Having the right tool for going off-road is just like having the right tool for the track; purpose-built vehicles work best for their intended purpose. And just like we at TopSpeed often compare track toys that go fast, we also like to compare the dirtier side of the automotive spectrum.
Below the jump is our pick of the top-five best off-road vehicles currently on the market. They hail from five brands, three continents, and two vehicle types. These trucks and SUVs represent the best in modern innovation tied in with proven technology wrapped in attractive packages.
Just like at the track, it’s all about getting power to the ground when heading off the beaten path. Locking differentials, axle articulation, and proper tires make all the difference. With pricing in the comparison ranging from $31,000 to in excess of $50,000, the group varies wildly from spartan to outright luxurious. But no matter what the interior looks like, the greasy bits underneath are what count the most.
Click past the jump for TopSpeed’s Top Five Off-Roaders
The Toyota 4Runner is one of the last body-on-frame SUVs still roaming the trails with the guts of a proper off-roader. Its solid ladder-frame design gives it a sturdy backbone, while helping protect vital components located between the frame rails. A solid rear axle and independent front suspension system pair old- and new-school tech, while a manual transfer case does the shifting between two- and four-wheel-drive. What’s more, the rear axle is complete with an electronically locking differential that engages at the push of a button.
The 4Runner is powered by Toyota’s venerable, 4.0-liter V-6 that makes 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. While the engine isn’t the newest, most powerful, or most efficient mill in our comparison, it still gets the job done. The same can be said for the 4Runner’s five-speed automatic transmission.
A specialized suspension system Toyota calls the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, or KDSS, will free up the 4Runner’s sway bars when navigating trails. A rotary knob controls the system with four settings set for mud and sand, loose rock, mogul, and rock.
Pricing for the 4Runner starts at $33,800 for the base model, thought the Trail edition, the one that includes all the off-road goodies, starts at $36,705.
Gallery Toyota 4Runner - Driven
At the other end of the spectrum is the Land Rover LR4. Its posh interior coddles passengers in heated and cooled leather seats, while the advanced computer systems do all the heavy lifting off road. The LR4 comes complete with Land Rover’s trend-setting Terrain Response system that allows the driver to dial in what terrain the vehicle is on, while the computer controls the high- and low-range transfer case, locking differentials, electronic stability controls, the ABS and even throttle response. The LR4’s air-ride suspension will even raise and lower depending upon the conditions.
A supercharged, 3.0-liter V-6 gives the LR4 its motivation. It produces 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent through a ZF-sourced, eight-speed automatic transmission to the permanent all-wheel-drive system.
The Land Rover LR4 enjoys a fording depth of 27.6 inches and ground clearance of 12.2 inches. This helps the SUV keep to its heritage as a go-anywhere vehicle built for exploration and expeditions. Though with a starting price just over $50,000, the price makes it a hard purchase to justify for severe off-roading. But that won’t stop the LR4 from being the most capable family hauler currently on sale.
Oh the Ram Power Wagon; a big brute with muscle to spare and brawn to boast. It’s large and in charge of the back-woods construction site and master of the mountainous logging operation. Built on the back of a 2500-series Ram truck, the Power Wagon gets numerous upgrades that make it a serious off-roader.
Its solid axles front and rear make it unusually stout. An electronic sway-bar disconnect allows the Ram to get its full swing of its massive axles. Speaking of which, Ram has re-engineered the front three-link suspension with new, high-movement joints that help both on-road stability and off-road axle flex. Like the other Ram trucks, the rear axle is mounted via a five-link suspension system with coil shocks. Replacing the old school leaf springs helps smooth out the Ram’s ride as well as control axle hop on rough ground.
The Ram Power Wagon also includes industry-exclusive technology, like an integrated Warn 12,000-pound winch hidden behind the front bumper. Locking front and rear differentials with 4.10-to-1 gears, 33-inch tires, and over 30 inches of water fording depth help make the Ram a true contender. What’s more, the Power Wagon doesn’t sacrifice its towing abilities. Its massive, 6.4-liter V-8 makes 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque sent through a heavy-duty, six-speed automatic transmission. All told, the Ram can pull 10,750 pounds from the hitch and haul 1,430 pounds in the bed. Impressive indeed.
The Power Wagon comes in two trim levels: the base Tradesman and the upper level SLT. The Tradesman can be had for $44,495 while the SLT jumps up to $49,145.
Gallery Ram 2500 Power Wagon
Like the Ram Power Wagon, the Ford Raptor is a purpose-built truck. Though despite the similarities, the Power Wagon and Raptor couldn’t be more different. Where the Ram is built for slower speed, heavy lifting, the Raptor is built for high-speed desert running.
A tuned suspension system from Fox Racing resides at all four corners. Massive control arms hold the independent front suspension in place, while large leaf packs hold the solid rear axle down. Thick skid plates run the length of the truck and a unique bumper provides extra protection. The large BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A tires and beefier suspension make the Raptor nearly seven inches wider than a stock F-150.
An electronic transfer case allows for rear-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, and low range. An e-locker resides out back as well, while the front differential gets a Torsen limited-slip unit up front helps keep all four tires spinning. Power comes from a robust, 6.2-liter V-8 making 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque while a six-speed automatic sends power to the ground.
The Raptor doesn’t come cheap though, as it starts at $44,995.
Gallery Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Topping this comparison is the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. The Jeep finds its way in first place simply because it’s a no-compromise off-roader with nearly every inch of it dedicated to conquering the great outdoors. The Rubicon trim adds a ton of equipment to the base Wrangler, including Dana 44 axles front and rear with Jeep’s Tru-Lok locking differentials, a similar electronic sway bar disconnect system as the Power Wagon’s, more aggressive tires, a higher ground clearance, and plenty of under-body protection.
Chrysler’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter, Pentastar V-6 powers the Wrangler. In this application it makes 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to either a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual unit. Of course, the transfer case is manually operated no matter what the transmission choice.
Adding to the Jeep’s off-road experience is its removable top and doors. Within minutes, the Jeep is transformed into a vehicle not normally seen on today’s roads. Heck, even the windshield will fold flat! Above all, the Jeep Wrangler has a huge following of aftermarket suppliers that allow customers to customize their Wranglers with nearly any part; from steel bumpers, to upgraded axles, gears, tires, wheels, tops, and more.
Pricing for a standard Jeep Wrangler starts at a very reasonable $22,395 though to buy a Rubicon, the price jumps to $31,195. If hauling the family is a priority, the Wrangler also comes in the four-door Unlimited version.
Gallery Jeep Wrangler Rubicon X - Driven
So what do you think? Did we leave off any vehicles you think are better suited to hit the muddy trails than our five contenders? Either way, leave us a comment below with your thoughts.