most indestructible thing ever built. Everything about it was crude and unrefined, even for the standards of the day-plastic bench seat, worm and roller steering, a clunky four-speed manual, bone-jarring suspension-basically, it rode and handled like a 40-year-old 1/2-ton. But the little truck did everything-it was used to haul axles and engines, it towed a small cement mixer, it was hammered in the desert and on rocky fire roads, and if it ever got stuck, I sure don't remember it. Our staff used it for all kinds of chores, and after a year, we'd put some 30,000 miles on it. And in all that time, I'm not sure if any of us had even bothered to change the engine oil. My fondest memory involves a trip to Baja for a weekend of whale watching on the Bay of L.A. Sitting in the bed of the Mighty Max one night, facing a campfire with a skewer of grilled yellowtail in one hand and a cerveza in the other, I had to admire this tough little truck that had taken me everywhere I wanted and done whatever I'd asked, without complaint or any need of repair. It didn't even seem to mind the Pemex gas I fed it. When a truck becomes your most trusted amigo, that's just about as good as "best" gets.
Now, what's the best 4x4 you've ever driven? Drop us a line-we'd love to hear about it. -Douglas McColloch