Adventurous motor vehicle enthusiasts know the thrills and joys of taking an astute off-roader to battle rough terrains. Fans of speed have their roadsters, sports cars, and their supercars but those who appreciate pitting wits against nature and machine know that a capable 4x4 truck or SUV can conjure up magical moments in the environment it is meant to shine in. It may be an interesting and perhaps never-ending debate about which experience offers a more thrilling adventure, getting on a sports car and tearing down a track or embarking on some unforgiving trail with you off-roader. However, off-roading offers the richer experience especially when you add in the luxury and speeds some of the vehicles have. Furthermore, you can turn it into a whole family affair something the speed cars deny you.
Unfortunately, not all 4X4s or AWDs are created equal. Actually, 4x4s tend to be preferred for the rough terrain. Even then, there are those cars whose limit of rough terrain is the gravel and occasional uneven roads. Then there are those which seem to embrace the whole idea and rigors of harsh conditions from snow to muddy swamps rivers, hilly terrain, and desert sand. These are the off-roaders to have and to take out on an adventure; unfortunately, there are quite plenty which seem to emphasize on other features while under-delivering on the main task, tackling the cruel terrain. Here, we list down the most disappointing off-roaders you will ever use and the ten which are worth their salt at least as far as meeting the challenges of rough paths is concerned.
20 Cadillac Escalade
The Cadillac Escalade is a mammoth of a car and packs a powerful engine under its hood capable of producing 420 hp. Given the focus on making it a beast of a car, you would expect Cadillac’s breadwinner to have a respectable performance when it comes to the gritty part. Unfortunately, the Escalade is a big disappointment.
The low ground clearance limits the terrain you can visit. It lacks active sway bars which are necessary especially for a huge car to keep the car flat, as well as better articulation of the suspension making for messy handling. Add in a breakdown-prone engine, poor maneuverability and low stopping power of the breaks, and low traction tires, this is a vehicle limited to mulch than real off-road conditions.
19 BMW X5
The BMW X5 belongs to a class of luxurious whose 4X4 or AWD features simply means the car can handle at best gravel in terms of off-road work. It was one of those big SUVs that decided to focus more on the on-road performance at the costs of off-road performance.
Low ground clearance, limiting differential locks and suspension means you are better off sticking all your fun driving to the tarmac.
The 2019 version tries to address this by offering an off-road package but while it does improve things a bit, it still a lightweight experience that cannot even match what you can do with a Range Rover.
18 Chevy Tahoe
Here's another mammoth car with underwhelming off-road performance. Its towing and hauling capability flatten its off-road capability. It lacks the crucial elements one expects from a true off-road car including items such as center locking differentials, hill descent control, proper off-roading tires, and other utilities.
Proof of this is in the fact that even Chevrolet realized this and tried to make up for the failings by creating the off-road version of it, the Chevy Tahoe Z71. Another important concern is its safety ratings for rolling over, further limiting the extremities you can get it. Trying to get the basic Tahoe to above average off-road performance is a costly affair which is further undermined by the vehicle’s structure.
17 Jeep Renegade
The Jeep Renegade is one of the top contenders in the subcompact crossover class. This, however, means anything about its off-road ability is seen through the lens of its segment. When it comes to real rough and demanding terrain, then this is not the car to pick.
The base car lacks AWD (though it is an option). You also have to deal with the low ground clearance an issue which has proven tricky to resolve by lifting.
Further, the engine just does not offer enough power for the tricky trails while you are also limited by the wheels provided. The Trailhawk model does better in light to medium off-road work.
16 Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer got a new redesign from the fifth generation in 2011 and it did away with the body on frame design in favor of a more modern looking unibody design. Unfortunately, with this new body, the Ford Explorer lost all it had in terms of heavy-duty off-road capability. You need to get to the higher trims with more expensive options to have something close to fun when tackling the rough trails and even then, the low ground clearance limits much of what you can do while offroading. The different modes are all fine when it is snow and your usual gravel you are facing but will leave you stuck when you get to the real deal.
15 Honda CR-V
The Honda CR-V is one of the best handling SUVs around and it also has several other positives including fuel efficiency. Unfortunately, despite having a touted 4WD system that automatically picks up when the terrain changes, the Honda underperforms off road.
The biggest issue is with the lack of traction on slippery surfaces and also when going uphill.
With not enough torque to power up the front tires, you are left with skidding front wheels and the rear pair stop moving. The other suspect part is the strength of the component parts, which includes the frame, steering and suspension parts.
14 Toyota Rav4
Like its counterpart above, the Toyota Rav4 has earned a lot of accolades in a number of aspects. Given its long heritage as a crossover, you would expect the Toyota RAV4 to follow the path set by its illustrious big brothers.
Unfortunately, the small Toyota suffers from the same problems that limit the Honda CR-V’s performance on tough terrain. Despite having better ground clearance than most crossovers, its 4WD system is set in such a way that the car is never fully powered on all the four wheels. This limits full traction from being achieved and there is a risk of failure when it is operated for a long time.
13 Subaru Outback
The Subaru Outback has rugged looks and a name that screams adventure. Its reliability on the road and in foul weather can easily leave you convinced of its off-road aspirations. However, before you don your gear and challenge yourself, you have to remember the Outback suffers from one major feature setback the CVT system: should you get yourself stuck which is highly likely given the clearance and the set of tires you are provided with, the system shuts down power to protect itself as soon as the skidding goes on leaving you stranded. You also have the challenge of low underpinnings and weak frames that will struggle holding the rough and tumble of the mud or rocky trails.
12 Lexus LX570
At almost $100,000 and with 21” wheels and pretty much great approaches, the Lexus LX570 looks built to take on anything the wild can throw against it. Unfortunately, the underpinnings and general body build are just too much which makes it hard first to ride through the higher rocks, and then exposes the vehicle to constant denting and other physical harassment.
The low clearance leaves one with costs to fix that can easily run up to several thousand dollars with damages on the running boards, bumpers and rear panels.
In a muddy terrain, being stuck and struggling for consistency is a common issue meaning this expensive ride is better left to the normal day gravel.
11 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
The name may evoke images of great adventures off-road but the timid looks and low ground clearance should serve as ample warning to anyone looking to put the "sporty" attributes to the test. It is a car created for those working with a tight budget but it sacrifices a lot in the aim of granting a cheap SUV.
It lacks any towing ability while the base model is greatly underpowered to the point it fails to meet simplest of uphill tasks. Heavy snow or swampy trails are also not a bed of roses for this car either. It really is just nice to drive around town with no difficult tasks leave alone taking on rough terrains.
10 Jeep Grand Cherokee
It may not be the first name that comes off most people’s lips when asked to mention the most capable Jeep for off-road adventures but the Jeep Grand Cherokee is the most comfortable one by a mile.
Years of refinement have seen it strike the tricky balance between smooth handling and comfortable rides on the road as well as rugged capability and resilience of it.
As other luxury SUV makers shift to hybrid systems, the Grand Cherokee still retains the heritage and proven reliability of locking differentials with three different levels of off-road 4WD systems. As each year brings new improvements like less body roll and more refined handling, luxury buyers will be hard pressed to find better options as there higher trims offer even more.
9 Ram Power Wagon
The Ram Power Wagon is as good as its name suggests with power and an unmatched work ethic. It is built off the Ram 2500 Super Heavy Duty truck thus borrows features like heavy duty front and rear axles as well as the coil-link suspension which in the Power Wagon is much taller.
Further articulation is attained with the addition of a new movement joint aptly named the Articulink for more flexibility. The sway bar can easily disconnect at the push of a button further freeing the suspension and ensuring even in rough terrain the wheel still stay on the ground. A towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds comes in handy should you be bringing along a trailer.
8 Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler, especially the Rubicon, is an iconic vehicle. It may be poor at just about everything else you can imagine but it is peerless on the most unforgiving of terrains becoming a template of how to build an off-roader.
With the rights looks and minimum fuss except where needed (like the suspension and the locking differentials) there is very little to find fault in the Jeep Wrangler where off-roading is concerned.
While some years have seen the car fall behind in terms of quality and technology, since 2015, considerable catch-up effort has been made adding more comfort without compromising practicality while a more powerful engine has been added.
7 Chevy Colorado ZR2
The Chevy Colorado ZR2 seems to have been made with the toughest trails of Colorado in mind. While the base model the Chevy Colorado is quite powerful on its own and has taken the mid-truck segment by storm with unique offerings and great fuel economy, the ZR2 is primarily styled for the off-road challenges and aims to take the fight to the Raptor.
An upgraded suspension system, bigger wheelbase, driver controlled traction control, Multimatic’s spool-valve dampers and a powerful set of front and rear lock differentials are additions the promise to make the competition feel the heat. Its old school setup and approach is not for everyone though and it takes some time to fully tame it.
6 Ford Super Duty
The Raptor may be getting all the rave reviews like the quarterback of the team. However, when it comes to the hardcore no frills and showy stuff, off-road work especially where towing is involved and speed a non-issue, few deliver like the Ford Super Duty truck.
It foregoes the independent front suspension used in most pickups for a solid beam axle which in turn offers it durability, better axle articulation and ability to work with even larger tires.
When you add up the options including the electronic locking rear differential and the 6.7 liter diesel engine with an output of 440 hp and 860lb-ft of torque you are ready for any terrain.
5 Toyota 4runner TRD Pro
The Toyota 4runner car has been in production for over 30 years and continues to match and set standards of a powerful riding off-road SUV. It still retains the old-school designing which explains why it may not be a popular choice among the youth and moms, but any true off-road adventurer knows few cars can match what this heavy duty SUV offers.
For the best deal yet, you should opt for the TRD Pro trim and enjoy Fox Racing shocks, a locking differential and the tall Eibach coils which come with the new suspension. You gain an extra inch of wheel travel while further ground clearance is attained with the taller Goodrich all-terrain tires.
4 Mercedes Benz G Wagen
The Mercedes Benz G Wagen is the only car on this list with a cult following and brand awareness to rival the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. The only reason it does not top many people’s wish lists is its steep price almost double what the most expensive Wrangler does.
But it is still a Mercedes Benz so all the luxuries are furnished and the drive is much comfier.
It packs the old-school body-on-frame design with solid axles and all the G-series vehicles come with three electronic locking differentials a feature only matched by the Ram Power Wagon and the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. True to its military heritage, the G-Wagen will take you wherever you want.
3 Toyota Tacoma TRD
Toyota is pretty serious when it comes to making reliable workhorses and one of the vehicles that fully define and uphold this approach is the Toyota Tacoma TRD. The Ford Raptor may have set the pace with the bold designs but the Toyota Tacoma in TRD trim takes the torch further. In an era where trucks and SUVs are all struggling to be and feel like cars, this truck with its looks and package ensures you can get as rugged as you like. The TRD Pro package provides skid plates, Pro Desert air intake, one-inch front spring lift backed by Fox remote shocks on all four corners and all-terrain tires among other offerings.
2 Ford Raptor
The Ford Raptor is simply what you could do to a Ford F-150 if you had endless cash time and the equipment to modify it in all aspects according to your dreams. Well, you do not have to do that since it is already done for you which makes this easily the most all-around off-road car around.
It was a trendsetter when it debuted in 2010 and up to even now there is hardly anything like it on the market.
It remains radical offering fast speed thrills in the harshest of trails while still providing the comforts or a Range Rover. Yet it still as capable of slow crawling as a Ram Power Wagon.
1 Toyota Landcruiser
The Wranglers, Raptors and G-Wagens may hoard all the prestige and awe, but when it comes to true reliable functionality and where certainty is a must, no off-road vehicle is a match to the Toyota Landcruiser. It is luxurious and comfortable to ride on all terrains packing enough power for towing and hauling as well as powering up hilly and steep trails.
Whether it is suspension movement and reliability, maneuvering in tight trails, crawl control, solid axles, off-road technology and appropriate tires, the Toyota Landcruiser has all the answers. It manages to embrace the modern additions without losing its heritage and capability. It’s simply a car for all terrains and seasons.