With the 2000’s coming to a close, we wanted to come up with a list that represents the most significant vehicles to the 4x4 enthusiast market over the last 10 years. Here at Four Wheeler magazine, it is our job to test factory 4x4s in the elements for which they are allegedly designed and over the past decade we have put hundreds of new vehicles through the our torturous test gauntlet. We reviewed all of our tests since 2000 to come up with what we felt were vehicles that changed the face of wheeling, vehicles that were first to market with important technologies, or vehicles that approached the sport of wheeling in a new way. After weeks of going through old stories, we realized what amazing products were available to the enthusiast in this past decade and we hope you’ll agree, or at least enjoy, our review of what we think are the most significant vehicles available from January 1, 2000 to December 31st, 2009.
10. Nissan Xterra/Frontier (2005-present)
The Nissan Xterra and Frontier have been a perennial favorite of the Four Wheeler staff since their redesign atop the robust Nissan F-Alpha platform in 2005. With underpinnings that were shared with the fullsize Titian, the Xterra and Frontier were tough midsize pickups. Equipped with Nissan’s excellent 4.0L DOHC V-6 matched to either automatic or manual transmissions, The Off-Road/NISMO/PRO-4X packages added the right equipment in the form of 32-inch BFG tires, Bilstein shocks, electronic rear locker and a smooth underbody with ample skidplating.
9. Land Rover LR3 (2005-09)
When the Land Rover LR3 debuted in 2004, it quickly earned praises for being the best-riding SUV of its time, no doubt helped by its air suspension. It was also the first Land Rover to use fully independent suspension and a new technology curiosity, Terrain Response. Other important technologies of the time were Hill Decent Control and 4-wheel Electronic Traction Control. All of these technologies were precursors to the entire Land Rover line-up and now are showing up in other brands. To improve trail performance, the LR3’s air suspension could adjust ride height and was cross-liked to act more like a tradition solid axle. An electronic rear locker was also an option.
8. Lexus GX470 (2003-09)
Why a Lexus? Well it is the only vehicle in this decade to have won back-to-back Four Wheeler of the Year competitions. It is that good on the trail. It was also one of the first rigs to match true luxury accommodations, stellar highway ride and real trailbility in an affordable (relatively) package. Some of the technology that made the GX special were a 4.7L V-8, Adaptive Variable Suspension, Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, rear air suspension, and a center Torsen differential. To this day it remains one of our all-time favorite 4x4s.
7. Toyota FJ Cruiser (2007-present)
Toyota introduced the production FJ Cruiser after a successful concept vehicle of the same name garnered tremendous response in 2003. With a retro/modern styling mash up, the FJ reminded many of the popular FJs of the 60’s. The FJ was based the Lexus GX/Toyota Prado chassis making it a very competent trail performer, in addition to being a very nice highway vehicle. All FJs come with Toyota’s 4.0L V-6, and ether a six-speed manual (full-time 4WD) or 5-speed automatic (part-time 4WD or 2WD). An electronic rear locker was optional and pricing started under $25,000, making the FJ a true value. We are partial to the TRD model with its rock rails, upgraded BFG All-Terrain tires and Bilstein shocks.
6. Hummer H2 (2003-present)
Whether you like it or not, the H2 was polarizing when it hit the market in 2003. To this day it remains the only fullsize SUV available with an e-Locker and 35-inch tires from the factory. The H2 is a robust performer in the dirt, especially with the rear air suspension option. Key features of the H2 include incredible approach and departure angles, optional rock rails and some of the best skidplating available on any factory 4x4.
5. Hummer H1 Alpha (2006)
Arguably the greatest factory 4x4 ever produced, the last Hummer H1 was by far the best. Only making an appearance in 2006, the Alpha model upgraded the venerable H1 with a Duramax turbodiesel V-8 mated to an Allison 5-speed automatic transmission and an all-new interior. To accommodate the engine, the Alpha’s body was lifted 2-inches over previous H1s. Other major components of the H1 Alpha were completely redesigned, such as the frame, steering, differentials, and fuel supply. The straight-cut geared hubs used quieter running helical gears. Keeping true to the primary task of wheeling, the Alpha remained as capable as ever and featured 37-inch tires, a 72-degree approach angle and a 41.5:1 crawl ratio. Alpha pilots had the ability to climb a 22-inch vertical wall cross a 60-percent grade, traverse a 40-percent side slope with 2500 pounds of payload, and ford 30 inches of water.
4. Hummer H3 (2005-present)
While it may be based on the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon pickup truck twins, the Hummer H3 takes those vehicles to a whole new level. Standard H3s come with a torquey I-5 with ether and automatic or manual transmission, while the Alphas come standard with GM’s 5.3L V-8. We are especially partial to the Adventure package with its 33-inch tires, 4.56:1 (4.10:1 on V-8) gears, a 4:1 transfer case, front and rear lockers, robust skid plating, available rock rails, monotube shocks, flexy suspension and approach and departure angles that get in to Jeep Wrangler territory. Out of the box, the H3 is ready to wheel and in 2008 it was FWOTY winner.
3. Ford F-150 SVT Raptor (2010-present)
While just eeking in under our on sale by Dec 31st, 2009 deadline, the Ford Raptor has taken the 4x4 market by storm. Being the first factory pickup that offers long travel race-inspired suspension, it has no peer in the marketplace. If you need a new truck and you want to go fast in the desert, you get the Raptor. The Raptor is a hoot to drive, and the nearly foot of travel you get from the internal bypass Fox shocks and 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terain tires allow the Raptor to soak up unconscionable obstacles at speed. Throw in the Off-Road Mode button to toggle of the nannies, and an “any speed” rear locker and you have a rig destined for success in the dirt. Take off the fancy stickers and the talk about Baja, and the Raptor becomes a very capable and competent 4x4 in in any environment.
2. Dodge Power Wagon (2005-present)
The Power Wagon won our Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year competition in 2005. We liked that truck so much that we bought it from Dodge at the end of our one-year evaluation and it continues to be a regular project feature in the magazine. We have called it “pickup perfection” in print and stick by that to this day. Not only does the Power Wagon offer ¾-ton capability, but it also has standard trail equipment that had never before been seen on any factory pickup. Consider the 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, Bilstein shocks, forged 17-inch wheels, front and rear lockers (with the rear a helical-style limited slip when unlocked), front electronically disconnecting sway bar, front steering stabilizer and factory rock protection. And don’t forget the factory-supplied Warn 12,000-pound winch that is nestled just behind the front bumper. Oh yeah, it also won our 2010 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year competition too.
1. Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon (2007-present)
The Jeep Wrangler JK is the hottest thing to hit wheeling since, well, the Jeep Wrangler TJ. While enthusiasts initially questioned Jeep’s sanity in their decision to produce a 4-door Wrangler, it will probably go down in history as one of the smartest product moves any automotive company has ever made. In fact, the Wrangler JK, and the Unlimited (4-door) in particular, may have single handedly saved Jeep during Chrysler’s bankruptcy by being one of the very, very few bright spots in the portfolio. Through the economic downturn and high fuel prices, the Wrangler has continued to be a success, not just for Jeep, but for the entire automotive aftermarket. From a Jeep customer perspective, the 4-door was pure genius, opening up the sport of Jeeping to families. No longer would you have to choose your kids or your gear. It also made the Jeep brand accessible to people who have always loved the idea of a Wrangler, but never thought the vehicles were large enough or functional enough to fit their lifestyle and/or needs.
Just imagine someone telling you today that they needed you to build a 4-door convertible vehicle. It needed to have removable doors and a fold-down windshield. It had to four wheel drive, with solid axles, a flexible suspension, and BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tires. Make sure you equip it with a 4:1 transfer case, 4.10:1 gears, lockers at both ends, and an electronically disconnecting front sway bar. And most of all, it had to pass all of today’s stringent safety standards. What would you think? You would probably think it was complete lunacy, but that is exactly what the Wrangler Unlimited is - a unique vehicle amongst machinery designed for the 4x4 enthusiast and a vehicle that will always have a soft spot in the hearts of the Four Wheeler magazine staff.
--Sean P. Holman
Tech Editor - Four Wheeler Magazine