Putting a grade to these capable off-roaders is akin to splitting hairs. Each is fully capable on tough terrain, and we wouldn't hesitate to take any one off the beaten path in a heartbeat. But the one you choose will depend on the type of off-roading you typically do and how much you're willing to spend. In our book, here's how they finish.
Sixth Place: Toyota Land Cruiser
With 50 years of heritage, the Land Cruiser has conquered uncivilized terrain in over 150 countries. Compared with its current competition, today's Land Cruiser, not surprisingly, is a dated piece of machinery. Its years of production have paid for the tooling, and you can bet Toyota still makes a generous profit on every $60,000 unit. Shod with more aggressive tires and without the trailer hitch dragging, we're sure the Land Cruiser would've placed higher. While it lacks refinement, the L.C. still has the goods to get the job done, but in light of the advancements its competition has made, in this test, it sits at the end of the line.
Fifth Place: Jeep Grand Cherokee
As a testament to how competitive this test was, a fifth-place finish for the Grand Cherokee by no means shows this isn't a tremendous vehicle. Regardless, it would've been nice to have a Grand Cherokee Rubicon edition with additional ground clearance, underbody shielding, a 4:1 low-range gear, and larger tires. As it was, our Limited model was more suited for medium off-road duty, and not the hard-core stuff we experienced. That said, the Grand is certainly that--it's capable of taking any family off to the boonies one weekend and still provide a comfortable ride for the daily drive.
Fourth Place: Volkswagen Touareg
The Touareg is an amazing first shot from VW into the 4x4 arena. Developed and mostly tested in Europe, the Touareg's computer knows implicitly how to react in icy conditions, but it seems lost on sand. Capable enough to make it through moderate trails with ease, but a super-sophisticated nanny system will take you only so far. Sure, it lacks serious skidplates, traction-oriented tires, and a defeatable stability system, but it does offer enough high-powered computer controls to give it a slight edge over the Jeep.
Third Place: Dodge Ram Power Wagon
Dodge's Power Wagon just barely slid from second place, based on price, functionality, and size. True, it has all the right parts, and it scales hurdles all day without thinking twice, but its $43,262 price makes one pause, compared with the more capable second-place finisher's price of $33,675. With the money saved, we could purchase a quad on a trailer and really have some fun in the backcountry. Although we like the swaybar disconnect and electric lockers, we didn't like that they take their sweet time in engaging and disengaging. In fact, the lockers sometimes required driving short distances to lock (kind of hard to do when you're stuck).
Second Place: Hummer H3
Hummer's H3 is a humdinger. It's incredibly capable, tackling nearly everything we put in its way, and seemed to beg for more difficult terrain. The H3 misses the absolute 4x4 mark by a hair: It needs more power. Saddled with an incredible set of gears, it works wonders in low range, but in 4 High or on the highway, the H3 feels like a baby Hummer. We're sure with a turbodiesel or V-8 option, the H3 would be a spectacular performer. Our other gripe is in the visibility department. The view out is about a poor as looking out the port of a Rose Parade float, and we would've had serious problems if we didn't have a spotter for trail runs, or cresting hills.
First Place: Land Rover LR3
Behold! The champion of the 2005 Truck Trend Ultimate 4x4 Challenge. Land Rover's LR3 did nothing but impress our troupe from the get-go. Its $53,245 price point was one of the most expensive of test, but spend some time on varied terrain and let the Terrain Response do its thing, and you can't help but be impressed with the value the system carries. The LR3 was equally at home at triple-digit highway speeds and crawling over boulders. It conquered everything we put in its way without sniveling, and delivered it all in a comfortable cabin--off-roading has never been better.