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2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon (AJ Mueller/Chrysler)
2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon (AJ Mueller/Chrysler)

Best of the Lot

Which tough SUV is best off-road? Add to ...

I just watched you guys talking about Land Rover on Car/Business. I used to like Land Rover when I was a kid, seeing it as the universal vehicle for African Lion Safari and as the vehicle of choice for the Queen. However, as I got older, I realized that it is an expensive vehicle and not a very reliable one, let alone the cost for parts and maintenance.

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When I saw this TV episode, I was surprised to hear the Land Rover rep say that Land Rover is the world's best SUV. I can understand that he can't be negative about his company; however, I don't think it can compare against the Hummer. Additionally, if you look at the course, he was driving it sooo slowly. I think I could walk faster than he was driving. Put an American SUV on that course and you'd see which SUV can compete faster with the least amount of problems at the end of the course. So guys, which really is the world's best SUV? - Franco in Winnipeg

2011 Land Rover LR4

Cato: A moment of silence, please, for the late and barely lamented Hummer - Franco being a mourning exception, of course.

Of all the General Motors brands put to death in the bankruptcy, it made the most sense to kill Hummer.

I mean, even Saab has managed to find a Chinese investor. Hummer? Hot for about one minute during the last decade.

Vaughan: Yeah, Frankie blew his cred on that one. But he does raise some interesting points.

The unnamed person who was driving the not-too-challenging Land Rover course in England was Lindsay Duffield, president of Jaguar Land Rover Canada. Maybe he thought he was driving a Jag over the hills and through the mud, but he was sure no rally champ.

The Queen, on the other hand, seems to handle a Land Rover considerably better. There's a bunch of stuff on YouTube where her driving style would leave Duffield in the dust. Apparently the royal endorsement has given Land Rover a free ride for years.

Cato: You are speaking of the various quality studies. Land Rover comes in third from the bottom in J.D. Power's latest three-year Vehicle Dependability Study.

Since we're talking off-roading SUVs, Chrysler's Jeep brand is even worse - second from the bottom. For the record, BMW's Mini is dead last. Note: Mini has just launched an SUV, the Countryman.

Vaughan: Yes, I will address the "world's best SUV" question in a minute, but Frankie's recollection of African Lion Safari cannot go unnoticed. This incredible game farm and tourist trap has been around for more than 50 years and has done some good things in conservation.

Cato: Your mind is wandering; must be those attention issues again. What's next?

Vaughan: I was about to get to Ramar of the Jungle and his Land Rover.

Cato: Forget it. If we're talking trailblazing SUVs, in Canada we're talking LR4. Hugely capable. I've taken it down cliffs, through deep water, up slippery inclines and across high mountain passes. Duffield can't even imagine what I've done. The LR4 is tough.

Vaughan: A worthy off-road vehicle in the hands of the Great Cato or the 85-year-old monarch. However I believe there's a better one still at a fraction of the price.

Cato: That's it; me and Queenie in the wilds of Scotland.

You mention "fraction of the price?" You'd embrace that notion.

Vaughan: Of course. And you were with me when we took the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, starting price $26,695, over the Rubicon Trail in California. It was unbelievable.

I have no idea why people consider this a vacation, but the ability of this bargain-basement SUV to climb what seemed like vertical rock faces was astounding. What a torture test - for vehicle and occupants - and both survived.

Cato: Jeep has updated the Wrangler for 2011 - cosmetic stuff. But it's a more user-friendly package, nicer-looking, less punishing for sensitive types like you. Hey, and the loaded Unlimited is $33,495 - not so bargain basement, my friend.

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Vaughan: OK, one more as a contender for "world's best SUV" and it's that goofy-looking Toyota FJ Cruiser. Ramar of the Jungle would have liked the retro looks of this one. And it is totally solid.

Toyota started building something like this in the 1960s and the original earned a rep for being indestructible.

Cato: The current FJ ($33,725 base) is a Toyota 4Runner under that wild body. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's a real truck frame under there. Solid.

Vaughan: I'm saying Wrangler and the Unlimited four-door is the most practical. Jeep's the original; Rover got the idea for Land Rover after seeing all the Jeeps left over from the Second World War. So I'd say Wrangler's tops.

Cato: LR4 for me. I want capability and comfort. You can go rough it.

*****

HOW THEY COMPARE



2011 Land Rover LR4

2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Wheelbase (mm)

2,885

2,946

2,690

Length (mm)

4,829

4,684

4,670

Width (mm)

1,915

1,877

1,905

Height (mm)

1,831

1,801

1,830

Engine

5.0-litre V-8

3.8-litre V-6

4.0-litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

375/375 lb-ft

202/237 lb-ft

260/271 lb-ft

Drive system

full-time four-wheel drive

part-time four-wheel drive

part-time four-wheel drive

Transmission

six-speed automatic

six-speed manual

five-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)

2,587

2,023

1,967

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

17.1 city/11.6 highway

14.5 city/10.0 highway

12.4 city/9.4 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$59,990

$33,495

$33,725

Source: car manufacturers



Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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