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June 2011 Inbox letters To The Editor

Jeep Rear Shot
Posted June 1, 2011

What’s Worse in April: Paying Taxes, or Four Wheeler of the Year?

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.

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