5 Popular 4x4s That Totally Live Up to the Hype
It’s a great time to be an off-road enthusiast. Some people may disagree, but we can’t think of a period in automotive history where so many capable 4x4s are being produced at the OE level. Sure, there are the dreaded electronic nannies that work as the fun police on the street, but many of those can be defeated off-road. In fact, we dare say that even with the computer monitoring your off-road shenanigans, stock for stock, modern 4x4s are still more capable than the four-wheel drives of yesteryear.
(Photo courtesy of Jeep)
So, we’ve put together a list of five of the best factory offered 4x4s that have graced showrooms over the past 10 years.
These are not some small grouping of one-off vehicles, but rather readily available vehicles — most of which can still be purchased new today. Many of these you can purchase used for a deal, while some still command premium prices on dealer lots. No matter what your budget, our top five late-model 4x4 picks definitely live up to the hoopla.
1. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
We’re still amazed at how many people don’t fully grasp how incredible the Rubicon package is. Launched in 2003 with the Jeep Wrangler TJ, a Rubicon package provides the Wrangler with mud-terrain tires, Dana 44 front and rear axles, selectable differential lockers, a 4:1 low-range transfer case ratio and a host of other off-road worthy appointments.
When the JK model arrived in 2007, the Rubicon package only got better with Next Gen Dana 44 axles and an electronic sway bar disconnect. Plus, with the launch of the four-door Unlimited model, the Wrangler became something that was actually practical for a family on the go. Even if you didn’t want to install a single one of the thousands of off-road accessories there are for the Wrangler, the Rubicon will take you places that other modified 4x4s wouldn’t dare go.
2. Ford Raptor
We may have some disagreement with the following statement, but we believe it to be true. The Ford Raptor is the best iteration of the F-150 platform ever produced. The amount of R&D and actual time spent beating these trucks ruthlessly in the desert before going into production is amazing. The fact that the SVT team was able to get the bean counters and lawyers to sign off on a desert-themed truck that is fit with a button that kills all electronic nannies — and we mean all of them — is downright amazing.
The truck comes with a selectable rear locker, internal bypass Fox shocks and 35-inch-tall Raptor-spec all-terrains. To this date, there’s no other factory produced 4x4 that can handle high-speed desert terrain as well as the Raptor.
3. Ram Power Wagon
(Photo courtesy of Ram)
It has front and rear selectable differential lockers, an electronically controlled sway bar disconnect, skidplates and a winch. How’s that for off-road appointments?
When it comes to ¾-ton trucks, none are more off-road oriented than a late-model Ram Power Wagon. While we like the 2005 gen body style for its slightly more compact design and better ground clearance, the latest Power Wagon can be had with a fully coil-sprung suspension and 6.4L V8. Both are awesome and absolutely trail worthy. Where the Ford Raptor dominates the desert, the Power Wagon plays the hand of workhorse and trail machine. It’s like having a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on steroids. Aside from dismal fuel economy, there’s not many faults with this fullsize wheeler.
4. Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
For the life of us, we can’t wrap our minds around why there are not more compact pickup trucks with excellent off-road packages. The undisputed king of the mid-sized truck game is Toyota, and the Tacoma has earned that crown.
Going back to the second-gen Tacoma (2005-2015), the TRD Off-Road package has seen a few variations, all of which were aimed at increasing off-road performance, not just looks. A selectable rear locker, class-leading ground clearance and a finely-tuned off-road suspension makes the TRD Off-Road Tacoma the midsize truck to own.
5. Hummer H3 Alpha
(Photo courtesy of GM)
We were torn whether or not to include the H3, but we want to keep the memory alive! The Hummer name is one of the most controversial in all of the 4x4 world. The H1, and even the H2, were never really excellent trail vehicles in a conventional sense. But the H3 Alpha had the best potential to turn the brand around.
The Alpha part of the puzzle is critical. Unlike a regular H3, the Alpha fit the mid-sized SUV with front and rear selectable lockers, a 4:1 transfer case low range and — something the four-door Wrangler so desperately needs — a healthy V8 engine. Sadly, this top-tier off-roader came at the end of Hummer’s life. By the time it arrived, it was too late. The H2 had such a negative stigma, that it soiled the rest of the brand.
While there aren't as many H3 Alphas roaming the roads, they do exist. Buy one and ‘wheel a piece of history.