Serious 4X4s tackle the Suburbicon Trail

The new four-door Jeep Wrangler, Hummer H3 and Toyota FJ Cruiser are great in the mountains. Here's how they do in the city.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Yes, there are still SUV drivers who actually do go off-road. And there are still SUVs built to take abuse from rocks and ruts, not just tantrum-throwing four-year-olds.

The Toyota FJ Cruiser, Hummer H3 and the just-redesigned four-door 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited are all top-notch rock crawlers, according to people who really know off-roading, namely the editors of Truck Trend magazine.

Toyota FJ Cruiser
Toyota FJ Cruiser

"The Wrangler has an especially deep and wide history as an off-roader," said Truck Trend editor Mark Williams.

Any of these three would be a safe bet to get you through the worst nature can offer, though, he said.

But let's face it. All three are going be driven mostly on the road, particularly the H3 and the FJ Cruiser. So the big question is: "How do they handle shopping malls and kids?"

Before we embark on this journey, a word of caution is in order. Out of all the SUVs in the world, I wouldn't recommend any of these. They ride hard, handle poorly and drink fairly heavily. Buy them only if you love them or if you really do intend to venture far from the Interstate..

All three have standard electronic stability control, which is arguably the most important safety feature you can have on a vehicle after seatbelts, especially on an SUV. One annoying feature all three share is a side-opening tailgate door. That makes it impossible to open the tailgate if you're backed up close to another car.

Many other SUVs offer radar-based backup warning systems that beep to let you know how close you're getting to objects behind you. These three, given their especially limited rear visibility, could surely use such a feature. But it's not a even option on the Wrangler or H2. Fortunately, it is available as part of an upgrade package on the FJ Cruiser, which needs it most.

In this world of soft-riding crossovers - station wagons on stilts - there's something refreshing about driving an SUV that actually feels like an SUV. Softening all the edges does take much of the fun out of driving something that isn't just a car, after all.

Check the gallery to see how they finished. Here's a hint: The one I expect will be the crowd favorite came in last by a mile. I'll confess that my personal favorite came in second. Well, all I can do is call it like I see it.

Photos: Off-roaders in the real world

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Are you paying off major debts? Or have you already paid off loans that loomed large over your household? If you'd like to share your story for an upcoming article, email George Mannes at

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