Broadly speaking, new 4x4s are less capable off the beaten path than they were ten years ago. That’s because rugged, body-on-frame SUVs are quickly going extinct, and car-based crossovers reign supreme. While crossovers are more comfortable and usually markedly more efficient than traditional SUVs, the most challenging terrain they’re designed to conquer is a dirt road.
All is not lost if you’re planning on hitting the backcountry. There are still several great off-roaders on the market, including a handful that were designed specifically to excel when the going gets tough. Not sure where to start? Check out the ten best off-roaders on the market today, hand-picked by Digital Trends’ car experts.
2016 Chevrolet Colorado Z71
The Z71 builds on the compact Chevrolet Colorado pickup with a set of meaty all-terrain tires, projector headlights that ensure you’ll see obstacles far away even at night, an automatic locking rear differential for extra traction, and a skid plate that protects the transfer case. Hill descent control technology allows the Colorado to go down steep slopes in a composed and controlled manner.
A four-cylinder engine comes standard, while the list of options includes a more powerful V6, and a segment-exclusive turbodiesel mill. As an added bonus, the Z71 ships with a full-size spare, meaning you won’t have to crawl over boulders with a space-saver.
2016 Jeep Cherokee
The Jeep Cherokee is the most capable compact crossover on the market. Although its primary vocation is hauling a family and a their gear from point A to point B, the Trailhawk model can handle serious off-roading with standard four-wheel drive, a beefed-up suspension, and a locking rear differential.
The Cherokee speaks tech, too. Jeep’s Selec-Terrain technology lets the driver choose from several driving modes including Auto, Snow, Mud, Sand, and Rock. A catalog of performance parts lets owners customize the Cherokee without voiding the factory warranty.
2016 Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler is undeniably the most iconic off-roader in the United States. It’s also one of the most capable, one of the most affordable, and one of the most fun. It’s built for top-less, door-less motoring in the great outdoors.
Even a stock, base-model Wrangler can hold its own off-road. It’s a blank canvas for owners looking to make modifications, but Jeep offers several variants of the Wrangler that are ready to get muddy right out of the factory. The Rubicon trim benefits from heavy-duty axles, skid plates that protect vital mechanical components, and a trick system that lets the driver disconnect the front sway bar.
2016 Land Rover Range Rover
The name Range Rover has been synonymous with eyebrow-raising off-road prowess since the original model was introduced in England in 1970. Like most of its rivals it’s become much more upscale in recent years, but it remains a true off-roader at its core.
While fuel economy has never been one of the Range Rover’s strong points, the newest model is much more efficient than before thanks to smaller engines and the widespread use of weight-saving aluminum in its construction. An available turbodiesel engine provides solid low-end torque, which is a real boon when clambering over boulders.
2016 Lexus GX 460
The GX rides on a time-tested architecture sourced from Lexus parent company Toyota. Its styling certainly isn’t for everyone, but looks are of little importance when you’re traveling through ruts and crossing rivers.
Full-time all-wheel drive, crawl control, and a two-speed transfer case are among the GX’s off-road credentials. Its capacity comes at the expensive of on-road manners, but the optional adjustable suspension gives owners the best of both worlds.
2016 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class (short for Geländewagen) is unlike any other off-roader on the market today. It was billed as Mercedes’ answer to the Land Rover when it was introduced in 1979, and it’s been used as a military vehicle by dozens and dozens of nations over the past few decades. Surprisingly, it’s still built entirely by hand in Austria.
Don’t let its chrome trim and its frequent appearances in rap videos fool you, the G is one of the most rugged vehicles ever built. It features full body-on-frame construction, three differential locks, solid axles on both ends, and skid plates. The downside is that it’s gotten exponentially more expensive, so driving one off the pavement isn’t for the faint of heart.
2017 Nissan Armada
Like the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Nissan Armada is a body-on-frame behemoth that’s virtually unstoppable when the pavement ends. It traces its roots to the Patrol, which is one of the most common SUVs seen in places like the Middle East, Africa, and Australia. In short, the Armada is new for the latest model year but its capability is recognized globally.
Bucking the industry’s downsizing trend, the Armada relies on a big 5.6-liter V8 engine that makes 390 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. An advanced four-wheel drive system sends the engine’s grunt to the rear wheels only in normal driving conditions in order to save fuel, and seamlessly transfers power to the front axle when it detects that extra traction is needed.
2016 Dodge 1500 Rebel
The Rebel is the most capable member of Ram’s 1500 lineup. Only offered as a crew cab with a five-foot-seven-long bed, its biggest selling point is an air suspension system that allows it to provide over ten inches of ground clearance. 33-inch Toyo tires help the Rebel feel at home on even the most challenging terrain.
No one will mistake the Rebel for a standard Ram 1500, either. It wears a more rugged-looking front fascia, and the cabin offers durable vinyl upholstery that can be easily wiped down if it gets dirty. Go ahead, get muddy.
2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The Toyota 4Runner is one of the last remaining vestiges from the era when mid-size SUVs were all built around a body-on-frame architecture. It’s consequently not as efficient as many of its more family-focused competitors, but few can match it in terms of ruggedness and off-road capacity.
The pick of the litter is the TRD Pro model. To turn the 4Runner into a mountain-taming beast, Toyota added a lifted suspension with an extra inch of travel, Blistein shocks, and stronger springs. It’s more expensive than a standard 4Runner, but being able to explore the desert in a lifted SUV without canceling the factory warranty is priceless.
2016 Toyota Land Cruiser
The Toyota Land Cruiser has commanded the respect of off-road aficionados for decades. It’s bigger, more posh, and more expensive than it’s ever been, but it comes loaded with some of the most high-tech features you’ll encounter on the trail. Notably, Toyota has designed a system that can brake individual wheels on-demand in order to reduce truck’s turning radius.
The Land Cruiser is unlike the average off-roader because it offers wall-to-wall leather upholstery, soft-touch surfaces on the dash, and real wood trim. It’s not always the most practical vehicle due to its gargantuan size, but it allows Toyota’s boldest SUV to carry up to 81 cubic feet of gear with the second and third rows folded flat, or seven adults.