Four Wheeler Magazine's annual Four Wheeler of the Year award is hotly contested among 4x4 manufacturers because the winner boasts major bragging rights since Four Wheeler is the definitive authority on unbiased 4WD information. To be eligible for inclusion in the test, the editors state the following:
The purpose of our 39-year-old Four Wheeler of the Year competition is to test and rate all-new or substantially-revised sport utility vehicles. The goal of this test is to assist you in your SUV buying decision, or at the very least, keep you up to speed on what's new in the SUV world and how that newness works. To be eligible, each vehicle must also have a two-speed transfer case, a production run of at least 1,500 vehicles available in the U.S., and be on sale by January 15, 2013.It's unfortunate that most of the SUV market has abandoned their roots as true off-road-capable vehicles, and have rather focused on churning out glorified AWD station wagons with rugged-looking bodies. Thus, only Jeep produced any new or substantially-revised vehicles that qualified for the 2013 Four Wheeler of the Year comparison: the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk and the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Moab.
I've already written about the Moab Edition of the Wrangler, and while it does not have all of the offroad capabilities of the Rubicon (which is now celebrating its 10th anniversary) it is still a nice big step above the standard Wranglers because of its uprated steel bumpers, more offroad-oriented tires, and most importantly, its available rear differential locker.
In almost all offroad terrain, a proper pair of solid axles will put independent suspension to shame. Jeep has spent over 70 years refining the onroad ride and handling of their open-top solid-axle 4x4 to the point that it gives up little to the independent front and rear suspension in the Grand Cherokee and its other competitors. The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is still a decent offroad machine, but in Four Wheeler's own words:
In the end, the Moab dominated the Trail Performance category of scoring, which helped give it the win over the very capable Trailhawk. If you're looking for a vehicle you can comfortably commute in all week and then wheel on the weekend, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Moab would serve you well. Strong power, an array of comfort features, and good fuel mileage make it easy to drive daily. The flexible suspension, grippy tires, and locking rear diff help make it easy to wheel. It's a well-rounded machine with incredible off-road capabilities, and it's our 2013 Four Wheeler of the Year.
Of course, if you're looking for the most capable 4x4 straight from the dealership, the indisputable leader is the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.