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Vale, North Carolina, United States
Nearly every automaker doing business in the SUV or pickup truck segments offers a package designed to improve the off-road capabilities of its wares. But, of course, not all such factory kits are created equal. How, then, to separate the wheat from the chaff? Gather each of them up and put them through their paces, naturally.
The folks from Four Wheeler and PickupTrucks.com joined forces to run just such a comparison test, with the winner named the Ultimate Factory 4x4. A total of seven vehicles showed up to the fight: the 2012 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, 2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X and Xterra PRO-4X, 2012 Ram Power Wagon, and 2012 Toyota 4Runner Trail and Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series.
With the contestants in place, the whole crew put each vehicle through a battery of tests that included skidpad and acceleration measurements, a hillclimb, a rocky stairstep course and a rock garden. Considering the nature of the beasts, on-road ride and comfort were not part of the routine.
According to a Bloomberg report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has upgraded an investigation into complaints of unintended acceleration lodged against Ford vehicles. The investigation began in June of 2010 when just three complaints had been received and it only concerned the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, but this was at a time when the phrase "unintended acceleration" made grown men go pale. With 49 additional complaints received since then, the investigation has been reclassified as an engineering analysis - the last phase before a recall - and it has been expanded to include the Lincoln MKZ, making for a total of "around 480,000" units affected between the three sedans from the 2008 to 2010 model years.
The ostensible cause is that floor mats are trapping the accelerator pedal, but according to a Ford statement at the time, the entrapment is due to owners placing the optional all-weather floor mats, or aftermarket floor mats, on top of the car's standard floor mats. NHTSA has backed up that assessment, pinning the blame on "unsecured or double stacked floor mats."
On the face of it, it would appear that NHTSA has upgraded the status not because of Ford's error, but owner error, and Ford has stated publicly that it is "disappointed" in NHTSA's move. On top of NHTSA still being skittish after that other unintended acceleration debacle, it could be seen to be taking its time investigating all of the variables: it's reported that Ford changed its accelerator pedal design in 2010, a "heel blocker" in the floorpan has been considered a potential culprit in how the floor mats could be trapping the pedal, some drivers have said the floor mats weren't anywhere near the pedal, and according to a report in the LA Times, in "a letter sent by Ford to NHTSA in August 2010, the automaker said it found three injuries and one fatality that 'may have resulted from the alleged defect.'"
The Ford F-Series has been America's best-selling truck for decades, but along with the good comes the bad, apparently. In addition to being popular with consumers, the Highway Loss Data Institute notes that the F-Series Super Duty has risen in popularity among thieves. Based on its new study, the four-wheel drive crew cab F-250 Super Duty has topped the list for the country's highest rate of insurance theft claims, knocking the Cadillac Escalade from the top spot - a distinction the luxury SUV has held since this annual report was first established in 2003.
To reach its findings, HLDI looks at theft data from the previous three model years (in this case 2010-2012) to determine the frequency of claims for a particular make and mode,l as well as the average payment per claim. As the report points out, the claims aren't always for the theft of the entire vehicle - they can include components (say, wheels and tires) or property taken from the vehicle. At seven claims per 1,000 insured vehicles, the F-250 is six times more likely to suffer a theft claim than the average vehicle.
The Cadillac likely dropped from the top of the list to sixth due to additional theft-prevention features including a steering wheel lock and inclination sensor for the alarm, but GM's other fullsize trucks and SUVs still occupy eight of the list's 10 spots. Some of the least stolen vehicles with below-average loss payments include the Lexus HS250h, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V and Dodge Journey. Head on over to the HLDI's website for the full list that shows the most and least popular vehicles among thieves from 2010 through 2012.