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June 2011 Inbox letters To The Editor

Posted in Features on June 1, 2011
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I just read your Four Wheeler of the Year article (April ’11). Wow! The only truck that broke during testing won. This is the second time Jeep won First place and could not finish the event because it broke and had to be towed while the other trucks finish the events.

I drive past Jeeps all the time that are busted down on trails. I always lend a helping hand and tow with my ’00 Land Cruiser. It has 165,000 miles on it, and I’ve only replaced the starter, an O2 sensor, and a coil. I would love to own a Jeep, but they break continuously.
Henry Meehan
Beaufort, SC

You must be kidding! The Grand Cherokee wins the Four Wheeler of the Year award even though it breaks during your testing, leaving it with no four-wheel drive? I would say that would be immediate disqualification if it can’t even finish your evaluation. I noticed you didn’t give the Land Rover a second chance on the empirical section because it didn’t get delivered in time. A few more points there, and the LR4 would have easily beaten the Grand overall. So the Grand is the best four-wheeler as long as you can have another one delivered to the trail when your first one breaks? I guess the operation was a success, but the patient died. We know where your bread is buttered.
Dave Johnson
Rochester, NY

Come on! Grand Cherokee again? I can’t believe you have picked a vehicle that is notorious for transfer case/transmission failures and is an all-wheel-drive gas hog (12 mpg city) for a winner. Your selection criteria are seriously messed up.

Loved your mud tire test and report. Keep up the great work!
Wade Krinke
Big Lake, MN

I have always enjoyed reading your Four Wheeler of the Year review, but I do think it needs a bit of perspective. Your 2011 review seems to leave the impression of best of the new SUVs that were available at the time. Your winner fell apart in testing. The Second- and Third-place vehicles did not. The Staff Picks voted 4 to 2 in favor of the LR4 over your winner, the Grand Cherokee. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Your What’s Not comments did not leave the reader feeling that any of the vehicles deserved first place. I think you should also include a new test of the latest version of last year’s winner, so that the reader can feel that the winner is truly the latest and greatest available to the buyer.
Daniel Hart
Newton Centre, MA

I really liked the article on the new Grand Cherokee. I just wished someone made a similar adjustable air suspension lift for an ’09 Commander. Not too much out there for Commanders.

Also, can’t you find a new picture of Doug? He looks like he’s about to shoot someone (maybe me, after this comment).
James I. Morgan
Sandy, UT

Hey, that’s how he looks when he’s on his meds. You don’t wanna see him otherwise.

Given the circumstances, we anticipated a fair amount of blowback over our choice of the Grand Cherokee. Yes, its transfer case broke, but it was still functional (in two-wheel drive), and by the time of the incident, we’d already logged sufficient miles in the initial test vehicle over a variety of terrain to be able to score it objectively in every category.

About our personal picks: Yes, it may seem odd that most of us picked the LR4 as our personal favorite, but we think this actually validates our test procedures. The way it works is this: At the conclusion of the test, all of the judges assign individual scores to each vehicle in dozens of categories: cornering, sand performance, dash layout, etc. We don’t add up our total points before we turn in our scorebooks, so when we make our personal picks a few days later, we don’t know for certain which vehicle each of us picked as our individual winner. Which is another way of saying, most of us thought at the end of the test that the Land Rover had won. But when we added up the numbers the following week, that wasn’t the case.

It also bears repeating: Our FWOTY test is limited to vehicles that are all-new or substantially revised for the upcoming model year. We do like the idea of including the previous year’s winner, though, to establish a kind of benchmark against which the newer rigs can be measured. We may try doing that for the 2012 test.

One more thing to keep in mind: The Grand Cherokee costs a lot less than an LR4, and price is one of the criteria we include in our empirical scoring.

Finally, we suppose we could have simply lied and pretended that nothing happened during our test, but we thought it wiser to report what really transpired and let you, the readers, decide for yourselves. We also wanted to call out the Jeep engineers, who flew a red-eye from Detroit to L.A. within hours after we relayed the news to them, and who tore apart the busted T-case the very next day to determine the cause of the breakage. We can think of some other manufacturers who would have simply blamed us for driving recklessly (we weren’t), sent us a repair bill and done nothing more, and it speaks volumes about the dedication of the Grand Cherokee engineering team that they (a) were willing to drop everything they were doing (and lose a night’s sleep in the process) to diagnose the problem and devise a solution; and (b) that they placed so much weight on the experiences of some off-road writers in the desert. Because of that, we like to think we did our part, in some small way, to help the Jeep guys build a better Grand Cherokee. Put another way: Hopefully, we broke our test vehicle so yours won’t.

Great Idea Of The Month: Hockey-Rink Tire Test
I just finished your Massive Mud Tire Shootout (April ’11) and loved the information, but you always leave out a necessary test for a lot of us. We drive on ice and snow up to six months of the year, and no one ever includes this in their testing. The tire might be great for mud and on-road, but could be useless in the snow or on ice. Why would it be so hard to hit an indoor ice house and do some short acceleration or stopping test, or drive to a northern climate with the same tires and do the test again?
Melvin Spencer
Linden, MI

Good ideas. A test like this would be hard for us to execute because (1) we don’t know any ice houses in the southern California area that would be willing to shut down for the better part of a week to let us leave tire tracks all over their rink; and (2) schlepping our test rig and a trailerful of tires to an accessible snowy area up north (remember, a lot of the Sierra trails that are reasonably close to us are closed in winter) would add a great deal of cost. But as we said, your ideas are good ones, and it’s possible that one of our northern-based correspondents could put something together in the future.

Okay, What Did We Do Wrong?
Oh yeah! Your magazine just went from cool toas the March ’11 issue saysLocked and Loaded. Not to forget it says right at the top: Diesel Tech: 1,000 Miles Between Fill-Ups is astonishing. No gas truck could do that with the same amount of gas.

You guys made some heroic changes in one month’s time, and to me, it has helped develop a more fun-to-read and interesting magazine. Here are just a few things: The editor columns, Parts Rack, Jeep: The First 70 Years, Pickup Truck of the Year, Wheelin’ in the Years with the ’83 S-10, the page borders, coloring, organization, and picture angles. There is always room for improvement, but you guys are narrowing that gap. The only other change I can think of is to have epic music playing when I open the magazine.

Now for the April ’11 issue. I would say the Bronco on the cover sums up everything: awesome, wild, and colorful. I noticed there are a fewer tube-frame shop trucks in the choice list for Top Truck Challenge. Which means you can discard my remarks about you guys having to bring Real Truck Challenge back. This year’s selection is great, and your outstanding tech articles, along with pretty much the whole magazine, now makes RTC a fading memory.

Thanks also for the in-depth tire test and all of the details included about each one. As for the biggest shocker, I can’t believe how far Jeep went to resolve the transfer case problem. You guys got a new Cherokee to test amazingly quick, and you got Jeep to change torque specs on the production line. Talk about instant feedback! Now if only GMC will allow you to test their All-Terrain concept. That truck should be able to give the Raptor a run for its money. Not to’s a diesel.

Tim Joyce
Brewster, NY

P.S. I like how in the March Table of Contents you only see the F-250 and the Chevy 2500HD driving towards a dust trail in front of them. I guess the Raptor was too fast for you to get all three of them in the same picture.

The minute that GM has a Sierra All-Terrain available for testing, we’ll be all over it like a cheap suit. And believe it or not, we are still discussing the possibility of bringing back Real Truck. We have the desire and any number of potential venues to run it-we just need to figure out a way to make some money from it, and if we do, it’ll be back. We’ll keep you posted.

Will Wheel for Food
Sean Holman’s April column (Trail Foodie) really drove home a point for me about food at the end of the day. In my role leading and training volunteers to help keep our sport alive, I have found nothing more important in the nurturing of volunteers than to feed them at the end of a good work day or project. Of course, a good thank you is always in order; but food . . . aw, food . . . it does the trick every time. I usually manage to get the grub donated and find a pack of volunteer helpers to do the cooking. If it’s done on the trail or project, like we do with Friends of the Rubicon, it really makes the experience complete. And one more point: being a cook is a great duty for someone who can’t wield a shovel or bend over too much to pick up trash. With groups like FOTR, everyone has a job, and there’s no job more important than a willing cook!
Del Albright
BlueRibbon Coalition Ambassador
Mokelumne Hill, CA

Thanks for the kind words, Del, and for your work with BlueRibbon. But what’s your specialty dish? If it has a slab of beef and an open flame, you can sign us up for your next trail ride.

Fuso Freaks of the World, Unite!
Crazy idea, but have you ever considered doing an article or project on Mitsubishi Fuso medium-duty commercial trucks? Specifically, I’m thinking of the FG140, which comes in a 4x4 diesel cab-and-chassis configuration. Not the average reader ride, but this truck could be outfitted similarly to the 4x4 service vehicles you see in the Dakar Rally.
Derek van Nes
Gillam, MB

You’re right, it is a crazy idea. And we have to admit, we kinda like itthough with full-floating solid axles, leaf springs at each corner, 4.88:1 gears and a 14,000-pound GVW, we don’t think we’d need to make a lot of modifications to improve the FG’s off-road capabilities. On the other hand, we’re guessing that nobody’s ever built one with a 502 Ram Jet, Rockwells and 53-inch Michelins . . . Okay, we’ll have Stover get in touch with the Lavender Brothers, and while we’re waiting on the buildup, we’re sending some FW stickers your way. Are we in a generous mood this month, or what?

We’re Guessing He’ll Run It in Reverse
I would like more information for the Border to Border series from Canada to Mexico. I have the map from your website but would like more info on where to go so I don’t get lost (the map isn’t the greatest). I want to do this trek myself.
Greg Mayo
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Border explorer Chris Collard replies: Thanks for the note, and congratulations on pursuing a B2B type trek. I’ve had a number of requests for my general route and may have to provide some references in my new column.

Because much of the route morphed as the trip progressed, I don’t have a detailed itinerary. If you follow along through the B2B series and a map (the DeLorme atlases are great for this; Google Earth is great as well), you should be able to retrace most of my route, since most of the roads are identified and named. I would err on the side of caution around the military bases, though; there is much activity these days.

Where To Write
Address your correspondence to: Four Wheeler, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245. All letters become the property of Four Wheeler, and we reserve the right to edit them for length, accuracy, and clarity. The editorial department can also be reached through the website at Due to the volume of mail, electronic and otherwise, we cannot respond to every reader, but we do read everything.

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