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Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road 4x4 of the Year 2016

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on December 31, 2015
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Photographers: Harry Wagner

All year round the staff here at Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road spend their waking hours bringing you the best in hardcore off-road tech and adventure with a healthy side order of dirt, mud, and sand. Once a year we put on our judging hats and become experts in comparing apples to oranges in our annual 4x4 of the Year test. This weeklong test pits new production vehicles against one another in a good old 4WOR beat-down so we can show you the best new 4x4s available from dealer lots.


2016 Colorado Z71 Crew Cab 4WD Trail Boss

2016 Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab


Like any good test, our test has a few simple requirements. First, vehicles must have production numbers of at least 2,500. This is to avoid testing one-off ringer vehicles that are aimed at winning our test. Vehicles must have been significantly changed or improved over last year’s model. This means eligible vehicles must have undergone a significant redesign, have a new drivetrain option (like (a Colorado with a new diesel engine), transmission, transfer case, or axles, or significant body changes (like new off-road themed bumpers or body protection). Vehicles must have a drivetrain with low-range gearing. Vehicles must be available early in the year. One last requirement that determines whether vehicles will be tested is that the manufacturer provides one to us for the test. That is to say, just because we asked Ford for one of its new 4x4s does not mean that Ford supplied one (Hello, Ford? Hello? Is this thing on?). So if you’re mad that we didn’t test your new 4x4, talk to the manufacturer, not us.

2016 Mercedes-Benz G-550

2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Crew Van 144-Inch 4x4


For the 2016 4x4 of the Year we had a large and diverse group of vehicles: four diesels, four trucks (two midsize and two fullsize), and three SUVs. In the group, three of the four pickups had locking rear differentials, one automatic, and two selectable. Two SUVs had independent suspension all the way around, and one had solid axles front and rear. That same contestant had center, front, and rear locking differentials, and while many judges agree that just because of that it should have won, it is also expensive (really really expensive!) and has sports car tires, making a win less likely. We also had what is possibly the largest contestant in 4x4 of the Year history, a Mercedes 4x4 Sprinter Van. It did well in the test for a big van despite having what seemed like hundreds of cubic yards (or is it meters?) of sheetmetal and a traction-limiting nonlocking center differential.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4x4

2016 Ram Rebel 4x4


All eight test vehicles had automatic transmissions, and no vehicles had any kind of 4x4 or low range shift lever. The end times are near, signaled by the abundance of knobs, buttons, and dials and lack of extra pedals and levers. Sad face. Having said that, at least one transmission (if not two) did a great job of shifting when told to, and some of these vehicles were capable despite the lack of levers or manually controlled clutches. But we still like manually shifted transmissions and transfer cases. Call us cavemen.

2016 Range Rover TD6

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro


Our test pitted against one another the 2016 Colorado Z71 Crew Cab 4WD Trail Boss, 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4x4, 2016 Mercedes-Benz G-550, 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Crew Van 144-inch 4x4, 2016 Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab, 2016 Ram Rebel 4x4, 2016 Range Rover TD6, and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. All of the 4x4s finished in one piece still running and driving. All had at least small scratches or dings as a result of the test (we don’t play around; or rather, our judging involves lots of playing around). All of the rigs got stuck at one time or another despite a skilled and varied assemblage of judge drivers.

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