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The evolution of the sport-utility vehicle has been an interesting one. Starting out as a completely utilitarian piece, the SUV has evolved into something resembling a luxury car with four-wheel drive. We know all about the evolution of the SUV because every year we gather those that are new, or that exhibit significant changes, for our Four Wheeler of the Year test. This year that group includes the Chevy TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, Isuzu Axiom, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover Freelander, Mercedes-Benz ML 500, and the Nissan Xterra. And what was clear this year was this: The evolutionary trend toward luxury is continuing, and at the expense of at least some four-wheeling competence. Equally clear, however, was that several manufacturers still remember how to build true four-wheel-drive SUVs.
To win Four Wheeler of the Year, a vehicle must be adept at conquering our off-highway test loops, as well as various other sets of very challenging trails. Its got to work well on some trails at very low speeds, and on others at higher speeds. It must impart confidence on mountain roads, and deliver solid performance in the city and in everyday freeway driving. And its got to survive the very strenuous workout the Four Wheeler performance testing sessions impart.
In short, the Four Wheeler of the Year is the most solid, reliable utility player that we can find, with a specialty in the activity that we all lovefour-wheeling. But thats not all. It also must possess great mechanical components, a comfortable interior, and an excellent drivetrain. This might seem impossible, but it isnt, as every year we find a deserving winner. Sometimes we even find several vehicles to which we wish we could award the Four Wheeler of the Year accolade.
For the complete story, the road tests, the scores, and the winner, pick up the February issue of Four Wheeler.