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10 Best Buys In Four-Wheel Drive

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Four Wheeler Staff | Writer
Posted September 1, 2011

Give Your Buck a Bang

Each year the staff of Four Wheeler picks our 10 Best Buys in Four-Wheel Drive, typically the ten best new 4x4s you can buy for your money. This year we decided to change things a bit and split our ten best into two categories: New 4x4s and Aftermarket Parts. The staff was asked to provide a list of their top three favorite parts in each of five categories (Winch, Tires, Shocks, Lockers, and Lights) with an emphasis on value. With each staffer’s list turned in, we added up the points to arrive at the products we have below. We also included one favorite item that each of us wouldn’t want to go without on the trail.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Base Price: $29,820
Consecutive Years on List: 7
First on our list is the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, making its seventh consecutive appearance. With solid axles and a base price of under $30,000, it just screams “deal.” Especially when you consider any wheeler’s Christmas list of upgrades, such as BFG Mud-Terrain tires, front and rear lockers, flexy coil-sprung suspension, monotube shocks, electronically disconnecting sway bar, and a 4.0:1 transfer case. Add to that the availability of two body styles, two transmission choices and the option of hard or soft top, and you can personalize your Wrangler before you ever leave the showroom. At a price that can’t be beat and capability that is unrivaled, the Wrangler is clearly the best factory 4x4 on the market.

Ram Power Wagon
Base Price: $45,110
Consecutive Years on List: 7
We want to meet the guy who wants to argue with us about this selection, because it can’t be done. The Power Wagon is a legitimate ¾-ton workhorse that can tow 10,100 pounds or haul 1,780 pounds, but likes to play with Jeeps on weekends. From the factory, it offers many of the same features as the Wrangler, such as front and rear lockers, a full compliment of steel skidplates, and an electronically disconnecting sway bar. But the goodness doesn’t stop there, as the Power Wagon is the only vehicle that comes from the factory with a winch. That’s right—nestled behind the front bumper is a Warn 12,000-pound winch that is as integrated into the vehicle as the steering wheel. The Power Wagon’s ride is exceptional with Bilstein shocks, and you can’t get much tougher than factory-supplied 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrains for all-around performance, which of course are mounted on forged wheels. We are telling you this truck is tough, and there simply isn’t a better ¾-ton pickup out there for what we like to do.

Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Base Price: $41,935
Consecutive Years on List: 2
As a relative newcomer, the Raptor has taken the 4x4 market by storm. With sales that have bested even the spiritual predecessor Lightning’s best year, some months it has even outsold more “mainstream” trucks, such as the Honda Ridgeline. For 2011, the Raptor now comes standard with the 411hp 6.2L SOHC V-8 and can be had in one of two body styles. Now you can fit your entire family comfortably when you feel like bombing across the desert. The Raptor rolls right off the assembly line with long-travel suspension that uses Fox Racing Shox, a beefed-up rearend with an any-speed rear locker, 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, wide bodywork and an Off-Road Mode that can sequester all of the electronic babysitters at the touch of a button. This is a driver’s truck that likes to be driven hard in dirt, and will reward the driver willing to push it to the edge of its capability with an unequaled adrenaline rush. Don’t have a desert near you? No worries, because the 12 inches of suspension travel make this truck a much better everyday truck too, and we are pretty sure you don’t need the Mojave in your backyard to appreciate that.

Nissan Frontier Off-Road
Base Price: $26,620
Consecutive Years on List: 7
Sure, it may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but the truth is that the Frontier has aged well. It would have had to in order to make it on our list for the seventh consecutive year. Back when the Frontier was introduced, we were impressed that the underbody components were tucked up above the bottom of the frame rails and protected by real skidplates. We loved the sporty and well-controlled ride from the Bilstein shocks, and a rear locker and 32-inch BFGoodrich tires made sure that this pickup was competent on the trail. All of this holds true today. With a rev-happy 4.0L V-6 and the availability of a manual transmission, the Frontier is just as capable and fun to drive as it has ever been. Even after seven years, we still think this robust little pickup is the best midsize truck on the market today.

Toyota 4Runner Trail
Base Price: $36,555
Consecutive Years on List: 2
The fifth-generation 4Runner may be the last of the breed. If rumors that Toyota will be leaving body-on-frame SUVs behind after this model’s life cycle are to be believed, this may in fact be the culmination of Toyota’s years of off-highway experience. If it is indeed the beginning of the end, rest assured that nothing has gone to waste, and it is a fine final thesis. Not only has Toyota incorporated its reputation for toughness on the trail with hearty skidplates, Bilstein shocks, Torsen limited-slip center differential and a rear locker, it has also kept up with the times by adding technology, such as Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, Multi-Terrain Select, and Crawl Control. Some, like us for instance, might say that Toyota has become too reliant on electronics—and they have—but the Trail is one model that seems to have found an agreeable balancing point between driver and computer. It is capable enough for some serious backcountry trail work in stock form, and still has enough aftermarket support to keep it relevant to enthusiasts. If you are a diehard fan of Toyota, this is the SUV they built for you.

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