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2003 4x4 Of The Year - Best 4x4

David KennedyWriterFrank KaislerPhotographer4-Wheel & Off-Road StaffPhotographerJP StaffPhotographerRick PeweWriter

*Chevrolet Silverado 1500 *Dodge Ram 2500 *Dodge Ram 3500*Ford Excursion *Ford Expedition *Ford Explorer *Ford F-150 FX4*Ford F-250 Super Duty *Ford Ranger FX4 Level II *GMC Yukon 1500 *GMC Yukon XL 2500 *Hummer H2 *Jeep Wrangler Rubicon *Kia Sorento LX *Lexus GX 470 *Toyota 4Runner

Choosing A Winner In Our Biggest Test Ever!Gaining top-dog status in our 4-Wheel & Off-Road 4x4 of the Year competition is a major achievement, one that the vehicle manufacturers are rightfully proud to receive. They know that this is the award, the one that actually means something in the vast field of automotive publications that pick and choose so-called award-winning vehicles. As for our readers, they know that we actually take these new 4x4s and put them through some real four-wheeling, not like the car magazines and their extended road trips. We push these rigs far beyond what the manufacturers ever intended, and painstakingly note every aspect of the vehicles' true performance before presenting the results in these pages. Our readers want and need this information as they go out and make a major purchase of a new 4x4, and come to 4-Wheel & Off-Road for the real deal.

This year we had a slew of contestants, 16 in all. Each one was eligible because they were either entirely new such as the Kia Sorento, or had major mechanical changes that would hopefully improve the performance over last year's model, such as the Ford Explorer. Each vehicle must also be available for sale to the public by January 15 of the model year, and have at least 2,500 vehicles produced. In addition, each manufacturer must supply us with a vehicle and retail pricing by our test date, since price is a heavy-hitting factor in our competition. This ensures that the most expensive vehicle isn't always the winner, and a rig that can give the buyer more bang for the buck has an equal chance at winning.

We also retain the winner for a year-long test, which showcases the vehicle in a long-term real-world environment. Most importantly, the 4x4s we test must have a two-speed transfer case to eliminate the all-wheel-drive minivans and station wagon crossovers from our competition.

These are rules we have tested by for quite some time, which make our award unique in the four-wheel-drive magazine industry.

For our 2003 4x4 of the Year test, 16 vehicles met our testing standards to run through the paces: The Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Dodge Ram 2500, Dodge Ram 3500, Ford Excursion, Ford Expedition, Ford Explorer, Ford F-150 FX4, Ford F-250 Super Duty, Ford Ranger FX4 Level II, GMC Yukon 1500, GMC Yukon XL 2500, Hummer H2, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Kia Sorento LX, Lexus GX 470, and Toyota 4Runner. Each one was a winner in its own right, with something special that could propel it to the lead and win the coveted title of 4x4 of the Year. Even with the large number of vehicles to test we would have welcomed more if the manufacturers could have met our criteria. If your favorite new rig wasn't tested, wait for next year's test to see if it makes it into our stables.

The race for 4x4 of the Year was a close one this year, as having such a large field made it more important than ever to split fine lines of performance and amenities. All of the vehicles performed well, and as usual some simply did better than others in each of the categories. We had quite a few surprises this year. Some vehicles simply astounded us with their performance, while others fell far short of what we expected. Even as we added up the last few figures on all of the myriad of scorecards, empirical sheets, and computer programs, we were still kept guessing as to the winner until the final facts were in.

See for yourself how all of our contestants did in each category. We boiled down the facts and figures in a compact story for you to enjoy, and announce the 2003 4x4 of the Year winner on the final page. For an exclusive behind-the-scenes video look at the vehicles, event, and more, go to www.4wheeloffroad.com/web.