Top 10 2006 4WD Vehicles for Off-Highway Use

To access some of the most enjoyable outdoor activities America has to offer, one sometimes has to travel into remote areas of state or national parks. Frequently, these areas can be reached only by traveling on rock-strewn trails that wind steeply up hills or mountains. In cases like this, it's important to have a vehicle that doesn't get jittery at the first sight of dirt. To help consumers choose, we selected a diverse group of 2006 model-year pickups and SUVs that we feel are the most capable over rough terrain and made recommendations as to how to equip them for maximum performance. Please note that the order of this list is alphabetical and does not represent an editorial preference of any one vehicle over another.

On its own, the Dodge Ram doesn't possess many inherent qualities that make it more capable than its competitors like the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Nissan Titan or Toyota Tundra. However, there is a version of the Ram, the Power Wagon, that allows the Ram to make our list. The Power Wagon is a Ram 2500 with plenty of special off-roading hardware, including front and rear differential locks, an electronically disconnecting front stabilizer bar, 33-inch off-road tires, Bilstein shocks and a 12,000-pound winch.

The Hummer H1 Alpha is a pretty lousy vehicle by most measures. It's heavy, unwieldy and slow. Want to carry stuff? More cargo volume can be found in a Chevrolet Equinox. Price? If you have to ask, you can't afford it. Where the H1 is unmatched, however, is in its ability to neutralize obstacles in wide-open terrain. Featuring massive ground clearance, big tires and a stout drivetrain, the H1 Alpha can crawl over or ford its way through just about anything. Order the Off-Road Adventure and Tire packages for top performance.

Welcome to Hummer Lite. The Hummer H2 isn't as big or as heavy as the Hummer H1, nor does it have as much off-road capability. But the H2's smaller size makes it much more realistic to use in urban environments, and it still has more than enough tough-truck attitude to take on the majority of off-road trails. Either the regular H2 or the H2 SUT (which features an open cargo bed) will do. Order the optional rear air-suspension feature to slightly improve the H2's capabilities.

Jeep Grand Cherokee:For overall versatility, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is an outstanding choice. This midsize SUV deftly offers plenty of off-road capability without sacrificing too much on-road comfort. In terms of size, the Grand Cherokee is just about right: It's big enough to provide adequate cargo room but still compact enough to make off-road navigation easy. The best performing Grand Cherokee of the range is one with the 5.7-liter V8 engine and the Quadra-Drive four-wheel-drive system.

This classic American SUV has earned a loyal following because of its rugged capabilities, compact size and iconic styling. Of course, it's not very civilized and is a poor choice for an urban commuter car. But for the ultimate in rock crawling and trail maneuverability, the Jeep Wrangler can't be beat. Our choice for 2006 is the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which has, among other items, stronger axles, front and rear differential locks, a 4:1 low-range transfer case and off-road tires.

Compared to the Hummer H1 Alpha, which is just as likely to squash an obstacle rather than go over it, the Kia Sorento might seem a bit outclassed for this list. But for the money, this midsize SUV is an attractive package. It has enough truck DNA in it, including a body-on-frame design, a standard V6 engine, a solid rear axle and sufficiently meaty tires, to make it decently capable when the pavement ends. Best of all, a four-wheel-drive Sorento can be had for a tad over $20,000.

Like the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Land Rover Range Rover has a rich heritage relating to off-road adventure. One could argue that the Range Rover has become overly posh in recent years. Indeed, it's unlikely that many owners will be thrashing their new 2006 Range Rovers over boulder-strewn trails. But there's no denying that the Range Rover, given its long list of off-road-oriented technology features, is still one of the most capable SUVs available for taking on nature's muck and grime.

In the six years since its introduction, the Nissan Xterra has lived up to its marketing tagline of "Everything you need, nothing you don't." Rugged construction, a powerful V6 and plenty of versatility are in the Xterra's repertoire. Common automotive frills, like leather seating or GPS navigation, are not. For maximum off-road capability, go with the Off-Road trim level, which equips the Xterra with a rear differential lock, specialized tires, Bilstein performance shocks and hill descent control.

The Toyota Land Cruiser has rightfully earned its place as one of the world's premier go-anywhere vehicles. Used in just about every rugged environment on Earth, the Land Cruiser has a strong reputation for durability, versatility and comfort. It's a do-all SUV that's equally at home on city streets or unimproved mountain roads. Most of the Land Cruiser's off-road-oriented equipment comes standard, though there is an optional four-wheel height control system that can improve off-road performance.

Though old, beat-up American full-size pickups are still the weapon of choice for most hard-core off-roading enthusiasts, Toyota pickups have earned a measure of respect because of their capability and durability. The midsize Toyota Tacoma, now in its second generation, continues the trend. For off-road use, the Tacoma can be equipped with a package that includes a tuned off-road suspension, Bilstein shocks, special tires, a rear differential lock and an underbody skid plate.

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