1993-to-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee (ZJ)
The Grand Cherokee debuted in 1993 while the smaller XJ was still in production, and the Grand is still produced to this day after being revised several times over the years. However, the first generation versions can be found, like many SUVS, in clean condition and having never been taken far from pavement. You get solid engines, linked suspension, and straight axles front and rear. Aftermarket support is also fairly good for these models.
Jeep designers had matured their unibody design methods, and the ZJ was available with the reliable Jeep 4.0L I-6, or 5.2L (or 5.9L in special edition ‘98s) Magnum V-8 engines. Transmissions included the Aisin AX-15 five-speed manual, the Aisin AW-4 automatic, and several Chrysler version four-speed autos. Coil springs are used on all four corners with the linked suspension. Rear axles were an AMC Model 35 or a stronger Dana 44, and the front axle was a Dana 30. Multiple transfer case selections offered part-time and full-time 4WD options. The transfer case is manually shifted and has a 2.72:1 low range gear. The wheelbase on the Grand Cherokee sits at 105.9 inches, making it a good overall length for maneuverability and stability.
2009-to-2012 Ford SVT Raptor
In 2009, Ford Motor Company made a bold move and dropped the SVT Raptor onto the showroom floor. The 4WD specialty model was targeted to be an off-road truck that you could drive off the dealer lot and onto the dirt for some fairly serious play. Ford raced a modified SVT Raptor in the 2008 Baja 1000 and finished third in the Class 8 division. Then, the Raptor competed in the 2011 Dakar Rally and garnered a 1st place finish in the Open Production Class.
Early models used a 5.4L engine, with a 6.2L engine optional. In 2011, the 5.4L was dropped and all trucks were equipped with the bigger powerplant followed by a six-speed automatic. What makes the truck really stand out from other production trucks are the FOX Racing shocks and the 35-inch BF Goodrich All-Terrains. The FOX internal bypass shocks with external reservoirs offer 11 inches of suspension travel up front and about 12 inches in the rear. Traction aiding differentials are used as well in the rear, and front, in newer models.
With a widened track and aggressive body lines, the Raptor is designed to be more stable and it readily stands apart from a standard F-150 truck. It uses different leaf springs, suspension arms and a beefier rear axle housing. In 2011, Ford added a four-door Super Crew body to the existing Super Cab model. The Raptor has a user selectable Off Road Mode for aggressive driving. In today’s world of insistent ABS and traction control systems, it’s a treat that the Raptor allows the driver to turn off such systems and control the vehicle acceleration and braking to his liking.
While the Raptor may not be a budget buy, we include the Raptor as one of our best buys. It’s one rig that you can buy today, and hit the dirt immediately and have fun. For those that find great comfort in dealer servicing, Ford dealerships can fully service the truck and you get a new vehicle warranty as well.