Dodge Dakota Quad CabDodge Power WagonJeep Grand Cherokee LimitedJeep Liberty limited CRDJeep Wrangler Rubicon UnlimitedLand RoverLR3 HSENissan Frontier NISMO King CabNissan Pathfinder SE Off-roadToyota Tacoma Double Cab
You're reading Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine, so you don't care about some station wagon SUV-clone that claims to offer personal freedom and adventure on the way to the 99-cent store. Nope, if you're our reader you know that we're only interested in the best off-road vehicle we can find for the money that you can still drive to work, tow your toys with, and stick some rug rats in when you go camping. Every auto magazine in the world wants to help you choose your next ride, but if you need to know which 4x4 is really going to deliver off-road (and make your car payment worthwhile) you've come to the right place. Welcome to the toughest off-road test in the industry.
We don't just open up this kind of off-road competition to anyone. An eligible vehicle must be all new, or have major mechanical revisions. Naturally every vehicle must have at least a two-speed transfer case or we're not even going to consider it. Since we don't want to thrash vehicles that will never be available to the general public, we demand that each entry must be on the dealer lots by January 15, and at least 2,500 units must be built to eliminate any one-off prototypes. We like testing those kinds of vehicles too-but this just isn't the time or place. Finally, the manufacturers must provide us with a vehicle in time for the test and quote us a price as delivered. Our criteria are intended to limit the field to the newest 4x4 equipment every year. If you don't see your favorite here it's not 'cause we overlooked it; it just didn't meet these requirements or the manufacturer couldn't get it to us in time.
This year's nine worthy 4x4 combatants were: the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab, the Dodge Power Wagon, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, the Jeep Liberty Limited CRD, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, the Land Rover LR3 HSE, the Nissan NISMO Frontier, the Nissan Pathfinder SE Offroad, and the Toyota Tacoma Double Cab. To put each of these vehicles through their paces we assemble our team of judges to evaluate and critique each vehicle in the mountains, desert, and local trails. After all, who better to rank these nine 4x4s than the same guys you trust with your rock crawling, mud bogging, and desert racing needs? We even enlisted the help of our friends at Off Road Unlimited (818.563.DIRT, www.offroadunlimited.com) to put each 4x4 up on a lift so we could scrutinize the undercarriages.
The best news about this year's group is that the OEM competition is only getting stronger. Six of the nine vehicles sported locking rear differentials-two of them also came equipped with front lockers. At this rate we won't be surprised to find a three-speed transfer case and some portal axles under next year's competitors. If and when that kind of hardware does roll out you'll know exactly which magazine to read to see how it all shakes out. May the best off-road vehicle win!