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Many car enthusiasts insist some period in the past was the golden age of cars and trucks. Different enthusiasts might think the ultimate cars were the classics of the '30s, the finned luxo-barges of the '50s, or the musclecars of the '60s, but they all agree that the cars of today just can't compare. That's not true in the 4x4 business. Just about everyone agrees that today is the golden age of four-driven wheels.
Having said that, it's not like we don't appreciate our heritage of military Jeeps, Dodge Power Wagons, early Broncos, the original Chevy Blazer, and dozens of other great 4x4s of the past. It's just that the variety and scope of 4x4 offerings have never been greater than today. Consider, for example, Chevrolet. Thirty years ago, GM's biggest division offered four-wheel drive only in pickups, Blazers, and Suburbans. In 2000, Chevy offers off-roadable vehicles ranging from the micro-sized Tracker through the compact S-10 pickups and Blazers and on to the fullsize Tahoes, Suburbans and pickups. Dodge and Ford have similarly expanded their offerings over time, and luxury manufacturers who never would have considered building a 4x4 30 years ago (BMW, Lincoln, Cadillac, and so on) now count on them to add to their bottom lines. If there isn't a new 4x4 out there for you, you don't really want a 4x4.
The big challenge today is defining a 4x4. There's no doubt the Jeep Wrangler is a true off-road machine or that the Range Rover can traverse awesome terrain while maintaining a sumptuous environment, but what about the Subaru Outback? It's a jacked-up station wagon with all-wheel drive and some rugged decoration. Does that make it a true off-roader? For people who consider a muddy road to be "off road," yes. For those who think anything not boulder-strewn may as well be a freeway, no. We wouldn't go pounding through a Florida bog in a Lincoln Navigator, and would feel pretentious driving up to Spago in a Hummer, but both are legitimate 4x4s.
It's up to you to decide what constitutes a true 4x4. Our job for the next several pages is to put them all in front of you. We've taken the loosest definition of off-roader we ever have in order to present you with the most options.
AM General Hummerwww.hummer.comIf you have paramilitary fantasies, the Hummer is the best way to fulfill them. Since the military seems content, the civilian 2000 Hummer will likely be little different from the '99. That means it's huge, unwieldy around town, fantastically space inefficient, and not fast, but it's wonderful off road where its amazing all-independent suspension will ford rivers and clear obstacles. Available as a two-door hardtop, a four-door soft top or hardtop, or a four-door wagon, power comes from a 6.5L turbodiesel V-8 making 195 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque.
BMWwww.bmwusa.comBMW calls its new X5 4.4i a Sports Activity Vehicle, and it packs such techno-twiddles as an on-board GPS navigation system, dynamic stability control, and up to 10 airbags and is the first vehicle with optional factory 19-inch wheels. Power comes from BMW's sweet 282hp, 4.4L DOHC, 32-valve V-8, which propels an all-independent suspension. The all-wheel drive system seems more attuned to all-weather on-road survival than off-road exploration. But who knows? Maybe a Starbucks will open at the end of your favorite trail if the South Carolina-built X5 gets popular. A six-cylinder X5 will appear this spring.