What Were We Thinking?If you haven't heard by now, the Lexus GX470 won our 2003 4x4 of the Year award (Feb. '03). We've been doing this test for more than 20 years and have picked our share of controversial winners. And every year we get letters from readers whining about why the (insert favorite brand here) didn't win, or we should have considered other vehicles, or why wasn't the such-and-such included in the test. Every year it remains about the same standard questions and same standard answers, with about the same amount of people telling us we're doing a good job as well. But this year we have been deluged (in magazine terms) with letters complaining about the Lexus winning the award. I'm not talking about the standard style of letter either. No, this time people are more outspoken in their desire to lynch us, or at the very least cancel their subscription. Without printing all of the letters, some of which you can find in the Letters section in this issue, here's what I feel the consensus is from these readers.
First and foremost, the Lexus GX 470 is seen as a very expensive grocery-getter for soccer moms and mall rats, and will never see any wheeling except to the owner's third home at a posh ski resort when it snows. Secondly, no one in their right mind will take the Lexus off road and scratch up their $53,000 machine, much less get the leather interior dirty. And finally, the letter writers don't believe that we could have possibly picked the Lexus over the Wrangler Rubicon or the Hummer H2, since it is their belief that those are the two real 4x4 winners.
I won't even get into the parts about how we're in collusion with Lexus, we're going soft, or the editor's wife wanted to drive the GX 470. She didn't; she wanted the H2, and I wanted the Rubicon. But wants don't turn into reality when you go by the numbers and how the vehicles actually performed in our test. Plain and simple, the Lexus GX 470 won the 4x4 of the Year contest fair and square because it was the best all-around 4x4. No, it couldn't haul the most, wasn't the fastest, and so forth, but overall it kept ranking consistently high in every category, which put it at the top.
Does this mean we have to modify our 4x4 of the Year test next year to make sure that a hard-core 4x4 wins, or limit vehicles to those without sound systems and leather while priced under 30K? I don't think so. In fact, only the Kia, Wrangler, and Ranger are priced less than that, and they all have sound systems and a bit of leather as well. Our test chooses the best all-around 4x4, and we let you know why we pick it as such. Next year's offerings are even more expensive, with even more luxury and autotronic controls, because that is what the manufacturers are designing, building, and selling.
You probably won't find us testing our long-term Lexus halfway up Sledgehammer, but we will still be putting it through the paces of regular 4x4 life over the next year. We'll report accurately and honestly exactly how it worked, just like we did in our 4x4 of the Year test. We're looking forward to it, and hope that the Lexus guys don't mind the scratches or mangled running boards when we give it back. Give it a chance and see what you think this time next year.-Rick Pw