Third Time's A Charm For The New Kid From Detroit
"We wish it had more power" has been a common request throughout the Four Wheeler of the Year competitions over the years. However, if there was a theme to this year's field, it would have to be power.
Of our field of six candidates, five had significantly upgraded engines from previous models, and the field put out an astonishing 1,809 hp and 2,140 lb-ft of torque, an average of 301.5 hp and 356.7 lb-ft of torque per vehicle, giving our field more muscle than a three-armed Chuck Norris.
As always, Four Wheeler of the Year includes only those vehicles which are all-new or substantially revised for the upcoming model year. In order to be eligible for an invite to Four Wheeler of the Year, vehicles must meet certain criteria-including, but not limited to, having a two-speed transfer case, having at least 500 production vehicles available in the U.S., being all-new from the ground up, being substantially revised or offering a significant upgrade in suspension or drivetrain, and being available to the public by January 15, 2008. This year, our six-competitor field included the Hummer H2, Hummer H3 Alpha, Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD, Nissan Pathfinder V-8, and Toyota Land Cruiser. Declining our invites for this test were Porsche with its Cayenne Turbo, and Lexus because it could not provide us with an LX 570 in time. Also not available in time for the test was the 2008 Toyota Sequoia.
We score each of the vehicles based on five weighted categories that include Trail Performance (30%), Empirical (25%),On-Pavement (20%), Interior (15%), and Exterior (10%).
The Hummer H2 gets a major revamp for 2008. Of course you'll need to be a Hummer spotter to notice the revised grille and wheels, but the real changes are under the skin in the form of the 6.2L OHV V-8 and six-speed automatic from the Escalade, bringing the H2's trail-romping output up to an impressive 393 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. Inside, the H2 gets a beautiful new interior with high-quality, soft-touch materials, and excellent ergonomics-finally befitting a vehicle costing $60,000. H2 pilots will appreciate the rear backup camera because it negates the requirement of a copilot for parking exercises. Despite efforts to tame the beast with these refinements, the H2 still has clout when it comes to wheeling, with 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, excellent underbody protection, pyramid-like approach and departure angels, and a selectable electronic rear locker.
A V-8 finally makes its way under the H3's hood in the Alpha model. Taking up residence in the engine bay is the OHV 5.3L aluminum small-block with 300 hp teamed up with the General's venerable 4L60 four-speed automatic. Fitting the V-8 was not as simple as dropping it in the H3, as a number of technical challenges had to be overcome in order for the V-8 to work properly and for the H3 to crash correctly. To start, the H3's frame was modified, a new oil pan was developed, and a new steering system was added. New engine mounts were created, and unique front suspension springs and shocks were introduced to hold the weight. The Adventure Package is available on the Alpha and still offers the 4:1 transfer case, a rear locker, and 33-inch tires. Like its big brother, the H3 has extraordinary approach and departure angles, and fantastic underbody protection. The interior received a minor upgrade in the mid-2007 model year, with new door panels featuring repositioned window switches. Another welcome addition for 2008 is the availability of a rearview camera.
Jeep, the longtime stalwart in this segment, brings to the competition an upgraded Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 packing a wonderful 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 under the hood. This all-aluminum DOHC V-6 puts out 215 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque (one more than the Hemi gas V-8), is backed by a five-speed automatic, and is coupled to the Grand's exceptional Quadra Drive II four-wheel-drive system-but it only has 29.5-inch tires and no locker. While the current version of the diesel is not available in all 50 states, word is that a future Bluetec version will be.
The other Jeep entry was an all-new-for-2008 Jeep Liberty. Featuring a platform shared with the Dodge Nitro, the 2008 Liberty gains a longer body, a longer wheelbase, and a trick Sky Slider full open-canvas roof system. Unlike the Nitro, the Liberty offers a true two-speed transfer case (an optional full-time version came on our tester) four-wheel-drive system. Sadly, the only engine available is the 3.7L SOHC V-6 with 215 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque; the 2.8L CRD turbodiesel model has been discontinued, and no 4.0L from the Nitro is offered. To make the most of the power, a six-speed manual transmission is still available. Tires were the smallest of the test, measuring 29 inches.
New from Nissan in 2008 is the Pathfinder V-8, into which Nissan has somehow managed to shoehorn a Titan DOHC 5.6L V-8. For this engine swap, Nissan engineers had to add 3 inches to the nose of the Pathfinder and modify the front clip, giving the Pathfinder a more elegant front profile that equals the quality of work expected from a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. In this application the big V-8 makes 310 hp and 388 lb-ft of torque. Other changes include an upgraded interior with a new center stack and more refinement. The Nissan was the only vehicle in the test to have independent rear suspension, and for some reason, the usually trail-aware Nissan folks have opted not to offer an Off Road package with the Pathfinder V-8 model.
The last vehicle in our test is the all-new 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser, which was most recently redesigned for the 1998 model year. Despite niche sales, the Land Cruiser is an important product for Toyota and is the only Toyota product to be continually sold in the U.S. in the 50 years that Toyota has been here (one was sold the first year). For 2008, the Land Cruiser now boasts the same 5.7L V-8 from the Tundra pickup and a new, more modern skin. Tires are 31.5-inch Dunlops, and Toyota says the Cruiser has a tougher frame than even the Tundra. The Cruiser has grown in size and expense, sporting the latest in electronic techno-gadgetry, and Toyota has bumped up the price accordingly. You'll need an extra $7,000 to get into this year's model.