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2005 4x4 Truck Of The Year

Posted in Features on February 1, 2005 Comment (0)
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2005 4x4 Truck Of The Year
131 0502 01z+2005 dodge dakota+truck of the year

LikesBest-in-test limited slipSatellite radioSuperb steering feel

DislikesABS pulsates back at the driverHarsh ride on anything but new pavementUncomfortable seats

VerdictFreshman 4x4 that needs a few years of development to get dialed in.

Dodge Dakota Quad Cab LaramieThe '05 Dodge Dakota is the latest revamp of the midsize truck that created the segment. However, in a year of redesigned pickups with more power and selectable lockers, the Dakota got lost in the mix with no new gimmicks, but earth shattering engine power, and no outrageous styling. Now don't get us wrong; this Dakota is perfectly capable of hauling a load and getting you up the trail, but its white-bread approach didn't win over any of our judges. We know full well that Dodge has a 4.7L high-output (250+ hp, 300+ lb-ft) and a 5.7L Hemi (345 hp, 375 lb-ft) engine in its arsenal, and we wish it had put one of them in this truck! How could we not be underwhelmed with the 4.7L V-8 engine we tested when it was outgunned by both the Nissan (265 hp, 284 lb-ft) and Toyota (245 hp, 282 lb-ft) V-6s. It was even outgrunted by the Liberty's 2.8L (160 hp, 295 lb-ft) turbodiesel. Power-to-weight ratio plays a big part in this test, and if a 4x4 is overweight or underpowered, it typically sinks to the bottom of the 4x4 of the Year barrel.

None of us fell in love with the looks of the new Dakota's Dodge Ram-light styling either. Though last year's Durango was similarly received and has finally started to grow on us, we think a new set of wheels, aggressive tires, and a taller ride height would go far to improve this truck's looks. Judging by how well the Dakota did perform in the rocks and hillclimbs, we feel the platform has the potential to be a capable 4x4 that could rival the best from Toyota and Nissan-but it's just not there yet. The truck sits too low and has none of the off-road hardware that the competition is pumping into the market.

Judges were much less critical of the all-new interior, save a few of our testers who felt the seats were unsupportive and poorly suited to the truck's rigid rear suspension. We all liked the functional layout of the dash, the quiet ride, and the perfect match of bed space to rear seat room for our needs. The Dakota's impressive Infinity sound system and Sirius satellite radio also helped make the highway miles fly by and keep us sane on some of the longer hauls through California's FM radio-resistant back highways. But the final nail in the Dakota's coffin came on the last day of testing when the front differential grenaded on the closed-course hillclimb portion of the test.

Specifications

GENERAL
Manufacturer Dodge
Model Dakota Quad Cab Laramie
Base Price $28,679
Price as Tested $33,459
Options as Tested Customer Preferred
Package 26J (Trailer Tow Group, Heavy-Duty Service Group, heavy-duty engine cooling, auxiliary transmission cooler, power 6x9 multifunction mirrors, Class IV hitch receiver, 750-amp battery, 7-pin wiring harness, heated exterior mirrors), 4-wheel antilock brakes, supplemental restraint airbags, side curtain airbags, five-speed automatic transmission, 3.92:1 axle ratio, antispin differential, 4.7L Magnum engine, sliding rear window, heated front seats, Sirius satellite radio, 17x8 aluminum chrome-clad wheels, P265/65R17 tires, under-rail bedliner

ENGINE
Type OHV V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 4.7/287
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.66x3.40
Compression Ratio 9.0:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Req. (octane)/Capacity (gal.) 87/22
SAE Peak Horsepower 230 @ 4,{{{600}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 295 @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed automatic overdrive
Model 545RFE
Ratios First: 3.00:1; Second: 1.67:1 (upshift), 1.50:1 (kickdown); Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.75:1; Fifth: 0.67:1 Reverse: 3.00:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed part time
Model NV233 HD
Low-range Ratio 2.72:1
Axles
Front Type IFS
Rear Type Solid axle with limited slip
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.92:1
SUSPENSION
Front Upper and lower A-arms w/torsion bars
Rear Live axle, four-leaf longitudinal springs
Steering
Type Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.25/17.4:1
Turning Radius (feet) 44
Wheels
Size (inches) 17x8
Material Cast-aluminum
Tires
Size P265/65R17
Brand Goodyear {{{Wrangler}}} SR-A
Brakes
Front 12.3-inch discs
Rear 11.6-inch discs with ABS
60-0 (feet) 132.5
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile (seconds @ mph) 18.49 @ 73.91
Weight (pounds)
Curb Weight 4,413
Advertised GVWR 6,010
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) 15/20
As Tested (mpg) 14.21
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 131.25
Overall Length 218.5
Overall Width 86.75
Overall Height 68.5
Front/Rear Track 63.125/63
Front/Rear Overhang 38.25/47.5
Min. Front Ground Clearance 7.5

Dodge Power WagonThe 31/44-ton Dodge Power Wagon is an off-road Goliath. Born from the Ram HD platform, it's been optioned up with front and rear lockers, 4.56 gears, a sway bar disconnect, and a factory Warn winch. Basically Dodge looked at what Jeep Rubicon did for the Wrangler and followed its lead.

That strategy turned the Power Wagon into an off-road performer that went almost anywhere we tried to take it with the front and rear lockers engaged and the sway bar disconnected. The 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrains were perfectly suited to this platform and if the truck would physically fit on the trail, the Power Wagon's hardware would take it through.

The judges did note that the Power Wagon's breakover angle isn't terrific, but the extensive skidplating (much like on the Hummer H1) makes the bottom of the truck something you can drag over obstacles. Unfortunately, like all 31/44-ton trucks we've tested, the Power Wagon was not well suited to the sand dunes given its leaf-sprung rear suspension and heavy platform.

We tried to keep in mind that a truck this big won't fit into everyone's hometown environment. By the nature of its size it's harder to park and drive around town than the rest of this year's competition. It's no urban dicer, but you gain maneuvering clearance by intimidating other traffic on the street. We wish we could tell you that it was as fast as the Hemi-powered Grand Cherokee, but it's not. Judges were left wanting a Cummins or a V-10 engine in the Power Wagon.

As a group we liked the Dodge's solid-axle steering, but it was apparent to our judges how much more precise the other IFS trucks in our test felt. We think our test truck could have developed a little tire shimmy that we attributed to the steering linkage's getting tagged during our testing, despite the Power Wagon's steering skidplate.

The carryover Dodge Ram cab offers a nice simple work-truck interior with sporty white-faced gauges, but none of us are in love with the stock cloth seats that just feel too flat for any spirited off-road driving. The Power Wagon did feature the best rear seat room of all the pickup trucks, and the flip-down load floor makes for a versatile storage area.

Specifications

GENERAL
Manufacturer Dodge
Model Power Wagon
Base Price $31,940
Price as Tested $42,635
Options as Tested Premium cloth 40/20/40
bench seat, fold-flat load floor storage, Customer Preferred Package 26P (gray upper fascia, Power Wagon Off Road Group, rear folding 60/40 seat, black vinyl floor covering, 4.56 axle ratio, Tru-Lok differentials, wheel flares, front disconnecting stabilizer bar, LT285/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, 17x8 forged aluminum wheels, front electric winch, 8,510-pound GVW rating, clearance lamps, tow hooks, foglamps, transfer-case skidplate), Trailer Tow Group (750-amp battery, Class IV receiver hitch, 7-pin harness, 160-amp alternator), Premium Convenience Group (ash tray, sun visor w/lighted vanity mirrors, front dome lamp w/on-off switch, underhood lamp, power adjustable pedals, sliding rear window, auto-dimming rear view mirror), Premium Security Group (security alarm, Sentry Key theft deterent system, U-Connect hands-free communication, supplemmental side airbags), five-speed automatic transmission

ENGINE
Type OHV Hemi V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 5.7/345
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.92x3.58
Compression Ratio 9.6:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Req. (octane)/Cap. (gal.) 89 or 87/34
SAE Peak Horsepower 345 @ 5,{{{600}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 365 @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed automatic overdrive
Model 545RFE
Ratios First: 3.00:1; Second: 1.67:1 (upshift), 1.50:1 (kickdown); Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.75:1; Fifth: 0.67:1 Reverse: 3.00:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed part time
Model NVG 271
Low-range Ratio 2.72:1
Axles
Front Type AAM 9.25-inch w/Tru-Lok locking differential
Rear Type AAM 10.50-inch w/Tru-Lok limited slip/locking differential
Hubs N/A
Ratio 4.56:1
SUSPENSION
Front Live axle, four-link w/track bar and coil springs
Rear Live axle, longitudinal springs
Steering
Type Power recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 2.75/13.41:1
Turning Radius (feet) 48.9
Wheels
Size (inches) 17x8
Material Alcoa forged aluminum
Tires
Size LT285/70R17
Brand BFGoodrich All-Terrain
Brakes
Front and rear 13.9-inch discs with ABS
60-0 (feet) {{{164}}}.14
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile  
(seconds @ mph) 18.43 @ 70.93
Weight (pounds)  
Curb Weight 6,081
Advertised GVWR 8,510
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) N/A
As Tested (mpg) 8.88
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 140.5
Overall Length 228
Overall Width 95
Overall Height 79
Front/Rear Track 69/68.9
Front/Rear Overhang 40.25/68.25
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8.375

LikesShould fit 35s without rubbingGreat Hemi exhaust soundLockers, gears, and a winch

DislikesA-pillar weatherstripping gets torn by doorLockers wouldn't always engage when we turned the dialWhy no Cummins engine?

VerdictThe most capable off-road pickup ever built.

LikesImpressive engine powerWhisper-quiet interiorExtremely capable Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system

DislikesNot enough ground clearancePathetic transfer-case shifterToo on-road friendly

VerdictA kinder, gentler Grand Cherokee that'll rip your head off with Hemi power!

Jeep Grand Cherokee LimitedYup, this thing's got a Hemi in it. And we were all junkies for the extra dose of power Jeep gave us in the new Grand Cherokee. We couldn't help it. Around town, on the highway, and in the sand the 5.7L 330hp V-8 outmotored the competition with every punch of the throttle. And even though not a single one of our judges ever claimed to have felt it, the multiple-displacement system (MDS) delivered impressive fuel economy numbers (14 mpg) by running the Hemi as a four-cylinder engine whenever it could.

But the Hemi engine is only half the story. To put that much power to the ground and still get somewhere, the Quadra Drive II all-wheel-drive system seamlessly blends three fast-acting electronic locking differentials (front, center, and rear) with one of the best ABS brake-based traction control systems we've ever tested. It made hillclimbs a breeze and overcame the Grand Cherokee's mild-mannered street tires.

Too bad this world-class drivetrain had to come wrapped in a new sheetmetal structure that is lower and wider than we'd want for a Jeep. The front end styling is great but the rear end looks too minivan (almost Chrysler Pacifica) for our tastes. One judge even noted it looked like a "giant picnic basket."

Inside, the new Grand felt as upscale as the Land Rover but was much quieter. Though none of us appreciated the puny transfer-case "switch" to engage low-range. Very un-Jeep! A new rear-seat DVD player and electronic stability system tell us that Jeep is going after a more mainstream customer with its newest SUV.

Off-Road we expected better performance from the Grand Cherokee on the sand and high-speed gravel road portions of the test. This Grand is not the high-speed dirt-road dragon that it used to be. Our test vehicle smoked the rear shocks and had major suspension bottoming after two passes. In the rocks the Grand Cherokee was also sort of a letdown. Not because it ever got stuck, but because it lacks ground clearance and drags the undercarriage over obstacles to the point it sounds like a steel-drum band has set up a trail-side concert.

After a hard day of trail work we discovered we had dented the rear driveshaft to the point it needed to be replaced, and we started to hear what sounded like a front wheel bearing going out in the front axle.

Specifications

GENERAL
Manufacturer Jeep
Model Grand Cherokee Limited
Base Price $34,045
Price as Tested $42,160
Options as Tested Customer Preferred
Package 25R (electronic stability program, heated front seats, Smartbeam headlamps, P235/65R17 tires, power sunroof), Electronic Infotainment System Group (overhead rear console, rear seat video system), 4x4 Popular Equipment Group (P245/65R17 tires, skidplate group, tow hooks), 5.7 Hemi multi-displacement engine, electronic limited slip front and rear axle, “5.7L” badge, Quadra-Drive II 4WD system, engine block heater, navigation system w/6-disc CD/MP3 player, Sirius satellite radio, 17x7.5 aluminum wheels, ParkSense rear backup system

ENGINE
Type OHV Hemi V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 5.7/345
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.92x3.58
Compression Ratio 9.6:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport
  fuel injection
Fuel Req. (octane)/Cap. (gal.) 89 or 87/20.5
SAE Peak Horsepower 330 @ 5,000 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 375 @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed automatic overdrive
Model 545RFE
Ratios First: 3.00:1; Second: 1.67:1 (upshift), 1.50:1 (kickdown); Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.75:1; Fifth: 0.67:1 Reverse: 3.00:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed full time
Model NVG 245
Low-range Ratio 2.72:1
Axles
Front Type IFS AAM 790 w/electronic limited slip/locker
Rear Type AAM 830 w/electronic limited slip/locker
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.73:1
SUSPENSION
Front Short/long arm w/coil springs
Rear Live axle, four-link w/track bar and coil springs
Steering
Type Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 2.75/variable 15.81 to 13.91 (at full lock)
Turning Radius (feet) 37.1
Wheels
Size (inches) 17x7.5
Material Cast-aluminum
Tires
Size P245/65R17
Brand Goodyear {{{Wrangler}}} SR-A
Brakes
Front 12.9-inch discs with ABS
Rear 12.6-inch discs with ABS
60-0 (feet) 143.88
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile  
(seconds @ mph) 16.82 @ 82.28
Weight (pounds)
Curb Weight 4,735
Advertised GVWR 6,150
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) 14/19
As Tested (mpg) 14.95
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 109.5
Overall Length 186.75
Overall Width 86.25
Overall Height 69.5
Front/Rear Track {{{62}}}.25/62.25
Front/Rear Overhang 34/44
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8.25

LikesSmall and nimble urban commuterTraditional transfer-case shift leverGreat fuel economy

DislikesToo dorky-looking to fill up at a truck stopNeeds "VM" or "Detroit Diesel" badgingNo manual option

VerdictThe little tractor that could -if only it looked a little manlier.

Jeep Liberty Limited CRDWe'd take the 2.8L VM Motori turbodiesel in the Liberty over the 3.7L V-6 any day! The 2.8L's impressive torque lags a little off the line, but load it down and the turbo builds enough boost to give you 295 lb-ft at only 1,800 rpm. That's enough grunt to leave most of the other trucks in our test in a cloud of diesel smoke.

When we popped the hood to check out this new diesel, we were pleasantly surprised to see an Optima red-top battery anchoring the electrical system. That will give diesel Liberty owners even more to brag about.

We suspect that Jeep is working hard to downplay the cute-ute stigma that plagues the Liberty with most male buyers. Love it or hate it, we know the looks make it hard for the man of the house to drive it around town without his buddies kidding him about it. As much as we love the new engine, even we still feel kind of dorky driving it.

Once you get inside the Liberty any feeling of dorkiness is replaced by the command-seating position this 4x4 has. In our mind it makes this the perfect urban commuter Jeep. But on a cross-country trip that same sitting position was deemed less comfortable, and some judges commented they felt like they were driving a bus. A "very small bus." It doesn't help that the interior of the Liberty felt tighter than everything but the Rubicon Unlimited on our test. The power window switches were again bashed by our judges for "being out of place" in the center console. While we expected complaints about diesel clatter, none of the judges found it very intrusive. The engine noise is detectable at idle and full throttle, but at freeway speeds the diesel clatter seems to go away.

With the Liberty out on the trail this little 4x4 showed that even with IFS it still has the Jeep DNA. We found the rear limited-slip differential works well with the tractor-chug-slow wheeling the diesel Liberty prefers. But shouldn't a "Trail Rated" Jeep come with a selectable rear locker? We think so. We did appreciate having the option of full-time four-wheel drive, which made the Liberty much better in the sand than the Rubicon Unlimited despite its poor tires and a slow speed engine. If Jeep could just inject the Liberty's styling with some testosterone we know it would sell more of them.

Specifications

GENERAL
Manufacturer Jeep
Model Liberty Limited
Base Price $25,035
Price as Tested $30,950
Options as Tested Customer Preferred
Package 22G (Selec-Trac transfer case, premium leather-trimmed power bucket seats, luxury door trim panels, in-dash 6-disc changer AM/FM stereo w/6 premium Infinity speakers, steering wheel audio controls, power heated fold-away mirrors, vehicle information center, traveler/mini-trip computer, universal garage door opener), Trailer Tow Group (Class IV receiver hitch, 7-to-4 pin wiring adapter), rear cargo organizer, five-speed automatic transmission, Trac-Lok differential, 2.8L 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine, 700-amp battery, floor carpet, bright “CRD” badge, P225/75R16 tires, 16x7 luxury aluminum wheels, 5,650 GVW rating, ABS brakes, engine block heater, power sunroof, U-Connect hands-free communication, tire pressure monitor display

ENGINE
Type OHV inline-four
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 2.8/171
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.70x3.94
Compression Ratio 17.5:1
Induction Type Direct injection common-rail
Fuel Req. (octane)/Cap. (gal.) #2 diesel/20.5
SAE Peak Horsepower 160 @ 3,800 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 295 @ 1,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed automatic overdrive
Model 545RFE-{{{A5}}}
Ratios First: 3.00:1; Second: 1.67:1 (upshift), 1.50:1 (kickdown); Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.75:1; Fifth: 0.67:1 Reverse: 2.21:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed part/full time
Model NVG 242
Low-range Ratio 2.72:1
Axles
Front Type IFS Dana 30
Rear Type {{{Chrysler}}} 81¼4 w/limited slip
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.73:1
SUSPENSION
Front Upper and lower A-arms w/coil springs
Rear Live axle, three-link w/triangulated upper and coil springs
Steering
Type Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.5/18.2:1
Turning Radius (feet) 35.9
Wheels
Size (inches) 16x7
Material Cast-aluminum
Tires
Size P225/75R16
Brand Goodyear {{{Wrangler}}} ST
Brakes
Front 11.3-inch discs
Rear 11.2-inch discs
60-0 (feet) 171.{{{57}}}
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile  
(seconds @ mph) 19.61 @ 70.54
Weight (pounds)
Curb Weight 4,296
Advertised GVWR 5,650
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) 22/27
As Tested (mpg) 19.07
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 104
Overall Length 174.25
Overall Width 82.75
Overall Height 71.5
Front/Rear Track 60.25/60
Front/Rear Overhang 29/39.125
Min. Front Ground Clearance 6.25

LikesSix-speed transmission wakes this Jeep upPaint looks good clean or dirtyQuintessential rockcrawler

DislikesCabin feels too narrow with hard doorsLots of rear wheelhop in the dunesNot enough lockable storage

VerdictYour out-of-the-box rock monster. Just as Pw would've built it.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon UnlimitedIf rockcrawling's your thing-this is your ride. The Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited is the result of 60 years of Jeep development and it is by far the most capable stock off-road vehicle to ever wear the Jeep name. The extra wheelbase of the Unlimited platform takes the Rubicon package to the next level to make it a much safer climber and gives it a better on-road ride as well as more space for your gear. A few of our judges feel that no one will buy a short-wheelbase Wrangler after they've driven an Unlimited.

It's no surprise that the low gears, locker, and off-road tires garnered points with our judges, but the Wrangler Unlimited was no match for the comfort, power, and conveniences of any of the other 4x4s in our test. Still, in many ways it offered the most pure off-road experience of any of the vehicles tested. Of course there was some side-to-side head toss when off-road, and the Wrangler is loud and somewhat slow to merge with highway traffic. But most of the judges can live with the trade-off-if only just on the weekends. The Rubicon Unlimited proved hard to beat around town with its small turning radius, but there were times we couldn't get the wheel around quickly without hitting our left elbow on the door. The full hard doors on our tester seemed to make the Jeep feel that much narrower.

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited had the only engine in the test that was more impressive at low rpm than it was at the top end. Until we compared it to the rest of the refined powerplants in the group we never realized how rough the Jeep 4.0L idles. Our judges were very pleased with the new six-speed manual and found we could skip-shift through Second, Fourth, and Sixth to get us up to speed easier. The gearing combinations available from a 4x4 with a 4.46:1 First gear, a 4:1 low range, and a 4:1 axle ratio are nothing short of amazing. And the judges took note of the bulletproof combination of dual Dana 44 axles and a 1-ton-sized NV241 transfer case. We are a little concerned that our particular test vehicle seemed to have a lot of lash in the transmission, and would echo with a grumbling noise at part throttle cruise from time to time.

If we could be so bold as to recommend a few updates for a future Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited we'd specify a higher-revving V-6 and a thicker soft top. That way we could burn through the dunes, crawl through the rocks, and still have a quiet enough ride to hear the radio on the way home.

Specifications

GENERAL
Manufacturer Jeep
Model Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited
Base Price $28,215
Price as Tested $29,420
Options as Tested Security Group
  (auto-dimming rearview mirror, lamps, compass, thermometer), leather-wrapped steering wheel

ENGINE
Type OHV inline-six
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 4.0/242
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.88x3.41
Compression Ratio 8.8:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport
  fuel injection
Fuel Req. (octane)/Capacity (gal.) 87/19
SAE Peak Horsepower 190 @ 4,{{{600}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 235 @ 3,{{{200}}} rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Six-speed manual overdrive
Model NSG 370
Ratios First: 4.46:1; Second: 2.61:1;Third: 1.72:1; Fourth: 1.25:1; Fifth: 1.00:1; Sixth: 0.84:1; Reverse: 4.06:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed part time
Model NVG 241OR
Low-range Ratio 4.0:1
Axles
Front Type Dana 44 w/selectable locker
Rear Type Dana 44 w/limited slip selectable locker
Hubs N/A
Ratio 4.10:1
SUSPENSION
Front Live axle, four-link w/track bar,and coil springs
Rear Live axle, four-link w/track bar,and coil springs
Steering
Type Power recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.25/15.2:1
Turning Radius (feet) 35
Wheels
Size (inches) 16x8
Material Cast-aluminum
Tires
Size P245/75R16
Brand Goodyear Wrangler MT/R
Brakes
Front 11.0-inch discs
Rear 11.2-inch discs
60-0 (feet) 200.44
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile  
(seconds @ mph) 19.28 @ 67.24
Weight (pounds)
Curb Weight 3,721
Advertised GVWR 4,600
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) 16/20
As Tested (mpg) 10.14
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 103.25
Overall Length 171
Overall Width 75.25
Overall Height 72
Front/Rear Track 60/60
Front/Rear Overhang 26.5/42
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8.875

LikesLike a Jeep with a British accentMakes the neighbors jealousMakes anyone an off-road hero

DislikesFuel gauge stopped workingLooks like it has a slide-in camper attached to itNeeds more aggressive tires

VerdictThe most intelligent off-road vehicle we've ever driven.

Land Rover LR3 HSEFrom an off-road heritage that runs as deep as the American Jeep comes the new LR3 HSE from Land Rover. The shear level of technology and innovation that Land Rover's new Discovery replacement brings to our market blew our judges away. The spec sheet starts with an aluminum 4.4L V-8 based on the latest Jaguar engine design and an all-new six-speed ZF automatic transmission with a 4.17: 1 First gear. From there Land Rover has added its permanent four-wheel-drive system and an air-ride suspension that acts and reacts to the terrain so you, the driver, don't have to. How? All of these functions are tied together by Land Rover's Terrain Response System, which essentially modifies the actions of seven vehicle systems to provide any driver of the LR3 with all the capability needed to conquer the nastiest trails on Earth.

A few judges found this level of automation to be excessive, especially considering how low-tech, yet capable, the Rubicon Unlimited is. Some even longed for manual command over the traction control, differential locks, and the air-ride suspension so that they could choose the settings. But the reality is that the onboard computer probably does a better job of controlling this many functions than most drivers can. The Terrain Response System in the LR3 divides all possible surfaces into five categories: general driving, mud, ruts, sand, and rockcrawling. All it needs from the driver is a heads-up about what kind of terrain you are tackling and the computer decides how best to get you through it. If you're comfortable with how an automatic transmission functions, you shouldn't have any problem with this type of system.

With all this new technology the LR3 was still plagued in our test by some traditional headaches. It's very heavy, and no matter how great its engine looks on paper, the LR3 is still underpowered compared to the Grand Cherokee. The LR3 is also louder inside than any other SUV in the test except the Rubicon Unlimited. On the street this 4x4 could use more power assist for the steering when making parking lot maneuvers, but it offers an excellent turning radius and amazing brakes to help you avoid accidents.

Take the LR3 off-road and the four-wheel independent suspension quickly dismisses any need for solid axles on a 4x4 like this. The air-sprung suspension combined with the sturdy body-on-frame construction made the LR3 one of the judges favorites in the high-speed dirt sections, and it never let us down in the rockcrawling portions either. If the LR3 has a weakness off-road, it's probably in the sand where the extra weight can literally bog it down.

Specifications

GENERAL
Manufacturer Land Rover
Model LR3 HSE
Base Price $49,995
Price as Tested $51,845
Options as Tested Cold climate package,
heavy duty package, convenience package

ENGINE
Type DOHC 32-valve V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 4.4/268
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.47x3.56
Compression Ratio 10.75:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport
  fuel injection
Fuel Req. (octane)/Capacity (gal.) 91/22.8
SAE Peak Horsepower {{{300}}} @ 5,500 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 315 @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Six-speed automatic overdrive
Model ZF HP26
Ratios First: 4.17:1; Second: 2.34:1; Third: 1.52:1; Fourth: 1.14:1; Fifth: 0.87:1; Sixth: 0.69:1; Reverse: 3.40:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed full time
Model Land Rover
Low-range Ratio 2.93:1
Axles
Front Type IFS
Rear Type IRS w/electronic locker
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.73:1
SUSPENSION
Front Independent double-wishbone w/long travel (13-inches) air springs
Rear Independent double-wishbone w/long travel (13-inches) air springs
Steering
Type Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.25/N/A
Turning Radius (feet) 37.6
Wheels
Size (inches) 19x8
Material Aluminum
Tires
Size P255/55R19
Brand Goodyear {{{Wrangler}}} HP
Brakes
Front 13.3-inch discs with ABS
Rear 13.8-inch discs with ABS
60-0 (feet) 130.16
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile  
(seconds @ mph) 17.39 @ 79.39
Weight (pounds)
Curb Weight 5,796
Advertised GVWR 7,121
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) 14/18
As Tested (mpg) 11.13
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 113.75
Overall Length 189.5
Overall Width 86.125
Overall Height 72
Front/Rear Track 64/63
Front/Rear Overhang 32.5/45.5
Min. Front Ground Clearance 9.625

LikesDana 44 rear axle and a lockerBetter looking than TacomaSpray-in bedliner and aluminum bed hold-downs

DislikesTailgate is really heavyUgly exposed rear door hingesHigh-speed suspension tuning not as good as Tacoma

VerdictFinally a true match for the Tacoma, with more power and a lower price.

Nissan Nismo Frontier King CabIf this test were strictly about improvement, the Nissan NISMO Frontier would win this year's competition hands down. The Nissan Motorsports (NISMO) package was designed to go head to head with the Tacoma TRD. It's by far the finest Frontier ever, and ready to hunt down loyal Tacoma buyers and take a bite out of Toyota's market.

The new truck is based on the fullsize Titan architecture so it's larger and more robust-feeling in every way than its predecessor. It's motivated by an all-new 4.0L V-6 engine that outpowered both the Toyota 4.0L V-6 and the Dodge 4.7L V-8! The new engine got such rave reviews from our judges that we've almost forgotten about the disappointing supercharged V-6 that the previous Frontier relied on. When coupled with the firm-shifting five-speed automatic transmission in our test vehicle, this package made for a green-light bandit-even with the 265/65-17 tires and 3.36 axle gears.

Inside, the Frontier was ranked quieter and the instrument panel scored higher in our judging than the Tacoma's latest design. It's probably just a coincidence, but the seats in the Tacoma and Frontier look like they've come from the same supplier. The coarse mesh weave in both trucks was thought too rough on the legs if you were wearing shorts-or a skirt. Unfortunately the Frontier's seats didn't have the cozy side bolsters that hold you in position in the Tacoma, nor did it have anywhere near the usable rear seat room of the Tacoma, Dakota, or Power Wagon.

Behind the wheel of the Frontier a few judges labeled the ride too firm for California freeways. But around town the Bilstein shock-tuned truck was ranked easier to drive and park in the city than Dakota and Tacoma. Off-road the Frontier really started to show how well matched it was to the Tacoma. With better throttle modulation, a comparable electric locker, and a smoother ride on the hillclimbs, the Frontier was easier to take up some extreme lines than the Tacoma, which required fiddling with the clutch to prevent stalling. The five-speed auto and extra horsepower were enough to win over most of the judges in the sand too. If there was a clear difference between the Tacoma and the Frontier off-road it was with breakover angles. The larger frame on the Frontier made it easier to high-center than the Tacoma when cresting over obstacles. The Toyota also exhibited better suspension tuning front to rear than the Frontier. We also managed to do a number on the Frontier's front mud flaps which started to rub on the tires after we tweaked them in the rocks.

Specifications

GENERAL  
Manufacturer Nissan
Model NISMO Frontier King Cab
Base Price N/A
Price as Tested $27,000
Options as Tested Bilstein shocks, skid-
  plate package, 16-inch alloy wheels, P265/75R16 tires, electronic locking rear differential, spray-in bedliner

ENGINE
Type DOHC 24-valve V-6
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 4.0/241
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.76x3.{{{62}}}
Compression Ratio 9.7:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport
  fuel injection
Fuel Req. (octane)/Capacity (gal.) 91/21.1
SAE Peak Horsepower 265 @ 5,{{{600}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 284 @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed automatic overdrive
Model Nissan
Ratios First: 3.84:1; Second: 2.35:1; Third: 1.53:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.84:1; Reverse: 2.76:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed part time
Model Nissan
Low-range Ratio 2.63:1
Axles
Front Type IFS
Rear Type Dana 44 w/electronic locker
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.36:1
SUSPENSION
Front IFS w/upper and lower A-arms and coilover shocks
 Rear Live axle, longitudinal leaf springs
Steering
Type Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.5/20.4:1
Turning Radius (feet) 39.16
Wheels
Size (inches) 16x7
Material Cast-aluminum
Tires
Size P265/75R16
Brand BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A
Brakes
Front 11.65-inch discs with ABS
Rear 12.12-inch discs with ABS
60-0 (feet) 132.50
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile  
(seconds @ mph) 17.39 @ 79.39
Weight (pounds)
Curb Weight 4,502
Advertised GVWR 5,600
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) 15/20
As Tested (mpg) 14.8
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 126
Overall Length 205.5
Overall Width 84
Overall Height 69.5
Front/Rear Track 61.5/62
Front/Rear Overhang 32/48
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8.25

LikesA return to body-on-frame constructionCargo space that lets you carry long itemsVery quiet interior

DislikesCheesy-looking A/C controlsNeeds a limited slip or locker to compete with this crowdWorst climber on the loose hillclimb test

VerdictTotally inoffensive to drive on the street, but not our first choice for the trail.

Nissan Pathfinder SE Off-RoadEvery 4x4 of the Year test includes at least one "first-time" experience. It's inevitable, and stems from the fact that we're taking new 4x4 technology out on terrain that is unimpressed by the latest widget. It's Machine vs. Nature and when these two forces clash it's always interesting. So for the first time ever on a 4-Wheel & Off-Road vehicle test we had a supplemental restraint system (SRS) airbag deploy (the passenger-side curtain airbags in this case) when our '05 Pathfinder slid onto its running board. It happened when our Nissan Pathfinder, with its four-wheel independent suspension and no lockers or limited slips, found itself out rockcrawling with this year's tough competition. We'll chalk it up to the fact that our test vehicle was a pre-production unit that is not representative of the final production version. We doubt that any airbag would normally deploy during the type of trail riding we were doing, but since it was the only Pathfinder Nissan had available at the time of our testing, we can't draw any further conclusions.

The large BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires were the Pathfinder's biggest asset. They gave it very good ground clearance over obstacles, but the ABS-based traction control and 3.36 axle gears did not make it an efficient rockcrawler. We found that out the hard way as we dinged and dragged the Nissan running boards over watermelon-sized rocks. Most of our judges had a hard time taking the Pathfinder over the same lines that every other 4x4 in the group could handle. There were even some hillclimbs on our test that the Pathfinder just couldn't complete. Downhill descents, on the other hand, were no problem, thanks to Nissan's Hill Descent Control (HDC) that automatically modulated the Pathfinder's brakes to keep us in control. This Nissan system makes up for some of the shortcomings of not having a low crawl ratio, and it is much quieter in operation than some of the competitors.

We had better luck with the Pathfinder in the sand where it could flex its 4.0L V-6 muscles and rely on the control of its multilink independent rear suspension to keep the tires on the ground. Judges still wished for better shock tuning in the rough sections where the Frontier's Bilstein shocks seemed better suited than the Pathfinder's Rancho tuned units.

On road the Pathfinder won much better praise with its quiet interior and third-row seating option. Nissan has mastered the art of the folding seat and lets you stow literally the entire passenger side of the vehicle to fit extremely long cargo inside the vehicle. If you're looking for an off-road capable SUV from Nissan you may want to hold off a year for the new redesigned Xterra.

Specifications

GENERAL
Manufacturer Nissan
Model Pathfinder SE Off-Road
Base Price $30,450
Price as Tested $35,010
Options as Tested Premium package,Mobile Entertainment Package (DVD player), side curtain airbags

ENGINE
Type DOHC 24-valve V-6
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 4.0/241
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.76x3.{{{62}}}
Compression Ratio 9.7:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport
  fuel injection
Fuel Req. (octane)/Capacity (gal.) 91/21.1
SAE Peak Horsepower 270 @ 5,{{{600}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 291 @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed automatic overdrive
Model Nissan
Ratios First: 3.84:1; Second: 2.35:1; Third: 1.53:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.84:1; Reverse: 2.76:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed part time
Model Nissan
Low-range Ratio 2.63:1
Axles
Front Type IFS
Rear Type IRS
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.36:1
SUSPENSION
Front IFS w/upper and lower A-arms and coilover shocks
Rear IRS w/upper and lower A-arms and coilover shocks
Steering
Type Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.5/20.4:1
Turning Radius (feet) 39.16
Wheels
Size (inches) 16x7
Material Cast-aluminum
Tires
Size P265/75R16
Brand BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A
Brakes
Front 11.65-inch discs with ABS
Rear 12.12-inch discs with ABS
60-0 (feet) 134.40
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile  
(seconds @ mph) 17.78 @ 78.60
Weight (pounds)
Curb Weight 4,815
Advertised GVWR 6,000
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) 15/21
As Tested (mpg) 13.94
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 112.5
Overall Length 189.25
Overall Width 84
Overall Height 72
Front/Rear Track 62.25/62.125
Front/Rear Overhang 30.5/46
Min. Front Ground Clearance 9.5

LikesSix-speed manual transmissionDouble cab versatility110-volt outlet in pickup bed

DislikesFour-wheel-drive dial would not obey our commandsNeeds lower axle gearsDown on horsepower

VerdictToyota's mini-pickup icon is good, but losing ground to Nissan.

Toyota Tacoma Double Cab V-6Toyota has a reputation for owning the small pickup marketplace. It has led with innovations such as the selectable locker, a truly off-road-tuned suspension and tire package, and even the four-door cab configuration. While this new Tacoma is good, we feel it has lost some of its advantage to the hungry and up-and-coming Nissan Frontier.

First of all, everything about the '05 Tacoma got bigger. The interior now has enough room for two grown men to ride side by side in the front seat without feeling like they are going to rub shoulders. The traditional Double Cab configuration has also grown, allowing our judges to ride comfortably in groups of five to breakfast when the Frontier we tested was only good for two people and some gear stowed under the jump seats. The only problem is that the new 4.0L engine is not up to the task of towing this newfound heft around.

Stylistically the new Tacoma still looks small until you park it next to a Tundra. The exterior appearance was received with mixed favor from our judges. Some of us preferred the more subtle looks of the Frontier, while others thought the Tacoma wasn't radical enough and really needed a hoodscoop to complete the look.

Toyota still maintains a slight advantage in the ride-and-handling department over the Frontier and the similarly sized Dakota. The suspension feels more balanced front to rear than both the Frontier and the Dakota, which makes the highway blast and pothole-dodging ride into the office much less work.

Take the Tacoma into the dirt and it's only marginally better than the Frontier, where the front suspension doesn't handle the big bumps as well as it should. That's probably why the Tacoma was a letdown for some of the judges who drove it through deep sand ruts (the manual transmission probably didn't help either) during our dune testing.

Toyota purists can relax: The Tacoma still holds its own in the rocks and feels more stable thanks to its newfound size and excellent ground clearance. Visibility is not as good as the previous Tacoma, but with the TRD package you still get all the goodies (Bilstein shocks, rear locker, BFGoodrich tires, and clutch interlock) that make these trucks such good off-roaders.

Specifications

GENERAL
Manufacturer Toyota
Model Tacoma Double Cab V-6
Base Price $23,870
Price as Tested $29,782
Options as TestedTRD Off-road Package
w/towing hitch (off-road tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, 16-inch aluminum wheels, P265/70R16 tires, locking rear differential, transfer case skidplate, front tow hooks, 115V/400W bed-mounted power point, foglamps, Class IV receiver hitch, oil cooler, heavy-duty battery, 130-amp alternator, 7-pin connector, remote keyless entry, cruise control, variable-speed intermitant wipers, multifunction overhead console w/compass and temperature gauge, chrome grille surround and over fenders, sliding rear window w/privacy glass, sport seats w/driver lumbar support, fabric trim, metallic-tone instrument panel trim, leather steering wheel, sunvisors w/mirrors and extenders), floor mats, JBL audio system, side curtain airbags, door sill protectors, roof rack

ENGINE
Type DOHC 24-valve V-6
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 4.0/246
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.70x3.74
Compression Ratio 10.0:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport
  fuel injection
Fuel Req. (octane)/Capacity (gal.) 91/21
SAE Peak Horsepower 245 @ 5,{{{200}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 282 @ 3,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Six-speed manual overdrive
Model Toyota
Ratios First: 4.17:1; Second: 2.19:1;Third:1.49:1; Fourth: 1.19:1; Fifth: 1.00:1; Sixth: 0.85:1; Reverse: 3.61:1
Transfer Case
Type Two-speed part time
Model Toyota
Low-range Ratio 2.{{{57}}}:1
Axles
Front Type IFS
Rear Type Solid axle w/selectable locker
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.73:1
SUSPENSION
Front IFS w/upper and lower A-arms and coil springs
Rear Live axle, longitudinal leaf springs
Steering
Type Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.75/17.3:1
Turning Radius (feet) 40.6
Wheels
Size (inches) 16x7
Material Aluminum
Tires
Size P265/70R16
Brand BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A
Brakes
Front 12.56-inch discs with ABS
Rear 10-inch drums with ABS
60-0 (feet) 154
ACCELERATION
Standing 11/44-mile  
(seconds @ mph) 18.49 @ 79.07
Weight (pounds)
Curb Weight 4,{{{100}}}
Advertised GVWR 5,450
Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg) 17/21
As Tested (mpg) 10.8
Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 127.75
Overall Length 207
Overall Width 83
Overall Height 71.5
Front/Rear Track 63.5/63.5
Front/Rear Overhang 33.25/47.75
Min. Front Ground Clearance 9

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