Our Toughest Test Picks a WinnerWinning the 4-Wheel & Off-Road 4x4 of the Year award is a major achievement, and one that is coveted by the vehicle manufacturers that participate. They are fully aware of the significance of our test in their marketing and advertising strategies, and know that a yea or nay from our dedicated and experienced group of judges can make a big difference in how a vehicle is perceived by our readers. And that's because our readers know we put these vehicles through their paces without regard to the manufacturers' feelings: We test them to their limits-and beyond-to give our readership the honest scoop on this year's crop of new eligible vehicles. Making a decision to buy a new 4x4 truck or SUV is not taken lightly by our readers, and arming themselves with facts, figures, and honest opinions are what they want and rightfully deserve. They come to 4-Wheel & Off-Road for the truth, and that's what they get in our 4x4 of the Year contest.
For our 22nd year of testing we had only 10 vehicles, a big difference from last year's crop of 17. However, except for the Lexus GX 470 and Isuzu Axiom, each vehicle was completely new for this year, which was a welcome treat. The Axiom remained eligible due to the new direct-injection gasoline engine, which really wakes the vehicle up, and last year's winning GX 470 received a new Kinetic Suspension, which promises better on-road handling and off-road articulation.
As always, each vehicle needs to be on sale by January 15, with a production run that exceeds 2,500 to exclude one-offs and special concept vehicles. We also need the retail price of each rig far in advance of our sale date, since we factor them times three, with the lowest-priced entrant having the advantage. This ensures that money alone won't win the test, as the rig with the best value has an equal chance. And most importantly, all contestants must be equipped with a two-speed transfer case, instead of the all-wheel-drive Subarus, minivans, and crossover station wagons, which favor a single-speed version.
We also retain the winning vehicle for a full year of on- and off-road testing and commuting. This either confirms or contradicts our choice as the winner for our 4x4 of the Year test, and we report on the ride at the end of its term. So far, we've never had a winner that we'd rather turn back in at the end of its reign, and we don't believe we ever will. These rules, regulations, and real-world testing, rather than a car-based book's dirt-road romp, have made 4-Wheel & Off-Road the premier magazine in its field, as well as the respected name in judging and awarding true off-road prowess.
For our 2004 4x4 of the Year test we had 10 vehicles that were eligible and could abide by our rules, regulations, and standards. This year's contestants are: Chevrolet Colorado, Dodge Durango, Ford F-150, Isuzu Ascender, Isuzu Axiom, Lexus GX 470, Nissan Pathfinder Armada, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra Double Cab, and Volkswagen Touareg. Each vehicle gave us its all in this test, and everyone was a worthy competitor. Some of our preconceived notions were dashed, while others were firmly reinforced. Each vehicle showed us abilities that could have made it win this year's test, but only one could be picked as the winner of our coveted 2004 4x4 of the Year. Read on and see how each vehicle fared, and which one rightfully snags the crown from the rest of the pack.