Do you prefer a new 4x4 or an old one? I just got home from an 800-mile road trip in a 44-year-old Jeep Wagoneer. A few months back I did a similar road trip in a brand-new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, and you know what? I enjoyed every minute of both. The old Jeep had exhaust fumes and barely any safety features but road like a Cadi and gobbled up mountain passes with ease. The new Jeep had heated seats and a smooth clean-running four-cylinder with about as much power as the old Jeep’s V-8 but lacked the comfort of the manually shifted transfer case in the Wagoneer. And this isn’t just a comment on Jeeps. During the holidays I spent a week in a stunning new diesel Range Rover. I also spent a week on the road this past year in an early 1990s Land Rover Defender 110, and I really want to own both. (Oddly enough, the older 110 has climbed in value until it is worth almost as much as the new Range Rover!)
But which do you prefer? It’s easy to gripe about how new trucks are expensive, have too many computerized parts, and don’t hold their value. But it’s just as easy to complain that old trucks are plagued with less-than-perfect brakes, finicky fuel systems, cold and wet leaking cabs (or soft tops), and are in constant need of repair. The fact is I’m more than spoiled by the heated seats, GPS, and instant throttle response of a fresh new 4x4, and yet I’m enamored with the rattle of real steel, well-worn seats, and the timeless style of an old 4x4. I can’t decide which is better. Some days I want the challenge of getting somewhere in something that could die any second, and other days it’s nice to slam the door and just marvel at all the technology in a new vehicle (Though it does seem the Wagoneer door shut more solidly than the new Renegade.)
And that’s just new versus old in stock form, what about when you start to modify them? A new 4x4 is expensive to tear into, but it makes for a nice clean slate to build off of, whereas an old 4x4 is plagued with rust and worn parts. Parts that may need to be replaced and may be hard to find a replacement for if damaged off-road. A new 4x4 has computerized nannies, speed sensors, traction control, and so on that get ticked off when we cut and hack or tweak, tune, and hot rod the engines. At the same time, the comfort and performance of a modified and trail-ready new 4x4 is pretty awesome. The old 4x4s, on the other hand, are great because you can ditch all the unreliable stuff and add late-model fuel-injected engines and new drivetrain to end up with a 4x4 that performs like new but with age-old body lines. Sure, carbs and drums are fun to tinker with and make for an adventure if they don’t work perfect, but I prefer some of the technology we’ve developed over the years to make wheeling more fun. But I also love a steel dash, not a plastic-coated one.
I guess that’s the answer: The perfect 4x4 would be a mix of new and old. Part classic patina’d body. Part late-model comfort and performance. Part adventure to just keep it running. Part reliable enough never to leave you stranded. I guess there just isn’t a perfect 4x4.