Most vehicles can handle a dry dirt road, but many can’t handle much more than that. For times when the roads disappear, you need a vehicle designed just for that purpose: four-wheel drive, superb ground clearance, good suspension, and enough power and torque to spin the Earth. Fortunately, there are many vehicles on sale that fit the bill.
The Subaru Outback was developed to tackle the harsh wilderness that is the Australian Outback. This is a famously arid environment with sparse springs, dry riverbeds, and jagged terrain. The Outback comes with two engine options: a 175-horsepower boxer engine like that found in the WRX and BRZ models, and a 256-horsepower V6 for those who need more power. It also has 8.7 inches of ground clearance and all-terrain, all-wheel drive. If it can tame the Outback, it can handle pretty much anything.
Because it is a truck, the Ram 1500 has a lower center of gravity than an SUV, which really comes in handy when bouncing around on rough and uneven roads as it will be less prone to rolling. It comes with either a 3.6-liter V6 or a 5.7-liter V8, both of which are designed for maximum torque production. This means it will have no trouble transferring the power to the ground. It comes standard with rear-wheel drive, which is plenty for most off-road needs these days, but they offer four-wheel drive and special 4x4 off-road packages for the hardcore journeys.
Land Rover Discovery
As a manufacturer that has exclusively produced luxury off-road vehicles for nearly 70 years, Land Rover has designed the new Discovery to be the pinnacle of off-road prowess and versatility. Even though this SUV comes with seating for seven and more gadgets than an electronics store, it has by no means forgotten its purpose: to be the best off-road vehicle that money can buy. The Discovery comes with a 3-liter I6 capable of producing 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. It also boasts a four-wheel drive system coupled with an automatic adaptive terrain response system that optimizes power distribution and traction based on the surface on which you’re driving at that time.
Jeep is another off-road brand that has been producing quality 4x4s for many decades, establishing itself as the off-roader of choice for the US. Even though most off-road vehicles are loaded with safety features and reinforced frames, the Jeep Wrangler is able to keep its weight below 2 tons, which means it takes less power to move and isn’t as likely to get stuck. It utilizes a 3-liter V6 engine that produces 260 pound-feet of torque and 285 horsepower and is protected by front and rear stabilizer bars and several skid plates.
When most people think about Mercedes, an S class is likely to be the first thing that comes to mind. However, their version of an off-road vehicle has been a complete success. It was originally designed for military use in the Middle East and northern Africa and has since been used in a variety of environments around the world with great success. It still has all of the features and comfort options that are found in Mercedes-Benz luxury sedans, but its foot of ground clearance, V8 biturbo engine, permanent all-wheel drive, and three locking differentials mean it can also traverse the harshest navigable terrains.
When it comes to off-road trucks, lighter trucks do better than heavier ones. The Tacoma, whose heritage includes the invincible Toyota Hilux, has the ideal combination for a truck to use when the pavement ends. With 9.4 inches of clearance, four-wheel drive, and a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, it can propel you down any trail you encounter. With a weight of just over 2 tons, it is more likely to bounce than stick when the path gets rough.
The F-150 is built using a military-grade aluminum alloy body on a steel frame that reduces weight by 700 pounds and offers up to 385 horsepower and 387 foot-pounds of torque from the 5-liter V8. When four-wheel drive is added, it lends itself very readily to wilderness adventures. It has two different 4x4 operating modes, low range and high range, which are usually only found on dedicated off-road vehicles for when torque optimization is required for particularly rough surfaces. The Raptor package is even more suited for off-road functionality, adding such features as a six-mode terrain management system, 360-degree external camera, and variable damping shocks that adapt suspension stiffness depending on wheel travel.
Toyota Land Cruiser
The Land Cruiser is Toyota’s answer to the Range Rover and the Discovery. On the inside, the Land Cruiser has eight seats, leather trim, a 9-inch entertainment and information touchscreen display, a dual 11.6-inch flat screen entertainment system for the rear, ample interior illumination devices, and a dozen cup holders. For the exterior, it has a 360-degree camera system, rain-sensing windshield wipers, multiple skid plates, and frame-mounted tow hooks on both ends. All of this is powered by a 381-horsepower 5.7-liter, V8 engine that also generates over 400 pound-feet of torque that is sent to all four wheels.
Weighing just 2 tons and with a starting price of $20,000, the Colorado is the cheapest and one of the lightest new vehicles that excel in off-road capability. Compared with many of the other vehicles included in this list, the Colorado may not have as many features, but a true off-road vehicle does not need extra equipment to be exciting. The thrill is in carving a new path; anything not helping to make that happen is extra weight. That’s not to say that the Colorado is Spartan, but it does have a driver information display, rear vision camera, and stability control system. With a 200-horsepower, 2.5-liter I4 engine and standard all-wheel drive, this truck is everything that is needed for an off-road trailblazer without unnecessary distractions from the thrill at hand.