What Makes a Good 4x4?


What makes a good 4x4? Is it gobs of gooey sus­pen­sion travel? Locker-equipped diffs? Mas­sive ground clear­ance? Sick ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles? All of the above?

By “good 4x4” I’m not re­fer­ring to re­li­a­bil­ity in this piece, but rather func­tion­al­ity. My first 4x4 was a ’76 K5 Blazer, and I thought it was a good 4x4. It had a 4-inch lift and 36s (some­what un­usual in the early ’80s), which gave it good ground clear­ance for one of the big­gest ob­sta­cles in my neck of the woods in north­ern Illi­nois farm­land: deep snow. One time I went win­ter wheel­ing on un­plowed sea­sonal ru­ral roads with my friend who was driv­ing his ’74 Dodge Ram­charger. His rig had no lift and stock-sized tires. The Ram­charger got stuck a lot—the K5 didn’t. How­ever, dur­ing a sum­mer romp on very off-cam­ber trails near the Mis­sis­sippi River, my K5’s taller cen­ter of gravity made for some creepy feel­ings, whereas he re­ported his Ram­charger felt sta­ble. In that sit­u­a­tion he prob­a­bly felt he had a good 4x4. I have a brother-in-law who wheels al­most ev­ery day. He’s a farmer and he reg­u­larly points his 4x4 into pas­tures and fields. His big con­cern is trac­tion, be­cause many times he’s pulling some sort of wagon or trailer and the soil is muddy or loose. His reg­u­lar cab, Cum­min­spow­ered, man­ual trans Chevy 3500 flatbed du­alie has mud-ter­rain tires and a rear locker. He pur­chased it new in 1995 and feels it’s a good 4x4.

An­other brother-in-law of mine owns an ex­ca­vat­ing com­pany and has a slew of 4x4s. How­ever, his daily is a late-model Ford F-250 tur­bod­iesel, and it’s called on to tow, haul, and wheel over some gnarly ter­rain. The truck is com­pletely stock with a fac­tory rear locker. The ter­rain and abuse that truck sees is evil, but it has been re­li­able and ca­pa­ble. He thinks it’s a good 4x4, even though it isn’t mod­i­fied.

A friend of mine has a Jeep JK. It’s mostly a toy, and among other things has 44s, D60s, en­gine mods, an At­las T-case, a sick long-travel sus­pen­sion, and ut­terly amaz­ing ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles. It has also met a Sawzall on more than one oc­ca­sion. He trail­ers it all over the U.S. to wheel on mostly rocky trails where it eas­ily creeps over nasty stuff. He’ll ad­mit that the Jeep is a tad heavy and it isn’t a top per­former when it comes to han­dling at speed, but it’s a wicked per­former on the rocks. He thinks it’s a good 4x4.

The other day I was talk­ing to a guy in Florida who has a mega truck. It’s about 10 sto­ries tall, has a stag­ger­ingly pow­er­ful big-block, 21⁄2ton Rock­well axles, and the sus­pen­sion travel of a gro­cery-get­ter SUV. His truck is light­ning fast and is un­fazed by even the deep­est mud. He thinks it’s a good 4x4.

A few years ago one of my friends had a com­pact, stock pickup truck. It had horrible ground clear­ance and lousy ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles. The lit­tle truck was pretty help­less off-road. How­ever, he thought it was a good 4x4 be­cause it got him to work when it was icy and he could use it to eas­ily move fire­wood from his big ol’ wood­pile to his back door. Nowa­days, many ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers are trotting out new 4x4s that have com­po­nents that were re­cently only avail­able in the af­ter­mar­ket, like re­mote-res shocks and lock­ers. To some, th­ese items are the things dreams are made of, while oth­ers sim­ply don’t need a shock with in­creased cool­ing ca­pac­ity or the abil­ity to lock the dif­fer­en­tial in an axle. Some would la­bel the new crop of trucks and SUVS as good 4x4s, while oth­ers would point to the 10-year-old rig in their drive­way.

In the end, we’ll prob­a­bly all agree that a good 4x4 is what­ever gets the job done for its owner, whether it’s play­ing or work­ing. How a 4x4 is mod­i­fied, or not, re­flects the type of wheel­ing the owner does.

Now it’s your turn. Email a high-res photo of your rig to editor@fourwheeler.com and tell us a bit about your rig and the type of wheel­ing you do with it. If we get enough of ’em we’ll put to­gether a read­ers’ rigs spe­cial in a fu­ture is­sue.

My old ’77 Scout, which I owned in the early ’80s, didn’t have hardly any mods. But for the type of wheel­ing I did at the time, I con­sid­ered it a good 4x4.

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