Four Wheeler Magazine's annual Four Wheeler of the Year award is a heavily contested bragging right because Four Wheeler's test emphasizes real-world offroad capability in addition to day-to-day utility over brand caché or the number of cupholders. It is an honest-to-goodness comparison of the contenders' hardware and capability, but the competition is only open to new or significantly improved vehicles. This has made it hard to determine how all of the currently-available new vehicles directly compare. In Four Wheeler's own words:
With every Four Wheeler of the Year competition comes the inevitable deluge of mail from our readers asking how we selected the vehicles we did and why we don’t test every 4x4 on the market. Because OTY is setup to only evaluate those vehicles that are all new or significantly revised, we decided a new shootout was in order.
To answer our OTY critics, we partnered with our friends at PickupTrucks.com and invited every current 4x4 offered with a factory off-road package to Michigan to battle head-to-head for off-road package supremacy. This test would focus primarily on wheeling, with none of the scoring taking in to account how smooth of a highway ride these rigs offer, whether they have heated seats, or which truck has the best stereo. No sir, this shootout is solely about function on the trail.These new criteria to test the best new vehicles in their most-upfitted offroad packages produced seven entries, of which four were pickup trucks and three were SUVs:
- Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
- Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
- Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
- Nissan Xterra PRO-4X
- Ram Power Wagon
- Toyota 4Runner Trail
- Toyota Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series.
|The seven contenders|
The Power Wagon and the Raptor gave the Rubicon some serious competition, but the Jeep came out the winner while costing over $10,000 less than either. Admittedly, each of these vehicles is best-suited to very different needs, but in all-around performance the Jeep was found to be the most well-rounded and offroad-capable truck you can buy.
|The best 4x4 you can buy|
It took a week of grueling off-pavement testing, but once again it was Jeep’s Wrangler that proved which company is king when it comes to making the best factory 4x4. Reading like an enthusiast’s wish list, the Rubicon is equipped with solid axles, coil springs, monotube shocks, front and rear electric lockers, and an electronic disconnecting front sway bar, which allows the flexy Wrangler to make quick work of any trail and at a price that was the second lowest in the test.
The 285hp 3.6L V-6 had no issue motivating the Wrangler up our hillclimb, but like the solid-axle Power Wagon, it did suffer from some axlehop, just nothing as violent as we saw in the big Ram. As a side note, the 3.6L absolutely screams, however all that high-rpm power comes at the expense of low-end torque, which is one of the few areas that could be improved on the Wrangler. Thankfully the manual transmission’s gears are spaced nicely, so finding the proper gear was never an issue. It also helped having a manual on the hill descent where an incredible 73.1:1 crawl ratio negated the need for an HDC system.
Using a zigzag line, the uber-maneuverable Wrangler easily conquered the stairsteps, picking off one ledge at a time. The short 95.4-inch wheelbase could sometime feel a little wonky for those who just got out of the 149-inch Power Wagon, but the adjustment was easy and the stability of the Wrangler was impressive for its short length.
When it came time to tame the rock garden, there wasn’t a vehicle more at home. The compliant suspension conformed to the boulder path and the low gearing allowed the Wrangler to just mosey along. Thanks to ground clearance, good skidplating, and rock rails, you never had to worry about placing the Wrangler perfectly. It has a margin of error built in that no other factory 4x4 can match.
During our testing, we rarely felt any electronic nannies try to take control away from the driver. The Wrangler is a driver’s machine and it is impossible to get behind the wheel and not have fun. If you’ve ever driven a Wrangler on the trail, you understand and if you haven’t, you’ll never know what you are missing.
With an unmatched mix of standard features, affordable price, and overall capability, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon comes out the winner of our first-ever off-road package shootout, making it the Ultimate Factory 4x4.
Hot: Price, maneuverable, go-anywhere capability
Not: Limited cargo room, light on low-end torque
Our Take: The best factory 4x4 available