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2005 Ten Best 4x4 Vehicles - 10 Best Buys In Four-Wheel Drive

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on September 1, 2005 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Staff

Having evaluated four-wheel-drive vehicles for more than 42 years, we at Four Wheeler consider ourselves the authority of the four-wheel-drive market. As the authority, we feel it is our responsibility to look at all of the vehicles currently available for the 2005 model year and choose the best out-of-the-box four-wheelers for you, our readers. The winners of each category are not solely chosen on price, but rather from a mix of criteria that starts with off-road capability and compares that against other vehicles in their class, and how they stack up against each other when value, equipment, versatility, and overall attributes are considered. In a nutshell, we have selected the vehicles that will get you on the trail quicker and best lend themselves to aftermarket upgrades. Our staff nominated the field and took the debate to the conference room where we arrived at the consensus you see here; Four Wheeler's 2005 10 Best Buys in Four-Wheel Drive.

Who can argue with a Jeep Wrangler for best out-of-the-box compact SUV? It has been the standard of the four-wheeling world since your grandfather thumbed through the pages of Four Wheeler back in the day. Add the Rubicon package with beefier axles, 4.56 gears, 31-inch Goodyear MT/R tires, and lockers front and rear, and you have a solid foundation for a great trail rig. Not much discussion had to take place between staffers on this pick.
Others Considered: None

Vehicle/model: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Estimated price: $28,125

ENGINE
Type: 4.2L I-6
Horsepower @ rpm: 190 @ 4,600
Torque @ rpm: 235 @ 3,200
EPA city/highway mpg: 15/19

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: Six-speed manual/four-speed automatic
Transfer case: NV241 Rock-Trac
Transfer case: ratio 4.00:1
Axle ratio: 4.11:1

SUSPENSION
Front: Solid axle, coil springs
Rear: Solid axle, coil springs

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 16x8-inch alloy
Tires, base: 31-inch Goodyear MTR

BRAKES
Front: Disc/ABS
Rear: Disc/ABS

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 93.4
Length, in.: 154.9
Width, in.: 68.3
Height, in.: 71.2
Curb weight, lb.: 3,832
Fuel capacity, gal.: 19
Ground clearance, in.: 8.6
Seating: 4
Towing capacity, lb.: 2,000

The first-generation Xterra catered to those who felt that SUVs had become too refined, outgrowing their original rough and tumble, go-anywhere mission. Now in its second generation, the Xterra is back and more enthusiast-friendly than ever, especially when equipped with the Off Road package, which adds 33-inch BFGoodrich tires, Bilstein shocks, front and rear limited slip, and a driver-selectable rear locker. Also figure in Nissan's robust F-Alpha platform on which it's based, and nothing else in its class offers these wheeling credentials for the money. Some on our staff consider it to be a modern-day XJ Cherokee.
Others Considered: Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner

Vehicle/model: Nissan Xterra
Estimated price: $23,450

ENGINE
Type: 4.0L V-6
Horsepower @ rpm: 265 @ 5,600
Torque @ rpm: 284 @ 4,000
EPA city/highway mpg: 16/22

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: Six-speed manual/five-speed automatic
Transfer case: Part-time two-speed
Transfer case: ratio 2.56:1
Axle ratio: 3.23:1

SUSPENSION
Front: IFS, double-wishbone, stabilizer bar
Rear: Solid axle, leaf springs, stabilizer bar

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 16-inch steel
Tires, base: P265/70R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A

BRAKES
Front: Disc/ABS
Rear: Disc/ABS

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 106.3
Length, in.: 178.7
Width, in.: 72.8
Height, in.: 74.9
Curb weight, lb.: 4,382
Fuel capacity, gal.: 21.1
Ground clearance, in.: 9.5
Seating: 5
Towing capacity, lb.: 5,000

Name one fullsize SUV that comes to the game fully loaded with 33-inch, or larger, tires, a rear locker, and rock rails. OK, so we'll give you the Hummer H1, but at more than $120,000, it is out of the reach of most consumers. For half the money, you can get over 90 percent of the H1's capabilities in another Hummer, the H2. We chose the SUT version because we'd rather have a usable bed and a Midgate over a third row that shares real estate with the spare tire. We also considered the solid-axled Excursion and legendary Toyota Land Cruiser, but neither has the attention of the aftermarket, or is so well equipped for the trail as the Hummer H2.
Others Considered: Ford Excursion, Hummer H1 Alpha, Toyota Land Cruiser

Vehicle/model: Hummer H2 SUT
Estimated price: $52,845 (base)

ENGINE
Type: Vortec 6.0L V-8
Horsepower @ rpm: 316 @ 5,200
Torque @ rpm: 360 @ 3,600
EPA city/highway mpg: 10/13

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: 4L65-E four-speed automatic
Transfer case: Two-speed with neutral
Transfer case: ratio 2.64:1
Axle ratio: 4.10:1

SUSPENSION
Front: IFS, torsion bars
Rear: Five-link, air springs

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 17-inch cast aluminum
Tires, base: LT315/70R17 BFGoodrich A/T

BRAKES
Front: Disc/ABS
Rear: Disc/ABS

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 122.8
Length, in.: 203.5
Width, in.: 81.2
Height, in.: 78.5
Curb weight, lb.: 6,400
Fuel capacity, gal.: 32
Ground clearance, in.: 10
Seating: 5
Towing capacity, lb.: 6,500

It's no secret, we love the Lexus GX 470. We love it so much that not only did it win Four Wheeler of the Year twice, but we also built one up in the form of Project TraiLex, just to show all of the naysayers out there that this Luxo-rig does belong on the trail. Sure, we considered the Volkswagen Touareg and its Porsche Cayenne relative, the Mercedes G-Class and a host of others. But in our mind, no luxury SUV is as good on- or off-pavement for the money as the GX 470. Hey, after all of our positive experiences with this Lexus, we'll admit to being a little biased. Show us another vehicle that wins two "of the Year" competitions in three years, and you'll see another winner on this list.
Others Considered: Land Rover Range Rover, Infiniti QX56, Mercedes G-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg

Vehicle/model: Lexus GX 470
Estimated price: $46,875

ENGINE
Type: 4.7L V-8
Horsepower @ rpm: 270 @ 5,400
Torque @ rpm: 330 @ 3,400
EPA city/highway mpg: 15/19

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Transfer case: Full-time two-speed
Transfer case: ratio 2.56:1
Axle ratio: 3.73:1

SUSPENSION
Front: IFS, coil springs, KDSS stabilizer bar
Rear: Solid axle, air springs, KDSS stabilizer bar

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 17-inch alloy
Tires, base: 265/65HR17

BRAKES
Front: Disc/ABS
Rear: Disc/ABS

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 109.8
Length, in.: 188.2
Width, in.: 74
Height, in.: 74.6
Curb weight, lb.: 4,781
Fuel capacity, gal.: 23
Ground clearance, in.: 9.8
Seating: 5
Towing capacity, lb.: 6,200

Just like the Xterra, which it shares a platform with, Nissan has wowed us with 33-inch tires, front and rear limited slips, Bilstein shocks and a selectable rear-locking differential. We like the smooth automatic, but prefer the excellent six-speed manual trans where we can enjoy every one of those 265 ponies pouring from the 4.0L DOHC V-6. It'll roast them in First, squeal them in Second, and chirp them in Third. We also considered the Toyota Tacoma TRD, but where the Toyota is isolated and comfy, the Nissan is tactile and tossable. Its engaging nature begs it to be driven hard, making it a joy to drive on the pavement and in the dirt. The Nissan Frontier NISMO is our pick for best midsize truck on the market.
Others Considered: Toyota Tacoma TRD

Vehicle/model: Nissan Frontier NISMO
Estimated price: $22,100

ENGINE
Type: 4.0L V-6
Horsepower @ rpm: 235 @ 5,600
Torque @ rpm: 284 @ 4,000
EPA city/highway mpg: 15/20

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: Six-speed manual/five-speed automatic
Transfer case: Part-time two-speed
Transfer case: ratio 2.57:1
Axle ratio: N/A

SUSPENSION
Front: IFS, double-wishbone, stabilizer bar
Rear: Solid axle, leaf springs

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 17x7.5 aluminum alloy
Tires, base: P265/75R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail TA

BRAKES
Front: Disc/ABS
Rear: Disc/ABS

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 125.9 (crew cab)
Length, in.: 205.5 (crew cab)
Width, in.: 72.8
Height, in.: 73.9
Curb weight, lb.: 4,524
Fuel capacity, gal.: 21
Ground clearance, in.: 10.1
Seating: 5
Towing capacity, lb.: 6,100

Possibly the hardest decision of the 10 was in this category. Each nominee has its strengths and weaknesses, and all are well represented in the aftermarket. The staff was evenly split between the respective manufacturers, but in the end, the high number of configurations (engines, cabs, bed lengths), top-notch interior, beefy axles, and coilover suspension edged the F-150 over the highly regarded Dodge Ram and Nissan Titan. A new, more powerful Toyota Tundra is on the horizon, and the General's products are due for an overhaul next year, so look for the competition in this category to only get stiffer.
Others Considered: Dodge Ram 1500, Nissan Titan

Vehicle/model: Ford F-150 FX4
Estimated price: $31,475

ENGINE
Type: 5.4L Triton V-8
Horsepower @ rpm: 300 @ 5,000
Torque @ rpm: 365 @ 3,750
EPA city/highway mpg: N/A

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Transfer case: Part-time two-speed
Transfer case: ratio 2.64:1
Axle ratio: 3.73:1

SUSPENSION
Front: IFS, double wishbone, coilover shocks
Rear: Solid axle, leaf springs

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 17-inch machined aluminum
Tires, base: P275/65Rx18

BRAKES
Front: Disc brakes, ABS
Rear: Disc brakes, ABS

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 138.5 (super crew)
Length, in.: 223.8 (super crew)
Width, in.: 78.9
Height, in.: 76
Curb weight, lb.: 5,464
Fuel capacity, gal.: 30
Ground clearance, in.: 8.1
Seating: 6
Towing capacity, lb.: 8,200

Unlike the 1/2-ton category, no debating was required when we reached our discussion of this category. There is no question in our minds as to which 3/4-ton truck offers the best value and wheeling ability from the factory. How can you argue with high-travel solid axles with front coils, single-stage leaves, and Bilstein shocks? Also included on the Power Wagon is the meaty 5.7L Hemi V-8, front and rear lockers (rear limited-slip when unlocked), electronically disconnecting swaybar, Warn winch, forged wheels, and BFGoodrich A/Ts. Kudos to Dodge for creating the Power Wagon, which not only wins this category hands down, but won our 2005 Pickup Truck Of the Year competition. One staffer summed up the Power Wagon by saying, "This thing is unstoppable---an awesome truck!"
Others Considered: None

Vehicle/model: Power Wagon
Estimated price: $39,970

ENGINEBase
Type: 5.7L Hemi V-8
Horsepower @ rpm: 345 @ 5,400
Torque @ rpm: 375 @ 4,200
EPA city/highway mpg: N/A

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: Six-speed manual/five-speed automatic
Transfer case: Part-time two-speed
Transfer case: ratio 2.72:1
Axle ratio: 4.56:1

SUSPENSION
Front: Solid axle, coil springs
Rear: Solid axle, leaf springs

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 17x8 aluminum
Tires, base: LT285/70R17D BFGoodrich A/T

BRAKES
Front: Disc/ABS
Rear: Disc/ABS

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 140.5 (crew cab)
Length, in.: 227.7 (crew cab)
Width, in.: 79.9
Height, in.: 79
Curb weight, lb.: 6,072
Fuel capacity, gal.: 34
Ground clearance, in.: 8.5
Seating: 5
Towing capacity, lb.: 13,050

Whoa! Before you start accusing us of having an affinity for Blue Ovals, Ford once again won our editors over with its countless configurations that no other manufacturer can match. Would you like a V-8, V-10, or turbodiesel with your solid axles? Match that up with an automatic or manual transmission? How about a regular cab, SuperCab, or Crew Cab? Did you say you wanted a short, medium, or long bed with that? How about all those trim levels, the integrated trailer brake controller, or the off-road package? Sorry, Bow Tie and Mopar guys, there is a reason Ford has been the bestselling fullsize truck and vehicle for more than two decades. It may not be the best at everything, but it does everything well.
Others Considered: Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra 3500, Dodge Ram 3500

Vehicle/model: Ford Super Duty F-350
Estimated price: $22,390

ENGINE
Type: 5.4L Triton V-8
Horsepower @ rpm: 300 @ 4,750
Torque @ rpm: 365 @ 3,750
EPA city/highway mpg: N/A

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Transfer case: Part-time two-speed
Transfer case: ratio 2.72:1
Axle ratio: 3.73:1

SUSPENSION
Front: Solid axle, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Rear: Solid axle, leaf springs

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 17-inch stamped steel
Tires, base: LT245/75R17E

BRAKES
Front: Disc
Rear: Disc

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 137.0-172.4
Length, in.: 226.4-261.8
Width, in.: 79.9-95.5
Height, in.: N/A
Curb weight, lb.: 6,114-7,014
Fuel capacity, gal.: 29.0-38.0
Ground clearance, in.: N/A
Seating: 3-6
Towing capacity, lb.: 12,500-24,800

It is an exciting time for diesel technology, and with the next-generation diesel engines on the scene, there has never been a better time to own a diesel-powered four-wheeler. We initially considered Jeep's 2.8L I-4 CRD from the Liberty and Volkswagen's 5.0L V-10 TDI from the Touareg, but the V-10 isn't available in the U.S. for 2005 (but will return for 2006) and the diesel Liberty isn't available in all 50 states yet. That left us with the familiar favorites: Cummins' 5.9L I-6 HO for the Dodge Ram, Isuzu's Duramax 6600 V-8 for the Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra, and International's Power Stroke 6.0L V-8 for the Ford Super Duty. Having driven all of these engines back to back in both towing and unladen situations, our nod goes to the linear power and higher redline of the Power Stroke, which melds the awesome low-end of the Cummins with the kick-in-the-pants passing acceleration of the Duramax.
Others Considered: Cummins 5.9L HO, Isuzu Duramax 6600

Our pick for best overall four-wheeler is the Land Rover LR3. With an impressively tight chassis, terrain-conforming air suspension, and an electronic Terrain Response system that actually works without being invasive, the Land Rover LR3 is a vehicle that off-pavement novices and experienced pros alike can enjoy. Impressive is the number of four-wheeling accessories that cater to the hard-core enthusiast and a ride that seemingly turns boulder-pocked trails into asphalt ribbons. The LR3 is everything the Discovery was, in an adept package that works just as well on-road as off. A new V-6 model has been added to the lineup, bringing the price of the LR3 within the reach of the average entry-level luxury SUV buyer. However, we'll take ours with the 300hp V-8 and outfitted for the Land Rover G4 Challenge.
Others Considered: None.

Vehicle/model: Land Rover LR3
Estimated price: $44,995

ENGINE
Type: 4.4L DOHC V-8
Horsepower @ rpm: 300 @ 5,500
Torque @ rpm: 315 @ 4,000
EPA city/highway mpg: 14/18

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Transfer case: Full-time two-speed
Transfer case: ratio 2.93:1
Axle ratio: 3.73:1

SUSPENSION
Front: IFS, air springs
Rear: IRS, air springs

WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels, base: 18x8 aluminum
Tires, base: 255/60HR18 M+S

BRAKES
Front: Disc/ABS
Rear: Disc/ABS

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wheelbase, in.: 113.6
Length, in.: 190.9
Width, in.: 75.4
Height, in.: 74.1
Curb weight, lb.: 5,426
Fuel capacity, gal.: 22.8
Ground clearance, in.: 9.5
Seating: 5
Towing capacity, lb.: 7,716

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