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So, Which Is The Best 4x4?

By Michael Ruger. Filed under 4wd Driving Info in June 2002.

So ... Which is the Best 4x4?

I was prompted to write this (highly opinionated) column in response to the latest poll question posted on this web site; Which is the Best 4x4?

I don't claim to be "the authority" on 4x4's by any stretch of the imagination. I've had little formal training, but I have come to most of my conclusions the old fashioned way ... experience and direct observation. I purchased my first 4wd pickup truck at the age of 18 and over the following 20 years, have owned and modified eight 4x4's of five different brands and spent time behind the wheel of countless others.

As an active member of 4x4 clubs and an avid participant of outdoor recreation, I've driven off-highway in the sandy beaches and swamps of the Carolinas to the snowy mountains of Utah, and (just about) everything in-between including the interstate highways of Wyoming and Nebraska covered with 8" of ice.

So, it came to me as I was answering the question (as one of the only three "other" respondents) that there really is no such thing as the "best" 4x4 because the term "best" is subjective. The best 4x4 depends on many variables such as your driving habits, skills, environment, and even your physical size just to name a few. I doubt for example, that a person standing 6' 6" tall would consider a Suzuki Samurai the best 4x4, regardless of its off-highway prowess. Similarly, a vehicle set up to be the "best" snow and ice runner in Alaska would not necessarily be worth owning in Uganda where the environment is drastically different.

I owned for example, a 1990 Ford F250 pickup truck with a 7.5 litre petrol engine sitting on a 4" suspension lift with 36"x14.50" tires that was as close to unstoppable as you'll see in the deep mud. This same truck was so squarely on ice-covered roads it was barely controllable unless I put a ton of weight in the bed. See where I'm going with this? It's all a matter of perspective and expectation. Let's face it, if all I'm after is a soft, cushy, comfortable ride back and forth to work on the well maintained but icy roads of the freezing American Northwest, I would probably consider the Ford Expedition with its leather interior, CD sound and heated seats but merely adequate drive system a "better" 4x4 than the draughty, spartan Land Rover Defender with its bullet-proof drive train and full time four wheel drive transfer case complete with centre diff lock.

I would give you a different answer however, if you asked me which I'd prefer to drive to the Kidepo game park on the Uganda/Sudan border! Four wheel drive clubs tend to be full of members who are brand-loyal (any Land Rover is "better" than any Toyota) to some degree and good natured ribbing is the norm. In fact, if friendly insults aren't flying between the members, it's probably not a very fun club! Lord help you if you're the only one to get stuck while driving a Toyota in a club dominated by Land Rovers!

If however, you are using the off-highway capability of each individual vehicle as the sole criteria for judging the "best" 4x4, I've come to realise just one certainty over the years and that is that any four wheel drive (not to be confused with all-wheel drive because yes, there is a difference) regardless of brand, can be built into a decent if not downright formidable off-highway vehicle.

It's true this will require more modification, patience and money on some vehicles than others because the all around off-highway capability of stock 4x4's does vary considerably from the factory ... but that is another soap box.