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It happens almost every year. We finish our test, we tabulate the numbers, and we scratch our heads and wonder how much hate mail we're about to receive. We have been surprised many years by what wins. The fact is that the truck that "should have won" doesn't always cross the finish line first. When we received the Suzuki Equator for this test, most of the judges had no idea it was going to lay a flying-roundhouse, off-the-top-rope body slam, reverse-pile-driver smackdown on the rest of the trucks in this competition. The fact is it was just more fun to drive, especially off road, and that is one of the most important attributes of a 4x4.

The Suzuki Equator wasn't the fastest truck in the test, but it was quick. Nor was it the best rock-crawler, but it rockcrawled very well. In the hillclimb it was nimble but not as stable as the biggest trucks, but it still made the climb with little fanfare. The high-speed dirt sections were much like the asphalt testing, where the words fun, peppy, and zippy were all used to describe this little truck. The only portion of the test that the Equator flat-out won was the sand dunes, but it was in the top three

Ride & Drive, in both the on- and off-road sections.

You may wonder how a nondescript midsize truck could outwheel an SUV with front and rear lockers, and we were wondering the same thing. The missing front locker was an issue in the rocks, but that is only one portion of the test. The rear locker, better visibility, and adequate ground clearance helped keep the Equator from placing extremely low in that portion. Plus, as much as we assumed that the Hummers would leave with the trophy, the other terrain tests just kept pushing the two Hs back behind the Equator. In fact, it was the new Dodge Ram that was in the most contention with the Equator for the crown. It must be true that in this test, horsepower is the wild card that can really elevate a midlevel truck to winner status.

Whether it's for the interior with nothing extra but nothing missing, the youthful exuberance the truck instilled, or its great all-around, do-anything ability, we're proud to call the Suzuki Equator our 4x4 of the Year. One judge said, "I could throw my cooler, duffle, and sleeping bag in the bed, my dog in the back seat, and my girl beside me up front, and go get lost in the back hills for a week." If that doesn't

everywhere else, and those points quietly added up to a win in the describe the perfect 4x4, we're not sure what does. C?

by Sharon Grader photography SHARON GRADER

just mud and woods anymore. That's right, New Hampshire has rocks and plenty of them. In fact, New Hampshire is known as the Granite State and is home to some really wicked fun. Wheelers in this state usually trail along New Hampshire Class VI roads, or private property with permission. But when it comes to the Deep Woods Extreme rockcrawling competition, it's an event!

The Southern New Hampshire club works with landowners and promotes

responsible wheeling. It held the Deep Woods Extreme 7th annual Rockcrawling Competition and 4WD Truck Show at Hop-kinton State Fair Grounds in Contoocook last summer. Sponsorship was by Town Fair Tire and Toyo Tires, while Land Site, Henniker Crushed Stone, and Francestown Sand & Gravel all pitched in to build the course. Over 200 participants and 800 spectators attended the event, and competitors came from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.

The rockcrawl had two classes, Modified and Unlimited. There was plenty of carnage, whether it was rigs dumped on their side by the rock course or rigs flying through the air strapped to an excavator. Everyone put on a great show, as some competitors walked through the course while others had to work for it, all the while keeping under the 20-minute time limit and staying within the cones. Bonus points were up for grabs, and there were clear winners in each class.

The Mass Mudders Four Wheel and Off Road Club put on an RTI (ramp travel index) competition to entice the wheelers, while the show-and-shine vehicles were being judged out of harm's way. This was clearly a family event with lots of activities for the kids too, so mark this rockcrawling event on your calendar for next summer. You can contact the club at and the RTI guys at for more information.

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