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Triple Threat: Three SUV's vie for the title of 2016 Four Wheeler of the Year

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on December 23, 2015
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Photographers: Ken Brubaker

Four Wheeler of the Year 2016 consisted of vehicles from two legendary nameplates, Jeep and Land Rover. Both have a long, storied off-road history that is known the world over and this year’s multifaceted, mega-terrain throwdown included the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited V-6, Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE Td6, and Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR.

Both on paper and in reality, the SUVs in FWOTY 2016 were different in their own way, especially in regards to powerplants. The Grand Cherokee was sporting a V-6 gas engine, the Range Rover Sport HSE was propelled by a turbodiesel V-6, and the Range Rover Sport SVR had a supercharged V-8 engine. However, for all their differences these vehicles had some surprising common elements including an eight-speed automatic transmission, adjustable air suspension, and engine stop-start technology. Also, each was very luxurious, and as it turned out, pretty darn capable off-road.

As usual, to qualify for Four Wheeler of the Year (FWOTY) a vehicle had to be all-new or substantially revised, have a two-speed transfer case, a production run of 1,500 vehicles in the U.S., and be on sale by March 15, 2016. The ’16 Toyota Land Cruiser, with new features including an eight-speed automatic transmission, also qualified, but Toyota declined to provide a test vehicle.

The FWOTY test took place at various locations in southern California and our panel of judges rotated into each SUV at regular intervals. Each judge is an experienced vehicle tester that has logged many hours driving new vehicles on- and off-road. Each judge was required to record detailed notes in their official judging book and score each vehicle in a variety of areas. You can read about the specific testing categories and how scoring is structured elsewhere in this story. The end game was to detect each SUV’s strengths and weaknesses. To accomplish that end we drove the vehicles almost non-stop for five days, stopping only to eat and sleep. We drove the vehicles in almost every imaginable on-road situation, from twisties to highway, and we pointed ‘em onto a variety of off-road terrain including loose-dirt hillclimbs, sand, water, mud, rocks, and snow.

So what’s new with these three rigs that qualified them for FWOTY 2016? What qualities did each have that worked? What needs improvement? Which SUV took home the 43rd annual Four Wheeler of the Year trophy? Read on.

3rd Place
Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited V-6

What’s New
The 3.6L Pentastar V-6 has been reworked and it debuts in the ’16 Grand Cherokee as the standard engine in all models except for the SRT. Features include two-step variable valve lift, cooled EGR, upgraded variable-valve timing, a new intake manifold, high-tumble intake ports, shrouded combustion chambers, eight-hole fuel injectors with optimized atomization, multiple friction-reduction features, and an increased compression ratio of 11.3:1 (but still only requires 87 octane fuel). The V-6 also features fuel-saving Engine Stop-Start (ESS) technology, which shuts the engine down when the vehicle is braked to a stop and restarts the engine when the driver’s foot is removed from the brake pedal. The engine also shed weight. Despite the addition of content weighing 13 pounds, the 3.6L engine has shed 4 pounds when compared to its predecessor. The engine boasts an increase of 5 horsepower and a torque improvement of more than 14.9 percent between 1,000 and 3,000 rpm depending on vehicle application. Fuel economy improves by more than six percent. Other functional new features on the Grand Cherokee include electric power steering with customizable settings, weight-reducing aluminum suspension components, and decreased tire rolling resistance.

Ramp and Track
The Grand Cherokee traveled 41.5 inches up the 20-degree RTI ramp to earn a score of 361 points. At the track, the 3.6L V-6 hauled the approximately 4,875-pound SUV from 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds at a speed of 85.8 mph. The Grand’s four-wheel disc brakes helped stop the vehicle in 131.1 feet from 60 mph.

Exterior/Interior
We liked the black plastic that is used at the most likely contact points on the exterior of the Grand, like around the wheelwells and bumpers. Plastic can be easily replaced when it is damaged off-road when compared to repairing or replacing metal components. Our test vehicle was equipped with optional, dealer-installed steel rocker protection, which worked very well. We also liked that the Grand had easy-to-access, high-mounted towhooks up front and a recessed tailpipe in the rear that was less likely to get damaged off-road. We also appreciated the four underbody skidplates included with the Off-Road Adventure II Package. From a styling perspective, one judge noted, “The Grand Cherokee still has a fresh look, even since they first hit the streets.” When it came to the interior, we liked the simplicity of the switchgear, controls, and instrumentation, but felt the Limited’s luxury level needs to be improved for its price point. “It’s a luxury car with a so-so luxury interior. Need to step up the quality of the plastics, but the leather bits are well done,” noted a judge. Judges gave big kudos to the comfort and adjustability of the driver seat.

On-Road
Judges filled their books with accolades for the redesigned 3.6L V-6 Pentastar engine that was mated to an eight-speed transmission. “Quick response to pedal,” “Great power delivery from the new and improved V-6 and eight-speed very smooth,” “New V-6 has nice, broad torque/power and the eight-speed has a gear for any occasion,” and “New power is noticeable on the highway,” were some of the judges’ comments. We were also impressed at the seamlessness and reaction time of the ESS. It’s worth noting that the Grand’s best tank mpg was a respectable 23.7 (mostly highway, with some stop-and-go traffic in Los Angeles). The ride quality of the Quadra-Lift air suspension also gathered compliments. “Fantastic ride on pavement,” and “Not mushy, not sporty, not luxo, not bad,” were some of the judges’ comments. Handling was also given high marks. Judges said, “Steering feel and control is top notch,” “Nice balance. Feels light and flickable,” and “Tracks straight and true. No-drama cruiser.”

Off-Road
The Grand’s structure impressed us with its solidness no matter whether we were crawling rock trails, blasting over sand, or getting flexed out in the holes on the hill climb. In the sand, the Grand was “Light, stable, powerful, and enjoyable” and “Light on its toes.” Even though our tester depended completely on electronic traction control, it impressed us with its capabilities on the trail. “ABS and traction control sound like a jackhammer, but the darn thing motors overs obstacles and climbs,” a judge wrote. The decent 44.2:1 crawl ratio also contributed to its capabilities. Trail comments included, “Dices through switchbacks on the trail like a UTV” and “Easy to drive on the trail.” On the hillclimb almost every judge agreed that there was nothing elegant about the Grand’s climb. Ascending the hill required a degree of momentum, but it did make the climb. While we adored the air suspension’s ability to increase the Grand’s ground clearance by up to two inches and the approach angle by almost 10 degrees at the push of a button, the result is an annoying thud sound at full suspension downtravel. It’s a byproduct of the suspension at its highest setting, and it’s apparently harmless, but we think it desperately needs to be damped. “Amazingly capable, but the suspension tops out constantly when at its highest setting. Lots of head toss, too,” wrote a judge. Another judge wrote, “Unsuitably harsh off-road when the suspension is in the tallest setting. The solution is to only use the highest setting when absolutely required to clear obstacles.” In the snow, a judge wrote that the Grand was a “blast” and the Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure tires offered good traction and decent lateral stability. In regard to tires, it’s worth noting that one of the tires did succumb to a tread puncture on a rocky trail. “Decent sidewall, but one tread puncture. Gives pause to reliability,” noted a judge. Bottom Line
With the reworked 3.6L V-6 Pentastar engine under the hood, the luxurious, nimble ’16 Grand Cherokee gets good fuel economy while producing surprising power both on- and off-road. Best of all, it’s the standard engine, so it won’t cost you a dime.

Logbook quotes
“Packing such a relatively simple (naturally aspirated) engine with such a smart transmission and matching the right gearing really makes this thing work great.”
“A selectable rear locker would do wonders and really help bring back the namesake and the lineage that made the Grand Cherokee stand out.”

What’s hot: Pentastar 3.6L, fuel economy, Quadra-Lift air suspension adjustability, tight structure
What’s not: Quadra-Lift air suspension thud and rough ride at the highest setting, no rear limited-slip or locker
Our take: The new, powerful, efficient 3.6L Pentastar V-6 is a fantastic engine and a great compliment to the capable Grand Cherokee

GENERAL
Vehicle/model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
Base price: $39,365
Price as tested: $49,100
Options as tested: Customer Preferred Package 23H ($1,995), Luxury Group II ($4,200), Off-Road Adventure II ($1,795), Uconnect 8.4 NAV ($750), Destination Charge ($995)

ENGINE
Type: 24-valve V-6 w/ESS
Displacement (ci/liter): 220/3.6
Bore x stroke (in): 3.77x3.26
Compression ratio (:1): 11.3
Intake/FI: Naturally aspirated, sequential multi-port electronic
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 295 @ 6,400
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 260 @ 4,000
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Regular unleaded

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: ZF 845RE 8-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First 4.71
Second 3.14
Third 2.11
Fourth 1.67
Fifth 1.29
Sixth 1.00
Seventh 0.84
Eighth 0.67
Reverse 3.30
Axle ratio (:1): 3.45
Transfer case: MP 3022 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.72
Crawl ratio (:1): 44.2

FRAME/BODY
Frame: Steel unibody
Body: Steel

SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front: Short- and long-arm independent, Quadra-Lift air spring and shock assemblies, stabilizer bar/ZF 7.7-in
Rear: Multi-link, Quadra-Lift air springs, independent upper links plus a separate toe link, stabilizer bar/ZF 7.7-in

STEERING
Type: Electric rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.2
Ratio (:1): 16.7

BRAKES
Front: 13.0 x 1.30in vented disc, two-piston caliper
Rear: 13.0 x 0.55in solid disc, single-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in): 18x8.0
Tires: P265/60R18 Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure with Kevlar

FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway: N/A
Observed city/highway/trail: 16.4

DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lb): 4,875
Wheelbase (in): 114.8
Overall length (in): 189.8
Overall width (in): 76.5 (84.8 w/mirrors)
Height (in): 69.3
Track f/r (in): 63.9/64.1
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.6 (standard height), 10.4 (suspension position #2)
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 37.1
Approach/departure angles (deg): 26.2 (standard height) 36.1 (suspension position #2, air dam off)/24.0 (standard suspension), 27.1 (air suspension position #2)
Breakover angle (deg): 10.0 (standard height), 22.8 (suspension position #2)
GVWR (lbs): 6,500
Payload (lbs): 1,270
Maximum towing capacity (lbs): 6,200
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 24.6

PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph (sec): 8.6
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 16.6 @ 85.8
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 131.1
Ramp Travel Index (20-deg, points): 361

2nd Place
Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE Td6

What’s New
The big news for the Range Rover Sport is the 3.0L Td6 turbodiesel engine. This engine has been available elsewhere in the world, but has only now made its way to North America, with some tweaks. The engine makes 245hp and 440 lb-ft of torque and it achieves an eight percent increase in overall fuel efficiency. Among other things, the Intelligent Stop/Start-equipped Td6 has a compacted graphite iron block; one-piece structural aluminum oil pan; two-stage oil pump; revised-design injectors; and water-cooled turbocharger with new ball bearings, vanes, and nozzles. Further, the injection cycle employs a two-stage process to eliminate the traditional knock associated with diesel engines. Also worth noting is the new low-pressure EGR system that among other things helps cut emissions and improve fuel economy. This system takes gases at low pressure after the DPF filter in the exhaust pipe and feeds them back to the turbocharger inlet. From there they pass through an intercooler, resulting in a lower peak combustion temperature. To ensure a level of refinement, the Range Rover Sport equipped with the Td6 engine gets dual isolation engine mounts and an acoustic laminate windshield.

Ramp and Track
The Range Rover Sport Td6 earned a 415-point score on the 20-degree RTI ramp. During 0-60 mph testing at the track, the approximately 4,709-pound vehicle turned a time of 8.5 seconds. The vehicle traveled the quarter-mile in 16.5 seconds at a speed of 85.8 mph. The Sport Td6’s four-wheel disc brakes worked in conjunction with the Goodyear Eagle F1 tires to bring the SUV from 60-0 mph in an impressive 120.9 feet.

Exterior/Interior
On the outside, we gave higher than average marks to the easy to replace plastic body cladding. We didn’t like the low profile 20-inch-diameter tires, but we did like the wheel design. “Tire size is stupid, but wheel design looks killer,” wrote one judge. Complaint: We were stumped at the lack of easily accessible front towhooks on such a legendary nameplate that is infused with off-road capability. Overall, judges really liked the exterior styling. “Sweet styling, clean lines, beautiful,” noted one judge. Regarding the interior, some of the judges’ comments included, “Best seats I’ve sat on,” “Everything seems high-end, nice to the touch, and there’s a buttery sweet scent of high-quality leather,” and “Classy and contemporary.” Many judges complained about the transmission shifter however, which seemed needlessly complicated and counterintuitive.

On-Road
The Sport Td6 cleaned house in this category, earning the most points of the three vehicles. The powerful, yet quiet diesel engine was one of the reasons, and judges’ comments included, “Quietest diesel I’ve ever heard” and “Quiet diesel. Not at all intrusive. Pleasure for long trips.” The outstanding eight-speed transmission was also a hit, spurring one judge to write, “Rows through gears easily. Like driving electricity.” The tight structure of the vehicle was another reason it scored so high. “Confidence-inspiring. Amazing chassis,” “Incredibly smooth highway drive. Feels like flying a private jet in calm air,” and “Going down road feels like you’re in the middle of a melted marshmallow, cocooned in sweet softness,” were some of the comments. Steering was “Smooth and precise,” and braking was “Very, very strong. Feels like stick-um on the rotors,” judges noted. Even with the sliding panoramic roof wide open the Sport Td6 was refined. “It’s even quiet with the sunroof open at 70 mph,” wrote a judge. As a bonus, the Td6 returned a best tank mpg of 28.6 during highway driving including crawling through some Los Angeles traffic.

Off-Road
Judges loved the outstanding visibility from the driver seat of the Sport Td6, which everyone knows is a key aspect of a good off-road vehicle. One judge summed it up by writing, “Love the Land Rover A-pillars and huge windshield. The driver is surrounded by large windows and low hood and high seating position.” While outstanding on-road, one of the Goodyear Eagle F1 tires succumbed to rock damage. This caused a judge to write, “I have tire anxiety issues in this 4x4, but it’s very solid and smooth.” And solid and smooth is exactly what the Sport Td6 is on the trail. In the snow it offered “Excellent traction,” on washboard roads it “Eats bumps and smooths them out,” and on rocky trails it demonstrated “No head toss, excessive whirring or clicking of traction aids, or front/rear bias slipping.” We quickly found that sand is the Sport Td6’s forte and it could effortlessly carve dunes. Judges’ comments included, “Effortless cruising in sand,” “Like a butler carrying you on his shoulders: Which dune would you like to climb now, sir?” and “I tried to get the Td6 stuck in sand. Impossible!” Part of the formula for the Td6’s success off-road is the front and rear wheeltravel of 10.2 and 10.7 inches, respectively. The Sport Td6’s nemesis was the hillclimb. The traction control system got all sorts of knotted up in the loose holes on our test hill and the system refused to deliver power to the wheels that needed it. One judge summed it up by writing, “Struggles with offset holes. Brake traction control system stops forward progress.” It was on the hillclimb we wished we could completely cancel the traction control on the vehicle.

Bottom Line
The Sport Td6 is an amazing SUV that is happy both on- and off-road. Additionally, the Sport Td6 proves that a diesel engine can coexist with a luxury SUV.

Logbook quotes
“Surprising how capable and seamless it is without a true limited slip or locker. It just flat works on the trail.”
“Super smooth and liquid power that just flows.”

What’s hot: Powerful and quiet 3.0L turbodiesel, outstanding wheeltravel, excellent on-road manners, very capable off-road
What’s not: Inability to completely nullify traction control, street-oriented tires, no rear limited slip or locker available
Our take: The 3.0L turbodiesel is one of the best small diesel engines available today and it’s in one of the most refined SUVs of today

GENERAL
Vehicle/model: Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE Td6
Base price: $71,450
Price as tested: $86,060
Options as tested: Front Climate Comfort & Visibility Package ($2,620), Driver Assistance Package ($2,900), Extra Duty Package ($1,750), Tow Package ($900), 825-Watt Meridian Premium Audio ($1,850), Sliding Panoramic Roof ($500), Adaptive Cruise Control w/Queue Assist ($1,295), Shadow Zebrano Wood Trim ($1,800), Destination Charge ($995)

ENGINE
Type: 24-valve V-6 w/ISS
Displacement (ci/liter): 182.6/3.0
Bore x stroke (in): 3.31x3.54
Compression ratio (:1): 16.0
Intake/FI: Turbocharged/direct injection
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 254 @ 4,000
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 443 @ 2,000
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Low-sulphur diesel

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: ZF 8HP70 8-spd auto
Ratios (:1):
First 4.67
Second 3.13
Third 2.10
Fourth 1.67
Fifth 1.28
Sixth 1.00
Seventh 0.84
Eighth 0.67
Reverse 3.32
Axle ratio (:1): 3.21
Transfer case: Magna DD295 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.93
Crawl ratio (:1): 43.9

FRAME/BODY
Frame: Aluminum unibody
Body: Aluminum

SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front: Short- and long-arm independent, twin lower links, air springs/Dana M200 7.9 in
Rear: Integral link, air springs/Dana M220 8.7 in

STEERING
Type: Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock): 2.78
Ratio (:1): 17.62

BRAKES
Front: 15 x 1.34in vented rotor, two-piston caliper
Rear: 14.4 x 0.98in vented rotor, single-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in): 20x8.5
Tires: 255/55R20 Goodyear Eagle F1

FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway: 22/28
Observed city/highway/trail: 20.3

DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lb): 4,709
Wheelbase (in): 115.1
Overall length (in): 191.2
Overall width (in): 81.6 (79.4 w/mirrors folded)
Height (in): 70.1
Track f/r (in): 66.5/66.3
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.4 (standard height), 10.9 (off-road height)
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 39.7
Approach/departure angles (deg): 24.3 (standard height), 33.0 (off-road height)/24.9 (standard), 31.0 (off-road height)
Breakover angle (deg): 19.4 (standard height), 27.2 (off-road height)
GVWR (lbs): 6,614
Payload (lbs): N/A
Maximum towing capacity (lbs): 7,716
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 23.5

PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph (sec): 8.5
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 16.5 @ 85.8
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 120.9
Ramp Travel Index (20-degree, points): 415

ANNOUNCEMENT: Winner of the 2016 Four Wheeler of the Year Award

Winner
Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR

What’s New
Remember the Four Wheeler of the Year 2014-winning supercharged Range Rover Sport that packed 510hp and 461 lb-ft of torque? Well, the Sport SVR takes that formula and bumps up the game in a number of areas. The supercharged, direct-injected, Intelligent Stop/Start-equipped 5.0L engine in the new SVR has had the Bosch management system re-tuned and maximum supercharger boost pressure increased to help deliver a staggering 550hp and 502 lb-ft of torque. Other SVR features include reduced transmission shift times, larger front air intakes for the twin intercoolers, electronically-controlled two-stage active exhaust system, larger exhaust tubing, recalibrated Dynamic Active Rear Locking Differential, Brembo six-piston front brakes, revised suspension air spring piston profile, continuously variable magnetorheological dampers, a new front fascia, new front bumper, new front fenders, new rear bumper, new rear spoiler that reduces lift, and much more. The SVR still retains the 10.2 inches of front wheeltravel from the air spring-equipped aluminum IFS with Dana centersection, 10.7 inches of rear wheeltravel from the air spring-equipped aluminum IRS with Dana centersection, 33.5-inch water fording capability, and 45.5:1 crawl ratio. Inside, SVR content includes Noble paddle shifters, a Morzine headliner, and heated leather front and rear sports seats.

Ramp and Track
The SVR demonstrated its flexy suspension’s capabilities by earning a 482-point score on the 20-degree RTI ramp. This was far more than the other vehicles in this year’s competition. At the track, the SVR traveled to 60 mph from a standing stop in a blazing 4.9 seconds and flew through the quarter-mile with a time of 13.3 seconds at 108.8 mph. The four-wheel disc brakes brought the vehicle to a stop from 60 mph in a respectable 120 feet. It’s worth noting that after a lap at Willow Springs International Raceway, a judge with years of experience behind the wheel of all types of vehicles wrote, “Laps the track like an exotic supercar.”

Exterior/Interior
“Mean and nasty” is the way one judge described the exterior of the SVR. We liked its all-business demeanor and the SVR-specific body mods are well done and they differentiate the vehicle from a non-SVR Sport without being look-at-me obnoxious. Judges gave better than average marks to the easy to replace plastic body cladding that’s down low in routinely off-road-damaged areas. Inside, judges liked the SVR touches from a visual standpoint, but almost overwhelmingly rejected the seats, which cost the SVR some points. Comments included, “Seats look good and have good bolstering, but lack enough lumbar support to be comfortable over long distances” and “Seats too firm, side bolsters too tight. Just plain uncomfortable.” One judge threw niceties out the window and said, “Pretty sure these seats are from the Spanish inquisition.”

On-Road
On the paved road, the SVR is utterly superb in power delivery and handling. “Power is unbelievable” and “Sticks like on rails,” were two comments after driving a section of twisty mountain road. To ensure that the power and handling can coexist, the SVR has a slew of advanced technologies that include mechanical and electronic controls and they work seamlessly together. On open road, the vehicle is vault-like and smooth. It’s also worth noting that the SVR has a heck of a menacing exhaust note. It wails under throttle, but becomes almost imperceptible in the cabin at low rpms. Upon deceleration in Dynamic mode (this mode includes sharper throttle response and more incisive gearshift logic), a controlled fuel supply creates what Land Rover calls a “characterful crackle” through the exhaust. “Think of it as a 4x4 supercar. It’s not supposed to be quiet,” wrote one judge.

Off-Road
The SVR churned through the snow, easily ascended our hillclimb, was steady and true on graded and washboard roads, and incredibly capable on rocky trails. Like the Sport Td6, the SVR offered great visibility from the driver seat and was a total blast in the sand. Judges’ comments included, “Sand sultan,” “Made for sand,” and “The SVR is stupid fun in the sand. I mean stupid fun. This thing has so much power it’s scary. If you feel like it’s not enough power you need a rocket ship.” Overall, judges were impressed at the function of the SVR’s traction control. “Very seamless. Almost invisible electronics,” wrote one judge. The SVR’s off-road performance is also aided by the generous wheeltravel, which soaked up even the worst terrain. The Terrain Response 2 system, which controls the four-wheel-drive system, worked incredibly well, and we found that the “Auto” setting worked in most situations to instantaneously select the best settings for the type of terrain. Nonetheless, we’d still like a way to completely disengage the electronic controls and have complete control over the vehicle off-road. The SVR lost points in the Trail Performance category for its lack of easy to access towhooks up front and a complicated removable tow point in the rear. The same 275/45R21 tires that helped to produce the incredible on-road performance hindered the SVR’s performance off-road. One tire succumbed to sidewall damage and another tire suffered sidewall cuts but continued to hold air. We get the need to offer a street-oriented tire on a performance vehicle like the SVR, but an optional speed-rated all-terrain tire (with a smaller wheel diameter) would be most welcome. In the tires defense, part of the issue could be due to the camber changes at the peak of the suspension cycle, which cause the tires sidewall to make more contact with the terrain below.

Bottom Line
The SVR is an amazing combination of world-class luxury, supercar performance, and dirt-pulverizing intensity. The cost of admission is high for this ride, but cost aside, the SVR is acutely adept at just about every type of driving situation both on- and off-road. This is what makes it the Four Wheeler of the Year for 2016.

Logbook quotes
“What in its class can outperform it? Can’t think of anything.”
“Time to buy a lottery ticket. This SVR is now on my bucket list.”

What’s hot: Powerful supercharged V-8, outstanding wheeltravel, luxurious interior, seamless integration of power and electronics
What’s not: Lack of easy to access functional towhooks, 21-inch wheel, price
Our take: The 2016 Four Wheeler of the Year

GENERAL
Vehicle/model: Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR
Base price: $79,995
Price as tested: $126,360
Options as tested: SVR package ($30,480), Meridian Signature Audio 1,700-watt ($4,150), Adaptive Cruise Control w/Queue Assist ($1,295), InControl Remote & Protect for 4 years ($400), Ebony Headliner ($350), InControl Secure ($445), Premium Metallic Paint ($1,800), SVR Carbon Fiber Engine Cover ($2,000), Santorini Black Contrast Roof ($650), Carbon Fiber Veneer ($2,300), Destination Charge ($995)

ENGINE
Type: 32-valve V-8 w/ISS
Displacement (ci/liter): 305.1/5.0
Bore x stroke (in): 3.64x3.66
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Intake: Supercharged, direct injection
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 550 @ 4,000
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 502 @ 2,500-5,500
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Premium unleaded (91 octane or higher)

DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: ZF 8HP70 8-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First 4.70
Second 3.13
Third 2.10
Fourth 1.67
Fifth 1.28
Sixth 1.00
Seventh 0.84
Eighth 0.67
Reverse 3.00
Axle ratio (:1): 3.31
Transfer case: Magna DD295 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.93
Crawl ratio (:1): 45.6

FRAME/BODY
Frame: Aluminum unibody
Body: Aluminum

SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front: Short- and long-arm independent, twin lower links, air springs, CVD with ARC/Dana M200 7.9-in
Rear: Integral link with air springs, CVD with ARC/Dana M220 8.7-in, Active Rear Locking Differential

STEERING
Type: Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock): 2.7
Ratio (:1): 18.3

BRAKES
Front: 15 x 1.34in vented disc, six-piston caliper
Rear: 14.4 x 0.98in vented disc, single-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in): 21x9.5
Tires: 275/45R21 Michelin Latitude Sport

FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway: 13/19
Observed city/highway/trail: 13.6

DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lbs): 5,143
Wheelbase (in): 115.1
Overall length (in): 191.8
Overall width (in): 87.4 (81.6 mirrors folded)
Height (in): 70.1
Track f/r (in): 66.5/66.3
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.4 (standard), 10.9 (off-road height)
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 39.7
Approach/departure angles (deg): 22.4 (standard height), 30 (off-road height)/22.5 (standard height), 27.3 (off-road height)
Breakover angle (deg): 19.4 (standard height), 27.0 (off-road height)
GVWR (lbs): 6,614
Payload (lbs): N/A
Maximum towing capacity (lbs): 6,614
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 27.7

PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph (sec): 5.0
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 13.3 @ 108.8
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 120.0
Ramp Travel Index (20-deg, points): 482

How we test ‘em
We began our weeklong Four Wheeler of the Year 2016 test by traveling from Los Angeles to Willow Springs International Raceway, near Lancaster, California, where we used a RaceLogic Performance Box to gather acceleration and braking data. We then convoyed to the desert via winding paved roads and along the way gathered data on how the vehicles handled in the twisty environment. For the next three days we tested the vehicles in a wide range of terrain. We spent time in every type of driving situation you can imagine. From stop-and-go city driving to wide open highway. Since we’re off-road-centric, we spent the majority of time in the dirt, water, mud, sand, and rocks. Each day of driving began shortly after sunup and ended well after sundown. We traveled to both high and low altitudes, we drove in the dark, and this year, for the second time in recent OTY history, we were able test in snow at high elevation. On the last day, we made the trek back to the Los Angeles area, which completed the test. In the end, we logged almost 1,000 miles in each vehicle.

How we score ‘em
Our scoring procedure utilizes five weighted categories. Here’s the breakdown: 30 percent Trail Performance (how a vehicle performs in specific wheeling environments and off-road-centric features like 4WD system operation, tires, traction aids, and so on), 25 percent Empirical (RTI, acceleration, braking, price, and so on), 20 percent On Pavement (handling, ride quality, steering feel, and so on) 15 percent Interior (instrumentation, ingress and egress, seat comfort, storage, and so on), and 10 percent Exterior (appearance, stance, body protection, and so on).

Final results

Grand Cherokee Range Rover Sport Td6 Range Rover Sport SVR
Trail Performance 18.63 17.18 19.42
Empirical 19.82 22.14 21.61
On-Road Performance 14.34 17.34 16.97
Interior 9.90 11.55 11.08
Exterior 6.29 6.55 6.49
Total 68.98 74.76 75.57

Judges Picks
We asked the judges which one of the three vehicles in this year’s test they’d most like to own and we asked ‘em to pony up the reason why. Scoring doesn’t matter here. As a matter of fact, it gets ignored. This is all about personal preference. Here’s what each judge chose.

Christian Hazel, Four Wheeler editor
For me, the Range Rover Sport SVR seats were so uncomfortable I started thinking of it as a penalty box. The Range Rover Sport HSE Td6 was sublime: comfortable, quiet, economical, powerful, and smooth. But if I really get honest, I'd have to say the Grand Cherokee Limited V-6 fits my lifestyle best. There's more interior storage than either Range Rover, available Wi-Fi, a great sound system, plenty of rear head and legroom, and although the ride isn't as pillowy, it offers better off-road capability than the Td6. The 3.6L/eight-speed auto is a phenomenal combination of power and economy and the new engine revisions only make it better. Plus, I could buy two or three Grand Cherokees for the price of the Td6 and SVR, respectively.

Ken Brubaker, Four Wheeler senior editor
Well heck, if someone is giving me one of these SUVs, toss me the fob for the Range Rover Sport SVR. The SVR’s mind-blowing performance both on- and off-road made me giggle like a schoolboy. The SVR offers the ability to make even mundane commuting in any type of weather or terrain a potential thrill ride. Best of all, and surprisingly, the SVR is an animal off-road. I’m down with that.

David Hamilton, TEN account executive
The Range Rover Sport HSE Td6 is my top pick for this year's Four Wheeler of the Year. Yeah, yeah, it hiccupped on the hillclimb, had silly street tires and costs a whopping $86k (yikes!). But, you can't beat the silky smooth highway ride, superior interior accoutrements and outstanding V-6 turbodiesel engine. To top it off, it excelled in just about every off-road category we threw at it, um, except for the hillclimb.

Corey Simone, Four Wheeler Network news editor
The 4x4 that I would take home would be the Range Rover Sport HSE Td6. The overall off-road performance, tremendous power, smooth ride, excellent fuel economy and plush interior make it hard to not love it. With off-road performance in mind and excellent power from the diesel engine this Range Rover is awesome, until you see the price tag.

Stuart Bourdon, Jp technical editor
As much as I liked the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the 550hp Range Rover Sport SVR, the rig I would take home would be the Range Rover Sport HSE Td6. The Td6’s new 3.0L turbocharged V-6 diesel produces 254hp and 443 lb-ft of low end torque. That¹s nothing to sneeze at, and even more impressive is all that power is channeled through one of the most sophisticated 4x4 systems on the market today. A luxurious interior, outstanding visibility from the driver seat and crazy amounts of wheeltravel add up to a home run for me.

John Cappa, contributor
All three SUVs in the competition have admirable qualities, and each shines in a different way. Overall, I would have to choose the Range Rover Sport HSE Td6 as the vehicle I would want to drive home. It has nearly twice the usable wheel travel of most other production SUVs and an interior that is nothing short of top-tier luxury. It would be hard to beat the visibility, comfort, handling, and convenience of the Rover diesel on a long road trip or 4x4 adventure. The only change I would want to make would be to upgrade to some more aggressive and robust all-terrain tires.

Ali Mansour, contributor
The price points on all three of the contenders are borderline ludicrous. Setting price aside, I'd have to go with the one that delivered the best balance of power and performance. For me, that was the Range Rover Sport HSE Td6. It glided atop the sand, performed well in the snow, and handled long stretches of desert trail with ease. The tire and wheel package was not my cup of tea, but they could be easily replaced. Add in a rear locker and figure out how to defeat some of the more invasive electronic nanny controls and you have a vehicle practical for a daily commute, but versatile enough for a desert safari.

Steve VonSeggern, contributor
I have to admit I was immediately smitten with the Range Rover Sport SVR's sexy blue paint and promise of 550 horsepower, and on day one of testing you never could have persuaded me that this wouldn't be my choice to keep. The Grand Cherokee is a wonderful SUV that's fantastic on the road but only adequate in the dirt, and miserably harsh and noisy when the air suspension is all the way up. Improvements to its Pentastar V-6 seem to have helped, and now at least via "seat of the pants dyno" feels as strong on the top-end as the last Hemi version I sampled. The Range Rover Sport HSE Td6, however, was the runaway surprise hit of the group. This is the quietest diesel engine I've yet experienced, and the driving experience is excellent, with mountains of effortless torque and amazing efficiency. The seats are way more comfortable than the torture chamber-sourced sport seats in the SVR, and only slightly less accomplished at securing one's body in place during spirited motoring. The wheel and tire package is much better suited to off-the-pavement forays, and the overall look is clean, understated, and significantly less of a circus wagon of conspicuous consumption as the SVR. The SVR is wildly fun and accomplished, both on-road and off, but in the long run I'd be very proud to have a diesel Range Rover Sport HSE Td6 in my garage.

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