It would be awesome If you could saunter into your local new car dealership, borrow each new sport utility vehicle for a week, and then drive each one in almost every terrain imaginable. Think of what you would learn about each vehicle!
Unfortunately, a week long on-and off-road testdrive probably isn't going to happen. Most dealerships are accommodating, but week long testdrives with a vast majority of the time off-road? Seriously? Besides, even if it were to happen, a week with each new SUV would really suck time from the mandatory things in your life, like your employment.
This is why we host Four Wheeler of the Year, our annual test of all-new or substantially revised SUVs. Since we're not really doing anything anyway, we use our magical powers to round up the newest machines and drive hundreds of miles on- and off road over the course of a week. In addition, we dig into every nook and cranny of the vehicles to use, analyze features, and gather real-world acceleration, braking, and ramp travel index numbers. You can read a detailed summary of how we test the vehicles elsewhere in this story.
To be eligible for Four Wheeler of the Year, each SUV must have a two-speed transfer case (or equivalent), a production run of at least 1,500 vehicles available in the U.S., and be on sale by January 15, 2014. For 2014, we had five vehicles in our test; the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, Dodge Durango Limited, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, and Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium. The Land Rover Range Rover also met the testing criteria, but the company chose to send the Range Rover Sport.
During the week long test, our panel of nine judges was required to take detailed notes and score each vehicle in a variety of categories. You can read about those categories and how scoring is accomplished elsewhere in this story. The job of the judges was to identify each SUV's strengths and weaknesses and then score them appropriately, with off-road performance being the most heavily weighted.
In the end, it was a hard-fought battle. The cost of testing included a slashed tire, a couple of gouged and bent air dams, some trim damage, and dinged-up rockers and skidplating. However, what we learned through the weeklong test was priceless, and hopefully it'll help make your next SUV buying decision.
So what's new with these five rigs? What attributes did they have that worked well? What needs improvement? What SUV takes home the Four Wheeler of the Year 2014 honors? Read on.
Dodge Durango Limited
The most notable new feature of the three-row seat SUV is the all-new ZF 8HP70 eight-speed automatic transmission, which Dodge says improves fuel efficiency by up to nine percent and improves performance. Other major new features on the Durango include a "high-tech" exterior; all-new wheel lineup; three-spoke steering wheel with standard paddle shifters; LED lighting technology that includes "racetrack" taillamps with 192 LEDs; two interior touchscreens; programmable instrument cluster; and an available fully-integrated tow hitch.
Ramp and Track
We had to devise a ramp to get the Durango on the RTI ramp without damaging the air dam due to the rig's low 16.3-degree approach angle. The Durango climbed 18.5 inches up the RTI ramp, which earned it a lowly score of 154 points. However, our 5.7L/eight-speed-equipped Durango redeemed itself later in the day at the track by throwing down a respectable 0-60 mph time of 8.8 seconds and a 16.6-second, 82 mph run in the quarter-mile. The vented four-wheel disc brakes and pavementfriendly Michelin Latitude Tour tires helped to stop the SUV from 60-0 mph in a decent 127.7 feet.
The judges were split on the Durango's new exterior styling. Some called our Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl Coat vehicle "sexy" and "muscular,"but others weren't so impressed. The interior received good overall reviews. The design is simple, functional, and pleasing to the eye. The Durango now uses a rotary shift knob for the transmission lieu of the shift lever and most judges noted that they like the rotary switch more than a lever once they became accustomed to it. One minor oddity with the interior is the way the centerstack is offset in relation to the center console. This is not unusual in modern SUVs, but this particular design doesn't fow well visually, and we think it should for the price point of the vehicle. The second-row seating of our tester was equipped with the optional Captain Chairs, center console, and DVD Entertainment Center. This setup made riding in the back more fun than riding in the front. Something to keep in mind if you have kids or friends with a short attention span.
The Hemi is wonderful, but the Diesel would be great in this car, too.
The Durango was a blast on-road. The power rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel independent suspension, and the engine/transmission combination helped make it fun to drive, especially through the high-speed twisties. Judges logged comments like "Stable," "Great handling," "Easy to drive," and "Gets up and goes!" Almost all judges commented positively on the engine and transmission with quotes like, "Love this combo." "True horsepower under the hood" is what one judge said after driving the Durango in hilly terrain. Another noted that the standard transmission paddle shifters helped wring maximum performance from the vehicle on twisty, undulating roads.
When we first looked at the Durango's specifcations it was clear that it would be at a disadvantage off-road. With low approach, departure, and break over angles, as well as low ground clearance, we figured we'd be strapping it over and through obstacles. Compounding our worries was that there were no front tow hooks and the rear hitch was covered by a removable panel. All of this could combine to create lengthy recoveries. Lucky for us, the Durango never got stuck, though sometimes we had to be creative to keep it moving. In the sand and silt the low front air dam acted like a plow and in the rocks we had to choose our line carefully to avoid damage. Our testers decent 39.6:1 crawl ratio helped to make slow-speed wheeling more predictable. When we polled the judges on their thoughts about off-roading the Durango, one judge noted that the suspension worked well in the dirt, but stated the obvious by saying the vehicle "just needs more ground clearance." Another questioned whether the electronic traction control was working as the vehicle sat planted and spun its tires.
Hemi power, silky eight speed transmission, smooth ride, 22 mpg highway, solid body structure
Low ground clearance,poor approach and departure angles, finicky traction control
Fun, powerful SUV that needs an off-road package option
Do you need a vehicle that has the power to tow, haul, and make you grin? Does it get snowy or icy where you drive? Do you have kids or passengers you want to haul and keep happy? Does 22 mpg on the highway sound good? Will you be spending most of your time on paved roads? This is your SUV.
•"I was worried about the clearance of the body while driving off-road, but cautious driving made it last."
•"Great for hauling the family to the ski slopes. Not sure it should be in the dirt."
•"If you want a three-row-seat SUV that can tow, this is the car for you."
Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium
Braces have been added to the number three frame crossmember to help enhance torsional rigidity; the brake hoses have been made more rigid to enhance brake feel; numerous changes have been made to enhance interior quietness; the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) has been retuned and the distribution of front/ rear weight transfer while cornering revised; numerous changes have been made to the front stabilizer bar assembly; there are numerous interior changes; and there are a number of exterior changes including the grille, bumpers, and on the Trail model, wheels
Ramp and Track
The fully automatic KDSS helped the 4Runner climb an impressive 35.5 inches up the RTI ramp to earn it 323 points and the top spot of these fve vehicles. At the track, the 4.0L V-6 engine pulled the 4,750-pound SUV from 0-60 mph in 9.3 seconds and it completed the quarter-mile in 17.1 seconds at a speed of 84.2 mph. When it came to braking from 60-0 mph, the four-wheel vented disc brakes brought the SUV to a stop in a decent 129.6 feet, though the driver noted that brake feel was the softest of the group.
We appreciated that Toyota engineers retained the impressive 33-degree approach angle when designing the new front end. Unfortunately, the departure angle lost 2 degrees compared to the outgoing model. The 4Runner lost points due to the front towhooks, which are small, closed loops that are recessed under the front bumper. We'd love to see open 'hooks placed below the lower grille on each side of the front license plate. Most judges weren't too excited about the new exterior styling on the 4Runner and they made their voices heard by giving our Barcelona Red Metallic-colored tester low scores. Some liked the new look though, noting how it makes the SUV stand out in the sea of SUVs on the road. There were several things we really liked about the interior of our tester, including the manual T-case shift lever, the large climate control knobs that are easy to operate with gloves on (though black-colored knobs would be more appealing than silver), and the beefy optional sliding cargo deck. Some felt the interior was still too "dated," and some judges noted that they felt the seats were too stiff. Some wrote that center console storage was lacking, but ultimately we'll take the tradeoff to have a manualshift T-case lever.
Best enthusiast/ builder platform out of the bunch.
On twisty, undulating roads the full-frame 4Runner held its own in the handling department, which is impressive considering the 4Runner had the largest diameter tires and one of the smallest wheel sizes of the fve rigs. Judges did note that the power rack-and-pinion steering felt heavy and the ride quality was rather stiff. The 4.0L V-6 engine seemed lackadaisical in general driving, but came alive nicely when the engine was spooled up into its powerband. Even with our point-and-punch driving technique, the 4Runner still returned a best tank mpg of 17.4 mpg, which means it should have no problem reaching the 19 mpg EPA highway rating when driven conservatively.
Judges were pleased with the trail capabilities of the 4Runner Trail. They loved the rig's 9.6 inches of ground clearance and its notable 24-degree breakover angle. The biggest positive was the manually-operated electric locking rear differential, which helped to keep the vehicle moving forward many times. One judge noted that the 4Runner was "fun" in the sand, which says a lot about the rig due to the inherent ability of sand to sap power from a vehicle. Also a big hit was the manual T-case shift lever that was conveniently located in the center console, and it provided simple and drama-free gear selection. Judges agreed that the 4Runner's ride was rather stiff and the SUV bounced a lot over rocks. The standard Crawl Control works well, but it makes a number of unnerving noises doing it. One judge wrote, "It's like riding inside of a washing machine." Finally, almost all judges reiterated their disdain for Toyota's intrusive electronic nannies.
Electric rear locker, approach angle, breakover angle, body-on-frame construction, tire diameter
Electronic nannies, stiff ride, boring interior
Our Take: The vehicle you want if you have to bug out to the backcountry
With its body-on-frame construction and manually-operated two-speed transfer case, the 4Runner is becoming a rarity in today's SUV world. The 4Runner proves that a vehicle with truck-like DNA is still a player in the world of SUVs.
•"Overall, the 4Runner works pretty well off-road, but it doesn't do it with much finesse."
•"Rides like the truck that it is."
•"I hate traction control! If I wanted a babysitter, I would hire one!"
•"Electronic nannies are still overly invasive."
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
The Cherokee is all-new for 2014. The unibody vehicle is based on a front-wheel-drive platform - one that is shared with Fiat and the Dodge Dart. Our tester was fitted with the 271hp 3.2L Pentastar V-6 engine mated to a first-in-class nine-speed automatic transmission. The model we tested used the Active Drive Lock system, which includes a selectable rear locker. There is no transfer case in the Cherokee. Instead, there's a power transfer unit (PTU) that splits power to the rear differential. Inside of each differential assembly is a set of 2.92:1 planetary gears that provide gear reduction without the need for a transfer case (for a complete overview of the Cherokee see "2014 Jeep Cherokee" in the December '13 issue of Four Wheeler).
Ramp and Track
The Cherokee logged a so-so 178-point score on the RTI ramp. At the track, the 3.2L V-6 hauled the 4,106-pound SUV from a dead stop to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds. The SUV cleared the quarter-mile in 16.9 seconds at a speed of mph. In 60-0 mph braking, the Cherokee stopped in 134.7 feet. This was the longest distance of the five vehicles in the test and we attribute this to the fact that the rig had the smallest rear brakes, least number of pistons in the calipers, and the most aggressive tires.
We like that the lower body of the Cherokee was clad in what appeared to be easy-to-replace plastic pieces, which are a nod to the vehicles off-road focus. The aforementioned approach angle is good, but the departure angle of 32.1 is understanding and the best of this fve-truck bunch. We appreciated the easy-to-access dual open-loop towhooks in the front and the single open-loop towhook in the rear. Inside, the judges gave the Cherokee high marks and it was only outscored by the Range Rover Sport. Comments included, "The interior is very easy on the eyes," "Incredible front seats, with plenty of adjustment," "Love the interior LED lighting," and "Fit and finish is well done and controls are easy to use." We also like that the four-wheel drive modes and rear locker were all controlled by a simple rotary knob with buttons located within easy reach on the center console. Interior gripes were minimal. "Storage compartments are plentiful, but overall cargo room is low when compared to other vehicles in its class such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CRV," wrote one judge.
"Off-road, the small platform is light and nimble."
"Quick and sporty" was the how one judge summarized the Cherokee's on-road driving characteristics. After driving through the twisties, one judge wrote, "The electronic steering is light and responsive, and even better when switched into Sport Mode." The engine was a good match for the Cherokee's weight and the SUV had power to spare when merging or trying to get ahead of the pack from a stoplight. Speaking of the 3.2L engine, one judge noted that while powerful, it isn't quite as refined as some, and it generated a bit more overall noise. In general driving, the Cherokee was nimble around town with good forward visibility.
We expected great things from the Cherokee Trailhawk in the dirt, and we generally got what we expected. Comments included, "Point-and-shoot," "Very maneuverable," "Very fun whoops car," "Fun to drive," and "Lots of clearance where you need it." We also liked the best-in-group 48.4:1 crawl ratio. On two occasions, after lengthy, spirited driving in the sand, the vehicle's information center told us that the 4x4 unit was overheated. This caused the unit to be unshiftable, though drivable. After it cooled, the shift function resumed and the situation did not repeat itself during testing. The compression braking on the vehicle was weak, causing it to gain too much forward momentum on steep hill descents. Judges used the hill descent control to compensate. Numerous judges did note that the rear end wanted to "step out," especially on high-speed whoops. One judge wrote, "Doesn't take much to get the rear end to step out on- and off-road. If you're expecting it, that's great. If not, it can be a little unnerving."
3.6L power, ninespeed automatic transmission, fascinating 4WD system, rear selectable locker, nimble
Debatable styling, needs bigger brakes, lack of compression braking
An outside-the-box, trail-ready SUV
We think the Cherokee may shake things up in the off-road world. People are already talking about its out-of-the-box four-wheel-drive system and styling. In the end, the Cherokee Trailhawk was beat out for Second Place by only a fraction of a point by its big brother, the Grand Cherokee.
•"Groundbreaking new type of car."
•"Pretty amazing little SUV!"
•"Felt wallowy in the whoops. Felt like it was going to swap ends on the dirt road."
•"No rattles. Feels and sounds solid."
Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
The big news is the optional 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 engine that's mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. The turbo- and intercoolerequipped EcoDiesel engine produces 240hp and 20 lb-ft of torque and it's 50-state-legal. The24-valve, DOHC engine has a block and bed plate made from strong, compacted graphite iron; it has MultiJet II common-rail injection; Selective Catalyst Reduction; and 85 biofuel capability. The ZF-manufactured eight-speed automatic transmission is said to aid in better fuel economy, quicker acceleration, and smoother shifting. The 4.714 First gear ratio of the transmission also helps to improve the Grand's crawl ratio by 46 percent compared to the previous model.
Ramp and Track
As the air suspension was raised into the higher settings, the RTI measurements decreased due to the suspension stiffening. The best measurement of 28.5 inches came with the suspension at the standard setting. At the track, the Grand produced an impressive 0-60 acceleration time of 8.6 seconds (for reference, this is the second fastest of the group and .2 of a second faster than the 5.7L Hemi-powered Durango) and quarter-mile acceleration of 16.5 seconds at 82.2 mph (again, second fastest of the group and .1 of a second faster than the Durango). The four-wheel disc brakes and Michelin Latitude Tour tires helped stop the Grand from 60 mph in an impressive 123.9 feet.
We like that black plastic was used around the lower body and wheelwells of the Grand, in theory making them easy to replace should off-road damage occur. We also liked that the exhaust tailpipes were tucked into the rear bumper assembly, lessening the chance of off road damage. Judges gave high marks to the pair of open-loop towhooks mounted fairly high on the front end. Overall, the Grand scored highest of the group in the exterior category. Judges comments on the exterior included, "Clean lines and overall look" and "Very little fat." Inside, the judges liked the simplicity of the controls and overall layout, but felt the interior was unremarkable and it scored average in the Interior category.
"The feel of the diesel engine is phenomenal."
The judges scored the Grand Cherokee high in on-road performance, second only to the Range Rover Sport. The body structure was tight and vault-like, and handling was very good. Passengers were insulated from noise very well and this included the diesel engine, which generally made its presence known as a whisper. Judges comments included, "Low noise levels overall, but you will still be able to tell you have a diesel under the hood," and "Middle of the pack steering (not too heavy, not too light)." Speaking of the diesel engine, the Grand had the best city/highway/trail fuel economy out of this group at 21.9 mpg. In regards to ride quality, it was good but not great. One judge wrote, "The air suspension still doesn't have the plush ride you would expect. Unless you are towing a bunch, I would opt for the coils."
The electronic traction control worked in unison with the rear electronic limited-slip differential to pull the Grand through every type of terrain we encountered, which says a lot considering our testerwas ftted with street-oriented Michelin Latitude Tour tires. We appreciated the ability of the air suspension to increase the Grand's ground clearance by up to two inches and the approach angle by up to 10 degrees with the simple push of a button. One of the quirks of the suspension is an annoying thud sound at full downtravel. It seems to be harmless, but we think it's out of place on a vehicle this polished. One judge said, "The suspension sounds like drums off-road," while another noted, "I can't stand the clunk sound the suspension makes when it unloads." In the sand, one judge noted that turbo lag from the diesel engine was obvious, forcing him to pre-plan throttle inputs.
Adjustable air suspension,powerful and quick diesel engine, eight-speed transmission, fuel efficiency
Thud from air suspension at full downtravel
A great SUV just got better
The EcoDiesel engine makes the Grand even grander. Now it has great power and fuel mileage in addition to its on- and off-road attributes.
•"Feels heavy, but still soaks it up."
•"Perfect engine for this vehicle. Far better than the Hemi."
•"Diggin’ the diesel!"
Land Rover Range Rover Sport
The Range Rover Sport is all-new for 2014. The core of the Sport is an aluminum monocoque integrated body and chassis, and Land Rover says that this design and material creates a weight savings of approximately 800 pounds compared to the previous model. The new Sport retains many of the signature Land Rover styling cues, but compared to its predecessor, the vehicle is 8 percent more aerodynamic, 5.9 inches shorter, and 2.17 inches lower. Our tester was the Supercharged model, which means it was ftted with the 5.0L 510hp V-8 engine. This all-aluminum engine features a start/stop system (said to reduce fuel consumption by up to 7 percent); Bosch engine management system; high-pressure direct-injection; smart regenerative charging (captures wasted kinetic energy when decelerating, thus reducing the fuel demand of the electrical system); and a sixth-generation, twin-vortex supercharger. Mated to the engine is a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that is said to complete each shift in only 200 milliseconds to create almost imperceptible gear changes. The vehicle we tested was ftted with the available two-speed transfer case, which has an electronicallycontrolled multi-plate clutch in the center differential. This system can distribute torque between the wheels at any ratio between 100-percent front and 100-percent rear. The lightweight, all-aluminum independent suspension system uses a double- wishbone setup in the front and a multilink layout in the rear. The air-controlled suspension features 10.2 inches of front wheeltravel and 10.7 inches of rear wheeltravel. Both axle differentials are manufactured by Dana and the rear features a Dynamic Active Rear Locking Differential that can vary the degree of lockup almost instantaneously (a 70 millisecond improvement over the outgoing model).
Ramp and Track
We drove the Sport up the RTI ramp with the suspension in both normal and off-road height settings. Interestingly, the vehicle drove 3.25 inches further up the ramp with the suspension in the raised position. This is unlike the Grand Cherokee, which lost 5 inches of distance up the ramp when the suspension was aired up to its maximum height. The Sport's 35-inch climb netted it a score of 304 and a Second Place fnish in the RTI scores, but it wasn't enough to knock off the KDSS-equipped Toyota 4Runner's score of 323. At the track, the supercharged Sport annihilated the competition, turning a 5-second 0-60 mph time and a quartermile time of 13.5 seconds at a speed of 107.5 mph. The driver at the track used the word "explosive" to summarize the acceleration of the Sport. We would hear judges utter words like that a lot throughout the week when referencing the Sport's power. The Sport also dominated the 60-0 mph braking segment of testing, logging a 119.8-foot stop thanks to its vented four-wheel disc brakes, six-piston front calipers, and grippy Michelin Latitude Sport tires.
We like the use of (theoretically) easy-to replace plastics along the bottom edges of the Sport, and we liked how the tailpipes were tucked securely into the rear bumper assembly, aiding departure angle. We were less enthused about the lack of permanently-mounted front towhooks, the covered trailer hitch, and the large rear hitch cover that tried to defect from the vehicle in the sand. Our vehicle was equipped with the Luxury Climate Comfort and Visibility Pack, which included Adaptive Xenon headlamps that turn in the direction of steering travel. These headlamps are powerful, and when combined with their ability to turn, are a massive improvement over fxed headlamps on twisty backcountry trails at night. Overall, judges gave the Sport high marks in the exterior department. When it came to the interior, one judge wrote, "The interior is nicer than my living room." This judge wasn't alone in his opinion, and judges awarded the Sport the most points for the interior of the fve-SUV group. From the massive sunroof to the great forward visibility to the killer Meridian audio system to the center console cooler to the luxurious leather and textures, the Sport impressed. One judge wrote, "It looks like the inside of a private jet." The 16-way climatecontrolled power front seats (with adjustable bolsters and winged headrests) were described by a judge as "insane" and he said he loved them. At night, the interior was bathed in LED ambient lighting, and the lighting has variable colors that can be adjusted. We also liked the location of the four-wheel-drive controls, which were conveniently mounted on the center console. The only interior complaints revolved around the initially complex controls for the climate control and the electronic transmission shifter.
"I’m amazed at how well it works off-road."
Our usually critical team of judges really couldn't fnd anything to nitpick in regards to the Sport's on-road performance. The SUV's incredible power and handling didn't leave the judges speechless, it made them gush. Comments included, "The throttle response and power is unbelievable," "Power is unreal- this thing is an animal," "It's like driving a V-8 muscle car without the sucky handling," and "Handles like it's on rails." To balance the power and handling, the Sport has a slew of advanced technologies to enhance dynamics. This includes mechanical and electronic controls. Normally we shy away from such things, but the controls on the Sport are so seamless and transparent we didn't even notice they were in full effect as we experienced and enjoyed the vehicles mind-blowing performance.
In the sand, the Sport was unstoppable. "Goes anywhere at full tire pressure," wrote one judge. Actually, anywhere horsepower aided off-road travel, the Sport dominated. It ranked high on the graded road, sandy washes, and washboard/ whoops areas of the Trail Performance section of judging. And when the throttle was mashed, the rig unleashed an awesome deep growl. This growl is no accident. Land Rover calls it the "sporting soundtrack," and it's generated by a specially tuned exhaust system and a "sound symposer" on the intake system. The suspension was another area that impressed us in the dirt. The generous wheeltravel soaked up the rough stuff and the suspension's adjustability meant we could raise the ride height of the vehicle to improve ground clearance over obstacles by simply pushing a button. And whether the suspension was raised or lowered it remained completely silent and refned as it cycled. "Amazing work with the air suspension," wrote one judge. When it comes to the four-wheel-drive controls, the Sport's Terrain Response 2 can seem daunting at frst glance. Fortunately, a new feature to the system is an "Auto" setting that instantaneously selects the best four-wheel-drive settings for the type of terrain. Overall, the system operates smoothly and seamlessly, though we wish there was a way to totally disengage the electronic controls and have complete control over the vehicle off-road. The same low-profle, street-biased 21-inch tires that helped to produce the killer on-road performance are a hindrance off-road. During the frst full day of trail testing, a rock gutted the sidewall of one of the tires, which forced us to swap on the not-a-fullsize spare. Calls to local tire shops for the unusual-sized tire were a bust. But thanks to help from Land Rover, we were able to get a new tire (and a fullsize spare) from a local Land Rover dealer that was just a few miles from our hotel. It turned out OK, but leads us to wish out loud for a more off-road-centric tire on the Sport. "I wish they offered a speed-rated all-terrain tire," wrote a judge. We get that the tires are a key ingredient to the Sports handling and performance, but we'd love to see a smaller wheel diameter and more aggressive tire option.
Stunning supercharged V-8, outstanding wheeltravel, luxurious interior, seamless integration of power and electronics
21-inch wheels, no permanent towhooks, price
The 2014 Four Wheeler of the Year
The Range Rover Sport is part luxury cruiser, part road-shredding sports car, and part trailconquering hero. It easily gathered enough points to win this year's competition and it made believers out of the entire Four Wheeler staff. Yeah, we know it's expensive. But we also know it fat-out performs both on-road and off, and that's what makes it the Four Wheeler of the Year for 2014.
•"The throttle response is some of the best I have ever experienced in a 4x4."
•"You could hurt yourself with this vehicle."
•"Power from the engine is delivered instantaneously."
•"Just an amazing combination of power, off-road capability, and stability/traction control software that works."
How We Test 'Em
Day one of our weeklong Four Wheeler of the Year test began at Off Road Evolution (ORE) in Fullerton, California. Owner Mel Wade graciously let us use his 30-degree RTI ramp to measure each vehicle’s ramp travel index. From ORE, we traveled to the track where we used a RaceLogic PerformanceBox to gather real-world acceleration and braking data. Day one concluded with a multi-hour drive on twisty roads to our base camp/accommodations in the Southern California desert. For the next three full days we tested the vehicles in a wide range of environments. We spent time in stop-and-go city driving as well as wide open highway driving. But since we’re an off-road-centric magazine, the majority of our time was spent in the dirt. The intricately planned drive route included hillclimbs, sand, mud, rocky trails, water, sandy washes, deep silt, dry lakebeds, and undulating desert terrain (better known as "whoops"). Each day began right after sunup and ended well after sundown. We visited both high and low altitudes, which gave us the opportunity to test each vehicles interior heating and cooling output. We drove at night, which offered an insight into interior lighting and headlamp output. Throughout the test, the judges rotated from vehicle to vehicle often. On the last day, the staff gathered for fnal vehicle walkarounds and we completed the judging books, which were issued the frst day. In the end, we logged about 1,000 miles in each vehicle.
How We Score 'Em
Our scoring procedure utilizes fve weighted categories. Here's the breakdown: 30 percent Trail Performance (how a vehicle performs in specifc wheeling environments and off-road-centric features like 4WD system operation, tires, traction aids, etc.), 25 percent Empirical (RTI, acceleration, braking, price, etc.), 20 percent On Pavement (handling, ride quality, steering feel, etc.) 15 percent Interior (instrumentation, ingress and egress, seat comfort, storage, etc.), and 10 percent Exterior (appearance, stance, body protection, etc.).
|Durango||Cherokee||Grand Cherokee||Range Rover||4Runner|
|On Road Performance||14.07||13.22||15.07||17.47||10.80|
John Cappa, Editor
I appreciate the fuel economy, all-around versatility, and comfort of the 3.0L EcoDieselpowered Jeep Grand Cherokee. I reluctantly enjoyed the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk's plush interior and unbelievable trail prowess despite its ugly front end. But at the end of the day, I can't deny a 4x4 that has more motor than a Ford Raptor and suspension that rivals it. The 510hp and 10-11 inches of wheel travel at each corner of the all-aluminum '14 Land Rover Range Rover Sport make it more than a grocery-getter in my book, and I'd love to have the 5-second 0-60 SUV in my driveway, even more so if I could get some durable speedrated all-terrain tires for it.
Ken Brubaker, Senior Editor
There's something in my farm country DNA that forces me to resist things like air suspension. And IFS/IRS under the same vehicle. Yeah, I know, that stuff is probably the future of SUVs. Nonetheless, I happen to like SUVs that have simple, truck-like qualities. So out of this group, I'll take the SUV that has a full frame, solid rear axle, mechanical rear locker, decently tall ride height, a great approach angle, good ground clearance, and a manual-shift T-case. Yeah, the 4Runner.
Ali Mansour, Technical Editor
The Rover was hands down the most fun to drive. It had plenty of power, lots of wheel travel, and all the niceties that you would expect from a high-end SUV. Sure, it's absurdly expensive, and I would be terrifed to own one outside of warranty, but it's hard to deny that it fat-out works well on- and off-road.
Greg Smith, Art Director
This is a bit of a tough choice, but I'm a sucker for anything with gobs of power and the Range Rover Sport does indeed have ungodly amounts of usable power available in any gear, at any rpm. It also has an amazing 4WD system that works quite well. I would probably kill myself driving this vehicle to it's limit, but it would still be my pick.
Jason Gonderman, Diesel Power Magazine Feature Editor
While the seemingly obvious choice would be the Range Rover, I imagine living with it would be much like having a supermodel girlfriend. Fun at frst, and impressive at parties, but way too much maintenance. So if I had to choose one of these fve to take home it would be the Grand Cherokee. This Jeep is comfortable, fun to drive, capable off-road, and returns excellent fuel economy. The Grand Cherokee offers what I would need from an SUV, without being too small, large, or over-the-top. It fits nicely in the middle, right where I like it.
Agustin Jimenez, Associate Online Editor
If I could take home one of the SUVs from the Four Wheeler of the Year test, it wouldn't be a hard choice at all. How can you choose anything else over the '14 Range Rover Sport that we tested? It's got more than enough power to smoke my lightweight notchback Mustang that puts out over 400 horsepower. Yeah, it's that fast! The Range Rover Sport would, without question, demolish it in a quarter-mile run with its 510 horsepower supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 that literally pins you to the seat when jumping on the loud pedal! Factor in the awesome double digit suspension travel that can easily soak up some mild whooped-out desert roads, and it's easy to see why I'd drive away in thi s high-powered off-road beast.
Cody Kanuscak, Freelance Writer
My personal choice would be the Jeep Cherokee for its unique drivetrain. This vehicle should make for great drivability in the Midwest winter where I come from. And it's already equipped with tow hooks for fast recovery options.
David Hamilton, Source Interlink Media Integrated Account Executive
I'd take home the Grand Cherokee diesel. The diesel GC is the best of both worlds, very capable off-roader and eco-friendly at the same time. It has gobs of low-end torque for trail duties and hauling heavy loads, with the big advantage of taking less trips to the fuel pump. It's a win-win! Plus, the interior is high zoot and the seats are comfortable for those extended road trips. Sign me up!
Options As Tested
Dodge Durango Limited
Customer Preferred Package 27E ($295), Rear DVD Entertainment Center ($1,995),Trailer Tow Group IV ($995), Navigation and Power Liftgate Group ($850), Safety/Security and Convenience Group ($1,195), Second-Row Fold/Tumble Captain Chairs ($895), Second-Row Console w/Armrest and Storage ($300), 5.7L V-8 Hemi MDS VVT Engine ($2,795), Nine Amplifed Speakers with Subwoofer and 506-watt Amplifer ($595), Destination Charge ($995)
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
Customer Preferred Package 27E ($1,895), Trailer Tow Group ($495), Leather Interior Group ($1,295), 3.2L V-6 24-valve VVT Engine ($1,495), Black Hood Decal ($150), Uconnect 8.4AN AM/FM/BT/ACCESS/NAV ($795), Nine Amplifed Speakers w/Subwoofer ($395), Destination Charge ($995)
Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
Luxury Group II ($3,000), Off-Road Adventure II ($2,495), 3.0L V-6 EcoDiesel Engine ($4,500), UConnect 8.4AN AM/FM/BT/ACCESS/NAV ($400), Destination Charge ($995)
Land Rover Range Rover Sport
Adaptive Cruise Control w/Queue Assist ($1,295), Santorini Black Contrast Roof ($650), Dynamic Package ($2,500), Ebony Headliner ($350), Luxury Climate Comfort & Visibility Pack ($3,545), Meridian Premium Audio Pack ($1,950), Rear Seat Entertainment ($2,000), Premium Metallic Paint ($1,800), Destination Charge ($895)
Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium
SifTex-trimmed Seats ($1,085), Sliding Cargo Deck ($350), Rigid Running Boards ($345), Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System ($1,750), Destination Charge ($860)
Specifications as Tested
|Vehicle/model||Dodge Durango Limited||Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk||Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited||Land Rover Range Rover Sport||Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium|
|Price as tested (see sidebar for details)||$49,305||$37,010||$49,185||$94,085||$43,035|
|Type||16-valve V-8 w/cylinder deactivation, cast-iron block, aluminum heads||DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block/heads||DOHC 24-valve V-6 diesel, aluminum block/heads||Quad cam 32-valve V-8, aluminum block/heads||DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block/heads|
|Bore x stroke (in)||3.92 x 3.58||3.58 x 3.27||3.27 x 3.60||3.64 x 3.66||3.70 x 3.74|
|Compression ratio (:1)||10.5||10.7||15.5||9.5||10.4|
|Intake/FI||Naturally aspirated, sequential multi-port electronic||Naturally aspirated, sequential, multi-port, electronic||Turbocharged, common-rail fuel injection||Supercharged, direct injection||Naturally aspirated, electronic fuel injection|
|Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp)||360 @ 5,150||271 @ 6,500||240 @ 3,600||510 @ 6,000-6,500||270 @ 5,600|
|Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft)||390 @ 4,250||239 @ 4,400||420 @ 2,000||461 @ 2,500-5,500||278 @ 4,400|
|Mfg.’s suggested fuel type||Regular unleaded||Regular unleaded||Ultra-low sulfur diesel||Premium unleaded||Regular unleaded|
|Transmission||ZF 8HP70 8-spd automatic||ZF 948TE 9-spd automatic||ZF 8HP70 8-spd automatic||ZF 8HP70 8-spd automatic||A750F 5-spd automatic|
|Ratios (:1)||1st 4.714, 2nd 3.143, 3rd 2.106, 4th 1.667, 5th 1.285, 6th 1.000, 7th 0.839, 8th 0.667,Reverse 3.295||1st 4.71, 2nd 2.84, 3rd 1.91, 4th 1.38, 5th 1.00, 6th 0.81, 7th 0.70, 8th 0.58,9th 0.48, Reverse 3.83||1st 4.714 , 2nd 3.143, 3rd 2.106, 4th 1.667, 5th 1.285, 6th 1.000, 7th 0.839, 8th 0.667,Reverse 3.295||1st 4.696 , 2nd 3.130, 3rd 2.104, 4th 1.667, 5th 1.285, 6th 1.000, 7th 0.839, 8th 0.667, Reverse 3.00||1st 3.52 , 2nd 2.042, 3rd 1.40, 4th 1.00, 5th 0.716, Reverse 3.224|
|Axle ratio (:1)||3.09||3.517||3.45||3.31||3.727|
|Transfer case (:1)||MP 3022 part-time, 2-spd, electronic engagement||N/A||MP 3022 full-time 2-spd||Magna DD295 full-time 2-spd||Aisin VF2A part-time 2-spd|
|Low-range ratio (:1)||2.72||2.92||2.72||2.93||2.566|
|Crawl ratio (:1)||39.6||48.4||44.2||45.5||33.7|
|Frame||Steel unibody||Steel unibody||Steel unibody||Aluminum unibody||Steel ladder-type|
|Front||Short- and long-arm independent, coil-over twin-tube gas-charged shocks, stabilizer bar / ZF 7.7-inch||Independent, McPherson struts w/long-travel coil springs, stabilizer bar / AAM, 5.2-inch PTU ring gear||Short- and long-arm independent, Quadra-Lift air spring and shock assemblies, upper and lower control arms, stabilizer bar/ZF 7.7-inch||Short- and long-arm independent, twin lower links, air springs, CVD with ARC / Dana M200 7.9-inch||Independent, shocks, stabilizer bar, KDSS/Toyota 8.1-inch|
|Rear||Independent multilink, coil springs, twin-tube shocks/ZF 8.9-inch||Independent, four-link w/trailing arm, coil springs, shocks, stabilizer bar / AAM, 6.5-inch RDM ring gear||Multilink, Quadra-Lift air springs, twin-tube shocks, aluminum lower control arm, independent upper links (tension and camber), plus a separate toe link/ZF 8.9-inch with electronic limited-slip differential||Integral link with air springs, CVD with ARC / Dana M220 8.7-inch, Dynamic Active Rear Locking Differential||Four-link, coil springs, shocks, KDSS/Toyota 8.2-inch, electric locking differential|
|Type||Power rack-and-pinion||Electric power rack-and-pinion||Electro-hydraulic rack-and-pinion||Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion||Power rack-and-pinion|
|Ratio (:1)||19.1||15.36||18.9 (on center), 15.7 (full lock)||17.62||18.4|
|Front||13.8 x 1.26-inch vented rotor w/two-piston pin-slider caliper||13.0 x 1.1-inch vented discs, single-piston floating calipers||12.9 x 1.2-inch vented discs, two-piston pin-slider calipers||15 x 1.34-inch vented discs, six-piston fixed calipers||13.3-inch vented discs, four-piston pin-slider calipers|
|Rear||13.0 x 0.87-inch vented rotor w/single-piston floating caliper||10.95 x 0.47-inch solid discs, single-piston floating calipers||12.6 x 0.55-inch solid discs, single-piston pin-slider calipers||14.4 x 0.98-inch vented discs, single-piston floating calipers||12.3-inch vented discs, single-piston floating calipers|
|Wheels (in)||18 x 8||17 x 7.5||18 x 8||21 x 9.5||17 x 7.5|
|Tires||P265/60R18 Michelin Latitude Tour||P245/65R17 Firestone Destination A/T||P265/60R18 Michelin Latitude Tour||P275/45R21 Michelin Latitude Sport||P265/70R17 Dunlop Grandtrek AT20|
|Overall length (in)||201.2||182||189.8||191||190.7|
|Overall width (in)||85.5||74.9||84.8||78.1||75.8|
|Height (in)||70.9||67.8||69.3 (standard height), 72.3 (w/air susp position 2)||70.1||71.5|
|Track f/r (in)||63.9/64.1||63.5/63.5||63.9/64.1||66.5/66.3||63.2/63.2|
|Minimum ground clearance (in)||8.1||8.7||8.2 (standard), 10.4 (w/air susp position 2)||11.2 (off-road height)||9.6|
|Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft)||37.1||38.1||37.1||41.3||37.4|
|Approach/departure angles (deg)||16.3/21.5||29.8/32.1||26.3 (standard), 36.1 (w/air susp position 2, air dam off)/24.0 (standard), 27.1 (w/air susp position 2)||25.8 (standard height), 33.0 (off-road height)/26.4 (standard height), 31.0 (off-road height)||33/24|
|Breakover angle (deg)||18.1||23.3||19.0 (standard), 22.8 (w/air susp position 2)||20.6 (standard height), 27.0 (off-road height)||24|
|Maximum towing capacity (lb)||7,200||4,500||7,200||7,716||4,700|
|Fuel capacity (gal)||24.6||15.9||24.6||27.7||23.0|
|0-60 mph (sec)||8.8||8.9||8.6||5.0||9.3|
|Quarter-mile (sec @ mph)||16.6 @ 86.2||16.9 @ 85||16.5 @ 82.2||13.5 @ 107.5||17.1 @ 84.2|
|Braking 60-0 mph (ft)||127.7||134.7||123.9||119.8||129.6|
|Ramp Travel Index (30-degree, in/pts)||18.5/154||19/178||28.5/248 (standard height), 26.25/229 (w/air susp position 1), 23.5/205 (w/air susp position 2)||31.75/276 (standard), 35/304 (off-road height)||35.5/323|