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January 2007 4xForward 4x4 Of The Year Prep

Posted in Features on January 1, 2007
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Contributors: Rick Péwé

Once again it's time for our 4x4 of the Year competition, and this year will show some major differences in not only the manufacturer's vehicles, but our test as well. As always, we pit some major rivals against each other,but this year also includes a few new rules and ways that we judge things. I feel that our changes will make for a better test on the 4x4 ability of these contestants, so much so that some may fail before they even get out of the parking lot, but more on that later.

We invited many more 4x4s than appear on this list, but the manufacturers either declined or couldn't abide by our rules. These rules are fairly strict, but completely doable for standard manufacturers. Simply put, the vehicle must be all-new or substantially different (such as an engine upgrade); we must have the vehicles to test by the end of September; they must have accurate pricing available by then, since it is figured into the test; there must be a production run of at least 1,500 rigs planned; and the vehicles must be on sale by January 15. Also, only rigs with a two-speed transfer case are eligible, and we retain the winner for a year-long test. We feel these rules are simple enough, but ofttimes the pricing and production schedules of the OEs dictate that they just can't deliver on time. Sometimes the response from invitees is as lame as, "You just aren't our market," but most manufacturers have legitimate reasons to decline, even when they don't want to. For our 2007 test, here is the tentative list:

Chevy Avalanche
Chevy Tahoe Z71
Chevy Silverado Z71 with 5.7 V-8
GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab with 6.0
Hummer H3
Jeep Wrangler JK
Kia Sorento
Toyota FJ Cruiser

Of course, this short list may be shorter if all vehicles don't arrive, or if one gets T-boned coming out of the parking garage (hey, it's happened!). But the most exciting part will be the on-camera start to a week's worth of testing, where we begin by instituting the Crawlability Index. Yep, that made-up, complex-looking and -sounding term is the first test, and it's simply having an editor crawl underneath each rig and making it out the other side unbloodied and unburnt. If it can't be crawled, then this will be like Survivor Island, as we'll vote that worthless hunk-a-junk vehicle off the island and out of the test before we even leave the parking lot. Sound interesting? You bet, as any vehicle that doesn't have enough clearance for a parking block or curb shouldn't be in our test. Leave those rigs to Motor Trend magazine and the like as they waltz around crossover SUVs while dressed in Dorkers and polo shirts. Meantime, we'll get our shirts dirty crawling under capable 4x4s on and off the trail.

Once we get on our test trails and tracks, the competition will be heating up with another test. In years past we've literally had to drag some of the lesser 4xs to keep up with others. Of course, in the process the underbodies of these rigs get mangled, and we hear about it from the manufacturers. One year we were informed of the $10,000 worth of underbody damage a certain rig received, yet all the other vehicles on the trail easily made it through without a scratch. We figured either it was incapable of real wheeling, or their parts department was making a killing. This year will be a little different. We'll start with some easy trails of course, but quickly escalate the difficulty factor to weed out the lesser vehicles, and promptly vote them off the island. That's right, it's Survivor 4x4 of the Year, where we won't put up with those that can't, and send them home for their own good. The ranking will still be the same, but damage will be less and we'll have more time to devote to the real competitors in a 4x4 test, rather than contemplating how lovely the paint and stereo are. We are the leading 4x4 magazine for a reason, and we intend to stay that way by giving you the whole truth, with the gloves off.

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