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2003 4x4 of the Year

Posted in Project Vehicles on August 12, 2003 Comment (0)
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2003 4x4 of the Year
Contributors: Rick Péwé
Photographers: Frank Kaisler4-Wheel & Off-Road and Jp Staffs

Gaining top-dog status in our 4-Wheel & Off-Road 4x4 of the Year competition is a major achievement, one that the vehicle manufacturers are rightfully proud to receive. They know that this is the award, the one that actually means something in the vast field of automotive publications that pick and choose so-called award-winning vehicles. As for our readers, they know that we actually take these new 4x4s and put them through some real four-wheeling, not like the car magazines and their extended road trips. We push these rigs far beyond what the manufacturers ever intended, and painstakingly note every aspect of the vehicles' true performance before presenting the results in these pages. Our readers want and need this information as they go out and make a major purchase of a new 4x4, and come to 4-Wheel & Off-Road for the real deal.

This year we had a slew of contestants, 16 in all. Each one was eligible because they were either entirely new such as the Kia Sorento, or had major mechanical changes that would hopefully improve the performance over last year's model, such as the Ford Explorer. Each vehicle must also be available for sale to the public by January 15 of the model year, and have at least 2,500 vehicles produced. In addition, each manufacturer must supply us with a vehicle and retail pricing by our test date, since price is a heavy-hitting factor in our competition. This ensures that the most expensive vehicle isn't always the winner, and a rig that can give the buyer more bang for the buck has an equal chance at winning.

We also retain the winner for a year-long test, which showcases the vehicle in a long-term real-world environment. Most importantly, the 4x4s we test must have a two-speed transfer case to eliminate the all-wheel-drive minivans and station wagon crossovers from our competition.

These are rules we have tested by for quite some time, which make our award unique in the four-wheel-drive magazine industry.

For our 2003 4x4 of the Year test, 16 vehicles met our testing standards to run through the paces: The Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Dodge Ram 2500, Dodge Ram 3500, Ford Excursion, Ford Expedition, Ford Explorer, Ford F-150 FX4, Ford F-250 Super Duty, Ford Ranger FX4 Level II, GMC Yukon 1500, GMC Yukon XL 2500, Hummer H2, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Kia Sorento LX, Lexus GX 470, and Toyota 4Runner. Each one was a winner in its own right, with something special that could propel it to the lead and win the coveted title of 4x4 of the Year. Even with the large number of vehicles to test we would have welcomed more if the manufacturers could have met our criteria. If your favorite new rig wasn't tested, wait for next year's test to see if it makes it into our stables.

The race for 4x4 of the Year was a close one this year, as having such a large field made it more important than ever to split fine lines of performance and amenities. All of the vehicles performed well, and as usual some simply did better than others in each of the categories. We had quite a few surprises this year. Some vehicles simply astounded us with their performance, while others fell far short of what we expected. Even as we added up the last few figures on all of the myriad of scorecards, empirical sheets, and computer programs, we were still kept guessing as to the winner until the final facts were in. See for yourself how all of our contestants did in each category. We boiled down the facts and figures in a compact story for you to enjoy, and announce the 2003 4x4 of the Year winner on the final page. For an exclusive behind-the-scenes video look at the vehicles, event, and more, go to www.4wheeloffroad.com/web.

Dodge Ram 2500 Dodge Ram 2500
Ford Ranger FX4 Level II Ford Ranger FX4 Level II
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Chevrolet Silverado 1500
GMC Yukon XL 2500 GMC Yukon XL 2500
Hummer H2 Hummer H2
Ford Explorer Ford Explorer
Ford Expedition Ford Expedition
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Ford Excursion Ford Excursion
Toyota 4Runner Toyota 4Runner
Kia Sorento LX Kia Sorento LX
Lexus GX 470 Lexus GX 470
Dodge Ram 3500 Dodge Ram 3500
GMC Yukon 1500 GMC Yukon 1500
Ford F-150 FX4 Ford F-150 FX4
Ford F-250 Super Duty Ford F-250 Super Duty

Chevrolet Silverado LT 1500

This year Delphi's Quadrasteer made its 4x4 of the Year test debut wrapped in an Arrival Blue Silverado 1500--and it passed with flying colors. At $4,435 the four-wheel steering is an expensive option to add to a pickup, but it became hard to live without once we experienced its tighter-than-a-TJ (37.4-foot) turning radius. Quadrasteer becomes even more attractive when you consider that checking off this option ditches the 10-bolt rear axle for a 9 ¾-inch Dana 60 and larger rear discs brakes. Going into the test, some judges were skeptical about how this Silverado with four-wheel steering would handle, fearing that it would be twitchy and unpredictable at highway speed. We found that nothing could be further from the truth because at low speeds the rear tires steer opposite the fronts for a tighter turning radius, and that as the vehicle speed approaches 40 mph the angle at which the rear tires turn decreases. Above 40 mph the rear tires steer the same direction as the front tires for better lane changing stability and less influence from heavy winds. We experimented with the dash-mounted selector that lets you choose between different steering modes: regular, towing (which uses less aggressive rear steering), and a third setting that defeats the system for traditional two-wheel steering. The other big changes for 2003 are an updated interior/exterior treatment. Love it or hate it the Avalanche front styling is here to stay, but don't worry about it because you'll be too busy playing with the new driver's information center and XM satellite-equipped Bose stereo to notice. The Silverado's drivetrain is largely a carryover from last year and features the 4L60E transmission and NVG 246 Autotrac transfer case. In back-to-back comparison the 5.3L Vortec engine's good mid-to-high rpm power felt stronger than the 5.4L Triton in the F-150, but was no match for the 5.7L Hemi in the Ram 2500. Why can't we get the 345hp 6.0L in a 4x4 pickup?

General

Manufacturer: Chevrolet
Model: Silverado LT 1500 Ext Cab
Base Price: $34,278
Price as Tested: $41,318
Options as Tested: LT Decor package, Quadrasteer, manual selectable ride control, XM satellite radio, trailering special equipment (hitch platform, wire connector, transmission oil cooler, high-capacity air cleaner), limited-slip differential, P245/75R16 tires, 145-amp alternator, roof marker lamps, spare tire lock, 6,900-pound GVW rating, 3.73 gears

Engine

Type: OHV V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 5.3/323
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.78x3.62
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/26
SAE Peak Horsepower: 285 @ 5,200 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 325 @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 4-speed automatic overdrive
Model: 4L60E
Ratios: First: 3.06:1; Second: 1.63:1; Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.70:1; Reverse: 2.29:1
Transfer Case

Type: Autotrac
Model: NVG 246
Low-Range Ratio: 2.72:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS w/AAM 81/4-inch centersection
Rear Type: Dana 60 w/Quadrasteer and limited slip
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 3.73:1

Suspension

Front: Upper and lower A-arms/torsion bars
Rear: Live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball (front), electrically powered rack-and-pinion (rear)
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.25/14.2:1
Turning Radius (feet): 37.4

Wheels

Size (inches): 16x7
Material: Cast-aluminum

Tires

Size: P265/75R16
Brand: Firestone Wilderness AT

Brake System

Front: 12.1-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 13-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 4,919
Advertised GVWR: 6,900

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 14/18
As Tested (mpg): 9.96

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 18.56 @ 79.94

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 162.11

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 144.0
Overall Length: 231.0
Overall Width: 93.5
Overall Height: 75.5
Front/Rear Track: 65.25/71
Front/Rear Overhang: 40.25/45.5
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 9.625

Likes

*XM satellite radio
*Turning radius to brag about
*Dana 60 rear axle

Dislikes

*Needs lower axle ratio
*HVAC controls not intuitive
*Rear suspension hops under hard braking

Bottom Line

3-point turns are now obsolete

Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab SLT

Dodge engineers blessed this all-new ¾- ton Dodge Ram with a boxed frame, a revised five-link solid-axle front, and long-leaf rear suspension. Gone are the Dana 60 axles of the previous 2500 series Ram, and in their place are new AAM assemblies with a high-pinion 9 ¼-inch front and a 10 ½-inch rear. We punished these axles, and it wasn't until we plowed into a rock with the front diff that they showed any signs of weakness (our fault, not the axle's) by losing the gear lube. Also new for 2003 is the much anticipated 345hp 5.7L Hemi engine. We instantly fell in love with the sound of this engine echoing through Mopar Performance exhaust that comes with the truck, but we were disappointed by the engine's lack of low-end torque and all around non-earth-shattering power. Don't get us wrong; it has enough guts to outrun the H2, Silverado, and F-150 in the quarter-mile and will impress any current Magnum 360 owner. It's just that we were hoping for V-10 power from this V-8 engine--and for now this Hemi doesn't quite live up to its horsepower heritage.

The rest of the chassis, however, is up to the task with brakes, steering, and ride quality that were all better than the F-250 we tested. The five-speed automatic transmission has firm shifts and will let the engine scream up to redline before every gear change under full throttle. The transmission shifter itself uses the unique shift pattern we found in the ½-ton Ram. Speaking of shifters, the electronically controlled NVG 273 transfer case uses a dash-mounted dial that looks more like it should control the fan motor than shift you into low range. If you order the NVG 271 you will get a conventional floor shifter, but both transfer cases use slip-yoke rear output shafts when the Ford NVG 271/273 in Super Duty trucks uses a bolt-on flange. As a total package the new Hemi Ram scored very well in all categories and probably would have done better in the test if we didn't have a Ram 3500 to compare it to.

General

Manufacturer: Dodge
Model: Ram 2500 Quad Cab SLT
Base Price: $29,830
Price as Tested: $38,075
Options as Tested: Customer Preferred Package 26H (tow hooks, 8-way power leather seats, rear 60/40 split folding, LT265/70R17 tires, 17x8 cast-aluminum wheels, power adjustable pedals, electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case, foglamps, body-color side moldings, bright body-color grille, Infinity AM/FM/CD/cassette, 7-speaker stereo, leather-wrapped steering wheel with stereo controls, overhead console with trip computer, flat-folding load floor, sliding rear window, auto-dimming rearview mirror, woodgrain instrument panel, dual-zone A/C controls, keyless entry, security alarm, and transfer-case skidplate), Trailer tow group (750-amp battery, Class IV hitch, 7-pin wiring harness), supplemental side airbags, heated front seats, five-speed automatic transmission, 4.10 gears with antispin differential, folding trailer tow mirrors, BFGoodrich on/off-road tire upgrade, under-rail bedliner

Engine

Type: OHV Hemi V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 5.7/345
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.92x3.58
Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Requirement (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 89 recomended, 87 acceptable/34
SAE Peak Horsepower: 345 @ 5,600 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 365 @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission

Type: 5-speed automatic overdrive
Model: 545RFE
Ratios: First: 3.00:1; Second: 1.67:1 (upshift) 1.50 (kick-down); Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.75:1; Fifth: 0.67; Reverse: 3.00:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed part-time with electronic shift
Model: NVG 273
Low-Range Ratio: 2.72:1

Axles

Front Type: AAM 9 ¼-inch
Rear Type: AAM 10 ½-inch with limited slip
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 4.10:1

Suspension

Front: Live axle, 4-link with track bar and coil springs
Rear: Live axle, longitudinal springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 2.75/15.40:1
Turning Radius (feet): 44.6

Wheels

Size (inches): 17x8
Material: Cast-aluminum

Tires

Size: LT265/70R17
Brand: BFGoodrich Rugged Trail

Brake System

Front: 13.9-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 13.9-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 5,954
Advertised GVWR: 8,800

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): N/A
As Tested (mpg): 7.88

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 17.88 @ 77.73

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 162.27

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 140.5
Overall Length: 228
Overall Width: 95
Overall Height: 77.75
Front/Rear Track: 69/68.5
Front/Rear Overhang: 39.25/48
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 8.25

Likes

*Performance exhaust sound
*Still a solid front axle
*Best stereo in the test

Dislikes

*Seats are too flat and too firm
*Slip-yoke rear driveshaft
*Not as much power as we hoped

Bottom Line

The Ram truck to buy if you can't afford the Cummins engine

Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab SLT

The Ram 3500 was the brute of our test, and the one everyone wanted to take home at the end of the week. Visibility is good on the road, but the massive A-pillars and tall cowl can limit how well you see that Hyundai in front of you. The Ram 3500 shares many components with its 2500 series brother (1410 U-joints, AAM axles, NVG 273 transfer case) we tested, but the Cummins diesel-equipped 1-ton actually rode better than the Hemi Ram thanks to its optimized spring and shock tuning. This 9,900-pound GVW truck doesn't ride as smooth as the Silverado or F-150 in our test, but it is a 1-ton after all! We can't say enough good things about the new HO Cummins, and feel cheated that the 305 hp/555 lb-ft diesel isn't available in California. When mated to the NVG 5600 six-speed (the automatic is not available with the high-output package), the Cummins makes the 7,000-pound truck accelerate like a pickup half its size. Even though the 3500 was slower at the dragstrip than the 2500 (hey, it takes some time to shift through all those gears), it still felt like it had more power than everything in the test but the 6.0L Power Stroke. We think the real reason the Hemi engine disappointed us in the ¾-ton Ram is because the HO Cummins is so impressive. Under the hood the inline-six engine is set way back but there is still room to service everything and maybe even add a second turbo.... Inside the truck, judges still thought that the Dodge seats were too hard and flat, and that the shifter was a little rubbery and not always easy to get into gear. Be prepared to shift this truck a lot on the street thanks to the close gear spacing, and don't be afraid to experiment with Third gear launches in the sand just to keep a lid on the explosive wheelhop. Overall engine noise is lower this year thanks to a new Bosch common-rail pilot-injection system. Current Cummins owners, however, will not be disappointed with the turbodiesel sound or the newfound horsepower. This is a tow vehicle to fight over!

General

Manufacturer: Dodge
Model: Ram 3500 Quad Cab SLT
Base Price: $35,030
Price as Tested: $42,370
Options as Tested: Customer Preferred Package 28H (tow hooks, 8-way power leather seats, rear 60/40 split folding, LT265/70R17 tires, 17x8 cast-aluminum wheels, power adjustable pedals, electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case, foglamps, body-color side moldings, bright body-color grille, Infinity AM/FM/CD/cassette, 7-speaker stereo, leather-wrapped steering wheel with stereo controls, overhead console with trip computer, flat-folding load floor, sliding rear window, auto-dimming rearview mirror, woodgrain instrument panel, dual zone A/C controls, keyless entry, security alarm, transfer-case skidplate), Trailer tow group (750-amp battery, Class IV hitch, 7-pin wiring harness), supplemental side airbags, 5.9L HO CumminsTurbo Diesel BFGoodrich on/off-road tire upgrade

Engine

Type: Turbocharged, intercooled, inline-six diesel
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 5.9/359
Bore & Stroke (inches): 4.02x4.72
Compression Ratio: 17.2:1
Induction Type: Electronic, high-pressure common rail injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): Diesel/34
SAE Peak Horsepower: 305 @ 2,900 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 555 @ 1,400 rpm

Transmission

Type: 6-speed manual overdrive
Model: NVG 5600
Ratios: First: 5.63:1; Second: 3.38:1; Third: 2.04:1; Fourth: 1.39:1; Fifth: 1.00; Sixth: 0.73:1; Reverse: 5.63:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed part-time with electronic shift
Model: NVG 273
Low-Range Ratio: 2.72:1

Axles

Front Type: AAM 9 ¼-inch
Rear Type: AAM 11 ½-inch
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 3.73:1

Suspension

Front: Live axle, 4-link with track bar and coil springs
Rear: Live axle, longitudinal springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 2.75/15.40:1
Turning Radius (feet): 44.6

Wheels

Size (inches): 17x8
Material: Cast-aluminum

Tires

Size: LT265/70R17
Brand: BFGoodrich Rugged Trail

Brake System

Front: 13.9-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 13.9-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 7,150
Advertised GVWR: 9,900

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): N/A
As Tested (mpg): 10.91

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 18.51 @ 76.84

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 160.40

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 140.5
Overall Length: 228
Overall Width: 95
Overall Height: 78.25
Front/Rear Track: 69/68.5
Front/Rear Overhang: 39.25/48
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 8.25

Likes

*Earth-moving torque
*6-speed transmission
*Tons of cargo space

Dislikes

*Small rpm range
*Open rear differential
*Needs one more gear in the transmission

Bottom Line

A Freightliner semi cleverly disguised as a fullsize pickup

Ford Excursion Limited

Before the test this year rumors started running around that Ford would stop producing the Excursion after 2004. If this is in fact the end of the Excursion our judges will say goodbye with mixed feelings. We'll miss the new 6.0L Power Stroke and its 325 hp/560 lb-ft of torque that move the hulk much better than Ford's V-10. But we won't miss the battleship handling that comes standard with this 7,000-plus-pound SUV.

For those who don't know by now, the running gear on the Excursion is nearly identical to the components on the F-250. So they both share bogus quirks like low hanging steering dampeners and sway-bar links, and an almost complete lack of skidplates. Fortunately they also share the heavy-duty drivetrain stuff like the engine, transmission, and axles. Compared to other vehicles in the test the Excursion's steering felt far too slow. Four turns lock-to-lock is not going to cut it when you are trying to maneuver on city streets or around trees in a campsite. We don't think any of the judges expected the Excursion to be a great-handling SUV, but when tested amongst a pack of 4x4s that are, we quickly learned just how much this truck rolls around corners and bobs in the dips. It was probably the worst urban driver of the test, and judges noted that "it handled like a UPS truck" compared to the other 4x4s. Off-road wasn't much kinder to the Excursion. In the sand we experienced terrible wheelhop that would shake the doors, but the springs flexed enough to keep the passengers from getting beat up. Ground clearance is not the Excursion's strong suit either with running boards that did their best to widen every trail we went on. However the Excursion was our desert living room during the test with cold A/C, DVD, and enough leather to make any men's club look like a YMCA. The horrible fuel economy we got with this truck says more about how much judges liked hanging out in it than it does about the engine's efficiency.

General

Manufacturer: Ford
Model: Excursion Limited
Base Price: $43,353
Price as Tested: $45,523
Options as Tested: 3.73:1 gears with limited-slip differential, telescopic power-heated sideview mirrors, rear-seat entertainment with DVD

Engine

Type: Turbocharged, intercooled, 32-valve V-8 diesel
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 6.0/363
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.74x4.13
Compression Ratio: 18.0:1
Induction Type: Hydraulic rail, direct injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): Diesel/44
SAE Peak Horsepower: 325 @ 3,300 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 560 @ 2,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 5-speed automatic overdrive
Model: TorqueShift
Ratios: First: 3.09:1; Second: 2.20:1; Third: 1.54:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.71:1; Reverse: 2.88:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed part-time, electric shift
Model: NVG 273
Low-Range Ratio: 2.72:1

Axles

Front Type: Dana 60
Rear Type: Visteon 101/2-inch with limited slip
Hubs: Automatic with manual override
Ratio: 3.73:1

Suspension

Front: Live axle with leaf springs
Rear: Live axle with leaf springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 4/17:1
Turning Radius (feet): 50.4

Wheels

Size (inches): 16x7
Material: Forged-aluminum

Tires

Size: LT265/75R16
Brand: Firestone Steeltex

Brake System

Front: 13.03-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 12.83-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 7,725
Advertised GVWR: 9,200

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): N/A
As Tested (mpg): 7.12

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 18.25 @ 79.39

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 166

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 137.375
Overall Length: 228.5
Overall Width: 102
Overall Height: 80
Front/Rear Track: 69.125/68
Front/Rear Overhang: 38.75/50.875
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 8.5

Likes

*Power Stroke diesel
*Best third row seat of test
*More room inside than a
studio apartment

Dislikes

*Doors shake in their hinges
*Turning radius is huge
*Auto hubs would not stay engaged when A/C cycled

Bottom Line

A diesel gunship that's big enough for the whole family

Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer

We kicked and screamed about the loss of a solid rear axle when the Expedition was revised for 2003. Our gut told us Ford was sabotaging the Expedition's off-road ability in exchange for better on-road ride. We hope the reason Ford did it was to get a lower vehicle floor height to add space for third-row passengers. Our Judges couldn't argue with the results because there is more legroom in the "way back" of the Expedition than in the Yukon with a solid rear axle. And we were impressed at just how flat and usable the cargo area is in the Expedition when you flip down the captains' chairs and nest the third row into the floor.

From the unsupportive driver's seat of the Expedition our judges thought the new suspension made the SUV feel very stable whether we were driving on twisty two-lane roads or around town. In our handling tests we found that the AdvanceTrac stability system didn't react to correct our driving errors as well, or as fast, as Stabilitrac did in the Yukon. And the 5.4L engine disappointed everyone in the test to the point that we longed for the supercharged version from the Lightning just to get some acceleration. In traffic the Expedition is almost as maneuverable as the Yukon 1500 and has better rear visibility thanks to the split second-row seats.

Off-road the independent suspension killed any sign of wheelhop in the sand, but didn't give us enough ground clearance to prevent the running boards, frame, or fuel filter for that matter from getting torn and dented. We were impressed with how well the ABS brake-derived AdvanceTrac traction control worked at modulating the brakes to send torque to the wheels with grip. When we were about to get stuck we gave it more throttle and let the traction control go to work. In our tests this technology worked just like having dual limited slips, but the required tire spin mixed with rough terrain shredded the p-metric tires.

General

Manufacturer: Ford
Model: Expedition Eddie Bauer
Base Price : $41,195
Price as Tested : $47,280
Options as Tested: Second-row captains' chairs, 3.73:1 gears, power moonroof, AdvanceTrac, safety canopy with rollover sensing, third-row power fold seat, climate controlled seats, rear-seat DVD player

Engine

Type: SOHC V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 5.4/330
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.55x4.17
Compression Ratio: 9.0:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/34
SAE Peak Horsepower: 260 @ 4,500 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 350 @ 2,500 rpm

Transmission

Type: 4-speed automatic overdrive
Model: 4R70W
Ratios: First: 2.84:1; Second: 1.55:1; Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.70:1; Reverse: 2.32:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed full-time
Model: Borg-Warner 4406
Low-Range Ratio: 2.64:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS with Visteon 8.8-inch
Rear Type: IRS with Visteon 9.75-inch
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 3.73:1

Suspension

Front: IFS with upper and lower A-arms/coilover shocks
Rear: IRS with upper and lower A-arms/coilover shocks

Steering

Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.82/17.01:1
Turning Radius (feet): 38.7

Wheels

Size (inches): 17x7
Material: Aluminum

Tires

Size: P265/70R17
Brand: Continental TR

Brake System

Front: 13-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 13.5-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 5,586
Advertised GVWR: 7,300

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 13/17
As Tested (mpg): 9.06

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 19.50 @ 74.64

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 147.06

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 119
Overall Length: 207.75
Overall Width: 94
Overall Height: 77
Front/Rear Track: 67.25/67.125
Front/Rear Overhang: 40/47.50
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 7.625

Likes

*Front seat coolers
*Power fold-down rear seats
*Rear captains' chairs

Dislikes

*Gutless 5.4L engine
*Low ground clearance
*Ugly sideview mirrors

Bottom Line

Super-size your Explorer for $9,890 more

Ford Explorer NBX 4-door

As a rule, the harder it is for our judges to get under a 4x4 to see how the chassis is laid out--the worse the vehicle does off-road. This year the Explorer with the NBX (No Boundaries Experience) package did its best to prove that rule wrong. Sure it barely has any ground clearance and is equipped with the Ford "wearable surface" running boards, but despite that the AdvanceTrac-equipped Explorer did much better than expected this year when the road-test road turned rough. It took us a little while to get comfortable with the new "point, punch it, and hang on for the ride" driving technique that is almost required by the ABS-derived traction control system. But once we did we found we could power up stuff that the Yukon XL and Kia had trouble with.

Under the hood is Ford's rev-happy 4.6L V-8 that few judges were initially impressed by. As the test went on we realized that to access the true potential of the drivetrain the five-speed automatic transmission has to be left in Drive to do its own shifting. If you let it, the close ratios of the 5R55E do an excellent job of keeping the engine in its high-rpm powerband.

The Explorer NBX interior uses a combination of synthetic materials for a Gore-Tex/Spandex/ carbon-fiber kind of look that we think suits this vehicle better than leather and fake wood. Most judges agreed that the Explorer had the best-executed interior of the all the Fords in the test. Points were lost only because the A/C system never seemed to be able to cool properly in the 90-degree desert sun. Even with the rear A/C on full blast, testers weren't flocking to the Explorer to watch movies on the rear DVD. Naturally, interior space is down compared to the Expedition but the third-row seat is nicer to sit in if you don't mind climbing over the second row seats to get there. Now if Ford could just keep that Yakima Load Warrior roof rack from playing Zamphir's "greatest pan flute hits" as we drive down the highway we'd be set.

General

Manufacturer: Ford
Model: Explorer NBX 4-door
Base Price: $32,620
Price as Tested: $37,390
Options as Tested: 3.73:1 gears, Trailer tow package Class III/IV, off-road package, AdvanceTrac, adjustable pedals, auxiliary climate control, third-row seat package, rear-seat entertainment with DVD player, 290-watt audio system with six-disc CD changer

Engine

Type: SOHC V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 4.6/281
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.55x3.54
Compression Ratio: 9.4:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/22.5
SAE Peak Horsepower: 239 @ 4,750 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 282 @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 5-speed automatic overdrive
Model: 5R55E
Ratios: First: 3.22:1; Second: 2.32:1; Third: 1.55:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.71:1; Reverse: 3.07:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed full-time, electronic shift
Model: Borg-Warner 4405
Low-Range Ratio: 2.64:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS
Rear Type: IRS with Visteon 8.8-inch
Hubs: Automatic
Ratio: 3.73:1

Suspension

Front: IFS with upper and lower A-arms/coilover shocks
Rear: IRS with upper and lower A-arms/coilover shocks

Steering

Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.75/19.0:1
Turning Radius (feet): 36.8

Wheels

Size (inches): 17x7
Material: Aluminum

Tires

Size: P245/65R17
Brand: BFGoodrich Rugged Trail

Brake System

Front: 12-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 11.85-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 4,434
Advertised GVWR: 5,880

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 14/19
As Tested (mpg): 9.28

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 18.28 @ 77.83

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 151.35

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 113.5
Overall Length: 193
Overall Width: 83.75
Overall Height: 77.75
Front/Rear Track: 61/61.25
Front/Rear Overhang: 34/44.5
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 7.75

Likes

*5-speed tranny
*AdvanceTrac traction control
*Roof basket that can hold 200 pounds

Dislikes

*FWD button placement
*Not enough ground clearance
*Skidplate got torn off (for a second year)

Bottom Line

A mall wheeler that's much sportier than its big brother

Ford F-150 Supercab Lariat

Plan on losing any street race you get into against a 5.3L Chevy or Hemi truck, but as pathetic as it sounds, the 5.4L moves the F-150 with authority compared to the same engine in the Expedition. There's got to be more power locked in this mill that Ford just hasn't given us access to...yet. Even without any power reserves the F-150 handled well on the paved portions during our test, thanks to a better-balanced suspension than the Silverado. It's a good highway cruiser but don't ask any adults to ride in the back seat for too long. And if you're a gadget geek you better plan to add your own because Ford doesn't give these trucks much more than a stereo and adjustable pedals. Bonus points go to Ford engineers for the quiet cab that shields the driver from road noise better than the GM pickup. This is the first year we got to test any of Ford's FX4 option group. Here at the magazine we have a hard time getting excited over "off-road" packages that are more sticker and decal application than actual engineering. Ford caught us off guard with the inconsistency in what the FX4 package gets you on a particular truck. In the case of the F-150 an extra $860 gets you 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, 3.55 gears, skidplates, and Rancho badged shocks. That's not a bad start, but we think an FX4-equipped F-150 should delete the running boards and leave them in Dearborn where they belong. On the trail they made it hard to appreciate the otherwise good ground clearance the truck has. In the rocks the Ford's ability was thought better than the Silverado due mainly to its better compression braking and skidplate protection. Not surprisingly the unloaded truck had some fierce wheelhop in the sand, though we thought it was acceptable compared to the 3/4- and 1-tons in the test. All in all the judges were disappointed with the bestselling truck in America, but considering this is the last year for the current F-150 platform, Ford is well aware of the ½-ton's dated appearance and performance.

General

Manufacturer: Ford
Model: F-150 Supercab Lariat
Base Price: $30,405
Price as Tested: $35,220
Options as Tested: 5.4L V-8 engine, 6,500-pound GVW package, chrome tubular running boards, electronic shift transfer case, power moonroof, power sliding rear window, Trailer towing group Class III, FX4 off-road equipment group (3.55:1 gears and limited-slip differential, skidplates, 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, Rancho shocks), AM/FM radio with six-disc in-dash CD changer, lower two-tone paint

Engine

Type: SOHC V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 5.4/330
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.55x4.17
Compression Ratio: 9.0:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/25
SAE Peak Horsepower: 260 @ 4,500 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 350 @ 2,500 rpm

Transmission

Type: 4-speed automatic overdrive
Model: 4R70W
Ratios: First: 2.84:1; Second: 1.55:1; Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.70:1; Reverse: 2.32:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed part-time with electronic shift
Model: Borg-Warner 4406
Low-Range Ratio: 2.64:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS with Visteon 8.8-inch differential
Rear Type: Visteon 9.75-inch with limited slip
Hubs: Automatic
Ratio: 3.55:1

Suspension

Front: IFS with upper and lower A-arms/torsion bars
Rear: Live axle with leaf springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.5/14.0:1
Turning Radius (feet): 45.8

Wheels

Size (inches): 17x7
Material: Aluminum

Tires

Size: P265/70R17
Brand: Goodyear Wrangler RT/S

Brake System

Front: 12.13-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 13.2-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 4,744
Advertised GVWR: 6,500

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 14/18
As Tested (mpg): 9.64

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 19.10 @ 75.94

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 150.93

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 139
Overall Length: 226.25
Overall Width: 90.5
Overall Height: 76
Front/Rear Track: 65.125/65.375
Front/Rear Overhang: 39.75/48
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 10

Likes

*Power rear sliding window
*Steel gas tank with skidplate
*Good visibility

Dislikes

*Less headroom with sunroof
*Cramped rear seats
*Body style looks dated

Bottom Line

We can't wait for the all-new F-150 next year

Ford F-250 Super Duty XLT Supercab

The first thing you'll notice about the new 6.0L Power Stroke is how much quieter the engine is. The second thing you'll notice is how the power comes on above 1,500 rpm like a freight train. With less weight to haul around than the Excursion, 325 hp, 560 ft-lb of torque, and an auto tranny, we could outrun the new Cummins engine with ease. When we popped the hood to look at the new International/Navistar powerplant we concluded that the 4-Wheel & Off-Road staff could have done a cleaner job of swapping this engine into the F-250. Maybe it's a sign of the new Super Duty that is in the works? We don't know. For now we'll focus on the current platform and tell you that the new Torque Shift five-speed automatic transmission got mixed reviews from the judges. Some thought it didn't downshift when it should, others fell in love with the way it would rifle through the gear as you blasted away from a traffic light. The new "Tow/Haul" mode does work to downshift the truck and slow hill decent, but we don't think it is as effective as the Allison 1000. Perhaps the most unique feature of this transmission is that you can select a Second gear, and even Third gear starts from a standstill. We suppose that if you were driving in slippery conditions it might be hard to control wheelspin with that much torque on tap.

We were so busy enjoying the new power of the 6.0L that we almost overlooked the Super Duty's wallowing suspension and three-lane-wide turning radius. But no such luck! The Ford was judged to ride almost as well as the new Dodge trucks, but it won't carve corners or weave down back alleys like the two Rams did. The Ford still suffered off-road with its stiff rear springs, goofy clamp-on rear shock mounts, and more freaking running boards! We didn't tear off the front sway bar or steering dampener this year as we've done with other Super Dutys, but they are still vulnerable to trail obstacles.

General

Manufacturer: Ford
Model: F-250 Super Duty XLT Supercab
Base Price: $30,735
Price as Tested: $40,745
Options as Tested: Power Stroke 6.0L diesel, TorqueShift 5-speed automatic, LT265/75R16 tires, 3.73:1 gears with limited-slip differential, advanced security group, XLT sport package (chrome tublular side steps, sliding rear window, color-keyed rear bumper, camper package, deluxe aluminum wheels, trailer hitch receiver, 6-way power seat)

Engine

Type: Turbocharged, intercooled, 32-valve V-8 diesel
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 6.0/363
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.74x4.13
Compression Ratio: 18.0:1
Induction Type: Hydraulic rail, direct injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): Diesel/38
SAE Peak Horsepower: 325 @ 3,300 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 560 @ 2,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 5-speed automatic overdrive
Model: TorqueShift
Ratios: First: 3.09:1; Second: 2.20:1; Third: 1.54:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.71:1; Reverse: 2.88:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed part-time, manual shift
Model: NVG 271
Low-Range Ratio: 2.72:1

Axles

Front Type: Dana 60
Rear Type: Visteon 10 ½-inch with limited slip
Hubs: Manual
Ratio: 3.73:1

Suspension

Front: Live axle with leaf springs
Rear: Live axle with leaf springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 4/17:1
Turning Radius (feet): 57.12

Wheels

Size (inches): 16x7
Material: Forged-aluminum

Tires

Size: LT265/75R16
Brand: Firestone Steeltex

Brake System

Front: 13.03-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 12.83-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 6,010
Advertised GVWR: 8,800

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): N/A
As Tested (mpg): 9.49

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 17.52 @ 82.53

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 160.92

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 158.375
Overall Length: 246.5
Overall Width: 99.5
Overall Height: 78
Front/Rear Track: 69.5/68.25
Front/Rear Overhang: 35.875/52
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 8.125

Likes

*Hot-rod diesel engine
*5-speed transmission
*Monochromatic look

Dislikes

*Unnecessary running boards
*Empty dashboard
*School bus turning radius

Bottom Line

Champion of the diesel horsepower war.

Ford Ranger Supercab FX4 Level II

If you took a Ranger to your local 4x4 shop and wrote a healthy check to bolt on Bilstein shocks, Alcoa wheels, BFG tires, and a Torsen limited slip you'd get an idea of what the Ranger FX4 Level II is all about. Unlike the F-150 and Super Duty where the FX4 package is an option, the FX4 Level II is a completely separate line for the Ranger. In fact our test vehicle didn't have a single option. The option we would have liked to check off for this truck would be for a new Ranger platform to add the FX4 package too. This is basically the same truck as the '93 Ranger with the A-arm suspension from the '98. Judges were critical of the outdated foundation this truck has to work with. The cramped front seats and the cruel joke rear jump seats were competitive 10 years ago but are very dated today. One judge even went as far as to say, "It would be more comfortable to ride in the bed than in the back seat of this truck." In the driver's seat, judges found their left leg would hit the armrest on the door, and more than half the judges complained that the transfer-case shifter would rub their right leg in low range.

The new Bilstein shocks and revised spring rates made for a good-handling/riding pickup on the pavement that was well suited to the go-fast off-road sections. Too bad the frame flexes so much. We're grateful our Ranger came with the five-speed transmission with the cool shifter and manual transfer case. Combined with major articulation from the rear axle the manual made this Ranger the surprise crawler of the test, placing second only to the Wrangler in most judging books. The preloaded Torsen differential also helped and was rated the best limited slip of the test. As an added bonus the 8.8 axle in the FX4 Level II uses a stronger housing and beefier shafts than found in other Rangers. We don't know when the Ranger will get a redesign, but our testing showed us that the FX4 Level II hardware makes the current Ranger worth a second look.

General

Manufacturer: Ford
Model: Ranger Supercab FX4 Level II
Base Price : $25,095
Price as Tested : $25,705
Options as Tested: None

Engine

Type: SOHC V-6
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 4.0/245
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.9x3.32
Compression Ratio: 9.7:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/19.5
SAE Peak Horsepower: 207 @ 5,250 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 238 @ 3,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 5-speed manual overdrive
Model: Mazda R1 HD
Ratios: First: 3.40:1; Second: 2.05:1; Third: 1.31:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.79:1; Reverse: 3.40:1

Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed part-time, manual shift
Model: Borg-Warner 1354
Low-Range Ratio: 2.48:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS with Dana 35 differential
Rear Type: Visteon 8.8-inch with Torsen limited slip
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 4.10:1

Suspension

Front: IFS with upper and lower A-arms/torsion bars
Rear: Live axle with leaf springs

Steering

Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.5/18.7:1
Turning Radius (feet): 43

Wheels

Size (inches): 15x7
Material: Forged-aluminum

Tires

Size: LT31x10.50R15
Brand: BFGoodrich All-Terrain

Brake System

Front: 11.2-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 10-inch drums with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 3,707
Advertised GVWR: 5,440

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 16/19
As Tested (mpg): 11.42

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 17.85 @ 77.31

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 146

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 126.5
Overall Length: 203.5
Overall Width: 80
Overall Height: 68.75
Front/Rear Track: 58.5/58
Front/Rear Overhang: 33.25/43.5
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 9.125

Likes

*Pre-loaded Torsen differential
*Rear axle articulation
*Manual transmission and transfer-case shifters

Dislikes

*Small interior
*Engine needs more low end
*Too much frame flex

Bottom Line

A factory engineered off-road package for the 4x4 enthusiast

GMC Yukon 1500

This year the Yukon 1500 has the distinction of being the truck we were most likely to forget in the parking lot during a drivers' rotation. We have always liked the looks of this SUV, but this year it seems to lack identity in a field of look-at-me SUVs. We wouldn't say the Yukon looks dull, but compared to the face-lift that Chevrolets got for 2003, the GMC looks quite conservative. Don't worry, we didn't invite the Yukon 1500 just because it looks different. We invited it to compete because GM is now offering it with its Stabilitrac system. Over the last three years our judges have admired the control that GM engineers have been able to get from the four-link coil-sprung rear suspension. So when GM equipped the '03 Yukon with this new vehicle stability control system we wanted to see how it would effect what we think is an all-around good-handling vehicle. Our first tests with Stabilitrac came on some twisty two-lane roads where we tossed the truck around to see how intrusive Stabilitrac would be. It turned out that most testers were not even aware that the system was acting to correct the direction of the vehicle until the driver's information center in the dash told them so. We like the way Stabilitrac supplemented our driving without hindering our will. Of all the stability systems in the test our judges agreed that Stabilitrac has the best on-road performance.

Off-road, Stabilitrac let us down by not being as effective as the Toyota or Ford systems at modulating the brakes. The Yukon could still climb the nasty hills (even though the Stabilitrac-required Borg-Warner transfer case has a higher low range than the NV246 it replaces), but it required even more tire-killing throttle to conquer the same terrain. In the rocks we'd much rather have a mechanical limited slip because it's against our nature to use lots of throttle in certain situations--especially with such little ground clearance. We'd love to see Stabilitrac get updated with better off-road software.

General

Manufacturer: GMC
Model: Yukon 1500
Base Price: $36,805
Price as Tested: $40,798
Options as Tested: Second-row captains' chairs, third-row 50/50 split bench seat, power sunroof, 6,900-pound GVW rating, 3.73:1 gears, Stabilitrac, polished cast-aluminum wheels

Engine

Type: OHV V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 5.3/327
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.78x3.62
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): Flex fuel engine, 87 or ethanol compatible/26
SAE Peak Horsepower: 285 @ 5,200 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 325 @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 4-speed automatic overdrive
Model: 4L60E
Ratios: First: 3.06:1; Second: 1.63:1; Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.70:1; Reverse: 2.29:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed, full-time with electronic shift
Model: Borg-Warner
Low-Range Ratio: 2.64:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS with AAM 8.25-inch centersection
Rear Type: AAM 8.6-inch
Hubs: Automatic
Ratio: 3.73

Suspension

Front: Upper and lower A-arms/torsion bars
Rear: Live axle, 4-link with track bar and coil springs and automatic load leveling

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.25/14:1
Turning Radius (feet): 38.3

Wheels

Size (inches): 16x7
Material: Cast-aluminum

Tires

Size: P265/70R16
Brand: Firestone Wilderness LE

Brake System

Front: 12.01-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 13-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 5,050
Advertised GVWR: 6,900

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 14/17
As Tested (mpg): 9.86

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 18.72 @ 78.29

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 160.72

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 116.25
Overall Length: 201
Overall Width: 93
Overall Height: 75
Front/Rear Track: 65.25/66
Front/Rear Overhang: 38/46
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 7.625

Likes

*Understated looks
*Excellent seats
*Stabilitrac (on-road)

Dislikes

*Transfer case low range
*Wimpy tires
*Stabilitrac (off-road)

Bottom Line

Off-road capability sacrificed for better on-road stability

GMC Yukon XL 2500

We never thought we would see the day when a Yukon XL 2500 would have the tightest turning radius of any 4x4 in our competition. But it does! As with the four-wheel-steering Silverado also seen in these pages, our judges were skeptical of how Quadrasteer would handle and hold up to off-road use in something this heavy. Turns out they were right to be suspicious because on our third day of testing we damaged one of the rear tie rods, and then broke it completely on the fifth day during our final hour of evaluation. At least now we can say with authority that the small tie rods will hold up to a lot of abuse, but if one does break on the trail you can still drive to safety. Well, sort of. Without all four tie rods intact the Yukon XL drove like a figure skater with one leg shot full of Novocaine. We can't take all the blame for breaking the tie rod because if the Yukon XL was able to climb the same slope that every other 4x4 in the test went up at least eight times, we wouldn't have had to back down the hill and run the risk of hitting a rock. It didn't make it up the hill, and we did hit a rock as we backed the GMC down to safety. To its credit the bent tie rod lasted more than 100 miles under conditions harsh enough to rattle the exhaust loose ahead of the muffler. For the two days that we drove on the bent tie rod the Yukon XL exhibited a strong pull to one side that wouldn't go away no matter what steering option we selected. In hindsight we were lucky the tie rod didn't come apart on the road and kill us. We don't recommend you take the chance if you find yourself in the same situation.

With all the drama surrounding the steering you'd think we'd forget about the rest of the Yukon XL. Our judges still enjoyed the best-of-test GM seats, the XM-equipped Bose stereo, and the On Star customer service. But they were disappointed in the power of the small-block 6.0L, aftermarket-looking bulged rear fenders, ICC lights, and XM radio antenna. At the end of the week we're still sold on four-wheel steering--we just want GM to use bigger tie rods.

General

Manufacturer: GMC
Model: Yukon XL 2500
Base Price: $41,405
Price as Tested: $54,236
Options as Tested: 1SD SLT preferred equipment group (power adjustable pedals, dual-heated power mirrors with turn signals, ground illumination, curb tilt-down feature and LH O/S automatic day/night mirror, sound system plus package, leather-surfaced heated front bucket seats and split folding center bench and vinyl folding rear bench seat, security plus package), Luxury onvenience package (dual 10-way power seat adjusters with driver's memory, OnStar communication system with 1 year of service, garage door opener) side assist steps, Quadrasteer, 4.10:1 gears, skidplate package, roof marker lamps, Autoride suspension, trailer equipment package

Engine

Type: OHV V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 6.0/364
Bore & Stroke (inches): 4.00x3.62
Compression Ratio: 9.4:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/37.5
SAE Peak Horsepower: 320 @ 5,000 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 360 @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 4-speed automatic overdrive
Model: 4L80E
Ratios: First: 2.48:1; Second: 1.48:1; Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.75:1; Reverse: 2.08:1
Transfer Case

Type: Autotrac
Model: NVG 246
Low-Range Ratio: 2.72:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS with AAM 9 ¼-inch centersection Rear Type: Dana 60 with Quadrasteer
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 4.10:1

Suspension

Front: Upper and lower A-arms/torsion bars
Rear: Live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball (front), electically powered rack-and-pinion (rear)
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.25/15:1, 13:1 variable ratio
Turning Radius (feet): 35

Wheels

Size (inches): 16x7
Material: Cast-aluminum

Tires

Size: LT245/75R16
Brand: Bridgestone V-Steel

Brake System

Front: 12.8-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 13-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 5,760
Advertised GVWR: 8,600

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): N/A
As Tested (mpg): 7.78

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 19.90 @ 75.33

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 149.23

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 130.5
Overall Length: 220.75
Overall Width: 93
Overall Height: 75.25
Front/Rear Track: 68.75/71.25
Front/Rear Overhang: 38.125/49
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 8

Likes

*35-foot turning radius
*Cargo space
*Hydro-boost brakes

Dislikes

*No limited slip
*Bad exhaust leak
*Broke rear (yes, rear!) tie rod

Bottom Line

Quadrasteer is the option soccer moms have been waiting for

Hummer H2

About half of you reading this are wondering why we didn't name the H2 4x4 of the Year. When you read through the spec box it sure looks like a winner. Those numbers got our judges excited as well but after driving the H2 in some real-world situations we learned some things that brought us back to reality. For starters, visibility in the H2 leaves much to be desired, and acceleration is never "exhilarating." Every judge that got in the H2 thought the 6.0L sounded good, but that it didn't have enough snot to move the Hummer with only 4.10 gears. We think GM should have given this rig 4.56 gears or a Duramax to get its heft moving. Once underway in the H2 we found that the seats are good, but not as comfortable as the ones found in other fullsize GM trucks. Of course the H2 does offer rear seat heaters, something no other truck in our test could match, but the judges had to rank the cargo capacity in comparison to an Excursion. When we climbed underneath the truck we started to notice that all is not as it seems with this Hummer. The media has portrayed the H2 as a ¾-ton Tahoe with a different sheetmetal wrapper. It turns out that while there are many components shared with other GM trucks the H2 uses its own unique frame with an extra front crossmember. Even the body is made of thicker steel. We don't know how many people have caught on to it yet but the H2's 9 ¼-inch AAM front differential is cast with more ribs, and mounts differently than it does in a 2500 HD Silverado. Maybe this is a sign that the H2 will get a front locker down the road? We don't know. We can tell you that the H2 has the best underbody protection of any 4x4 in the test. On the trail the Hummer didn't perform as well as we thought it should with a rear locking differential and four-wheel traction control, and judges were critical of that. The H2 is without question the best off-road vehicle GM has ever sold, but there was just too much competition this year to let it take the title.

General

Manufacturer: Hummer
Model: H2
Base Price: $48,065
Price as Tested: $53,465
Options as Tested: 1SB Adventure Series air suspension package (floor mats, tool kit, radiator and grille brushguard, black luggage rack, rear air springs, air compressor), AM/FM stereo with six -disc in-dash CD changer, leather seating surfaces, third-row seat, chromed exterior door handles, chromed exterior mirror caps, tubular taillamp guards

Engine

Type: OHV V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 6.0/364
Bore & Stroke (inches): 4.00x3.62
Compression Ratio: 9.4:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Requirement (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/32
SAE Peak Horsepower: 315 @ 5,200 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 360 @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 4-speed automatic overdrive
Model: 4L65E
Ratios: First: 3.06:1; Second: 1.63:1; Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.70:1; Reverse: 2.29:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed, full-time with central diff-lock
Model: Borg-Warner 4484
Low-Range Ratio: 2.64:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS with AAM 9 ¼-inch centersection
Rear Type: AAM 9 ½-inch with Eaton E-locker
Hubs: Automatic
Ratio: 4.10:1

Suspension

Front: Upper and lower A-arms/torsion bars
Rear: Live axle, 4-link with track bar and self-leveling air springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3/15:1, 13:1 variable ratio
Turning Radius (feet): 43.5

Wheels

Size (inches): 17x8
Material: Cast-aluminum

Tires

Size: LT315/70R17
Brand: BFGoodrich All-Terrain

Brake System

Front: 12.8-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 13-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 6,400
Advertised GVWR: 8,600

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): N/A
As Tested (mpg): 7.11

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 19.36 @ 75.55

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 152.57

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 123
Overall Length: 189.5
Overall Width: 96.75
Overall Height: 77.5
Front/Rear Track: 69/69.75
Front/Rear Overhang: 33/34
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 10.5

Likes

*35-inch tall tires
*Heated rear seats
*4-link rear suspension and selectable locker

Dislikes

*Not geared low enough
*Visibility is poor
*Sticker price

Bottom Line

A monster truck that you can own

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The other half of the people reading this expected the Wrangler to win it all this year. If there were fewer luxury SUVs in the test, or we didn't drive on paved roads, there's no doubt the Wrangler would have done much better than the scoring shows. But since our test evaluates all aspects of a 4x4 the Wrangler sank in the ranking. It's no surprise that when it came to crawling around off-road no other 4x4 came close to the Jeep. Have you ever tried to follow a TJ in a Super Duty? It's no contest. The Rubicon had the rockcrawling portion of the test in the bag. There weren't many times that our judges even needed to use both lockers thanks to all the suspension travel and low gearing of the five-speed and NVG 241J transfer case. But it sure was nice to have them! Our judges learned to appreciate that even when the rear differential is unlocked it is still a very good limited slip. Since we hardly ever lifted a rear tire we always had plenty of traction.

For some unknown reason the '03 Rubicon is sprung much firmer than any other Wrangler we've driven. Combined with the short wheelbase it gave us great maneuverability on the technical trails, but it became a pain in the butt (literally) on the fast gravel roads. Fortunately we loved the new seats and they isolated the judges from some of the jarring ride. Judges also gave high marks to the 4.0L engine's low-end torque, but there wasn't always enough top end to keep up with the rest of the convoy on the highway. Without question the Goodyear MT/R tires were the best off-road tires in the test, but they also contributed to the Wrangler's poor braking distances and overall road noise. Speaking of noise, it was hard to go from driving the Lexus GX 470 and listening to the radio to hopping into the Wrangler and listening to the tires wearing without deducting some points. Add in a soft top that only made the Jeep louder and you'll understand why this is the last vehicle that the judges would have wanted to take cross-country.

General

Manufacturer: Jeep
Model: Wrangler Rubicon
Base Price: $24,385
Price as Tested: $26,840
Options as Tested: Floor mats, rearview mirror (with auto dim, lamps, compass, and thermometer) air conditioning, speed control, AM/FM radio with CD changer control, 7-speaker stereo with subwoofer, soft top

Engine

Type: OHV inline-six
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 4.0/242
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.88x3.41
Compression Ratio: 8.8:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/19
SAE Peak Horsepower: 190 @ 4,600 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 235 @ 3,200 rpm

Transmission

Type: 5-speed manual overdrive
Model: NVG 3550
Ratios: First: 4.04:1; Second: 2.33:1; Third: 1.38:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.78; Reverse: 3.57:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed, part-time
Model: NVG 241J
Low-Range Ratio: 4.0:1

Axles

Front Type: Dana 44 with selectable locker
Rear Type: Dana 44 with limited slip/selectable locker
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 4.10:1

Suspension

Front: Live axle, 4-link with track bar and coil springs
Rear: Live axle, 4-link with track bar and coil springs

Steering

Type: Power-recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.5/15.2:1
Turning Radius (feet): 36.7

Wheels

Size (inches): 16x8
Material: Cast-aluminum

Tires

Size: LT245/75R16
Brand: Goodyear Wrangler MT/R

Brake System

Front: 11-inch discs
Rear: 11.2-inch discs

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 3,715
Advertised GVWR: 4,450

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 16/19
As Tested (mpg): 10.14

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 18.47 @ 74.30

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 176.28

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 93
Overall Length: 158.25
Overall Width: 75.875
Overall Height: 72.5
Front/Rear Track: 59.5/60
Front/Rear Overhang: 28/37
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 9.25

Likes

*4 to 1 transfer case
*Front and rear lockers
*Great suspension flex

Dislikes

*Not enough engine
*Lots of road noise
*Rough ride

Bottom Line

This Jeep was not made for pavement

Kia Sorento LX

There were times in our competition that we thought this SUV from South Korea might topple all the giants in the test with its "do nothing wrong" performance. It was the clear standout in one place, the controlled hillclimb where it drove further up the hill than anything else. Everything it did, it did well, but some judges weren't taking it seriously until it began consistently ranking high in our books. At $22,955 the Kia Sorento was the least expensive 4x4 in the test but nothing about it felt flimsy or of poor quality. On the contrary. Our judges found that the Sorento used a mix of cost-effective components to produce a budget 4x4 that is more than just the sum of its parts. If you removed the Kia badging we're convinced that people would mistake its styling for a Mercedes or Acura SUV. The look is not economy class by any means and we think Kia did a better job styling the Sorento than Toyota did with its new 4Runner.

Getting the look right is a big part of developing a new vehicle, but Kia didn't stop there. It designed this SUV with a full frame and some real truck cues. The suspension is a well-balanced package that complements the rack-and-pinion steering for a great linear feel on- and off-road. We believe the suspension was tuned for handling and not just targeted at a smooth ride. Though there was limited front wheel travel, the rear limited slip produced enough traction for most judges to go anywhere they wanted. And there's no question that the durability is there because this SUV held up to everything we could throw at it. On the street the Kia gained a "corner carver" status that let us exercise the 3.5L Mitsubishi V-6 engine that Kia specified for this SUV. We'd say that the Kia exceeded all of our expectations for performance but in this field of technology-laden vehicles it was the Sorento's lack of features that kept it out of the top spot.

General

Manufacturer: Kia
Model: Sorento LX
Base Price: $21,300
Price as Tested: $22,955
Options as Tested: Antilock brakes, alloy wheels, roof rack
Engine

Type: DOHC 24-valve 60-degree V-6
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 3.5/213
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.66x3.38
Compression Ratio: 10:1
Induction Type: Multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 87/21.1
SAE Peak Horsepower: 192 @ 5,500 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 217 @ 3,000 rpm

Transmission

Type: 4-speed automatic overdrive
Model: Aisin Warner
Ratios: First: 2.80:1; Second: 1.53:1; Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.70:1; Reverse: 2.39:1

Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed full-time
Model: Borg-Warner electronic shift
Low-Range Ratio: 2.48:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS
Rear Type: Solid, with Eaton carbon-fiber limited slip
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 4.66:1

Suspension

Front: Upper and lower A-arms/coil springs
Rear: Live axle, 4-link with coil springs

Steering

Type: Power assist rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.66/N/A
Turning Radius (feet): 36.4

Wheels

Size (inches): 16x7
Material: Cast-aluminum

Tires

Size: P245/70R16
Brand: Hankook R407

Brake System

Front: 11.8-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 12.4-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 4,255
Advertised GVWR: 5,644

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 15/18
As Tested (mpg): 10.68

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 19.18 @ 74.34

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 137.74

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 106.875
Overall Length: 179.75
Overall Width: 82.5
Overall Height: 69
Front/Rear Track: 62.375/62.25
Front/Rear Overhang: 33.5/40.125
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 7.25

Likes

*Price
*HVAC controls
*No frills package

Dislikes

*4x4 switch position
*Lack of gauges
*Limited suspension travel

Bottom Line

Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand

Lexus GX 470

Though it shares the same platform with the new 4Runner, the Lexus GX 470 bests its Toyota brother in almost every category of our test.

When the Torsen differential-equipped full-time transfer case wasn't enough to keep us moving up the tough hillclimbs the GX 470's Active TRAC traction control system applied each brake individually to slow the spinning tires and force the differential to send power to the tires with traction. This process worked to keep the vehicle moving but the required wheel speed brutalizes tires. The same antilock brake hardware that makes the Active TRAC system work functions on road as Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) to sense and prevent oversteer so that you only go off the pavement when you want to. The VSC system does its job, but most testers found it too aggressive and borderline intrusive. Everyone hated the fact that the system will close the engine's throttle and take away any chance the driver might have to power out of danger. Fortunately the Lexus' multitasking ABS has one more trick up its sleeve to win us back over. Downhill Assist Control (DAC) makes compression braking off-road obsolete. Even when faced with loose rocky slopes the GX 470 can be trusted to do all the braking for you.

On the interstate the GX 470 was the best cruiser of the bunch, exhibiting no bad habits and providing plenty of entertainment and comfort for all passengers. We know quality when we see it, and the interior of the GX 470 overwhelmed us with amenities like an AC power outlet, a rear-seat DVD player, a touch-screen navigation system, a Mark Levinson premium sound system, and leather everything. Perhaps the biggest interior surprise was that the $53,000 GX 470 actually gives you a mechanical lever to shift the transfer case instead of the dash-mounted dial on the $20,000-cheaper 4Runner. About the only thing Lexus did wrong was offering a third-row seat that no one is going to want to sit in.

General

Manufacturer: Lexus
Model: GX 470
Base Price: $44,925
Price as Tested: $53,295
Options as Tested: Mark Levinson navigation system, third-row seat, rear A/C, tow hitch, Lexus link, rear-seat DVD

Engine

Type: DOHC 32-valve V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 4.7/284
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.70x3.31
Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Requirement (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 91 recomended, 87 acceptable/23
SAE Peak Horsepower: 235 @ 4,800 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 320 @ 3,400 rpm

Transmission

Type: 5-speed automatic overdrive
Model: A750F
Ratios: First: 3.52:1; Second: 2.04:1; Third: 1.40:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.71:1; Reverse: 3.22:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed, full-time, with manual locking Torsen center differential
Model: Toyota
Low-Range Ratio: 2.57:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS
Rear Type: solid axle
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 3.73:1

Suspension

Front: IFS with upper and lower A-arms, coil springs
Rear: Live axle, with 4-link, track bar, and air springs

Steering

Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.125/15.7:1
Turning Radius (feet): 37.4

Wheels

Size (inches): 17x7.5
Material: Aluminum

Tires

Size: P265/65R17
Brand: Bridgestone Dueler HT

Brake System

Front: 13.3-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 12.3-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 4,673
Advertised GVWR: 6,100

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 15/18
As Tested (mpg): 8.80

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 17.58 @ 79.02

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 135.85

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 109.75
Overall Length: 187.75
Overall Width: 83.25
Overall Height: 77.5
Front/Rear Track: 62.25/62.5
Front/Rear Overhang: 34.5/41.75
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 8.25

Likes

*Hill-descent control
*AC power outlet
*Better entertainment system than we have at home

Dislikes

*Only has 2.57:1 low-range
*Front end looks like a Civic
*Active TRAC traction control punishes tires

Bottom Line

This thing spoils you rotten on any terrain

Toyota 4Runner

Toyota used the NASCAR two-car team strategy this year to infuse our test with some of its new off-road technology. You've already read about how well the giga-buck Lexus works, but the good news is that the new 4Runner shares all the electronic traction aids with the Lexus GX 470. It's just that they're wrapped in the lighter, sportier, and less-expensive 4Runner package. Perhaps the most radical off-road technology in this year's test is Downhill Assist Control (DAC). When in low range you can flip this system on and take your foot off the brake and let the vehicle squeeze the rotors to keep the vehicle under 5 mph. The system is loud and a little unsettling to use because it sounds like firing a large caliber machine gun. But the important part is how well the system works to manage downhill speed. The driver can focus on steering and enjoy the decent. Plus it even works in reverse! To complement DAC the 4Runner also uses Active TRAC traction control instead of front and rear limited-slip differentials. By using the same hardware that operates the ABS, Active TRAC uses the brakes to slow the spinning tires in order to force the tires with grip to do their job. In our testing, the traction control worked OK on the rocks, but we think with 235 hp on tap the 4Runner's real forte is in the sand.

The reason the Lexus came out on top of the 4Runner is not because our judges are spoiled brats and want the status symbol of driving a Lexus. It's primarily due to the way the 4Runner that Toyota sent us was put together. Half the judges couldn't get comfortable in the seats, and the other half felt Toyota latched onto the Chevy Avalanche bandwagon and came home with an ugly truck. Not to mention the gear selector in the Toyota got jammed up during our test, and the Lexus had a real shifter for the transfer case versus the Toyota's dial. What's up with that? Now if our test vehicle had come with a hoodscoop, things might have been different.

General

Manufacturer: Toyota
Model: 4Runner
Base Price: $30,280
Price as Tested: $33,230
Options as Tested: 17-inch aluminum wheels, double-decker cargo, roof rack crossbars, electrochromic rearview mirrors, curtain side airbags, rear-seat audio, foglamps, 115-volt AC outlet, leather steering wheel with audio control, rear spoiler, daytime running lights

Engine

Type: DOHC 32-valve V-8
Displacement (liters/cubic inches): 4.7/284
Bore & Stroke (inches): 3.70x3.31
Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
Induction Type: Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Required (octane)/Capacity (gallons): 91 recomended, 87 acceptable/23
SAE Peak Horsepower: 235 @ 4,800 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft): 320 @ 3,400 rpm

Transmission

Type: 5-speed automatic overdrive
Model: A750F
Ratios: First: 3.52:1; Second: 2.04:1; Third: 1.40:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.71:1; Reverse: 3.22:1
Transfer Case

Type: 2-speed, full-time, with manual locking Torsen center differential
Model: Toyota
Low-Range Ratio: 2.57:1

Axles

Front Type: IFS
Rear Type: Solid axle
Hubs: N/A
Ratio: 3.73:1

Suspension

Front: IFS with upper and lower A-arms, coil springs
Rear: Live axle, with 4-link, track bar, and air springs

Steering

Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio: 3.125/15.7:1
Turning Radius (feet): 36.7

Wheels

Size (inches): 17x7.5
Material: Aluminum

Tires

Size: P265/65R17
Brand: Bridgestone Dueler HT

Brake System

Front: 13.3-inch discs with ABS
Rear: 12.3-inch discs with ABS

Weight (pounds)

Curb Weight: 4,410
Advertised GVWR: 5,510

Mileage

EPA Estimate (city/hwy. mpg): 16/19
As Tested (mpg): 8.58

Acceleration

Standing ¼-mile (seconds @ mph): 17.30 @ 80.58

Braking

60-0 mph (feet): 132.03

Dimensions (inches)

Wheelbase: 110
Overall Length: 188.75
Overall Width: 83.25
Overall Height: 71
Front/Rear Track: 62/62
Front/Rear Overhang: 36.25/42.875
Minimum Front Ground Clearance: 8

Likes

*5-speed transmission
*Rear audio controls
*Torsen diff-equipped transfer case

Dislikes

*Body styling
*Awkward shifter
*No hoodscoop

Bottom Line

Not the 4Runner we had hoped for

Previous 4x4 of the Year Winners

2002: Jeep Grand Cherokee (4.7 HO V-8)
2001: Jeep Grand Cherokee (five-speed auto transmission)
2000: Toyota Tundra
1999: Jeep Grand Cherokee (4.7 V-8 Limited)
1998: Jeep Grand Cherokee (5.9 V-8 Limited)
1997: Jeep Wrangler Sport
1996: Jeep Grand Cherokee (with center diff lock)
1995: Dodge Ram (2500 V-10 longbed Club Cab)
1994: Dodge Ram (1500 V-8 shortbed regular cab)
1993: Jeep Grand Cherokee
1992: Chevrolet Blazer (fullsize)
1991: Dodge Dakota
1990: Nissan Pathfinder (four-door)
1989: Toyota pickup
1988: Jeep Cherokee (4.0L engine)
1987: Nissan Pathfinder (two-door)
1986: Ford Ranger
1985: Isuzu Trooper II
1984: Jeep Cherokee (2.8L engine)
1983: Chevrolet S-10 Blazer

Results of Online Readers' Poll

Which Vehicle Do You Think Will Win 4x4 of the Year?

Chevy Silverado 1500: 5.00%
Ford Ranger FX4 Level II: 0.63%
Dodge Ram 2500: 24.00%
GMC Yukon 1500: 0.44%
Dodge Ram 3500: 3.00%
GMC Yukon XL 2500: 0.46%
Ford Excursion: 0.32%
Hummer H2: 7.00%
Ford Expedition: 0.45%
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: 46.00%
Ford Explorer: 0.18%
Kia Sorento LX: 0.56%
Ford F-150 FX4: 1.00%
Lexus GX 470: 0.96%
Ford F-250 Super Duty: 8.00%
Toyota 4Runner: 2.00%

Test Structure

Category: Ranked Highest

Ride & Drive--30% of total points

*Urban: GX 470
*Highway: GX 470
*Sand: GX 470
*Rockcrawling: Wrangler
*Hillclimbing: 4Runner
*Braking quality: GX 470

Overall: GX 470

Empirical--25% of total points

*Torque/weight ratio: Super Duty
*1/4-mile acceleration: 4Runner
*60-0 braking: 4Runner
*Load-carrying capacity: Ram 2500
*Miles per gallon: Ranger
*Price as tested: Sorento

Overall: Ranger

Mechanical--15% of total points

*Engine's available power: Ram 3500
*Transmission: GX 470
*4WD/low-range engage: GX 470
*Steering: Silverado
*Fit and finish: Ram 3500
*Drivetrain performance: 4Runner

Overall: Ram 3500

Interior--15% of total points

*Ergonomics: Ram 2500
*Appearance, fit and finish: GX 470
*Appointments: GX 470
*Perceived noise level: GX 470

Overall: GX 470

Exterior--15% of total points

*Body styling: Ram 2500
*Cargo: Ram 3500
*Four-wheeling attributes: H2
*Fit and finish: GX 470

Overall: Ram 2500

Winner!

Lexus GX 470

What? Not the vehicle you were expecting to take the crown in the toughest field of 4x4 of the Year competitors ever? Well, it's not exactly what we expected either. But the truth is in the testing and the facts are that the Lexus GX 470 went everywhere and did everything off road that we asked the H2, Wrangler Rubicon, FX4 Ranger, and 12 other heavyweights to do--and it bested them all with Four Seasons suite accommodations, dynamic suspension, and enough 007 gadgetry to make the other vehicles look a little...well, entry level.

In fact, after spending a week in the Lexus figuring out that we liked about it--almost everything--we began fearing that we might have gone soft. It's not like us to fall in love with luxury--we're all about performance! So as the miles ticked by, and the judging books were filled out, we began to realize this Lexus was unlike anything we had ever driven. We weren't being fooled by the upper-class SUV image. Nope, we had fallen for what Lexus calls its "Total Off-Road Management System."

Whatever marketing catch phrase you use to describe it, this is the year that the Lexus raised the technology bar and marked the end of the off-road Stone Age. The GX 470 came to the fight with an advance antilock brake system that's been adapted to be a functional off-road tool in ways no OEM has ever done before. The triple-threat combo of Active TRAC traction control, Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), and Downhill Assist Control (DAC, which makes a ton of noise while active, but proves that the engineers back at Lexus have discovered the formula to defeat gravity) are not just acronyms and names that sound impressive, but are legitimate systems that can replace the need for conventional front and rear limited-slip differentials and low gears for downhill control.

Frankly, we expected that this year's winner of the 4x4 of the Year award would be one of the rigs that took a page from the aftermarket playbook and incorporated hardware like aggressive tires, selectable lockers, or 4:1 low range gears. This Lexus proved our hunch wrong and won it all with its own in-house engineering packaged in a well-rounded luxury sport/ute.

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