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Four Wheeler's 40 Favorite 4x4 Trucks & Jeeps

Posted in Project Vehicles on June 1, 2002
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Photographers: ManufacturersFour Wheeler Archives

If you put all the new rigs Four Wheeler has tried out over the past 40-plus years into one building, it would take one the size of the Las Vegas Convention Center to hold them all. When you go back and add it up, the numbers are staggering. If you figure that a rough average of two new vehicles were evaluated in each issue, that's 960 rigs over the past 40 years. If you add in the multi-rig Four Wheeler of the Year competitions since 1974, the Pickup Truck of the Year (since '89) and other multi-vehicle evaluations, that number could jump by several hundred. There are only a few magazines in the world that can match this record and level of vehicle testing experience. None of them are in the 4x4 realm.

That said, we thought you'd like to see a few of the vehicles that Four Wheeler testers looked at over the years. Many of them made history. Some faded into obscurity. Most are fondly remembered by at least a few people. In a few cases, the remaining Four Wheeler graybeards might mumble an unintelligible reply and change the subject when asked about a particular vehicle or test. The war stories could keep you chuckling for several days. We'll refrain from telling those stories, but we will outline 40 of Four Wheeler's favorites.

1962 Nissan Patrol
Category: Nearly Forgotten

The Patrol 4W-60 was highly regarded in its day, getting a thumbs-up from Four Wheeler the three times it was tested. Unfortunately, it was given short shrift by the Datsun marketing team here in the States. It was a solid rig and with its 125hp, 242ci inline six, only a handful of 4x4 rigs in the era were equals or betters in the power department. The only competition in that area was the Land Cruiser. The Jeeps, Scouts, and Land Rovers of the era, the only other short-wheelbase competition of the day, were all running four-bangers. The Patrol faded in the U.S. in 1969 with just 2,616 sold, but remained a powerful presence elsewhere in the world.

1963 Jeep Wagoneer
Category: Enduring Classic

The Wagoneer debuted in late 1962 to rave reviews. It was capable and practical and did much to enhance the fortunes of Jeep. Four Wheeler tested the Wagoneer the first time in December of '62, and 13 more times over the ensuing 28 years. The Wagoneer evolved into a favorite of people wanting comfort and convenience in a rugged package. The early models were powered by the Tornado OHC six and had an optional four-wheel-drive independent front suspension-yes, Jeep was building IFS way back then-an industry first for a mass-market civvy rig.

1964 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-40
Category: No Plaything

The Land Cruiser FJ-40 was an early Four Wheeler favorite. It was covered twice in the first year, and many times thereafter. It was one of the most powerful 4x4s sold in the USA, but like the Patrol, it was undermarketed. At the time, only the big pickups could match its 105 hp with their sixes and V-8s, but this was before pickups were in style as recreational 4x4s. The 'Cruiser and Patrol ruled the short-wheelbase realm. By 1964, Toyota's marketing teams saw potential and gave it some attention. That year, the numbers began a steady climb to a peak of 11,082 units for 1973. Four Wheeler watched the Land Cruiser evolve and expand beyond the Spartan bobtail and into the FJ-45 wagons and pickups, the FJ-55 wagon, and the FJ-60 and FJ-80 SUVs. Sadly, marketing enthusiasm waned, and the FJ-40 expired of neglect in 1983 and was no longer imported.

1965 Willys Utility Wagon
Category: Adios to an Old Buddy

The Willys truck and station wagon lines debuted back in the late '40s but were on borrowed time when the Jeep Wagoneer and Gladiator lines debuted in '62. There were no true '65s built; the last of the '64s were merely retitled and sold as '65s. Four Wheeler didn't spend much time with the old Willys rigs, conducting just a single test of the Tornado SOHC-powered variant in September of '62. These OHC six-powered units were the last of the breed and predated the Tornado-powered Wagoneers and Gladiators by just a few months. Like most gear grinders of the era, Four Wheeler grew a little nostalgic seeing the boxy old rigs go, but then, as now, the staff was primarily focused on the road ahead.

1966 Ford Bronco
Category: Trendsetting Classic

The Bronco broke a lot of new ground when it debuted in August of '65, and Four Wheeler was there with all the details. It was covered late in '65, twice in '66, and four more times after. The intro of V-8 power in March of '66 brought Four Wheeler staffers to their feet and ensuing tests proved the value of this industry first in a short-wheelbase rig. Everybody liked the supple front coil springs and dimensions that were compact enough for tight trails but with room for more than beef jerky, clean underwear, and a toothbrush.

1967 Chevy Trucks
Category: Future Classic

Pickup wars among the Big Three were flaring up when GM debuted a sleek new line of pickups this year. Truth be told, they didn't knock the world on its ear, but helped maintain GM's sales lead for a couple of more years. The sleek '67-'72 Chevy trucks didn't see much test time at Four Wheeler. That wasn't because they were inferior, but rather because pickups were not as popular as the bobtails in four-wheeling circles at that point. Then, as now, Four Wheeler followed the trends. This body style faded into relative obscurity after '72 but lately has become very popular with the retro crowd.

1968 WM-300 Dodge Power Wagon
Category: A Goodbye Salute

The Dodge Power Wagon had been a staple in the workin' 4x4 truck realm since its intro in 1946. Based on the legendary WWII military Dodges, the old-style Power Wagon hung in there long after its dated appearance should have sent it to oblivion. Four Wheeler tested the M-601 variant of the WM-300 in '63 and devoted a page to reminding folks that they were still available in June of '65. The '68 model-year was the last one in which John Q. Public could buy a Power Wagon like this, but they were built under limited commercial contracts and for export into the early '70s. It seems likely that Four Wheeler staffers were a little nostalgic over the old Power Wagon's passing and there have been plenty of stories on these highly collectable workhorse rigs since then.

1969 Chevy Blazer
Category: Big Bobtail

Back in the '60s, Four Wheeler staffers were definitely in the short-wheelbase bobtail camp. When the Blazer arrived, it raised some eyebrows because it was the biggest thing yet to stake a claim in bobtail territory. Both the Scout and the Bronco had expanded the dimensions of the term bobtail, but the Blazer stretched it well past the point established by those two stalwarts. The Blazer proved it could do nearly anything the traditional bobtail of the day could, but it had double the room and outstanding highway manners to boot. After some consideration, staffers decided it was still a bobtail, but they had to create for it a new big class of bobtail. After running a four-page spread to announce the rig in April of '69, they did a full test in the October issue. Before this body style was through, they also did a test on a '71.

1970 Jeep CJ-5 Renegade
Category: Show and Go

Kaiser Jeep began a sales offensive on the four-wheeling market in '69 by building a limited number of CJ-5s with a goodies package that included a V-6, rollbar, limited-slip axle, big tires, extra gauges, and other accoutrements. It was called the 469 package and as far as we know, the only ones built were for a big press event. For 1970, the package reappeared and sold as the Renegade. When AMC took over the Jeep line that year, it grabbed the ball and ran for several touchdowns. The Renegade was the first factory high-performance 4x4 package and it had all the goodies needed to claim that title. Four Wheeler didn't test one that year and might be accused of being a little slow to grasp the significance of the Renegade, but when the V-8-powered Renegade debuted in 1972, they made up for it with an enthusiastic test.

1971 International Harvester Scout
Category: A Better Binder

Had Four Wheeler been around when the original Scout debuted in November of 1960, there's no doubt the staffers would have been enthusiastic supporters. As it was, the Scout was tested no less than six times prior to the Scout II debut in the fall of '71. The Scout II didn't break new ground as the original had done, but it refined the breed to such an extent that Four Wheeler staffers were well and truly hooked on its solid dependability. The Scout II was tested 14 more times in the ensuing nine years.

1972 Jeep CJ-5 V8
Category: Eight Cylinders, Uses 'Em All

The '72 CJ was the first CJ to carry a factory V-8. This answered the prayers of legions of Jeep fans. The 304ci engine came from the AMC stable and offered more-than-adequate power for Jeep buyers not wanting to go the swapping route. Four Wheeler staffers lauded the extra grunt in a test of the Renegade in July of '72 and later tests of V-8-powered CJs were equally enthusiastic.

1973 Chevy Suburban
Category: Bigger Than Ever

The new Chevy and GMC body styles debuted into the pickup era. Where Four Wheeler had been firmly entrenched in the world of bobtails, the start of the '70s heralded the beginning of the pickup era. Some call it the "10-4, Good Buddy" era. Four Wheeler's first test of the new Chevy line was a Suburban. The Suburban's heyday really started later, but the new rig was praised for the improvements over the previous generation, most notably with the addition of the fourth door and much more room. Staffers called the big Sub a Baja Limousine. Until 1991, when the last Chevy with this body style was retired, Four Wheeler tested eight more Subs, five big Blazers, and 12 pickups, from 1/2-ton to dualie.

1974 Jeep Cherokee S
Category: The Forgotten Native American

Despite being Four Wheeler's first Four Wheeler of the Year (FWOTY) winner, the '74 -'84 two-door Cherokee isn't on many people's minds these days. Well, fate isn't always kind, but know this: The FWOTY award doesn't come easily and Four Wheeler staffers described the Cherokee S as "superb!" Two-door Wagoneers were available at the beginning of the run, but were dropped in '68. For '74, Jeep decided to push the Wagoneer upscale and the new two-door Cherokees were designed to replace the low-end Wagoneers and put something new in the lineup. They had a bunch of options available, including the AMC 401 V-8, and most of Four Wheeler's kudos had to do with this optional stump-puller. The big Cherokee models went bye-bye just short of a decade later, replaced by the more economical Cherokee XJ.

1975 Chevrolet Blazer
Category: Big Blazer Blathering

The Blazer had evolved greatly by '75. It continued to hold its own in an ever-growing market, despite fierce competition in the form of the Scout II, Dodge Ramcharger, Plymouth Trail Duster, and Jeep Cherokee. The Blazer evolution was enough to earn it the coveted FWOTY trophy that year. This was the year before the roof changed from fully removable to the more familiar metal half-cab design.

1976 Jeep CJ-7
Category: The CJ Grows Up

Just like everything else in the four-wheeling world, the CJ line had to grow up to keep up. Owners of recreational 4x4s were no longer willing to endure the privations of a cramped spartan utility rig. The CJ-7 stretched to a 93.5-inch wheelbase, which gave it enough room for real doors and a weathertight hardtop. For the first time in CJ history, non-acrobats could climb in and out of a Jeep. The best part was that trail prowess was only minimally altered-and for the better, many argued. The CJ-7 instantly went to the front of the line and arguably could be called a watershed vehicle for Jeep in many ways. Production skyrocketed and in 10 years of CJ-7 construction, the number of vehicles built exceeded 28 years of CJ-5 production. Four Wheeler did a full test of the CJ-7 in January of '76 and it appeared 10 more times until its demise in '86.

1977 Ford Bronco
Category: Into the Sunset

By '77, the Bronco had evolved into a fine ride. In fact, most Bronco experts regard this final year as the best of the breed in terms of refinement and quality. Four Wheeler tested the Bronco five times in its 11-year production run, including the ultra-rare Stroppe "Baja Bronco" version that has become a megabucks collectible. Not too many tears were shed when the small Bronco died, but the "classic" Bronco itself, and legions of fans, got the last laugh. While the three styles of Bronco that replaced it were fine rigs in their own right, none has earned the collector status the first Bronco now enjoys. It is close to being revered as much in the 4x4 realm as its popular stablemate, the Ford Mustang, has been in the sporty-car arena.

1978 Ford Bronco
Category: A Bigger Horse

When the larger and more refined new Bronco debuted for 1978, some might have cried, "The King is dead, long live the King!" when it scored the FWOTY trophy. The new Bronco was a fine machine, but it only lasted two years before being replaced by a similar but more highly evolved version of Ford's 4x4 pony. The '78 Bronco took all the good stuff from its ancestor, most notably a coil-spring front suspension and solid axle, and added the availability of bigger engines and tons more space. Everything was getting bigger, and the Bronco was one of the last ones to grow up. These days, this pony suffers from a recognition problem. Small wonder; it wasn't around long enough to endear itself to many four-wheelers.

1979 Chevy LUV
Category: Lost LUV

Like it or not, the LUV (for Light Utility Vehicle), built for GM by Isuzu, got the compact 4x4 pickup ball rolling. It was the first production 4x4 mini-truck to be offered, narrowly beating the Toyota 4x4 pickup into production. Most will rightly say it wasn't the best, but it was a popular rig in its day. Being first probably is what earned it a FWOTY trophy in '79. After the gas crunch of '74, the public was clamoring for high fuel mileage. Pickups were the craze and while economy needs were addressed for 4x2 pickup fans, beyond a few four-wheel-drive conversions in the mid-late '70s, it took a number of years to field a 4x4 minitruck. LUV was the first of many.

1980 Traveler Turbo Diesel
Category: The Scout is Fired

In 1980, the Scout line was euthanized by a company with goals beyond light trucks. The Scout was a Four Wheeler favorite over the years, but even as imminent death loomed, it wasn't discussed in the pages of the magazine. Most people really thought that something would save the popular line. The Traveler was an evolution of the Scout that came when IH killed off its light-truck line in 1975. The next year, two stretched versions, the Terra pickup and the Traveler SUV, took their places alongside the Scout II bobtail and were designed to replace the lost 1/2-ton pickups and Travelall. Four Wheeler staffers found the '76 Traveler good enough for a FWOTY award in '76. The final Scouts were offered with optional turbodiesels that offered mileage in the mid 20s or better. After a couple of failed attempts to sell the Scout line to other manufacturers, Scouts entered the realm of the orphan 4x4.

1981 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler
Category: If Only We'd Known

When it debuted-ta-dah!-the Scrambler fizzled. It was a good idea that was marketed rather haphazardly as a midyear '81 intro. Many experts now say that if Jeep had pitted the CJ-8 directly against the early contenders in the minitruck arena, it may have had a better chance at success. As it was, production stopped in 1985 after only about 28,000 were produced. Fast-forward to today: These scarce rigs are being snapped up like candy at a sugarholics convention. Four Wheeler tested the Scrambler shortly after the March intro and published the results in the July issue. It was tested again in November, and one last time in '85. Until the hardcore types discovered that Scramblers made an almost ideal builder, they could be found at bargain prices.

1982 Dodge Power Ram 50
Category: Ram Who?

When the fires of the minitruck wars flared up in the early '80s, the quick way for American manufacturers to field an entrant was to rebadge an import. Dodge's answer was to offer a Mitsubishi-built unit, and the company didn't do badly with it. Four Wheeler appreciated its virtues enough to give it a FWOTY win. The little Ram had the benefits of a big 2.6L four or a sprightly-but-thrifty turbodiesel. It was nicely packaged and appealing. For those reasons, and many more, it lasted until 1993. The little Ram faded in stature alongside the many other entrants, but it really didn't deserve the total obscurity it lives in today.

1983 Chevrolet S-10
Category: They're Everywhere!

GM used the leeway that the LUV gave it in the market to field a totally domestic unit for '83. The basic platform encompassed both an SUV and a line of pickups. Both were successful and both lines have progeny living on today. The S-series added a new element: 2.8L V-6. It wasn't a big or particularly powerful V-6, but it beat all the mini guys for power. They were hot sellers, and when Four Wheeler staffers got hold of an S-10 Blazer late in '82, it was FWOTY time for the little Chev. The S-series, at least the original style, got ink at least four more times until it evolved in '94.

1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ
Category: The Jeep That Saved AMC

Besides being a trend setter, Cherokee was the rig that pulled AMC out of a flat spin just a few hundred feet off the hard deck. A wobbly AMC gambled the last of its resources on developing the XJ and the gamble paid off. By the time Chrysler came along to snap up the company in '87, AMC had gone from an emaciated giant to a gaunt, but recovering, one. The virtues of the XJ-lightweight, compact-yet-roomy design, superb suspension, and a trailworthy solid front axle-were not lost on Four Wheeler. The XJ won the FWOTY award in '84, and again after its facelift in '97, plus lots more praise along the way. The Cherokee model was retired in 2001, but you haven't seen the end of the Cherokee XJ.

1985 Toyota SR-5
Category: The Last Real Toy

Toyota 4x4 pickups soon jumped to the top of the import minitruck category. Many of the harder-core Toyota truck fans think the '85 was the best of the bunch. It is revered for being the last of the solid-front-axle trucks, and for also having electronic fuel injection. It's not clear if Four Wheeler staffers had that in mind when they gave it a FWOTY trophy, but they definitely liked it a bunch. They must have liked the IFS variant too, because it got Pickup Truck of the Year (PTOTY) for '89.

1986 Jeep CJ-7
Category: End of an Era

Many Jeep fans consider the last year of the CJ a sacred time. In fact, some of them stand reverently when it is mentioned, and give the stink-eye to anyone who doesn't. Their reasons have as much to do with how it happened, as anything else. The venerable CJ had spent several years under a media bombardment dealing with unexplained rollovers that most four-wheelers-indeed, most thinking drivers-took as unfair. In the end, AMC did the politically correct thing and killed it. Everyone in the automotive magazine biz did a story lamenting the end of an era. The tears soon dried, however, and Jeepers discovered that the replacement wasn't so bad, even if it had those goofy square headlights.

1987 Jeep Wrangler YJ
Category: Torch Carrier

When the Wrangler first appeared, some of the hard-core Jeep nuts had a little trouble seeing it through red eyes and gnashing teeth. It took a few years for the "real Jeeps have round headlights" bumper stickers to go away. With a little time, everyone soon realized that the YJ was a good unit with many improved features that lent themselves to modification. Maybe the CJ name was gone, but the torch was being carried by an able and worthy descendant. When you think about it, AMC was pretty clever about this transformation. They slung off the shackles of abuse without losing the core of what a Jeep represented.

1988 Chevrolet K1500
Category: Trend Setter (Dang-it!)

The year 1988 marked the beginning of the end for the solid-front-axle big pickup. The IFS 4x4 trend now has overtaken all but the Ford and Dodge HD trucks in today's market. Could it be this is why the big rigs with solid axles are so popular right now? Should Four Wheeler hang its head in shame for giving the '88 K1500 a FWOTY award? Perhaps, but Four Wheeler is nothing if not realistic. There is a world out there beyond hardcore 'wheeling and that world demands trucks with better manners. As enthusiasts, we are more willing to put up with somewhat-decreased street manners for benefits on the trail. That said, don't forget the billions of non-enthusiast Joe Schlabotnics out there who drive their pickups every day and want their trucks to be comfortable, safe, and predictable. Joe doesn't need any more trail capability than IFS offers. The K1500 answered those needs very nicely, and did so in a visually improved package with many new features.

1989 Range Rover
Category: Stiff Upper Lips

By 1989, the Range Rover had been in production almost 20 years. It first appeared on our shores (not counting some gray-market imports) in 1987 and was hailed as a benchmark in many ways, but one with a few shortcomings. The glaring ones, mostly in the horsepower department, had been eliminated by '89. As legend has it, when one of these luxomachines came into the Four Wheeler offices to be tested, the result would be subtle warfare over who got to drive it. The best part was that it also proved to be a very capable 'wheeler. As a result, it walked away with the FWOTY honors that year. Land Rover-built rigs have taken FWOTY honors two more times since, and have regularly gotten positive ink at Four Wheeler.

1990 Ford Explorer
Category: The New American Station Wagon

Some of you more hardcore types will wonder how such a tame machine got mentioned here, never mind how it won FWOTY for 1990. Again, it's a case of looking beyond the trail and realizing that not everyone fits into the grit-in-yer-teeth crowd. The very affordable Explorer filled a void that the demise of the good 'ol American station wagon left behind. The Ford added a modicum of trail capability and a good dose of all-weather friendliness to the station wagon equation. There's an art to all that, and Ford succeeded brilliantly at it.

1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer
Category: A Giant Topples

In 1991, the world said goodbye to one of the last testaments to American big-iron technology. The Wagoneer, which had become "Grand" after the introduction of the Wagoneer XJ in '84, had soldiered on for more than 28 years, but ever more stringent C.A.F.E. (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards and upcoming new models gave Jeep some difficult decisions to make. These were made doubly difficult because they were still selling reasonably well to a very loyal and upscale customer base. In the end, the company decided to say adios. Four Wheeler lamented its passing in a December '91 story and the world said goodbye to a piece of beloved automotive history.

1992 Blazer K1500
Category: Hello and Good-Bye

The year 1992 marked the true end of the old Chevy look that dated back to '73. The pickups had been given sleek new skins in '88, but the SUVs wore the old clothes through 1991. Four Wheeler was smitten with the sleek new Blazer. That it had IFS wasn't held against it, and when compared to other new offerings that year, it snatched the FWOTY trophy quite handily. The soon-to-be-Tahoe proved comfortable and capable, and though two-door Tahoes now are history, they had a good run in the market.

1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Category: Modern Classic

Most people don't know that the Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ dates back to before the Chrysler takeover. It started development almost immediately after the XJ intro of '84, but AMC's financial problems kept it on a slow track. Chrysler was busy with reorganizing for a time after the buyout, but when they dusted the project off in the late '80s, they got excited and put it on a fast track. When it debuted in late '92 as a '93 model, it created a storm of interest. It combined comfort, luxury, and street friendliness with trail prowess that was truly awesome in its class. It was as close as anyone had come to bridging the street/trail gap in an SUV. For that reason, and many others, it won Four Wheeler's coveted FWOTY award for '93.

1994 Land Rover Defender 90
Category: Pay to Play

Land Rover had expanded its model line in late '92 by introducing the limited-edition (500 numbered copies) Defender 110 four-door station wagon. It was Daktari all over again! We were even more stunned when the Defender 90 was introduced. Unlike the D110, which epitomized the stately, skinny-tired image of the traditional African bush machine, the D90 had the attitude and accoutrements of a fat-tired trail brawler. Few could argue at the time that it likely was the most capable stock short-wheelbase rig ever to be introduced here. It easily won FWOTY for '94. Too bad it was overpriced and underimported. The Defender 90's basic coil-spring chassis had been in production since 1983 and had direct, but leaf-sprung, ancestors back to 1948. As a result, it proved difficult to update to federally mandated safety and emissions standards, and it's not likely we'll see any more beyond the couple of thousand imported to 1997. They're rare, and talk about resale value! You can buy a new TJ for what a used D90 costs.

1995 Land Rover Discovery
Category: Trail Prowess for Soccer Moms

The "Disco" had been introduced in England as a '90 model in 1989 and for many years, sales were just short of mobs storming the dealerships. They were introduced here for '94, but Land Rover missed the FWOTY competition that year. It won the '95 trophy handily, however. The Discovery combined comfort, street manners, and a totally unique package with a trail-capable platform. It went pretty far upscale while keeping the price semi-reasonable. It has appeared regularly in the pages of Four Wheeler, even in its new Series II upgrade, and remains a well-respected piece of machinery.

1996 Toyota Tacoma Xtra Cab
Category: A Pickup for 'Wheelers

Toyota started a winning trend in the early '80s with a line of compact 4x4 trucks that hit the marks for cost effectiveness and trail prowess. Toyota won the first PTOTY award, and the Tacoma won for '96, '98, and again in '01. The reason: lots of performance for the money-pure and simple. In the '96 test, the Tacoma won by winning Second place in many categories, and also a couple of Firsts. The Tacoma line continues to offer features that attract a more enthusiastic crowd, such as the rear locker in the TRD models, relatively large tires, and the clutch lock-out bypass switch.

1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ
Category: A True Jeep

The introduction of the '97 TJ in mid-1996 was an emotional moment for Jeepers. Round headlights again! Hurrah! It didn't hurt that this was the best-performing outta-the-box Jeep ever produced, and likely the best OE trail performer ever offered in America. There's only one thing that will drive a die-hard Jeeper into buying a new Jeep, and that's a better Jeep. TJ is the last, and now the only, truly trail-capable short-wheelbase rig sold in the United States, and it may well represent the end of an era.

1998 Ford F-Series Super Duty
Category: A Real Truck

You may have heard that Ford dealers can hardly keep Super Dutys in stock. Why is this truck so popular? Could be the burly look. Maybe the line of powerplants that range from Clydesdale to locomotive. Maybe it's because the Super Duty is one of the last solid-axle pickups. Real trucks. None of that wussy IFS stuff. The new Super Dutys debuted in '98 as '99 models. Four Wheeler gets lots of requests for Super Duty stories and the staff is only too happy to comply.

1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ
Category: The Sequel is Even Better

Most times, the original is better than the knock-offs that follow. The first Rambo movie, for example. But not always, as proven by Jeep. The new version of the Grand Cherokee, the WJ, was a perfect example. Everything that was done only added to the vehicle's performance. Four Wheeler liked it a lot. Enough to give it a FWOTY award. Visually and ergonomically, the designers took all the good stuff and made it better. Under the sheetmetal is where the award was won, more specifically, via the drivetrain. The testers were amazed. The Vari-Lock axles and Quadra Trac II T-case come as close to 100-percent, no-brainer four-wheel drive as you can get. The system is so transparent that you can barely feel it on the street, but when needed, all four wheels will pull. This is very good indeed.

2000 Chevy Tahoe Z71
Category: Not Too Big, Not Too Small

The SUV rules. If you randomly threw yourself off a freeway overpass, the odds are good that you would crash through the window of an SUV. The Tahoe line stands out because it's bigger than the compacts but not as big as the old Sub. "Just right," as Goldilocks would say. GM spent a lot of time giving Tahoe the toughness of a truck but the manners of a car. Four Wheeler testers were impressed with the amount of work done to improve the relatively new Tahoe, a descendant of the old K-series Blazer, but it was the combination of this new setup with the optional Z71 suspension package that turned the tide. For 2000, Four Wheeler thought the Tahoe Z71 was the best of the bunch in the FWOTY tests.

2001 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab TRD
Category: Here We Go Again!

In the determined effort to make trucks ever more practical, the trend has been to make the cabs bigger. Crew Cabs have been around for a while, both as limited production coach-built modifications, and in '63, as the first factory option from Dodge. Then there was Dodge's Club Cab in '74. From there, just about everyone has offered an extra-sized cab under some catchy name or another. Today, the hot things are four-door crew cabs, or whatever you choose to call them. They combine the passenger capacity of a four-door sedan with the utility of a pickup. And they're not all turning-radius-of-an-aircraft-carrier rigs with fullsize beds. Toyota's Double Cab competed for PTOTY honors in '01 and got the brass ring. Four Wheeler staffers thought that the rear locker in the TRD package is what threw this rig over the top for the third time in five years.

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
Category: Anniversary Favorite

Four Wheeler started in this business when four-wheeling in America essentially meant Jeep. It seems fitting that the magazine reaches the 40-year milestone after handing a Four Wheeler of the Year Award to Jeep for the latest version of its successful Grand Cherokee Overland. It had all the stuff Four Wheeler liked about the '99, specifically the near seamless but grippy gerotor-driven axles and transfer case, but the newly uprated 4.7L engine and leather interior helped throw it over the top. We'll start right here in another 40 years.

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