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2009 4x4 Of The Year Participants

Posted in Project Vehicles on February 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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2009 4x4 Of The Year Participants
131 0902 01 z+2009 dodge ram trx4+passenger side

Dodge Ram TRX4 Quad Cab
Weighing in at 5,400 pounds with a 390hp 5.7L V-8 engine for an overall power-to-weight ratio of 1 hp to every 13.84 pounds (the best in the test), in this corner is the '09 Dodge Ram TRX4 Quad Cab 4x4. Dodge introduced its '09 Ram to the snickers of the competing 1/2-ton truck market because it showed up with a coil-sprung rear suspension. Some folks say all the truck owners who want a carlike ride are leaving the truck segment, and others think that the trucks need every bell and whistle to attract today's finicky buyer. Dodge decided to build a redesigned truck with unique styling to make waves in the truck market. Will these waves swamp the competition or Dodge itself?

Four-wheeling attributes are those from the judge's point of view before the truck ever sees dirt. This year these account for more points than ever. The Ram has a strong-looking steel driveshaft (others have aluminum) and some of the best front tow hooks of the test, requiring no shackle. A trailer hitch counts as a recovery point, and though we don't judge towing, we did like the four- and seven-pin connectors that are mounted safely up in the bumper, not down underneath. (Hey, Ford, please read previous sentence.) The rear link suspension had some low-hanging brackets and shocks, and we're unsure of an aluminum front knuckle and lower A-arm, but we like the transfer case and front axle skidplate.

There are nicer versions with navigation and power adjustable seats, but Dodge sent us the no-frills unit with manual adjusting seats and its basic AM/FM/Sirius radio.

The on-road portion report on the Ram was mostly positive, with one judge declaring the 1/2-ton a big, powerful, comfortable truck in the American tradition, while others thought it would make a great ride for a cross-country trip. All in all, the consensus was that for asphalt wheeling, this Ram was possibly the best-riding trucks tested, and the power from the big V-8 was icing on the cake.

Off road the Ram yelled for attention at times, yet also revealed some secrets. First the bad. Since fuel economy is so important these days, aerodynamics are important. The Ram's new body wraps farther down around the chassis to help get better mileage. We didn't notice how far down it wrapped until it took a beating on the rockcrawl (we might be buying a new bed for a Sunburst Orange Pearl 1/2-ton in Dodge's press fleet). Even though the body hangs low, the suspension flexes even lower, and often this flexy-Ram would tiptoe over rocks, notches, and gullies that would have required a locker in any other 1/2-ton. Speaking of locker, the Ram boasts only a limited-slip differential, but it, combined with the coil rear suspension, had us rarely hunting for traction whether on steep hillclimbs or rutted desert moguls. In the high-speed desert road section, the Dodge dominated, running fast, feeling stable, and bounding over washes without a care. But then we hit the sand and it went sour. The traction safety nannies would step in and pull power when it was needed the most. The light suspension should have been soaking up the dunes, but instead it was having a hard time just getting the power to the ground.

A TRX4 Dodge has won our test before, and this new version would lay a beatdown on its big brother. Can a truck with big power and a flexy suspension take on a smaller wheeler with one or two lockers underneath?

The Goods
* Comfortable ride
* Flexible rear suspension
* Powerful in high-speed dirt

The Bads
* Low body sides
* Annoying traction control
* Bad transmission shifter

View Slideshow
SPECIFICATIONS

GENERAL
Manufacturer Dodge
Model Ram TRX4 Quad Cab
Base Price $32,695
Price as Tested $36,050
Options as Tested TRX4 Group
($1,145), 5.7L V-8 Hemi ($1,{{{300}}})
ENGINE
Type V-8
Displacement (L/ci) 5.7/345
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.92x3.58
Compression Ratio 10.5:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/26
SAE Peak Horsepower 390 @ 5,{{{600}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 407 @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed manual
Model 545RFE
Ratios First: 3.00:1;
Second: 1.67:1 (1.50:1 downshifts);
Third: 1.00:1; Fourth: 0.75:1; Fifth:
0.67:1; Reverse: 3.67:1
TRANSFER CASE
Type Two-speed, part-time
Model NVG243
Low-Range Ratio 2.72:1
Center Locking Differential Yes
AXLES
Front Type 205mm ring gear IFS
Front Diff Open
Rear Type 9.25-inch beam
Rear Diff Limited-slip
Hubs N/A, axle disconnect
Ratio 3.92:1
Traction Aid Brake controlled
SUSPENSION
Front IFS with upper andlower control arms, coil spring over shock, stabilizer bar
Rear Solid axle, five-link with trackbar, coil springs, stabilizer bar
STEERING
Type Power-assistedrack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.5/17.9:1
Turning Circle (ft) 45
WHEELS
Size (in) 17x7.0
Material Aluminum
TIRES
Size LT275/70R17
Brand Goodyear {{{Wrangler}}} AT/S
BRAKES
Front 13.2-inch ventilated discwith 2.13-inch twin-piston caliper
Rear 13.8-inch solid disc with2.13-inch single-piston caliper
60-0 (ft) 152.17
ACCELERATION
Standing 1/4-mile
(seconds @ mph) 16.26 @ 85.70
WEIGHT (lb)
Curb Weight 5,400
Advertised GVWR 6,700
MILEAGE (MPG)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 13/18
As Tested 11.{{{80}}}
DIMENSIONS (in)
Wheelbase 140.5
Overall Length 228.5
Overall Width 97
Overall Height 76
Front/Rear Track 68/67.5
Front/Rear Overhang 39/47
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8.75
131 0902 05 z+2009 ford f150 fx4+passenger side view

Ford F-150 FX4
Weighing in at 5,406 pounds with a 320hp 5.4L V-8 engine for an overall power-to-weight ratio of 1 hp to every 16.8 pounds, here is the '09 Ford F-150 FX4. Ford trucks, like all fullsize trucks, are in a fight for survival these days, and this new F-150 is the automaker's knockout punch. A swing with a well-known club, the F-150 has been the bestselling pickup for years, so the redesign team wanted to keep everything the truck had and add features that would push it ahead. The F-150 has a fully boxed frame, three different V-8 engine options, a new six-speed automatic transmission, and a selectable locking differential.

Underneath, the truck amazed and bewildered us. The big front tow hooks were well received, and we liked the skidplates, though there were some large rock-grabbing holes in the skidplate. The low-hanging parking-brake cable, trailer wiring plug, and wire loom routed outside the framerails and under the sharp body mounts were just plain ridiculous. Where we like to play, stuff like that gets torn off or cut. We're not sure why someone signed off on that design.

The exterior styling was considered busy-clutter on the grille and tailgate ends-but just right from the sideview. Speaking of view, we love the F-150 front-window door cuts and wish Hummer would copy this visibility-enhancing feature. From the front seats the visibility was good and the big HVAC vents appreciated. The seats were given mixed reviews. Some judges just couldn't get comfortable in them, and the driver seat had an annoying random reset, when it would move all the way toward the steering wheel, requiring readjustment. Also, the in-tailgate step and handle that originated in the Super Duty and crossed over to the F-150, though it works, seems like a gimmick that any farmer would break off or not want to use anyway with manure-covered boots.

On the road the truck felt like a truck. It was big, powerful, and quick. It wasn't as cushy a ride as the Dodge, but it wasn't extremely harsh either.

In the dirt the F-150 was a jack of all trails, but master of none. It made the hillclimb, but had a very weird throttle response: The truck would continue to fuel after you lifted your foot from the throttle. In the rocky section, the rear locker worked great and the high rocker panels came out unscathed as compared to the banged-up Ram.

High speed should have been the truck's strong suit, but serious axlewrap issues and a jarring ride had judges shaking their heads. The sand pit also revealed the axlewrap to a point that after just one lap, most judges were ready to get in another truck.

In addition to these results, the F-150 also had one major hiccup that we are assuming was merely a stroke of bad luck for Ford. On our first long climb on mountains roads, we noticed the engine temp climbing. The truck would need to sit with the hood open to cool back down. As the week progressed, the temp would run so high that the air conditioning would shut down, which wasn't exactly fun when testing in the desert where the temperatures were in the 90s. By the end of the week the truck would get warm just sitting and idling with the air conditioning on in a parking lot on a 70-degree day, and we deduced that something was majorly screwed up on this test truck. We were later told by a Ford engineer that it had been run through mud holes on previous PR trips and the radiator just needed to be cleaned out. We've had that same issue in our own project trucks, but it's really just too bad we didn't get a better-prepped truck.

The Goods
* Visibilty
* Power
* Rear locker

The Bads
* Clogged radiator overheating
* Rough ride
* Sticking throttle acceleration

View Slideshow
SPECIFICATIONS

GENERAL
Manufacturer Ford
Model F-150 FX4
Base Price $34,605
Price as Tested $40,495
Options as Tested FX4 and Preferred Equipment Package ($5,890)
ENGINE
Type V-8
Displacement (L/ci) 5.4/330
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.55x4.60
Compression Ratio 9.8:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/26
SAE Peak Horsepower 320 @ 5,000 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 390 @ 3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Six-speed automatic
Model 6R80
Ratios First: 4.17:1;Second: 2.34:1;
Third: 1.52:1; Fourth: 1.14:1; Fifth: 0.86:1;
Sixth: 0.69:1; Reverse: 3.40:1
TRANSFER CASE
Type Two-speed, part-time
Model Borg-Warner 4419
Low-Range Ratio 2.64:1
Center Locking Differential No
AXLES
Front Type Independent
Front Diff Open
Rear Type Live beam
Rear Diff selectable electroniclocker
Hubs IWE
Ratio 3.73:1
Traction Aid Brake controlled,stability controlled
SUSPENSION
Front Coil-on-shock, long spindle,double-wishbone independent
Rear Hotchkiss-typenonindependent live beamwith outboard shocks
STEERING
Type Power-assistedrack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.75/20:1
Turning Circle (ft) 44
WHEELS
Size (in) 17
Material Aluminum
TIRES
Size LT275/70R17
Brand Goodyear WranglerAT Extreme
BRAKES
Front 13.0-inch ventilated disc
Rear 13.7-inch ventilated disc
60-0 (ft) 157.59
ACCELERATION
Standing 1/4-mile
(seconds @ mph) 17.64 @ 81.68
WEIGHT (lb)
Curb Weight 5,406
Advertised GVWR 6,950
MILEAGE (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 14/18
As Tested 11.00
DIMENSIONS (in)
Wheelbase 133
Overall Length 215.5
Overall Width 96.5
Overall Height 76.5
Front/Rear Track 66.5/66.5
Front/Rear Overhang 35.25/48
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8.25
131 0902 09 z+2009 hummer h3 alpha+front view

Hummer H3 Alpha
Weighing in at 4,698 pounds with a 300hp 5.3L V-8 engine for an overall power-to-weight ratio of 1 hp to every 15.6 pounds, in this corner is the '09 Hummer H3 Alpha. We have had a Hummer in the test several times, and every year Hummer was denied the top spot. For 2009 Hummer has all the right stuff-on paper, at least: 5.3L V-8, 4:1 low-range transfer case, nimble 112-inch wheelbase, and finally locking differentials both front and rear. It sounds perfect. It should win hands-down, right?

Four-wheeling attributes revealed the same great things as the H3T: big burly tow hooks front and rear, excellent skidplates, and big tires with awesome approach and departure angles. Oddly, the superb rock-slider options of years past weren't included on our test truck, though they are still available. We liked seeing the iron front axlehousing as a reassurance that the front locking differential won't overstress the case like all the competing aluminum IFS axles do.

Again the interior is a mix of delight and disgust. The seats are great but hard to adjust because the controls are blocked by the door. Visibility is lousy where you need it, but the sunroof's gigantic. Controls are easy to reach, but the transmission shifter has an annoying button that needs pressing for shifting. The engine/transmission hump encroaches on the throttle foot for anyone with over a size 6 boot. The black leather and plastic have an adventurous look, but showed dirt more readily than the tan and cloth interior of the lesser-priced H3T. That said, the addition of a front and rear locker button on the dash earns a gold star from an off-roader's viewpoint.

As much as we like the idea of the V-8 in the H3, the performance wasn't always included. We knew something was amiss when the V-6 Suzuki Equator walked away from the H3 during an impromptu drag race. And though the suspension is ultraflexy, it also allows considerable tailend squat under hard acceleration.

Getting into the twisty rocky dirt trails with the H3 was like showing up at prom with the homecoming queen. The short wheelbase, approach and departure angles, ground clearance, and lockers made short work of obstacles that had other competitors spinning wheels and dinging rocker panels.

Unfortunately, the hillclimb gave the H3 a right hook that left it dazed and confused. Even though the lockers front and rear had all four tires looking for traction, the suspension returned the weird front wheelhop of previously tested H3-not as bad as before, but still there. The H3's short wheelbase also lacked the stability on steep climbs that the fullsizes and H3Ts offered.

In the high-speed sections the H3 was again a contender, but for some reason the V-8 felt locked up like a chastity belt on your prom date-it seemed there was more available, but someone back home wasn't letting it all out, again maybe due to the short wheelbase.

Once the truck was in the sand, it got mixed review. Some judges found the truck a great little dune buggy, and others were scared by the incessant pounding in the rearend as the axle battered the bumpstops.

So, do all the features in the world add up to a great off-roader even if the cool-looking but visibility-hindering body gets in the way? Even though this truck should win on paper, combining all its specs into a truck that works great all around in the dirt isn't as easy as dumping ingredients in a bowl and mixing.

The Goods
* Approach & departure angles
* Front & rear lockers
* 4:1 low range

The Bads
* Needs more power
* Bad visibility
* Hard to shift trans

View Slideshow
SPECIFICATIONS

GENERAL
Manufacturer Hummer
Model H3 Alpha
Base Price $40,660
Price as Tested $46,785
Options as Tested Off-road
suspension package ($1,725),
navigation ($1,{{{720}}}), power sunroof
($995), trailer hitch and wiring
($390), rear vision camera ($550)
ENGINE
Type V-8
Displacement (L/ci) 5.3/325
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.78x3.{{{62}}}
Compression Ratio 9.9:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/23
SAE Peak Horsepower {{{300}}} @ 5,{{{200}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 320 @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Four-speed automatic
Model Hydra-Matic 4L60
Ratios First: 3.06:1;
Second: 1.63:1; Third: 1.00:1;
Fourth: 0.70:1; Reverse: 2.29:1
TRANSFER CASE
Type Two-speed, full-time
Model Borg-Warner 44-94
Low-Range Ratio 4.03:1
Center Locking Differential Yes
AXLES
Front Type AAM 7.6-inch cast iron
Front Diff selectable, Eaton E-locker
Rear Type AAM 8.0-inch cast iron
Front Diff selectable, Eaton E-locker
Hubs N/A
Ratio 4.10:1
Traction Aid Brake controlledStabilitrak stability control
SUSPENSION
Front Independent SLA torsion bar,46mm monotube gas-charged shocks, 36mm tubular stabilizer bar
Rear Hotchkiss-designmultileaf spring, 46mmmonotube gas-charged shocks, 25mm solid stabilizer bar
STEERING
Type Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.25/17:1
Turning Circle (ft) 37
WHEELS
Size (in) 16x7.5
Material Aluminum
TIRES
Size LT285/75R16
Brand Bridgestone Dueler A/T
BRAKES
Front Electro-hydraulic four-piston fixed caliper, antilock
Rear Single-piston sliding caliperw/ Dynamic Rear Proportioning
60-0 (ft) 159.{{{90}}}
ACCELERATION
Standing 1/4-mile
(seconds @ mph) 17.38 @ 79.14
WEIGHT (lb)
Curb Weight 4,698
Advertised GVWR 6,001
MILEAGE (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 13/16
As Tested 11.70
DIMENSIONS (in)
Wheelbase 111.75
Overall Length 187.5
Overall Width 85
Overall Height 74.5
Front/Rear Track 65.375/65.5
Front/Rear Overhang 31.5/44
Min. Front Ground Clearance 9.5
131 0902 13 z+2009 hummer h3t+drivers side view

Hummer H3T Adventure
Weighing in at 4,934 pounds with a 239hp 3.7L I-5 engine for an overall power-to-weight ratio of 1 hp to every 20.6 pounds, here is the '09 Hummer H3T Adventure. The H3T is the next step in the growing Hummer line, and it is hard to box in when compared to other trucks on the market. The 134.2-inch wheelbase but 85.1-inch overall width make it bigger than most midsize trucks yet smaller than most fullsizes. In addition, Hummer's H3T is battling all other trucks and 4x4s with standard full-time four-wheel drive, 32-inch tires, and functional skid shields-and front and rear locking differentials with 33-inch tires. This is the well-rounded 4x4 that Hummer has been aiming for.

Before we hit the trails, we throw every truck up on a rack and diagnose them for off-roading attributes-stuff like skidplates and tow hooks earn them points. Things like low-hanging wires or parts that might get torn off delete points. The H3T was second only to the H3 in off-road attributes. It is outfitted with all the great skidplates and tow hooks the H3 has, but the extra wheelbase, lack of rear trailer hitch, and low-hanging rear spare tire nicked it a point or two. Another odd choice is the rear spring-under axle location. Though that is great off-road, a coil-link suspension would likely have reduced weight and gained ground clearance, though we do like spring-under for the 1/2-ton of H3T cargo capacity.

The interior of the H3T is comfortable, modern, and well situated for off-roading. The manual transmission choice in the H3T does delete the only extra cubby that the H3 automatic has for phone storage. Though slightly better than the H3's, the seat controls are still hard to reach because of the front doors.

Though on-road ability is not a major concern of our test, we still run a fair bit of asphalt and found the H3T to be the slow kid of the posse. The I-5 has great low-end grunt, but the heavy H3T was far from a rocket ship when cruising switchback mountain roads. Other than lack of power, the only other major complaint of the H3T was breakover angle and the notorious Hummer lack of visibility from the narrow gun-slit side and front windows. On the plus side, the Hummer was praised for sending the only manual transmission of the test, as well as the only vehicles with both front and rear locking differentials.

As the H3T moved along through the off-road portion of the test, we found the five-cylinder engine to be less a hindrance than when on road. The mixture of 4:1 low range, 4.56 axle ratios, and 3.75 First gear ratio with front and rear locking differentials worked great with the 241 lb-ft of torque. The wheelbase made short work of any hillclimb we pointed it at, though the long belly sometimes hurt when cresting the top.

That same belly had us taking a weird line in the roughest rockcrawling section and resulted in a ridiculous recovery, albeit from a spot we wouldn't have dared take most of the other contenders. The high-speed and sand sections weren't as bad as we expected, mainly due to the Aisin MA5 manual trans, which could be left in Second or Third gear for the entire run. Amazingly, all the overheating issues from years past have been dealt with, as neither the H3T nor the H3 had a lick of heat issues.

Will Hummer's most useful pickup variant yet sneak by its midsize competition for its slightly longer wheelbase? Or will the lack of get-up-and-go hold it back in a test where black horse winners have been chosen in years past because of serious seat-of-the-pants power?

The Goods
* Best transmission (manual)
* Front & rear lockers
* 4:1 low range

The Bads
* Needs more power
* Bad visibility
* Too long for rockcrawling

View Slideshow
SPECIFICATIONS

GENERAL
Manufacturer Hummer
Model H3T Adventure
Base Price $30,750
Price as Tested $35,885
Options as Tested Adventure package
($2,570), power sunroof
($995), 16-inch aluminum wheels
($550), power driver seat ($275)
ENGINE
Type I-5
Displacement (L/ci) 3.7/223
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.76x4.00
Compression Ratio 10.0:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/27
SAE Peak Horsepower 239 @ 5,{{{600}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 241 @ 4,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed manual
Model Aisin MA5
Ratios First: 3.75:1;Second: 2.20:1;
Third: 1.37:1; Fourth: 1.00:1;
Fifth: 0.73:1; Reverse: 3.67:1
TRANSFER CASE
Type Two-speed, full-time
Model Borg-Warner 44-94
Low-Range Ratio 4.03:1
Center Locking Differential Yes
AXLES
Front Type AAM 7.6-inch cast iron
Front Diff selectable, Eaton E-locker
Rear Type AAM 8.0-inch cast iron
Rear Diff selectable, Eaton E-locker
Hubs N/A
Ratio 4.56:1
Traction Aid Brake controlledStabilitrak stability control
SUSPENSION
Front Independent SLA torsion bar,46mm monotube gas-charged shocks, 36mm tubular stabilizer bar
Rear Hotchkiss-designmultileaf spring, 46mmmonotube gas-charged shocks, 25mm solid stabilizer bar
STEERING
Type Power-assistedrack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.125/16:1
Turning Circle (ft) 43.8
WHEELS
Size (in) 16x7.5
Material Aluminum
TIRES
Size LT285/75R16
Brand Bridgestone Dueler A/T
BRAKES
Front Electro-hydraulic four-piston fixed caliper, antilock
Rear Single-piston sliding caliperw/ Dynamic Rear Proportioning
60-0 (ft) 146.82
ACCELERATION
Standing 1/4-mile
(seconds @ mph) 18.14 @ 75.67
WEIGHT (lb)
Curb Weight 4,934
Advertised GVWR 6,001
MILEAGE (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 14/18
As Tested 13.86
DIMENSIONS (in)
Wheelbase 134
Overall Length 212
Overall Width 85
Overall Height 73
Front/Rear Track 65.375/65.5
Front/Rear Overhang 31.5/44.5
Min. Front Ground Clearance 9.5
131 0902 17 z+2009 kia borrego ex v8+front view

Kia Borrego EX V8
Weighing in at 4,909 pounds with a 337hp 4.6L V-8 engine for an overall power-to-weight ratio of 1 hp to every 14.56 pounds, in this corner is the '09 Kia Borrego EX V8. In past tests (2003) the Kia did so well that one of the guys on staff bought one for his wife. Kia is very proud of its new SUV and its first-ever V-8 offering, and the automaker could have a winner for your average small family.

The Borrego did little to impress in the four-wheeling attributes section. Its rear driveshaft was tucked up nicely due to the rear independent suspension. However, there were low-hanging power-steering and trailer wires, plastic skidplates, running boards, and a general lack of any serious off-road consideration.

The interior of the Kia and its on-road performance were adequate by off-roading standards. The V-8 engine, when mixed with the small, easy-to-shift automatic transmission, was fun on paved mountain roads and comfortable for around-town driving. The navigation system and interior styling were all respectable, but for some reason no judge ranked them as impressive.

Once the Borrego hit the dirt it was a downhill slide. Our test starts off easy with a simple dirt and gravel trail in the outskirts of Big Bear, California, leading uphill to one entry-level rockcrawling obstacle. The Kia had trouble before we even made it up the hill. We're not huge fans of brake-based traction control, but we admit that this is usually better than no traction-aiding device at all. However, while most traction-control vehicles have a computer system that applies the brakes to the spinning wheel, thus sending power to the nonspinning wheel, the Kia's traction control didn't seem to work at all. Even on very simple, loose dirt climbs or when crossing shallow gullies when opposite tires were loose, the Kia would lose traction, get erratic wheelspin, and eventually start coasting backward even though all tires were trying to go forward. We're sure the barely all-terrain P265/60 R18 tires didn't help. We have tested dismally bad vehicles in years past, and the Kia was no different.

In both the hillclimb and the rockcrawl the Kia was a failure. Had we been on 4x4 of the Year Survivor it would have been voted off the island the first episode.

Luckily, as the week progressed, we found some places the Borrego actually was fun to drive, namely in the high-speed and sand segments. It was then when we could honestly say the Kia V-8 is a great engine. It gets the car up and moving and can send you to speeds the rest of the car cannot support (no, we didn't use the word car by accident). Namely the suspension, though fully independent, just couldn't keep up with the high speeds. It was a fast rough ride, sometimes scary, sometimes exhilarating.

So how did this little SUV do? We'd be lying if we said it was even in bronze medal territory. Luckily for the Borrego, other vehicles on the test began acting up as the week went on, so the Borrego didn't hold the entire spotlight for worst ride of the week.

We must give credit to the engineers (with emphasis on "engine") for offering a fun daily driver, and we wouldn't be surprised at all to see some maniac take the Borrego, fine-tune the suspension, install a spool or a set of lockers, and enter in some off-road race. But until these upgrades are done in the factory, we think the boss's wife will still be driving her Sorrento.

The Goods
* Great first V-8
* Comfortable interior
* Easy-shifting transmission

The Bads
* Lack of traction
* Minimal ground clearance
* Boring styling

View Slideshow
SPECIFICATIONS

GENERAL
Manufacturer Kia
Model Borrego EX V8
Base Price $26,995
Price as Tested $39,295
Options as Tested $5,550
(Premium Package $1,800, Nav
System $1,500, Luxury Package
$1,500, P265/65R18 tires and wheels $750)
ENGINE
Type V-8
Displacement (L/ci) 4.6/282
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.62x3.43
Compression Ratio 10.4:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/20.6
SAE Peak Horsepower 337 @ 6,000rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) {{{323}}} @ 3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Six-speed automatic
Model ZF
Ratios First: 4.17:1; Second: 2.34:1;
Third: 1.52:1; Fourth: 1.14:1; Fifth:
0.87:1; Sixth: 0.69:1; Reverse: N/A
TRANSFER CASE
Type Two-speed, full-time
Model Borg-Warner
Low-Range Ratio 2.48:1
Center Locking Differential No
AXLES
Front Type IFS
Front Diff Open
Rear Type IRS
Rear Diff Open
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.357:1
Traction Aid Antilock BrakeSystem (ABS) with brake assist,
Electronic Stability Control
(ESC), Traction Control System
(TCS), Brake Assist System (BAS),
Electronic Brake Distribution
(EBD), Hill Assist Control (HAC),
Downhill Brake Control (DBC)
SUSPENSION
Front Double wishbone
Rear Multilink
STEERING
Type Power-assistedrack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock 3.5
Turning Circle (ft) 36.5
WHEELS
Size (in) 18x7.5
Material Chrome
TIRES
Size LT265/60R18
Brand Hankook Radial RA07
BRAKES
Front 12.9-inch ventilated disk
Rear 12.8-inch solid disk
60-0 (feet) 129.47
ACCELERATION
Standing 1/4-mile
(seconds @ mph) 16.77 @ 84.26
WEIGHT (lb)
Curb Weight 4,909
Advertised GVWR 6,173
MILEAGE (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 16/20
As Tested 13.42
DIMENSIONS (in)
Wheelbase 114
Overall Length 194
Overall Width 85.5
Overall Height 69
Front/Rear Track 63.25/63.5
Front/Rear Overhang 37/42
Min. Front Ground Clearance 6.5
131 0902 21 z+2009 suzuki equator rmz4+front view

Suzuki Equator Crew Cab RMZ-4
Weighing in at 4,491 pounds (lightest of the test) with a 261hp 4.0L V-6 engine for an overall power-to-weight ratio of 1 hp to every 17.2 pounds, in this corner is the '09 Suzuki Equator 4x4 Crew Cab RMZ-4. Suzuki is known for making off-road vehicles, though most of them are bikes and quads that fit in the bed of a truck. Suzuki's customer base is pretty dedicated, and when they asked Suzuki, who makes SUVs like the Grand Vitara, to make a truck they could haul their bikes in, Suzuki listened. Suzuki thought long and hard about the request and decided that outsourcing its truck would make the best business sense. The company came home with a midsize truck based on the Nissan Frontier but kitted up in unique Suzuki body skins and features. The big dimpled grille and standard side-curtain airbags give this truck a look and standard safety rating different from the Frontier.

Underneath the Equator, we found a vulnerable aluminum driveshaft; adequate skidplates on the engine, transfer case and fuel tank; and only one front tow hook. We did notice the Bilstein shocks, but we wondered why the rear axle vent didn't have a hose running up to a higher location.

From the driver seat the truck was described as basic and straightforward with no extra frills and nothing extraneous. Unlike some magazines, we applaud trucks for being so dirt-simple. Judges liked the e-brake handle in the center console where it should be, and some wished that Suzuki would have chosen the manual transmission rather than only offering the four-wheel-drive version with the auto. Cargo ability was also great due to the in-bed tie-down system and spray-in bedliner.

On the road the Equator had drivers losing years off their age. It turned grown men into 17-year-olds behind the wheel of their first real truck. The truck was repeatedly described as fun, peppy, zippy, and the perfect first truck, especially for urban driving and country roads. The long-haul discomfort, highway expansion joint hop, and wind noise reminded the elder judges of their age, but most were willing to deal with it for the fun factor and V-6 pep.

Off road the Suzuki gods were smiling on their new little truck. It wheeled with the best of our test and rarely fell behind. The rockcrawling portion had judges wishing for lower gears but praising the rear suspension and selectable locker. The hillclimb was a point-and-shoot affair, and the high-speed desert runs had drivers grinning like kids, even though a little more power would have been welcome and the smaller size was obvious when compared to the big Dodge. The sand results were all over the place for judges. Some drivers declared the truck perfect, others a bit rough and choppy, but most agreed it was a contender for the crown-perfect at nothing, but great at everything.

So will the Suzuki-badged Frontier be able to execute the Fists of Death powerpunch and tip the scales in its favor? Like the Karate Kid, it's a newcomer to the game, but it has plenty of Nissan experience in its corner. Plus the overall good times the truck offered to judges with its size and power gave it "fun points" that some other trucks just couldn't match. If it takes the crown, the boss's hair just might turn from gray to brown as he reverts to his 16-year-old self while driving the long-term tester over the next year.

The Goods
* Simple interior
* Rear locker
* Fun to drive

The Bads
* Needs a manual tranny
* Needs lower gearing
* Needs low-end torque

View Slideshow
SPECIFICATIONS

GENERAL
Manufacturer Suzuki
Model Equator Crew Cab RMZ-4
Base Price $28,550
Price as Tested $31,494
Options as Tested Floor mats($119), Sport Package ($2,050,
includes VDC, HDC, HSA, sunroof,
Rockford-Fosgate premium audio with
Bluetooth, XM, and steering wheel controls), destination ($775)
ENGINE
Type V-6
Displacement (L/ci) 4.0/244
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.76x3.{{{62}}}
Compression Ratio 9.7:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/21.1
SAE Peak Horsepower 261 @ 5,{{{600}}} rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 281 @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Five-speed automatic
Model N/A
Ratios First: 3.84:1; Second: 2.35:1;
Third: 1.53:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fourth:
0.84:1; Reverse: 2.76:1
TRANSFER CASE
Type Two-speed, part-time
Model (Fuji Univance)
Low-Range Ratio 2.63:1
Center Locking Differential Yes
AXLES
Front Type Dana
Front Diff Open
Rear Type Dana 44
Rear Diff Selectable electroniclocker
Hubs Automatic
Ratio 3.36:1
Traction Aid Active Brake limited-slip,
Electronic Stabilty Control (ESC), Hill Descent Control (HDC)
SUSPENSION
Front Independent double-wishbone w/stabilizer bar and Bilstein high-performance shocks
Rear Multileaf springs withBilstein high-performance shocks
STEERING
Type Power-assistedrack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.5/20:1
Turning Circle (ft) 43.33
WHEELS
Size (in) 16x7
Material Aluminum Alloy
TIRES
Size P265/75R16
Brand BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A
BRAKES
Front Dual-piston,11.7-inch vented disc
Rear Single-piston,11.3-inch vented disc
60-0 (feet) 138.88
ACCELERATION
Standing 1/4-mile
(seconds @ mph) 17.53 @ 81.15
WEIGHT (lb)
Curb Weight 4,491
Advertised GVWR 5,600
MILEAGE (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 14/19
As Tested 13.71
DIMENSIONS (in)
Wheelbase 126
Overall Length 206.75
Overall Width 83.5
Overall Height 69.5
Front/Rear Track 62/62
Front/Rear Overhang 31.5/46.75
Min. Front Ground Clearance 9.25
131 0902 25 z+2009 toyota sequoia platinum+drivers side view

Toyota Sequoia Platinum
Weighing in at 6,000 pounds (fattest of the test) with a 381hp 5.7L V-8 engine for an overall power-to-weight ratio of 1 hp to every 15.7 pounds, in this corner is the '09 Toyota Sequoia Platinum. A year ago a similarly sized and equally powered Toyota Land Cruiser won our 4x4 of the Year. Can this bigger brother follow in the family footsteps?

In the rest of the world, it's the Land Cruiser that is king of the Toyotas, but Toyota figured we want everything bigger in America so it brought us the Sequoia. Similar in size and styling to the latest Tundra, the Sequoia was the troop carrier of our test, with three rows of seats, a plush IFS/IRS suspension, and plenty of power. It was the short bus of choice when judges had to load up for trips to the steakhouse. Toyota also touts its Sequoia's 10,000-pound towing capacity, E85 flex-fuel availability, and Adaptive Variable Suspension, which adjusts for three driving modes: comfort, normal, and sport.

Up on the rack we noticed some of the well-known Toyota skidplates attached directly to components like the transfer case rather than to crossmembers like other makes, and the useful tow hooks, but there were also low-hanging mufflers and running boards. When will the OEMs realize that running boards on 4x4 of the Year are like ducks on a bicycle? One feature we like about the independent rear suspension is the well-protected rear driveshaft.

The interior is a mix of Land Cruiser luxury and Tundra obesity. The seats, levers, buttons, and dials are all big, but sometimes they feel mockingly big, as though they're making fun of the "Americans like big cars" stereotype. The interior feels nice but less comfortable than the Dodge, though we do appreciate the abundance of grab handles, cup holders, and cubbies.

On the road the Sequoia feels the way it looks-big. Though powerful and very manageable, the girth of this truck isn't lost in translation and can be felt wallowing no matter what mode the suspension is in. A canyon carver it's not. But for a long haul with every kid in the Cub Scout troop and with your boat in tow, it fits the bill.

The dirt didn't diminish the overall dimensions of the truck. On tight trails it felt even bigger, but the one saving grace was the excellent steering, which could spin the truck around in amazingly tight spaces. Of course, steering doesn't equal ground clearance, and those darn rock slider-err, step boards-didn't always win the granite wrestling match. To add to that fact, many of these newer Toyotas have giant rear bumpers that wrap around and over the whole back side like a baby's giant diaper, and many times that diaper can snag on trail obstacles.

The hillclimb found the brake-based traction control working, but the street tires on 20-inch rims not so much. Toyota deviously calls the traction control "limited slip," though the diffs are actually open. The sand revealed that if you shut off all the nannies (stability control, active traction control, and so on), you could have a good time in this brute. One judge was able to turn the nannies back on, while another literally had the rear tires smoking in the sand with a 381hp burnout.

The Sequoia has may great features for the family looking for a big people-mover. It can get power to the ground, weave through tight turns, and be more fun than a gasoline bonfire in the sand, but does this lumbering giant have what it takes to win off road?

The Goods
* Big engine power
* Tight steering
* Nice family wagon

The Bads
* Lack of traction
* Lack of clearance
* Overabundant body

View Slideshow
SPECIFICATIONS

GENERAL
Manufacturer Toyota
Model Sequoia Platinum
Base Price $55,{{{600}}}
Price as Tested $59,055
Options as Tested $2,770(rear-seat entertainment $1,670,
laser cruise control $600, floor mats $290, misc. $210)
ENGINE
Type V-8
Displacement (L/ci) 5.7/345.6
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.70x4.02
Compression Ratio 10.2:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/ Capacity (gal) 87/26.4
SAE Peak Horsepower 381 @ 5,600 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 401 @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION
Type Six-speed automatic
Model AB60F
Ratios First: 3.33:1; Second: 1.96:1;
Third: 1.35:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth:
0.73:1; Sixth: 0.59:1; Reverse: 3.06:1
TRANSFER CASE
Type Two-speed, full-time
Model JF3A
Low-Range Ratio 2.618:1
Center Locking Differential Yes
AXLES
Front Type SD22A
Front Diff Open
Rear Type FD25A
Rear Diff Open
Hubs Automatic
Ratio 4.30:1
Traction Aid Brake controlled
SUSPENSION
Front High-mounted, coil-sprungindependent double-
wishbone with low-pressure gas-filled
shocks and stabilizer bar
Rear Coil-sprung independent
double-wishbone with low-pressure gas-charged
shocks, stabilizer bar, and airbags
STEERING
Type Power-assistedrack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock 3.75
Turning Circle (ft) 39
WHEELS
Size (in) 20x7.5
Material Aluminum
TIRES
Size P275/55R20
Brand Bridgestone Dueler H/L
BRAKES
Front 13.9-inch ventilated disc
Rear 13.6-inch ventilated disc
60-0 (ft) 142.81
ACCELERATION
Standing 1/4-mile
(seconds @ mph) 16.32 @ 89.21
WEIGHT (lb)
Curb Weight 6,000
Advertised GVWR 7,{{{300}}}
MILEAGE (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 13/18
As Tested 12.00
DIMENSIONS (in)
Wheelbase 122
Overall Length 205
Overall Width 97
Overall Height 76
Front/Rear Track 67.75/69.25
Front/Rear Overhang 36.5/47.5
Min. Front Ground Clearance 8

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