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Over rocks, other hard places
By Ira Kantor/ BostonHerald.com
Saturday, November 10, 2012

‘Strong,” “tough,” “enduring” — just a handful of terms that describe those who serve our country as members of the armed forces.
     
     These characteristics also apply to some of the world’s most rugged and capable off-road sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
     
     And while off-road dynamos aren’t known for their fuel economy, it’s their rough image and presence on our nation’s streets and highways that epitomize the definition of “powerful.”
     
     “They certainly exude strength. They exude a lot of attitude. That’s part of their appeal,” said Scott Oldham, editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com. “Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t drive a Hummer because it got good gas mileage. The image attached is a big selling point. It’s the same mindset when a guy goes out and buys a Corvette or sports car.”
     
     Certain large-scale models, such as Chevy Silverado and Ford F-Series pickups, have been the pride of the auto industry for decades (on Monday we’ll highlight the industry’s veteran models), while others rev up within a smaller market niche.
     
     This Veterans Day we salute all who have served, regardless of their rank and military branch. Be prepared to do the same for the following models — our top 10 greatest tough and rugged vehicles for 2013.
     
     10. Nissan Xterra
     
     In the age of SUVs based on sedans, the Xterra has a truck mindset, a robust suspension and a drivetrain perfect for off-road adventure. Yet the model tends to put performance and rugged capabilities over comfort and fuel economy. For those ready for fun in the wilderness, this is “a different beast” to get behind the wheel of, said Oldham, adding: “If you want comfort and economy, you buy a Mazda C-X5. If you want to go off-road and put a mountain bike wherever you need it to be, you buy an Xterra.”
     
     (Max Tow: 5,000 lbs; Max MPG: 18; MSRP: $30,592)
     
     9. Toyota 4Runner
     
     This is the first of three Toyota offerings on this list. A well-known, capable, mid-sized SUV for decades, the five-door 4Runner remains one of the Top 10 factory built, off-road machines still out there, yet a recently designed model is “not quite as hard-core as its predecessors, which is why it’s No. 9,” Oldham said.
     
     (Max Tow: 5,000 lbs; Max MPG: 19; MSRP: $38,824)
     
     8. Jeep Grand Cherokee
     
     As rugged and off-road capable as ever, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a “best of both worlds vehicle” that offers smooth on-road capability and the “high levels of comfort expected at its price point,” Oldham said. Leather-lined interiors, for example, contribute to the mid-sized SUV’s luxurious feel. “It doesn’t feel very much like a truck until you ask it to do something only a truck can do,” Oldham added.
     
     (Max Tow: 7,400 lbs; Max MPG: 19; MSRP: $38,258)
     
     7. Chevrolet Silverado
     
     One of America’s best sellers for decades, this full-size pickup “can do real pickup duties and jobs,” according to Oldham. Fancy interiors, better comfort and greater fuel economy have given the Silverado 1500 a more modern look and feel, but make no mistake, this is “one of the most capable trucks ever built. It goes all the way up to diesel-powered dually versions that can pull a house off its foundation,” Oldham said.
     
     (Max Tow: 10,700 lbs; Max MPG: 18; MSRP: $37,259)
     
     6. Dodge Ram
     
     The Ram 1500 has “extreme levels of refinement” compared to some of its competitors, including the Chevy Silverado, Toyota Tundra, and the Ford F-150 series, Oldham said. This model also provides for a smoother highway ride, which gives it an added element of exclusivity, Oldham said, adding, “It feels more like a normal car until you need it to act like a truck.”
     
     (Max Tow: 10,450 lbs; Max MPG: 16; MSRP: $37,023)
     
     5. Toyota FJ Cruiser
     
     This is Toyota’s answer to the Jeep Wrangler in terms of U.S. collector appeal. Off-road capable and “very rugged,” this retro-style SUV still offers modern amenities. “It has one foot in the past and one foot in the present day. Just as a Chevy Camaro pays homage to a 1969 Camaro, the FJ Cruisers look very much like the FJ Cruisers of the past, but it’s obviously engineered as a complete modern vehicle underneath its skin,” Oldham said. Power windows, steering and brakes also make the FJ Cruiser easier for city driving.
     
     (Max Tow: 5,000 lbs; Max MPG: 19; MSRP: $34,201)
     
     4. Toyota Land Cruiser
     
     Arguably the first modern SUV to be used “in the city for normal day duty,” the Land Cruiser remains rugged and capable for weekend trips to the country. “The modern Land Cruiser is unique in that it’s one of the most rugged SUVs you can buy and yet it’s also one of the most comfortable SUVs you can buy,” Oldham said. Yet this model costs a pretty penny, which is why Toyota doesn’t sell as many as it used to, Oldham added.
     
     (Max Tow: 8,500 lbs; Max MPG: 15; MSRP: $79,379)
     
     3. Land Rover Range Rover
     
     Britain’s answer to the Jeep, the Land Rover’s ruggedness can best be attributed to its military upbringing. The 2013 model is “the ultimate luxury off-roader with a six-figure price tag,” according to Oldham. Drivers can expect high levels of horsepower, a very advanced four-wheel drive system, and such stylish amenities as special interior wood. “It’s basically a luxury sedan that can take you anyplace on Earth and it’s the only vehicle in the world like it,” Oldham said.
     
     (Max Tow: 7,716 lbs; Max MPG: 14; MSRP: $96,202)
     
     2. Ford F-150
     
     Ford’s high ranking is best directed at one specific model — the Raptor, a “special off-road, sort of muscle truck version of the F-150 pickup,” Oldham said. While the F-150 is the “ultimate American pickup truck in almost every way,” the Raptor gives drivers the ability to “drive through the desert at 100 mph over very tough terrain,” Oldham added. “You pay a premium for it, but we’re talking about $40,000 instead of the Land Rover, which is $100,000 to start.”
     
     (Max Tow: 11,300 lbs; Max MPG: 19; MSRP: $44,555)
     
     1. Jeep Wrangler
     
     The “prototypical American vehicle,” the Wrangler also got its start in the military, and “that DNA continues to exist” in each new model. Available in two-door or four-door models, the Wrangler remains as rugged as ever but does include the amenities that make it an “everyday” vehicle: automatic transmission and navigation systems, among them. “It’s the genesis for the hard-core, tough vehicle. It’s like the Porsche 911,” Oldham added. “You can show anyone in the world a picture of it and they know what it is.”
     
     (Max Tow: 3,500 lbs; Max MPG: 18; MSRP: $30,010)

( -— ira.kantor@bostonherald.com )

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