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Reader: About your Four Wheeler of the Year test (Feb. '06): Since about 1970, 4x4 magazine editors have complained about the decline in off-pavement capabilities of the 4x4s offered by the manufacturers. Now, with the H3, we have an affordable machine with good specs available, and you fault the steering wheel for being too fat? Unreal. Compare the cost of an aftermarket wheel to the cost of installing a lift, 33s, 4.56:1s, an electric locker, and a 4:1 transfer case to your favorite SUV, and I bet that the Hummer H3 wins in both price and capability.
As for highway performance, I personally have no complaints. Mine gets about 17.5 mpg and has no trouble keeping up with traffic. You guys might have benefited from the automatic tranny, which does an excellent job of matching speed, load, and engine rpm to the task at hand. Unless you've used a Suzuki Samurai as a daily driver (I did for a couple years), you probably weren't downshifting soon enough or often enough to keep the engine happy. The automatic does, without giving that "hunting" feeling that some trannies do. All that, and real tow hooks when you need extraction.
Colorado Springs, CO
Editor: Traffic must not move too fast in your neck of the woods. We had to downshift the H3 on the highway any time we needed to maintain a decent cruising speed. Fifth gear (and sometimes Fourth, on uphill grades) was never a viable option, primarily because the stock GM five-cylinder just doesn't produce enough grunt at low revs to keep a 4,700-pound truck moving-at least, in a way we think a $30,000 SUV should be able to move on the Interstate. But you're absolutely right-for the money, the H3 may well be the stoutest OE trail rig ever built. And rumor has it a V-8 version is on the way in a year or two.About the steering wheel ... yeah, we're picky. It's what we get paid to do.
Reader: I was about to buy your mag so I could get a subscription card at the store, until I scanned through it and saw you had picked the Toyota Land Cruiser as your Four Wheeler of the Year. I first looked to see if I had grabbed an issue from 1998. The LC is a very outdated, underperforming, limited-capability vehicle. What gives? If a Tahoe or Yukon was in the test, you would bash it for being outdated, but not Toyota. It takes nearly 11 seconds to 60, can't wheel since Toyota sold out in '98 and took out the rear limited-slip ("because nobody 'wheels our vehicles"), it can't tow, it's ugly ... it has nothing. Was this selection actually a misprint? Come on!
Editor: Have you even driven a Land Cruiser since 1998? If not, we'd suggest you give it another look.
Reader: I have been a subscriber to Four Wheeler for a number of years. What continues to confuse and disturb me is your inconsistent vehicle comparisons. I look forward to them, though they tend to be a bit soft versus hard-nosed reviews, but often the comparisons are just wrong-headed, i.e., the wrong grouping of vehicles. Case in point is your Pickup Truck of the Year (Jan. '06). These pickups do not compare at all. For all practical purposes, this was an exercise in futility. Midsize pickups should be compared with midsize pickups (what about comparing the Nissan Frontier with the Toyota Tacoma?). Fullsize pickups should be compared against one another. (How does the Dodge compare to the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, Toyota Tundra, and so on?) Your persistence in these dumb comparisons is frustrating to me and makes Four Wheeler look amateurish. Other magazines and the Internet do a better job. In the future, please use similar vehicles in your comparisons.
Editor: Our Pickup Truck and Four Wheeler of the Year tests are not-repeat, not-comparison tests in the conventional sense. They can't be, as by tradition we limit our test trucks to models that are either all new or substantially revised (e.g., new engine, suspension, four-wheel-drive system) from the prior model year. That's why we didn't test a Tundra or a Silverado or a Titan or a Tacoma this time around. However, in our subjective scoring, we score against vehicles in the same class. We do have a couple of comparo tests in the works for later in the year, though, so stay tuned.
Reader: I suspect the whining has already started about your choice of the Land Cruiser as Four Wheeler of the Year. But since anyone who has ever ventured up a trail knows, the chances of something breaking increase exponentially once you leave the pavement behind. And since no magazine writer ever put "legendary quality" in the same sentence with Jeep or Land Rover-or, for that matter, Ford, Chevy, and Dodge-it might be good to remember your own words, "Nobody builds them like Toyota." Your evaluationdidn't include the potential longevity of the vehicles tested; I guess that's left to a certain consumer magazine with a survey of owners to tell us how these vehicles do over time. Most of them apparently don't even fare that well on the pavement.
On the trails here in Southern California, one could a buy new HDTV for what a rescue by a tow truck can cost, especially since fees are sometimes figured by the hour and not by miles. I personally enjoy getting back down the trails as much as getting up them. The Land Cruiser is the one SUV in this group that is the most likely to help one accomplish this. At least more than once.
I, for one, fully intend to buy a Land Cruiser, just as soon as I win the Lottery and can afford one.
Santa Monica, CA
Reader: Let me start by saying thanks for the coverage of the best 4x4 around, the Toyota Land Cruiser.
A couple of comments about your "Against the Grain" article (you knew that was coming) in the same issue: First, your cover blurb and subhead in the article call the truck an FJ-60 when in fact it's an FJ-62 (as you say in the article). It's a very different truck than the 60 with auto tranny, FI 3F engine, dual square headlights, and a few other design details.
Second: the anti-inversion shackles (shown on page 93) are installed backwards! The stop pin is supposed to be on the inboard side so that the spring doesn't invert in full droop situation ... but you knew that too.
Gotham City Land Cruisers
New York, NY
P.S. The Land Cruiser is the Four Wheeler of the Year! Whoooo hoooo!
Editor: The suspension kit we discussed in the article will fit any 60-series Land Cruiser, so we don't have any qualms about calling out the more widely known model for purposes of identification.
About the shackle photo ... well, it is a shackle reversal, right? OK, seriously, we only installed the shackle backwards for photographic purposes-the exhaust system partially obscures a clear view of the part when it's installed the other (right) way. We neglected to mention this in the story; our apologies for any confusion, and good catch.
Reader: I am thinking of making a road trip from New Jersey to Arizona. I want to head south through the Carolinas and then head west through Texas. What I need from you is a list of OHV parks or trail systems that I can hit along the way. I am not looking to kill my truck ('84 Blazer or '86 CJ-haven't decided yet), but I would like to get a taste for the different terrains. If you can get me the names or Web sites of some places, I would be grateful-I may even let you pay me to tell you about it.
Tom (Blazers are better)
Editor: Ask no longer. We'll have an expanded "Where to Wheel" listing of more than 200 public and private ORV areas across the U.S. in next month's issue.
Reader: Jimmy Nylund's "Built-In Bead Breakers" (Feb. '06) was an interesting article for sure. Two technical points that may have an effect on the phenomenon he discusses are the flange heights of the wheels and the use of safety humps on the wheel bead-seat flanges. Since we in the tire and rim industry are always changing things, the rim guys have several "approved" rim contours and flange heights that they can choose from when making a wheel. I believe most rim manufacturers today producing rims for light truck fitment (15- to 18-inch diameters), are making those wheels with what is called a J-ISO contour, which specifies a rim flange height of 17.5 mm. Now if a tire guy designs his tire "rim protector pocket" to accommodate a 17.5mm flange height, and the tire is then mounted on a wheel with an approved K or L contour, with flange heights of 19.6 mm and 21.6 mm, respectively, you can see there will be an "interference" fit ... which may aggravate this situation.
Also, with the J-ISO wheel, manufacturers have four "approved" options of the types of safety humps they use, and two of these options also allow the inboard wheel flange to not have a safety hump at all. The purpose of this hump is to trap the bead toe of the tire at very low/zero inflation pressure and to keep the tire from unseating and coming off the wheel. To complicate this issue, when tire manufacturers build these "beefy" off-road constructions and have all sorts of materials and reinforcements wrapped around the bead bundle, the tire bead ledge is often much wider than the space allotted between the rim flange and the safety hump. This allows the toe of the tire to ride up on the safety hump, which completely negates any trapping function at very low pressure.
Just some thoughts for you to process. Glad to see that you're still bustin' trails and writing awesome articles.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Reader: I have to say, I'm a little disappointed in the February '06 issue. The cover is always the first thing I see, and the cover trucks are always awesome, but why is it that they only get two pages? It was like this last month, with that beautiful blue Jeep and yet only two pages. I realize there are only so many things you can list about a truck, but would it kill anyone to throw in a few more pictures to drool over? Larger, more detailed photos, if not more in general, would really help those of us who like to see every intricate part that goes into a great four wheeler. I'm not asking for a novel or photo album, just a little more content having to do with the truck that you thought was good enough o be on the cover.
Editor: We share your concerns, and your frustration. We'd also like to be able to allot more pages to our cover trucks each month, and to other feature trucks we see throughout the year. Unfortunately, the number of pages we can devote to features-and anything else-depends entirely upon the number of pages of advertising we bring in each month. As you surely know, 2005 was not a banner year for much of the automotive industry, and the economic impact of that eventually trickles down to enthusiast mags such as this one. Hopefully, as the automotive marketplace rebounds in the coming months, we'll be able to provide you with more pages of feature trucks-and tech, and tests, and trail rides, and everything else.
Here's the story behind the pic: I got off work early on Friday. On my way home I was thinking that I hadn't been four-wheelin' in awhile. I turned off the pavement onto a powerline trail close to my house to have some fun. I made it about a half mile down the trail when I came upon this bog. At first, I told myself to just turn around and go back. Then I decided to get out and look. Well, I let my pride get the better of me and talked myself into this mess. It took a Jeep Wrangler and an XJ to pull me out. Then we had to get an F-250 to get me to my house. You know what they say about pride ... goes before a downfall.
Reader: Why isn't fuel economy a central portion of competition in your Real Truck Club Challenge? Think about how you could do it-the trucks get fueled in the morning, the tanks are "sealed" and not refueled until the end of the day, with the quantities carefully measured. Minuscule fuel consumption is rewarded. Running out gets you laughed at. Kind of levels the playing field between a Sammy and a Super Duty, doesn't it? There are places-Canyonlands immediately comes to mind-where stellar fuel economy combined with proportional stoutness and agility can make for an awesome week spent covering a lot of ground without the need to be tethered to a supertanker. And having fuel consumption being a weighted part of the Challenge might encourage 'wheelers to build smarter, not necessarily bigger or heavier.
My current stable includes a nearly stock and very fuel-efficient '01 Ranger that has been to Moab twice and handles the Hell's Revenge-grade trails adequately. For Moab '06, I hope to have my '72 LJ20 powered by a JDM-spec Metro three-banger and a Turbo 200 ready. It should trailer nicely behind the Ranger and be a blast on the slickrock. And for Moab '07, I hope to have a beater shortbox/regular-cab Ranger with 2.3 EFI and a bulletproof drivetrain that will make the 4,400-mile roundtrip without trailering. Size counts-and once you've gone small, you'll never go back!
Gerry Nasi Sr.
Editor: Interesting idea, but unless we decide to turn Real Truck Challenge into something like the Dakar Rally, what would it prove? That a four-banger gets better mileage than a big-block?
Mind you, we're all for better mileage, and less pollution, and Treading Lightly, and singing Kumbaya 'round the campfire, for that matter. And in the real world, issues such as mileage and fuel efficiency are important ones. But an event such as RTCC doesn't really qualify as real-world four-wheeling-it basically boils down to different types of racing, and for that reason, you sometimes need big horsepower to simply go faster and farther than the other guy. And when it comes to horsepower, there's really no substitute for cubic inches-and yep, the mileage penalty that accompanies them.
But please give us a shout when you've finished your Suzuki tuner project. That's one rare rig we'd love to see.
Reader: My dad and I have a '96 Toyota T100. This truck is driven on-road about 90 percent of the time. However, we do have property we hunt and work on, so we need something extra in case the Wrangler MT/Rs ain't enough to get us out. We're interested in getting some front and rear lockers. A guy at a local 4x4 shop said lockers have an adverse effect on pavement, and he gave us the names of companies that sell limited-slip-type diffs. I am curious why lockers aren't good on-road. I thought you could just unlock them and be fine. Also, what would you recommend for us?
Editor: If your T100 is stock, might we recommend a new engine first? Seriously, though, a conventional mechanical-locking diff such as a Detroit Locker engages automatically any time it senses differences in wheelspeed between axle ends, e.g., when you are turning at an intersection or changing lanes. In a front-end application on pavement, this can result in abrupt and jerky handling and excessive drivetrain binding, among other things. You can likely get used to it over time-plenty of 'wheelers have-but we wouldn't recommend it for a daily driver.
For applications like yours, a limited-slip-type diff such as a Detroit Truetrac is fine up front, but if you want the best of both worlds, why not look into a user-selectable locker like an ARB? With the flip of a toggle switch, you have the tractive power of a locker when you're on the trail, and the benefits of an open diff on pavement.
Reader: I have an '84 Ford Ranger. It has a small 2.8L V-6, and I am always left craving more power. I am only looking for small gains, so besides the exhaust, what do you recommend doing?
Editor: Rangermeister Sean Holman replies: There just isn't a very big performance aftermarket out there for the 2.8L V-6. Most Ranger experts will tell you the best mod is to swap in a 4.0L OHV V-6 from later Rangers. However, if you are stuck on modifying the 2.8, there are a few options, such as adding fuel injection from the 3.8L V-6 from any of a number of Ford rear-wheel-drive cars, a camshaft swap, or adding a high-flow air cleaner and an ignition upgrade. Most of those parts can be obtained from Summit Racing (www.summitracing.com). Also check out the Ranger enthusiast Web sites (www.rangerpowersports.com and www.therangerstations.com) for more in-depth technical information.
Reader: As an (almost) 40-year-old reader who's been a subscriber for a long time, I'd first like to say, super job on the magazine. As someone who drives a big diesel Euclid every day for a living, I'm pretty enthusiastic about the improvements that have been made with diesel engines, but with two of the Big 3 manufacturers having what seems to be financial trouble, I'd like to recommend something to them. As today's sophisticated and creature-comfy vehicles are no doubt great, I myself-as well as a ton of people I talk to-would love to see an emergence back into the past a little bit .... For example, with Chevy's mid-'80s CUCV. It would be awesome to be able to buy a bare-basics Blazer body style vehicle: An emissions-legal diesel with a three- or four-speed auto tranny, or an option of a five-speed manual. No interior plastics, or carpet that every vehicle comes standard with nowadays-just hand-crank windows, maybe, and A/C and cruise control. A coil-spring suspension, and big Dana 60 axles. I myself would love a "new-age" CUCV, and would run to the dealer to order one instead of a four-door Silverado. Just my thoughts.