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2000 Truck & SUV Guide

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2000 Comment (0)
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2000 Truck & SUV Guide
Photographers: Scott Dahlquist
0001 4wop z+2000 truck and suv guide+hummer photo

Dodge*Ford*HondaAM General*Bmw*Cadillac*Nissan*Oldsmobile*Subaru*Suzuki*Toyota*Land Rover*Lexus*Lincoln*Mazda*Mercury*Mitsubishi*Cadillac*Chevrolet*Dodge*Ford*GMC*Honda*Infiniti*Isuzu*Jeep*Kia*GMC*

Many car enthusiasts insist some period in the past was the golden age of cars and trucks. Different enthusiasts might think the ultimate cars were the classics of the '30s, the finned luxo-barges of the '50s, or the musclecars of the '60s, but they all agree that the cars of today just can't compare. That's not true in the 4x4 business. Just about everyone agrees that today is the golden age of four-driven wheels.

Having said that, it's not like we don't appreciate our heritage of military Jeeps, Dodge Power Wagons, early Broncos, the original Chevy Blazer, and dozens of other great 4x4s of the past. It's just that the variety and scope of 4x4 offerings have never been greater than today. Consider, for example, Chevrolet. Thirty years ago, GM's biggest division offered four-wheel drive only in pickups, Blazers, and Suburbans. In 2000, Chevy offers off-roadable vehicles ranging from the micro-sized Tracker through the compact S-10 pickups and Blazers and on to the fullsize Tahoes, Suburbans and pickups. Dodge and Ford have similarly expanded their offerings over time, and luxury manufacturers who never would have considered building a 4x4 30 years ago (BMW, Lincoln, Cadillac, and so on) now count on them to add to their bottom lines. If there isn't a new 4x4 out there for you, you don't really want a 4x4.

The big challenge today is defining a 4x4. There's no doubt the Jeep Wrangler is a true off-road machine or that the Range Rover can traverse awesome terrain while maintaining a sumptuous environment, but what about the Subaru Outback? It's a jacked-up station wagon with all-wheel drive and some rugged decoration. Does that make it a true off-roader? For people who consider a muddy road to be "off road," yes. For those who think anything not boulder-strewn may as well be a freeway, no. We wouldn't go pounding through a Florida bog in a Lincoln Navigator, and would feel pretentious driving up to Spago in a Hummer, but both are legitimate 4x4s.

It's up to you to decide what constitutes a true 4x4. Our job for the next several pages is to put them all in front of you. We've taken the loosest definition of off-roader we ever have in order to present you with the most options.

AM General Hummerwww.hummer.comIf you have paramilitary fantasies, the Hummer is the best way to fulfill them. Since the military seems content, the civilian 2000 Hummer will likely be little different from the '99. That means it's huge, unwieldy around town, fantastically space inefficient, and not fast, but it's wonderful off road where its amazing all-independent suspension will ford rivers and clear obstacles. Available as a two-door hardtop, a four-door soft top or hardtop, or a four-door wagon, power comes from a 6.5L turbodiesel V-8 making 195 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque.

BMWwww.bmwusa.comBMW calls its new X5 4.4i a Sports Activity Vehicle, and it packs such techno-twiddles as an on-board GPS navigation system, dynamic stability control, and up to 10 airbags and is the first vehicle with optional factory 19-inch wheels. Power comes from BMW's sweet 282hp, 4.4L DOHC, 32-valve V-8, which propels an all-independent suspension. The all-wheel drive system seems more attuned to all-weather on-road survival than off-road exploration. But who knows? Maybe a Starbucks will open at the end of your favorite trail if the South Carolina-built X5 gets popular. A six-cylinder X5 will appear this spring.

Cadillacwww.cadillac.comDo you insist your SUV have side-swinging cargo doors rather than a horizontally split tailgate? Then you can now buy a Cadillac Escalade, since the 2000 model will offer such doors as a no-cost option. Otherwise, the 2000 Escalade is pretty much identical to the '99, which means it's based on the pre-2000 Tahoe and with power from the classic 255hp, 5.7L Vortec V-8. An all-new Escalade with more distinctive styling is due for 2001 and it will be followed soon afterward by a car-based Luxury Activity Vehicle. Beyond that, Caddy is also planning a pickup.

Chevroletwww.chevrolet.comTake a look at Chevy's all-new Y2K Tahoe and Suburban. Like em? GM hopes you do, because nothing less than the profitability of the entire corporation depends on them selling in vast numbers. A big gamble there.

Taking advantage of the modular frame design of the new-in-'99 fullsize Silverado pickup family, the 11/42-ton Tahoe and Sub feature coil-sprung rear suspension for the first time, and that gives them the best on-road ride yet felt in a GM SUV. The 31/44-ton Suburban retains rear leaf springs so it can tow over 10,000 pounds. Four-wheel-drive versions of the new SUVs retain the same A-arm and torsion bar front suspension introduced on the '99 Silverado, and the engines (275hp 4.8L, 285hp 5.3L, and 300hp 6.0L next-generation Vortec V-8s) also port over from the pickup along with the 4L60-E and 4L80-E four-speed automatic transmissions and GM's latest Auto-Trac dual-range 4x4 transfer case. While the two-door Tahoe is history, the four-door is roomier and features sweet elements like an aluminum rear liftgate. The Sub finally stores its spare tire down between the framerails instead of inside the cargo area.

With so much riding on the fullsize sport/utes, the rest of Chevy's 4x4 line carries over from 1999. The tiny Tracker, all-new last year, comes into 2000 wearing new colors as a two-door removable top or a four-door. The dual-range 4x4 four-door Trackers have a 2.0L DOHC 127hp four-cylinder standard. The two-door can be had with a too-tiny 1.6L four-cylinder.

Changes to the compact S-10 pickup (regular- or three-door Extended Cab) are limited. A revised, smoother-running version of the 190hp, 4.3L V-6 with which all 4x4s are equipped is now installed, the ZR2 off-road package's axle ratio has been revised, and the antilock brake controller has been tweaked. Those same mechanical changes carry to the two- and four-door Blazer, where the stripper base models have been canceled and the Trailblazer off-road package is now available only on the four-door. New compact GM SUVs are rumored for 2001 and a revised S-10 is not far behind that.

If you like the old C/K pickup, you can still get one in 2000 albeit only in heavy-duty 31/44- and 1-ton versions. The big news with the Silverado pickup is a fourth door on Extended Cab models. Better late than never. The 4.8L V-8 is upgraded to 270 hp, and the 4x4 11/42-ton Silverados are now available with fender flares.

Dodgewww.4adodge.comAll of Dodge's trucks for 2000 are familiar, but they've all received significant upgrades. And even some startling variations.

Everyone knew a Quad Cab version of the Dakota was on its way, but it was still startling (and satisfying) when Dodge finally showed the truck. It turned out to be a true four-door crew cab. Under the hood, the Jeep Grand Cherokee's 235hp 4.7L SOHC V-8 replaces the 5.2L Magnum V-8 that had been optional. The 5.9L V-8 can be had as an option only in the Quad Cab and the R/T. The new engine is a smoother, vastly more modern design, but we're already nostalgic for Chrysler pushrod V-8s. The standard Dakota powerplant remains a 120hp 2.5L OHV four, though most will be equipped with either the 175hp 3.9L OHV V-6 or the 4.7L.

Four-wheel-drive Dakotas now get rack-and-pinion steering for the first time, and the available full-time 4WD transfer case has been modified to eliminate 2WD completely. The regular manually shiftable transfer case is now controlled by a new shifter in a new housing, which should make choosing high and low range easier.

The Dakota-based Durango SUV gets most of the same changes as the pickup. That includes replacing the Magnum 5.2 V-8 with the new 4.7 (but 4x2s still get the 5.2). Furthermore, there's a new 4x4 front axle, which is supposedly both lighter and more robust, and the transfer case shifter has been modified for easier operation. There's also a new Sport trim package, and the interior features more color-coordination. Both 4x4s and 4x2s can upgrade to the 245hp Magnum, 5.9L OHV V-8.

The big Ram pickup has had its front suspension tweaked on all models for improved steering and better control. The Quad Cab models can now be had with an SLT luxury package, which includes a unique overhead console and other touches. But this is still much the same Ram, and the Magnum engine choices range from the 3.9L V-6, through 5.2L and 5.9L V-8s, and on up to the massive 310hp 8.0L OHV V-10 and the 460 lb-ft of torque available from the 5.9L Cummins turbodiesel six. A tasty new Off-Road package for 1500 short-wheelbase Ram 4x4s includes a limited-slip differential with 4.10 gears, skidplates, tow hooks, foglamps, and a slightly taller suspension designed to work with LT275/70R17 tires on 17x8 cast aluminum wheels.

Fordwww.ford.comFord's range of four-wheel offerings is breathtaking, and it's going to get even bigger next year when Ford introduces a mini-ute. But there is no Bronco.

The Explorer is unchanged except for the addition of a reverse-sensing radar warning system. At mid-year the two-door Explorer will be redesigned into the '01 Explorer Sport, and the half-SUV, half-truck '01 Explorer Sport Trac will appear. Both will be powered by either the 160hp 4.0L OHV V-6 or the 210hp 4.0L SOHC V-6. No word on whether the 5.0L V-8 used in the four-door Explorer will be offered. A new four-door Explorer, with all-independent suspension and new engines, should appear soon afterward.

The Ranger compact pickup is unchanged for 2000 except for the addition of a Trailhead model that mixes the 4x4's suspension with two-wheel drive to wind up with something even a teenager can insure. A 115hp 2.5L SOHC four, a 150hp 3.0L OHV V-6, and the 160hp 4.0L OHV V-6, are offered across the Ranger range.

The F-series trucks can be had in virtually any version except a convertible for 2000. In early 2000 the '01 SuperCrew version of the F-150 will be available, bringing four conventional doors to the line for the first time. Otherwise the lighter-duty F-series gets some trim changes and new interior tidbits in both regular and four-door extended cab models. Power offerings start with a 205hp 4.2L V-6 and moves through the familiar 220hp, 4.6L and 260hp 5.4L SOHC V-8s.

New last year, the Super Duty pickups enter 2000 with antilock brakes now standard on models with just two rear wheels, some interior trim changes, and rear bumpers now standard. Power ranges from the 5.4L V-8 to the 6.8L, 275-horse SOHC V-10 and the torque-rich 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel. Both the regular cab and four-door extended cab continue.

The Expedition SUV carries over with the addition of a reverse-sensing system, electronically adjustable pedals, and some minor trim changes. But the massive new Excursion, the largest SUV ever offered, makes up for that lack of Expedition news. Based on the Super Duty truck line, the Excursion can seat up to nine and could probably accommodate skeet shooting off the fantail too. The Excursion's powertrain options mimic the Super Duty's, and the beast can tow up to 10,000 pounds.

GMCwww.gmc.comDetermined to become the premium truck division of GM, GMC's big news is, of course, the new Yukon and Yukon XL SUVs.

The Yukon takes all the engineering built into the new-for-'99 Sierra pickup and applies it to an SUV. The modular frame design allows the 11/42-ton Yukon and Yukon XLs to incorporate a coil-spring rear suspension for excellent on-road ride quality without compromising off-road ability (which is surprisingly good, considering the size of the truck). A slight rise in the Yukon's roof adds extra room to the truck, which is stuffed with new perks like rear audio outlets, side-impact air bags, and rear seats that recline. Two-wheel drive is available, and 4x4s get the AutoTrac computerized four-wheel-drive system used on the Sierra, which distributes torque where it's needed. The standard powerplant for the Yukon is the 275hp 4.8L Vortec 4800 V-8, with the 285hp 5.3L Vortec 5300 V-8 optional.

Yukon XL is a Suburban without the Suburban name (that's now a Chevy exclusive). Except for its extended length and different side doors, the 11/42-ton Yukon XL is very much like the Yukon. However, unlike the shorter Yukon, the Yukon XL is available as a 31/44-ton model and when ordered as such sprouts leaf springs in back to handle a heftier load. Also unlike the Yukon, the XL can be had with the 300hp, 6.0L Vortec 6000 V-8.

While the new Yukon gets all the glamour, the old body style and engineering marches on into 2000 as the upscale Yukon Denali. Unchanged in anticipation of its quick replacement for another generation, the Denali is still powered by the old 255hp, 5.7L Vortec 5700 V-8.

Having established itself in 1999, the Sierra pickup is virtually unchanged for 2000 except for the addition of a fourth door on extended cab models. Older versions of the Sierra continue in heavier-duty models.

In the realm of compact trucks, the Sonoma pickup is unchanged except for a revised version of the optional 190hp 4.3L V-6. That revised V-6 is also used in the Jimmy and superluxe Envoy SUVs, which are based upon the Sonoma truck platform. However, rumors are that GM is furiously working on new versions of the Jimmy and Envoy for 2001 that will feature V-8 engines as options for the first time.

Hondawww.honda.comHonda's two 4x4s-the Isuzu-built Passport and the built-in-Japan CR-V-enter 2000 pretty much as they were in 1999. The CR-V is unchanged, and the Passport gets a few tweaks.

The subcompact Civic-based CR-V got a power boost last year when the 2.0L, DOHC, 16-valve four swelled to 146 hp. Honda's Real Time 4WD system has the CR-V operating in front-drive at most times and sending power to the rear wheels when the going gets hairy. It's a single-speed system and more attuned to surviving a slippery road than any rugged trail. A front-drive version is also available.

A modified grille, new headlamps, and a new EX-L luxury package distinguish the 2000 Passport. The EX-L gets a two-tone paint job, body moldings, and a leather interior and (along with the EX) now stores its spare under the truck instead of inside. All two- and four-wheel-drive Passports are powered by a 205hp DOHC 24-valve V-6, wear 16-inch wheels and tires, and have independent A-arm front and solid-axle coil-sprung rear suspension, and the four-wheel-drive system features a dual-range transfer case. Honda will build a new, bigger SUV in the U.S. starting around 2001.

Infinitiwww.infiniti.comSince it was extensively revised as a '9911/42 model, the Infiniti QX4 enters 2000 as pretty much the same truck. Based on the Nissan Pathfinder, the QX4 uses an advanced four-wheel-drive system it calls All-Mode, which allows operation in automatic or manual modes with a selectable low-range. The engine is Nissan's familiar 170hp 3.3L SOHC 12-valve V-6, which provides modest power for the vehicle. Because it's an Infiniti, it comes crammed with all the zippy luxury items like leather seats, a killer stereo, and power everything. An all-new, more powerful QX4 is rumored to be on its way for 2002.

Isuzuwww.isuzu.comThe heart of Isuzu is the Indiana-built Rodeo. Offered in versions ranging from a bare-bones 4x2 powered by a 130hp 2.2L four up to a super-luxury LSE 4x4 with the 205hp 3.2L DOHC 24-valve V-6. The four-bys have a two-speed transfer case and good off-roadability. Chop two doors and the roof off a Rodeo and the result is the Amigo. Available in hardtop and soft top, the short wheelbase Amigo can scramble through terrain other trucks can't even park in. The drivetrain choices are identical to the Rodeo's.

At the top of Isuzu's range is the Trooper (not pictured), which has some trim changes, and a 4x2 is available for the first time. All Troopers are powered by a 215hp 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6. You can now get a gold package from the factory, which is sure to impress everyone along the Rubicon. Based on a shortened Trooper chassis is the VehiCross, which is a strange brew of SUV ability and a wacky coupe body. Powered by the Trooper's 3.5L V-6, there are new colors for 2000, and 18-inch wheels replace the '99's 16-inchers.

Finally, the Hombre pickup, built by GM for Isuzu and virtually identical to the Chevy S-10, comes into 2000 with some jiggering of the trim levels, new colors, and the same revisions made to the S-10.

Jeepwww.jeepunpaved.comDon't screw with something that's working just fine. Entering its 17th year of production (its design predates not just the merger between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz, but Chrysler's acquisition of Jeep and Ronald Reagan's second presidential term), the base Cherokee SE gets a few itty-bitty visible changes. There are new, more powerful, extended-life headlamps, and new Sparkle Silver Icon 16-inch cast aluminum wheels are optional. Skip up to the Limited and the grille is now chromelike (again). Minor stuff. Not so minor are a new five-speed manual transmission to improve shift quality and a new cylinder head and exhaust manifold on the available 4.0L inline six (though it's still rated at 190hp). Two- and four-door Cherokees are still available in two- and four-wheel drive with beefy solid axles at both ends.

The beloved Wrangler gets the same changes to the optional 4.0L six and the five-speed manual transmission, but is otherwise almost unchanged for 2000. However, it can now be had with Solar Yellow, Patriot Blue clearcoat, or Silverstone Metallic paint. But who wants a lot of changes in the Wrangler anyhow? The base powerplant is still the 120hp 2.5L OHV four, but you really want the six. Trust us.

Atop the Jeep line is the amazing Grand Cherokee, which earned honors as our '99 4x4 of the Year (Feb. '99). With its extraordinary ability to mix on-road manners with off-road prowess intact, Jeep has changed a few details for 2000. On the outside there's some new badges, but inside the woodgrain has been changed, the seat leather is softer, the ventilation outlets have been redesigned, and the instruments now have lighted pointers. Also the sweet 235hp 4.7L SOHC V-8 is now available in a two-wheel-drive Grand. Base power continues to be the same 190hp 4.0L OHV inline six that's optional in the Cherokee and Wrangler, and the changes seen to the engine in those vehicles are seen in the Grand Cherokee as well. Available in either Laredo or luxurious Limited trim levels, the sweetest GCs are those that carry the optional Quadra-Drive four-wheel-drive system and the Quadra-Trac II two-range transfer case. That, combined with the GC's wonderful wholly nonindependent suspension, makes for both a great daily driver and a fantastic off-roader.

Kiawww.kia.comAnyone who can tell a 2000 Sportage from a '99 one is way too screwy about Kia. The carry-over Korean-built Sportage remains one of the most affordable four-wheel-drive vehicles in America. Available as a two-door convertible or a four-door, the subcompact Sportage isn't sedan-based, and its 130hp 2.0L DOHC 16-valve engine sits longitudinally in the engine bay. Either the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission can be backed by a part-time two-speed transfer case, and both the independent front A-arm and solid-axle rear suspensions are supported by well-tuned coil springs.

Land Roverwww.best4x4.landrover.comThe inventors of the luxury SUV (it was their fault!) comes into the new millennium with its products intact. But rumors are that the V-6-powered Freelander small SUV will join in by mid-year.

Significantly updated last year, the Discovery II gets a compass integrated into it rearview mirror and a fuel filler door open light, but is very much the very impressive vehicle it was before. The Permanent four-wheel-drive system has a manually controlled two-speed transfer case and incorporates four-wheel electronic traction control. Power comes from a 188hp all-aluminum 4.0L OHV V-8, and it's mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.

Except for a more monochromatic exterior, auto-dimming side mirrors, new 16-inch wheels, new headlights and taillights, and the usual trim and color changes, the Range Rover also carries over. Available as either the 4.0 SE (powered by the same 4.0L V-8 used in the Discovery II) or 4.6 HSE (with a 222hp 4.6L version of the engine), the Range Rover is both gorgeous and jaw-droppingly capable.

Lexuswww.lexus.comNo one sells more luxury SUVs than Lexus. And being successful, the company is not messing with things much for 2000.

The car-based RX300 Sport Luxury vehicle is the same for 2000 as it was in 1999 except for the arrival of Mineral Green opalescent paint. A transversely mounted, 220hp DOHC 3.0L V-6 with variable valve timing powers all RX300s (4x2 and 4x4) through a four-speed automatic transmission, which in four-by models subsequently drives a full-time, high-range-only four-wheel-drive transfer case. The suspension is all independent, the equipment comprehensive and often covered in leather, the decorations tasteful, and the whole vehicle amazingly pleasant for everyday driving. But an off-roader? That's pushing it.

Since it's a duded-up Land Cruiser, the LX470 is a truly rugged off-road machine and shockingly luxurious. For 2000, the big Lexus gets a revised braking system, which includes four-wheel traction control, a skid-control system, and the ability of the antilock to work even when the truck is operating in low range. The 230hp 4.7L DOHC 32-valve V-8 and the rest of the supercapable drivetrain remain unchanged.

Lincolnwww.lincolnvehicles.comLincoln's wildly successful Navigator SUV was enhanced with the addition of a 300hp DOHC 32-valve V-8 to distinguish it from its sister, the Ford Expedition. For 2000, this limousine 4x4 gets a sonar parking aid and, get this, climate-controlled seats that pump warm or cool air through perforations. Side airbags are also now offered, and there's even more woodgrain in the interior. Though few Navs go into the woods, they always have the woods with them. This time next year, Lincoln's Blackwood pickup should be in production, though a 4x4 version is unlikely.

Mazdawww.mazdausa.comLike the Ford Ranger? Then you'll like the Mazda B-series, which is a Ranger done in Mazda duds. That means the B-series is available as a regular, extended, or four-door extended (Cab Plus 4) cab with a 115hp 2.5L SOHC four, a 150hp 3.0L OHV, or a 160hp 4.0L OHV V6 doing the motivation with part-time, dual-range four-wheel drive available. Also available is the Troy Lee edition Cab Plus 4 with neat exterior design elements, a two-tone and carbon fiber trim interior, and the 4x4's suspension-but not the insurance-rattling four-wheel drive. It's the same pickup it was in 1999.

Mercedes-Benzwww.mbusa.comThe Mercedes M-class enters its third model year featuring the new range-topping ML55 AMG powered by a ripping 342hp 5.5L SOHC V-8 and featuring an autobahn-ready suspension. It may well be the quickest SUV ever. Both the 215hp 3.2L V-6-powered ML320 and the 268hp 4.3L V-8 ML430 go into 2000 with a redesigned interior, and the ML430 gets an in-dash navigation system standard. Carrying over is the controversial (with off-roaders) electronic four-wheel-drive system. But even the hardest-core rockhound must get a chill contemplating planting the accelerator on the power in the ML55.

Mercurywww.mercuryvehicles.comRumors have it that 2000 could be the last year for the Mercury Mountaineer as the Explorer clone becomes a Lincoln in 2001 when that truck is completely redesigned. For now, however, the Mountaineer saunters into the new millennium with a new Premier luxury package featuring more interior woodgrain than a plastic forest and 16-inch wheels. Powertrain choices are either the familiar 215hp 5.0L V-8 with a four-speed automatic and all-wheel drive or the excellent 210hp SOHC 4.0L V-6 with a five-speed automatic and either two-wheel drive or Ford's Control-Trac dual-range four-wheel drive.

Mitsubishiwww.mitsucars.comThe North American Montero Sport now has as good a rear suspension as the rest of the world. The 2000 Montero Sport isn't all-new, but updated with three-links and coil springs now suspending the rear solid axle instead of leaves. This results in an improved on-road ride and significantly better manners off the pavement. Heralding the new suspension are revised, more aggressive front-end styling and rear taillights, and they've killed off the four-cylinder engine that no one wanted anyway. The ES, LS, and XLS Montero Sports are all powered by a 173hp 3.0L SOHC 24-valve V-6 while the Limited (is every SUV available as a Limited?) gets the same 3.5L version of the V-6 that's used in the larger Montero. Whether 4x4 or 4x2, all Montero Sports have a four-speed automatic transmission, and 4x4s have a dual-range, shift-on-the-fly transfer case.

Meanwhile the Montero soldiers into 2000 unchanged and on the verge of imminent replacement. The Montero Endeavor adds as much wood trim, leather, and power doodads as the truck can handle without toppling over. All Monteros are powered by the 3.5L V-6 and feature an outstanding full-time four-wheel-drive system.

Nissanwww.nissan-usa.comNissan's SUV play in 2000 is the all-new Xterra, which has been on sale for a few months. The Tennessee-built Xterra is a Frontier pickup beneath its funky skin, and that means leaf springs in back, A-arms up front, and a 3.3L SOHC 12-valve making 170 hp under the hood. The cool elements of the Xterra are the tubular roof rack with integrated basket and the tie-downs inside for a bicycle, and the raised rear roof means it's roomy. The part-time 4x4 system has two ranges and there's a four-cylinder, two-wheel-drive version available that sounds slow.

The Frontier pickup was greatly enhanced last year with a wildly popular four-door Crew Cab body, and for 2000 there's a new King Cab 2WD Desert Runner that features the 4x4 chassis without that pesky four-wheel drive. Regular, King, and Crew Cab Frontiers have either a 143hp 2.4L DOHC four or the same 170hp V-6 that's in the Xterra.

Updated in mid-1999, the Pathfinder SUV is unchanged for 2000. That means it remains luxurious, capable off-road with its two-speed transfer case, and modestly powered by the 170hp 3.3L V-6. Rumor is that a new, more powerful Pathfinder is imminent.

Oldsmobilewww.oldsmobile.comThe big news about the 2000 Bravada comes close to no news at all. Except for the revised 190hp 4.3L OHV V-6 with which the entire GM compact truck family is blessed and some unfathomable minor trim and color changes, the four-door Bravada carries over unchanged. That includes the SmartTrak all-wheel-drive system, the luxury interior, and the suspension geared more for mall prowling than rockclimbing. If you like this Bravada (which first appeared as a '96), get it now; GM's new compact SUV family is on an accelerated development schedule and should appear next year.

Subaruwww.subaru.comEvery Subaru sold in the U.S. has high-ratio all-wheel drive standard, though not all of them are off-road oriented. For 2000, 24-hour roadside assistance has been added to all Subarus.

The new Legacy sedans and wagons are powered by a 165hp 2.5L SOHC flat-four engine and come with everything from all-independent suspension to four-wheel disc brakes. The off-roady Legacies are the Outback wagon and Outback Limited sedan, which have 7.3 inches of ground clearance, foglights with stone guards, special body cladding, and all sorts of things to make them look tough. Wagons are available with a five-speed manual, but the sedan is automatic only.

The smaller Impreza line adds a 2.5RS four-door to the line, which mimics a rally car with the Legacy's 165hp engine in its nose. The Outback Sport brings the Outback styling to the Impreza wagon, though power retains the Impreza's standard 142hp 2.2L SOHC flat-four.

Finally there's Subaru's car-based Forester mini-SUV, which should be more capable off road during 2000 thanks to a new limited-slip rear differential. Power comes from the Legacy's 2.5L engine.

Suzukiwww.suzuki.comThe twerp-size Suzuki Vitara was all-new in 1999 and jumps into 2000 with new trim levels and a new spare tire cover. A 97hp 1.6L DOHC 16-valve four is available on two-door Vitaras, but most have the 127hp 2.0L DOHC four sitting longitudinally beneath their hoods, driving a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission and a dual-range transfer case. Get the 155hp DOHC 24-valve V6 and the trucklet becomes a Grand Vitara (four-door only). There's also a new Limited Edition Grand Vitara with leather seats and such for 2000.

Toyotawww.toyota.comToyota's range of 4x4s starts off small and winds up big. No manufacturer may have a broader range of offerings.

Remember the two-door RAV4 mini-SUV? Well it's a memory now as Toyota's tiniest four-by comes only in four-door in 2000. Otherwise changes are minimal to the car-based RAV4, with a three-spoke steering wheel and a 12-volt power outlet in the rear cargo area the most noticeable changes. Power for all 2WD and 4WD RAV4s comes from a 127hp 2.0L DOHC 16-valve four backed by either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The 4x4s also have a center locking differential to improve performance of the full-time system.

The compact Tacoma pickup continues barely changed with a new appearance package, some new colors, and daytime running lights on vehicles equipped with ABS. Available in regular or extended Xtracab models, the standard engine in 4x2s is a 142hp 2.4L DOHC 16-valve four, while 4x4s start off with a 150hp 2.7L version of the same engine. Optional is the irrepressible 190hp 3.4L DOHC 24-valve V-6 that makes the Tacoma nearly a rocket. For the hard-core, manual locking hubs are standard on 4x4s, while shift-on-the-fly and electronically selectable transfer cases are optional. Continuing are the TRD Off-Road package on 4x4s and the Prerunner 4x2. A new Tacoma is due next year.

Still wildly popular, the 4Runner SUV enters 2000 basically unchanged. Standard power comes from the Tacoma's 2.7L four, and the 3.4L V-6 is standard. The 4Runner can be had as anything from a stripped-out 4x2 to a fully luxed-out 4x4 Limited that'll have your banker gasping at the size of your payment book.

Can Toyota make the Land Cruiser much better than it already is? Short of dropping $10K off the price, it would be tough. For 2000, the Land Cruiser gets new skid control and traction control systems integrated with the ABS brakes, but is otherwise unchanged. Power comes from the silken 230hp 4.7L DOHC 32-valve V-8.

That same glorious engine is available in the full-size Tundra pickup which went on sale in May. Available in either standard or four-door Xtracab models, the Indiana-built Tundra comes with the 3.4L V-6 standard and the 4.7L iForce V-8 optional.

Independent Suspensions vs. Solid AxlesTwo decades ago, virtually every vehicle with four-wheel drive had solid axles at both the front and the rear. Today, solid rear axles are common, but many (if not most) trucks and SUVs have independent front suspensions. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

The big advantage of solid axles is that they have less moving parts and, hence, less can go wrong. They're extremely rugged and, because their differential is integral, will often move that differential up and out of the way when going over an obstacle. Though many people claim that solid axles harm ride quality, two of the best riding and best handling SUVs, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Range Rover, have solid axles in both the front and back.

Independent suspensions let each tire react to a situation independently from any other tire. That means the tires can often present a squarer face to whatever ground they're on and, hopefully, get better traction. That results in better handling on road and, it's argued, better traction off. Every GM four-wheel-drive vehicle now has an independent front suspension, and new-technology 4x4s like the Mercedes M-class sport the system in both the front and back.

Buying OnlineIt used to be that buying a new car or truck meant going down to a local dealer and thrashing out a deal. Not any more. According to J.D. Power and Associates it's expected that 50 percent of new vehicle buyers will use the Internet to car shop by 2000. That's up from 16 percent in 1997. If you want to get the best deal on your next vehicle, you need a computer. It's no coincidence that we listed every manufacturer's Web site in this guide.

Most consumers use the Internet as a way to research prices, features, and products before finally heading off to a dealer to hash out the purchase. Toward that end some of the best resources on the Web are sites that archive comparison tests of vehicles and show both retail and invoice prices. Sites run by 4-Wheel & Off-Road's sister magazines Motor Trend (www.motortrend.com), Truck Trend (www.trucktrend.com) and Four Wheeler (www.fourwheeler.com) are all good places to harvest honest heads-up comparisons and tests of whatever vehicles you're interested in. If you're interested in how much a vehicle will cost to operate over its life, try Intellichoice (www.intellichoice.com), and if you think of 4x4s as just big appliances, try Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org).

Knowing how much the dealer paid for the vehicle in which you're interested is critical, and no site does that better than Edmund's (www.edmunds.com). It's not a fancy site, but its pricing information is up-to-date, comprehensive, and invaluable. Consumer Reports maintains similar information on its web site and also has a useful section that helps determine if buying or leasing is better for you, but they charge for it.

Actually buying a vehicle right over the Internet is possible through CarsDirect.com (www.carsdirect.com) and, if you don't want to deal with other human beings, preferable. There are numerous referral sites like Microsoft's Carpoint (carpoint.msn.com), Auto-By-Tel (www.autobytel), and even the Motor Trend Auto Program (www.motortrendauto.com) that will send you a price on a car and refer you to a dealer in your area willing to sell you a car at that price. Those referral programs are, however, paid for by dealers, and most consumers are best off using them as starting points for negotiations rather than final prices.

It's at the point now where it pays to shop on the Internet first for everything from the financing for your new vehicle to insurance. It all boils down to the fact that having the best knowledge is the best way to make sure you get the best deal.

All-Wheel Drive vs. Four-Wheel DriveAll-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are often used interchangeably. But while there's a distinction between the two, there's no real agreement on exactly what that distinction is. Here's our attempt.

Generally, full-time, all-wheel drive systems send power to all four wheels of a vehicle all the time. They usually do this through viscous couplings in a transfer case or electronically actuated clutches controlled by a computer (or a combination of the two). Part-time four-wheel drive systems, on the other hand, are activated by the driver manually (or electronically) only when the going gets rough. True four-wheel drive systems have the capability to full lock the front and rear output in the transfer case, and they have two-speed transfer cases.

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