The 10 Best Off-Road Vehicles You Can Buy Right Now
Vehicles have gone soft lately as SUVs and pickups have prioritized fuel economy and comfort over all-out off-road capability. For most buyers, that's a good thing. But plenty of truck buyers still enjoy a romp in the mud, and these 10 rides are for them.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock Edition
Today’s Rubicon package adds hardware such as Dana 44 axles, a 4:1 transfer case for easy slow-speed crawling, and a swaybar disconnect system to free up the suspension when the Jeep needs additional suspension flex on the toughest trails. For 2015 there’s a new Hard Rock version of the Rubicon that includes blacked-out trim, tough bumpers with removable end caps, red tow hooks and rock rails to protect the sides of bodytub. Also for 2015, all Wranglers receive a new Torx tool kit that includes all the tools needed to remove roofs, doors, and those bumper cap ends.
Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
Toyota’s Trail package already comes with a locking rear differential and the company’s excellent Crawl Control—essentially a cruise control for off road. With the TRD Pro package, the suspension is replaced with taller Eibach coils and remote reservoir Bilstein shocks. The new suspension allows for an extra inch of wheel travel at both ends. The 4Runner also gains ground clearance with taller 265/75R16 BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires wrapped around tough-looking faux beadlock wheels.
All this makes the $36,410 4Runner TRD Pro one stout four-wheeler for not a lot of dough.
Nissan Xterra Pro-4X
The Xterra has been Nissan’s most capable vehicle ever since the rugged ‘Ute launched in the U.S. 14 years ago. This year’s Xterra Pro-4 remains one of the few dirt-friendly SUVs. At the core of the Pro-4X is the standard locking rear differential. The equipment list also includes hill descent control and hill start assist so you don’t roll backward on a steep incline. The Pro-4X receives large 265/75R16 all-terrain tires as well as Bilstein shocks. And while the suspension isn’t any taller than what you’d find on a regular Xterra, the truck has trim proportions—it’s is one of the few vehicles on this list that could crawl its way up a tight and rocky trial without the fear of body damage.
Toyota Land Cruiser
The Land Cruiser packs a mammoth 5.7-liter 381-hp V-8. To float over the worst trails, the Toyota uses plush-riding independent front and coil-long solid axle rear suspension engineered for increased articulation. The basis of that system comes from Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension, which automatically allows for more suspension movement in slow-speed, off-road conditions, then tighten up as it senses lean at higher road speeds. It’s brilliant.
Like the off-road 4Runner, the Land Cruiser also comes with Crawl Control. There’s even a system that, when activated, brakes the outside rear wheel to tighten the vehicles’ turning circle on a narrow trail. That’s smart. However, this tech, along with the luxury of the Land Cruiser, comes with a steep price tag. It starts at just under $80,000.
Ram Power Wagon
In particularly tricky or muddy spots, the Power Wagon’s locking front and rear differentials can pull the truck through. In fact, with all these systems engaged, it’s pretty tough to get this Ram stuck. But if you manage to do it, there’s a Warn electric winch hidden behind the front bumper.
The best bang for your buck would be the base Tradesman, which starts at just under $45,000. Remember, that money is also buying you a heavy-duty truck that can tow more than 10,000 pounds.
Chevy Colorado Z/71
The Colorado is built on a modified version of the Silverado chassis, yet its proportions are much trimmer, so fewer branches and boulders will catch the body and frame of a Colorado. And the smaller pickup can be equipped with the Z/71 off road package, which includes a hill descent control system as well as GM’s automatic locking rear diff and an upgraded suspension with better shocks.
No, this Colorado won’t challenge a Raptor or Power Wagon in the dirt. But for an affordable mainstream pickup, the Colorado should provide the right combination for navigating a moderate trail. And next year, the Colorado will come with an optional diesel, so these trucks could excel for remote overland camping.
The stout 411-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 makes the Raptor so quick. But it’s the suspension, wide track. and giant 35-inch tires that make this pickup so gifted in the dirt. The independent front and solid-axle rear suspension systems have been engineered to provide nearly a foot of wheel travel at each corner—double that of a normal pickup truck. That suspension remains supple at higher speeds thanks to the Fox Racing shocks. The Raptor might be Baja focused, but thanks to a locking rear differential and a Torsen limited-slip up front, the Raptor is nearly as capable for slow crawling as a Power Wagon.
So what’s the bad news? There’s an all-new F-150 for 2015 and the Raptor isn’t part of the lineup—yet. We hear a new Raptor is coming. But if you want one of the originals, the time is now.
Land Rover Range Rover
The Range Rover’s adjustable and long travel air suspension (10.2 inches up front and 12.2 inches in the rear) and its computer-controlled Terrain Response four-wheel drive system work in concert to perform incredible feats in the dirt. For serious trailwork, the Rover can rise up on its springs and provide a foot of ground clearance.
Where some 4WD omit water fording in their suite of talents, Range Rover engineers have designed this SUV to cross water up to three feet deep. And the Rover has an aggressive 2.93:1 low-range gearing as well as an optional locking rear differential, so it can probably crawl over obstacles that would leave other luxury SUVs with their tires spinning.
Speaking of spinning tires, opt for the 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 and you’ll get a ridiculous 510 hp that can power the Range Rover to 60 mph in 5 seconds flat. Be prepared to pony up, though, as this beast starts at $84,000.
Ford Super Duty
What’s important here are the Ford’s solid axles. Unlike most pickups (Ram Heavy Duty excluded) that use an independent front suspension for better street manners on their 4WD trucks, this Ford uses a solid beam axle for increased durability, axle articulation, and the ability to handle larger-than-stock tires. And with an electronically locking rear differential available as an option, the Super Duty can handle seriously tough terrain.
This Ford packs an optional 6.7-liter diesel that cranks out 440 ph and an insane 860 lb-ft of torque. Even if you install a suspension lift and some beastly aftermarket tires, that diesel would have no problem.
The G-Series Mercedes-Benz was developed for international armed forces in the 1970s; it exists today mostly unchanged from those roots. Sure, it’s a modern Mercedes-Benz, and as such comes packed with luxury and technology. But beneath the leather, wood and radar cruise control, there’s old-school body-on-frame construction and solid axles at each end of the chassis.
If the list of hardcore parts ended here, the Benz would still make this list. But Mercedes-Benz provides each G-Wagen (even the 536-hp AMG model) with three electronically activated locking differentials. That’s astonishing for a luxury vehicle—only the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Ram Power Wagon match that level of capability.
The price of admission, though, is as steep as the hills this horse can conquer. A G500 starts at just under $115,000.