A strange thing has happened in the last few years in America. After the minivan got too domestic and SUVs started taking over the roads as the go-to family car, trucks and SUVs got softer, more comfortable, and more car-like. This, paired with higher gas prices and growing awareness of global warming, spawned the Crossover and the ensuing boom in the popularity of small SUVs on platforms designed for passenger cars.
That span of time was, technically speaking, super lame. Sure, it made trucks more efficient and less prone to toppling over, but it really took out a vital part of the off-roader spirit behind big American 4x4s. Trucks provided adventurous, ambitious people a way to get around harsh terrain and in questionable conditions. Their ability to tow and haul gear was almost on-par with commercial vehicles. In short, trucks were badass and slowly lost their edge as city-goers, suburbanites, and safety-lovers got their hands on them. People who deserved minivans decided that they were above them and ruined the fun for everyone else.
Now that Crossovers that are essentially lifted hatchbacks are taking over the civilized world, those outside of it can finally have some decent machinery in 2017. Pair the little Crossover trend with low gas prices, and you have the recipe for some very interesting innovation. With the more standard companies like Ford, Chevy, and Dodge getting involved the great 4×4 battle, old pros like Jeep and Toyota are having to step their game up. So, without further ado, here are the best off-roaders you can buy from a dealership in 2017:
1. 2017 Colorado ZR2
I generally don’t like to start off a list with the most exciting vehicle in the bunch, but I simply can’t help myself this time. The 2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2 is so ridiculously cool that I am shocked it is being made at all. You see, the ZR2 started out, as most new models do, as a concept car. I was unveiled in 2014 and was seen as a really cool “what if they actually did make it?” car.
Chevy has taken the simple Colorado pickup and given it spec sheet more similar to that of a Jeep Rubicon than a standard mid-size pickup. In the front and rear are solid axles equipped with locking differentials that can be individually controlled. The transfer case will allow the truck to operate in 2-wheel drive or in 4-wheel drive with the options of automatic, low, and high gearing. An off-road mode offers drivers the ability to reduce the effect of ABS and traction control at low speeds.
Powering this impressive machine is a 3.6-liter V6 engine that cranks out 308 horsepower. Towing capacity jumps up to an respectable 5,000 pounds for the ZR2. So not only will this truck take you wherever you need to go, but it will take a lot of stuff with it. In short, this truck is awesome and probably won’t be manufactured for too many model years. The best way to encourage more trucks like this being made is to buy the current ones, and I highly doubt that anyone taking home the Colorado ZR2 will end up regretting the decision.
2. 2017 Toyota TRD Pro Tacoma & 4Runner
Toyota is a company that already has a very enthusiastic and expansive fan base in regards to their off-road vehicles. That’s because Toyota trucks and SUVs have been taking people into territories that other vehicles can only dream of for decades. The Tacoma is also one of the most popular vehicles among overlanding enthusiasts.
Because of their wealth of knowledge on the subject, many consumers were hoping that Toyota would make a Tacoma that was capable of wiping its rear-end with the Ford Raptor. While they certainly have the ability to do that, Toyota did a much wiser thing and simply made improved versions of the TRD models they have been producing for years.
But why not make Baja-ready, fire-breathing machines straight from the factory? For one thing, it’s the trendy thing to do right now and Toyota is not after short-term gains with its off-road customer base. People buying Toyota trucks want reasonable, capable, reliable machines. That said, the 2017 TRD Pro models are still very impressive.
The 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra get TRD Pro models in 2017, but those in the market for a nice Japanese 4×4 should also check out the Land Cruiser, a tried and true, capable luxury rig. The TRD Pro models get upgraded styling and suspension that allows for better ground clearance, better under body protection, and better articulation in the suspension.
The 278 horsepower V6 is reliable and can even be mated to a manual transmission. The Automatic version comes with more drive modes like Hill Assist and different terrain settings, but having the option of either is rare these days. If you are already eyeing this truck, then you don’t need any convincing, but those who are skeptical or underwhelmed by the TRD Pro line really need to take a minute to check out these machines.
3. 2017 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
What would a list of the best available Off-roaders be without a Jeep Wrangler? For years, the Jeep Rubicon has been the most capable factory-spec vehicle available. So what can an icon do when there are other manufacturers out to steal its thunder? In typical Jeep fashion, they decided to make a special edition that adds even more to the package.
The 2017 Jeep Rubicon Hard Rock comes with the standard array of locking differentials and Dana 44 axles that make the Rubicon so capable. All you need to keep up with formidable trail rigs is a set of knobby tires and a winch. The Hard Rock edition comes complete with a winch-compatible front bumper, as luck would have it.
Overall, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock edition is as capable as Jeeps have ever been. The thing is, the competition is so fierce this year that the Hard Rock just isn’t enough to be exciting. You can pick up a used Rubicon for a reasonable price and get nearly identical performance, comfort, and handling. The 285 horsepower coming from the 3.6 liter V6 is reasonable given the size of the Wrangler. However, Jeep does have a few fun tricks up its sleeve.
4. 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk
From the beginning, when Fiat first bought Chrysler, they made it very clear that the Grand Cherokee would be a model of focus, and that it would grow into something that could compete with the likes of Range Rovers and G-Wagons. While they haven’t quite reached that level, they have done a fair amount to improve the image of the humble Grand Cherokee.
The model is available in an array of styles, with the SRT model being more performance-oriented and the Trailhawk being the off-roader’s choice. The 2017 Trailhawk offers Jeep customers a slightly improved Grand Cherokee that comes from the factory with skid plates, tow hooks, and a little extra ground clearance.
While this is not a revolutionary take on the 4×4 and the off-road performance isn’t on-par with its more rugged rivals, the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has a lot going for it. It’s big, comfortable, and stylish enough to drive around any major city. For the price, you would be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement that can cover the same amount of ground.
5. 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor
What more is there to say about the Ford F-150 Raptor? The truck has become much more than the sum of its parts and is the closest thing we have to a living legend in the truck world. Before the Raptor, who would have thought that a big, Baja-oriented pickup truck with wide fenders and depressing gas mileage would do so well that it would encroach on muscle car sales and the like?
Here’s the problem with starting a trend, though; competitors pop up almost immediately, and they already have an idea of what to do now that they know what sells. So how can Ford keep making trucks that are unmatched off-road? Well, they have to step up their game quite a bit. Luckily for us, they have done just that for 2017.
The Raptor is no longer an SVT vehicle, as Ford has made it simply a Ford Performance model now called just the F-150 Raptor. It has a chassis and drivetrain that are completely different when compared with the standard F-150. The 2017 model is the most dedicated off-roader that Ford has made in a long time.
The new aluminum body will lighten things up a bit and the 450-horsepower twin-turbo V6 takes the whole package to 60 miles per hour in just 6.1 seconds. The transmission has 10 speeds and can be shifted manually. Expect this model of Raptor to be more refined while offering even more capability. Ford has shown us that it is not afraid of taking on stiff competition and that, ultimately, there is a good reason why they are dominating the off-road pickup world right now.
6. Dodge Ram Rebel & Power Wagon
With Chevy joining the awesome off-road truck trend, Dodge finds itself in a tricky spot. As a Big 3 truck manufacturer, there is pressure coming from all sides to make a big, impressive off-road truck. But, if Dodge makes a truck that’s too capable off-road they will start to cut into Jeep sales, which is just not a smart move. So what is the solution?
Well, Dodge has decided to make two off-road trucks that take their respective models to the next level when the pavement ends. First up is the 2017 Ram Rebel. Basically a more luxurious, dressed-up Ram with a Hemi V8 and 33″ tires. Beefier bumpers and a cool list of options that includes air suspension and extra storage options are a nice touch, but overall this is a moderate, practical pickup truck that has been touched up with off-road style.
The other option from Dodge bears a name that many people will recognize: the 2017 Power Wagon. This truck is the real deal. This isn’t the truck you get to drag race between stop lights and cruise around the city, no, this is the real deal. The Power Wagon is for serious off-road utility.
There is 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque coming from the 6.4 liter diesel V8 under the hood, and underneath you will find skid plates protecting the underbelly of the beast and a respectable 14.3 inches of ground clearance. A Borg Warner transfer case gives the driver the option to put the truck into a crawl-friendly 4-wheel low mode that also lowers the idle RPM of the engine.
The suspension and drivetrain are optimized for stability and maneuverability on steep grades and on soft terrain. A 12,000 pound winch is part of the standard equipment as well. If you need a big, capable truck for venturing off-road, then this may be the biggest option out there.
7. 2017 Mercedes G550 4×4 Squared
The ultimate off-road vehicle and, in fact, possibly the ultimate vehicle all-around is finally going to be available in the United States: The 2017 Mercedes G550 4×4 Squared. Now, i’m not saying that this is going to be the most practical or efficient vehicle on the road. The looks won’t agree with everyone and the price will be palatable by fewer still. But this 4×4 wins in the category of “most everything”.
If you wanted to design the most excessive thing that could still be somewhat useful, where would you start? Probably with an interior from a manufacturer responsible for some of the most luxurious and high-end vehicles ever made. Going on from there, you would need something to move it down the road.
How about a modest 416-horsepower 4.0 liter, twin-turbocharged V8 that makes 450 lbs-ft of torque? Mate that to a 7-seed transmission optimized for driving in all conditions and you’re good to go. Taking all of that and plopping it down onto Unimog portal axles sounds crazy, but it works surprisingly well. The rear wheels of the G550 4×4 Squared sit only 10 inches wider than the wheels on the standard G550. This version can still manage 0-60 miles per hour in under 6 seconds.
So what makes the ultimate off-roader? It seems like portal axles, ample suspension travel, a big engine, and a comfortable interior are a good starting point. Is any of this really necessary? That’s doubtful. You could tackle the same terrain in a Jeep Rubicon and could be as comfortable in any full-size luxury car. The thing is, if you want it all, you just have to go for it. The G550 4×4 Squared starts at $200,000.