For the past 27 years we've conducted our 4x4 of the Year test, and this year starts a new batch of contenders and a slightly modified judging system. While we've always been fair and honest in our evaluations, the times change with the vehicle, and as the vehicles get softer, our judging gets tougher. We've tightened our scoring system to judge more on the mechanical attributes related to wheeling and less on the highway ride to reward true 4x4 ability. Certain percentages and factoring methods have been tweaked by Executive Editor Kevin McNulty and Technical Editor Fred Williams to deliver a better standardization in our judging, and the soft-roaders will be the first to feel the change. Also, while many of you may think it's wrong to judge SUVs and pickups in the same test, we feel that the best overall 4x4 will win regardless, so we'll keep our test open to both sectors. We've had both sectors win over the years.
For this year our contestants are scheduled to be:
Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid
Dodge Ram 1500
Hummer H3 Alpha
At this early date we can't guarantee that all the invited vehicles will participate, as we don't know about their availability during our testing sessions. By the time you read this, our test will be over and we'll be busy crunching the numbers for our Feb. '09 issue, on your newsstand December 2. All of these vehicles are eligible since they are either all-new or substantially changed or refined mechanically, instead of just a sheetmetal change or a new interior. For instance, the Hummer H3 Alpha now has a front locker, which should make it perform significantly different from last year's test, while the Hummer H3T is completely new.
Hopefully you've been keeping track of our First Drives of these new vehicles in this and previous issues. Another one will come next month. We don't get a chance to drive them all before the test, but we often spend a day or two to at least getting acquainted with the new surroundings if not wringing them out on a trail. But once the testing begins, any preconceived notions are thrown out and only what we test goes in the books. We compare these 4x4s to each other, rather than to some golden standard such as the WWII jeep. This allows the best and worst of each vehicle to stand on its own. Do you have a favorite and think you'll know the winner? Drop us a line at our forums at www.4wheeloffroad.com and let us know what you think, and maybe we'll use that info in a future editorial. But for the judging, we'll be picking the winner.