We love when we have Of The Year tests with such equally matched competitors, as was the case with this year's test. Going into the competition, there was no clear favorite in the minds of the staff. Each of these vehicles has won our Four Wheeler of the Year test with a previous iteration, making this one of the most closely matched shootouts in recent memory.
The eligibility requirements are the same as always. Each vehicle is invited to participate based on it being all new or substantially revised for the upcoming model year. Each vehicle is also required to have a two-speed transfer case, have a production run of at least 1,500 vehicles available in the U.S., and must be on sale by January 15, 2011.
For 2011, we tested the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR4, and Lexus GX 460. Also invited was the Infiniti QX56, which is now based on the overseas Nissan Patrol platform, but Infiniti was unable to supply us with a vehicle in time for our test.
We score each of the vehicles based on a testing criteria of five weighted categories that include Trail Performance (30%), Empirical (25%), On-Pavement (20%), Interior (15%), and Exterior (10%).
This year's competition took the field on a 1,000-mile tour of Southern California, encompassing everything from desert terrain to twisty mountain roads. A week of rotating in and out of each of the vehicles culminated in the results you see here.
Starting out with the priciest of our V-8-powered trio was the Land Rover LR4 HSE. Beginning at $47,650, our tester was loaded to the hilt with an as-tested price of $62,115. For that money you get a silky smooth 375hp, 375 lb-ft 5.0L DOHC V-8 engine, backed by an equally impressive ZF six-speed automatic transmission. The LR4 comes equipped with full-time four-wheel drive with an all-independent air suspension system, and the optional Heavy Duty package on our tester added a rear-locking differential to the 3.54:1 gearing.
Sharing a platform with our 2010 FWOTY-winning Toyota 4Runner, and being the only vehicle in FWOTY history to win back-to-back titles, the Lexus GX 460 had some big shoes to fill. Our GX tester was a 2010 model (it wasn't available in time for last year's test; neither was the LR4), so the base pricing of $51,970 may not reflect 2011 pricing. Options brought the total to $57,619 and included the all-new 4.6L DOHC V-8 with 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque. An Aisin six-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive system with a lockable center differential routes power through 3.90:1 gearing.
The most affordable vehicle in the test was the reinvigorated Jeep Grand Cherokee. Now featuring four-wheel independent air suspension, Jeep is hoping the Grand Cherokee will appeal to a broader customer base, leaving the solid-axled Wrangler Unlimited for the hardcore customer. Our tester was an Overland model with the 5.7L Hemi OHV V-8 making 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. Power flows from the engine to the full-time four-wheel drive system through a five-speed automatic transmission and 3.47:1 gearing. Our Grand came with an Electronic Limited Slip Differential (ELSD) in the rear as part of the Quadra Drive II package.
Our track testing took place on the abandoned runways at the former El Toro Marine Base in Orange County, California, which gave us plenty of room for acceleration and braking assessments. Unfortunately, the Land Rover was not delivered in time for our instrument testing, and therefore did not score any points in acceleration, braking or RTI portions of the test.
With the Jeep and Lexus present and accounted for, we began our acceleration testing. The Jeep hit 60 mph in 7.97 seconds, with the Lexus out in front with a run of 7.77 seconds. In the quarter-mile, the Grand Cherokee made up some ground over the GX, posting a run of 16.05 seconds at 88.2 mph, compared to the Lexus run of 16.14 at 88.52 mph.
The GX again bested the Grand in 60-0 mph braking by scrubbing off speed in a satisfyingly short 129.95 feet. The Grand's shortest stopping distance was a still respectable but nearly 10-foot-longer distance of 138.20 feet.
Without our 20-degree ramp available this year, we improvised by using a forklift and a special formula that translates the lift height into a 20-degree ramp equivalent number. In no surprise, the rear solid axle-equipped Lexus proved flexier on our simulated RTI test, scoring a 435, while the adjustable air suspension-equipped Grand managed a 302 in the standard ride height configuration, and a 265 in the highest ride height setting.
With three V-8s, our observed fuel economy was directly related to the size of the engines. The 4.6L GX delivered 15.34 mpg, while the 5.0L LR4 delivered 14.47 mpg, and the 5.7L Grand, with one less tank recorded, was the thirstiest at 12.61 mpg.