As times change, SUVs seem to move further away from the ‘sport utility’ aspect of their name and lean more toward comfort and spaciousness. While these things are important, some of us want a vehicle we can play with as well. That’s why we had to put together a list of the 10 best top rated SUVs for off-roading.
So, don’t be discouraged about all the truck-like SUVs that are now crossovers, we’ve got you covered. You have every right to use the same vehicle you take to work as your way of exploring the backwoods trails as well. Take these 10 rugged beasts for a drive and you’ll fall in love with off-roading yet again.
Are These Top Rated SUVs The Best On The Trails?
Do you know what the ‘G’ stands for? It’s the German ‘Geländewagen’, which means ‘all-terrain vehicle’. It was first created in the ’70s for the armed forces on an international level. It hasn’t changed much since then except for the price. The fact that it starts at well over $100,000 means it’s mainly turned into a luxury vehicle, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is one of the top rated SUVs on the market.
The G-Class features body-on-frame construction plus a couple of solid axles that have locking differentials. There is also a locking center differential plus eight inches of ground clearance. This Mercedes has an approach angle of 28-degrees and a departure angle of 29-degrees plus four-wheel drive with low range, so you can feel confident off the pavement. All of this is powered by a turbocharged engine and seven-speed automatic tranny.
I’m not going to lie to you; this hearty machine is still a Mercedes, so you can expect plenty of technology and luxury inside. Beneath all that wood, leather and posh features, what you’ll really find is an off-roading monster looking to run loose.
The family doesn’t have to know where you take it after you drop them off.
If you’ve ever owned a 4Runner, you know that aside from being one of the top rated SUVs available, it is also reliable and tough to boot. You’ll find your best success at off-roading with the TRD Off-Road. With a ground-clearing approach angle of 33-degrees and a departure angle of 26-degrees, there are a lot of places you can explore with ease.
It also features a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), locking rear differential plus Multi-terrain Select and Crawl Control (CRAWL). The Crawl Control is best for tackling difficult terrain while moving at low speeds. It helps you control the acceleration and braking so you can pay closer attention to steering.
That’s not all; this Toyota also offers users a solid, locking rear axle, low range transfer case, 9.6-inches of ground clearance, and lots of power out of its 4.0-liter V6 engine. This is what makes it a better choice than the Toyota RAV4 or more conventional Toyota Highlander.
Land Rover Range Rover
Both the Range Rover and smaller Range Rover Sport are a pair of top rated SUVs that are very much capable of handling themselves off-road. Both have locking differentials, air suspension, low-range transfer cases, hill descent control, and hill start assist. They also have Land Rover’s Terrain Response system to optimize traction on varying terrains.
When the Range Rover is at its full ride height, it has an approach angle of 34.7-degrees and a departure angle of 29.6-degrees. In addition, the adjustable air suspension puts this SUV at 10.2 inches up in the front and 12.2 inches high in the rear.
The engineers at Range Rover have designed this top rated SUV to trudge through waters up to three feet deep. If that’s not enough, the aggressive 2.93:1 low-range gearing helps it to propel itself over obstacles that cause other SUVs to spin their tires.
For your best off-roading Range Rover, you’ll want the 5.0-liter supercharged V8 engine that spouts out 510 horsepower. With power like this, you are looking at a 0-60 mph time of just five seconds.
It wouldn’t be a real Land Rover Range Rover unless it was outfitted with luxury as well, though. The sleek profile combined with a lavish interior tells you quickly this vehicle isn’t like others. There are few vehicles on this planet that have such an intense mixture of luxury and off-roading ability. With that said, you won’t find many owners actually taking them off the road. Maybe it’s because starting prices are just shy of $85,000. And in terms of fuel economy, it’s also not as good as many of its competitors.
It would be odd to see a list of top rated SUVs for off-roading without seeing the Jeep Wrangler somewhere. That’s because the Jeep Wrangler, especially the Rubicon, is an off-roading king. You can get a Wrangler with beefed up Dana 44 axles with 4.10 axle ratios and lockers as well as a 4:1 low-range gear ratio. It’s lacking in cargo space when compared with something like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or regular Jeep Cherokee – but we’re off-roading here, not doing the groceries!
It also has an approach angle of 42.2-degrees with a departure angle of 32.3-degrees and 10-inches of ground clearance. The Wrangler is built on top of a rear ladder frame which can withstand quite a beating. The Rubicon also has skid plates to protect mechanical components, plus a trick system to easily disconnect the front sway bar.
Even as a stock model, the Wrangler holds its own. Many people find this SUV to be perfect for making modifications to as money and time allow. The best part is that you can go topless while exploring the great outdoors. If you want more, you can invest in the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited too.
Toyota Land Cruiser
The 4Runner’s big brother, the Land Cruiser, has been around since the ’50s. In the United States, the Land Cruiser is most often associated with luxury, but it can also be impressive off-road. It features a body-on-frame construction, an approach angle of 32-degrees, a departure angle of 24-degrees, and 9.1-inches of ground clearance.
It also has a limited slip lockable center differential, Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) and Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control. This four-wheel-drive SUV has a 2.72:1 low range and a monstrous 5.7-liter V8 engine that produces 381 horsepower.
The Land Cruiser has been highly respected by off-roaders for many years. In fact, it’s one of the only top rated SUVs that can compete with the Range Rover in capability, style, and luxury. The other competitor would be the Land Cruiser’s cousin, the Lexus LX.
The Land Cruiser has become larger, more opulent, and higher in price than ever before. While it does come loaded with high-tech gadgets and innovations that make it great for a trail, it is going to cost a pretty penny, starting around $83,000.
If luxury is what you’re after, you aren’t going to be disappointed with the wall-to-wall leather, wood trim, and soft-touch surfaces throughout the Land Cruiser. It might not be the most practical off-roader with its immense size, but it can carry seven adults or 81 cubic feet of adventure gear when the second and third rows are folded down. That in itself is a feat. It’s easily one of the best SUV models on the market.
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
For those who have desired the functionality of a Wrangler, but wanted the luxury of a Grand Cherokee, there is a new option that meets you in the middle. The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is quickly becoming one of the top rated SUVs because of its charming good looks and versatility. Just think of it as a Range Rover kept to a budget.
Yes, it will never be a Wrangler, but it does offer a mechanical rear locker, 29.9-degree approach angle, 32.2-degree departure angle and 8.7-inches of ground clearance. With its 2.92 low-range gear ratio, Selec-Terrain off-road settings, and Selec-Speed Control capability, it can handle its own on the trails.
With the Trailhawk package, you can now have your cake and eat it too. Enjoy some of the all-terrain performance of a Wrangler with the plush, posh Grand Cherokee features. This is the perfect balance between an on and off-road SUV.
Yes, the Subaru Outback doesn’t come with knobby tires or a crazy amount of ground clearance. Honestly, it doesn’t even have a locking differential, but it still has many uses for those who want to head off-road. The Subaru Outback is easily one of the industry’s top rated SUVs for heading out on light trails, and that’s all that most people tackle.
It has a healthy 8.7-inch ground clearance, so you can have a crossover on your weekend adventure after all. For those that like to take their mountain bike or paddleboard with them on the road, you can easily get all that gear on board an Outback. Step-side door sills also come standard so you have a stable stance while securing your outdoor gear.
When you want to escape the city-life and head out into nature for some peace and quiet, the Outback won’t let you down. You also won’t have to worry about a couple of little scratches from your bike as the Outback doesn’t feature lavish price tags like many of the other options. In fact, you can get a new Subaru starting right around $25,000.
When you desire to drive a top rated SUV that rides like a sedan but also has cargo capacity and a sturdy feel, you come to the Crosstrek from Subaru. This car is fully capable of handling off-road driving and it tackles normal roads with a smooth ride as well.
Heading off-road with the Crosstrek gives you a comfortable ride as you head over the dips and bumps with poise. It’s the perfect balance between the young family’s needs while also allowing for adventure and athletic endeavors.
Surprisingly, the Crosstrek does have 8.7-inches of ground clearance which is plenty for light off-roading. With prices starting lower than the Outback, this is a great option for someone on a budget. You might even find yourself heading off on a rabbit trail as you head home from work.
Much like the Land Cruiser, the Armada is built as a body-on-frame SUV. This helps it to be pretty much unstoppable once it heads off the pavement. Its roots go back to the Patrol, which is common in Australia, the Middle East, and Africa. What I’m trying to say is that you might not be as familiar with this as some of our other top rated SUVs, but the rest of the world is.
The Nissan Armada relies on a monstrous 5.6-liter V8 engine that produces 390 horsepower and 401 lb-ft. of torque. This is the same Endurance engine found in the 2017 Titan and Titan XD. In addition, the advanced four-wheel drive system sends the majority of the grunt to the rear wheels while driving normally so you can save fuel. Then, it transfers the power back to the front axle when extra traction is required.
Finally, the Armada has a skid plate located up front to offer radiator protection during approach angles. Starting prices of the Armada are around $46,000, which is almost half the price of the Lexus LX, Land Cruiser, and Range Rover.
Here it is; the Land Cruiser cousin I was telling you about earlier! It also comes with low range, the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), Multi-Terrain Select plus a ground clearance of 8.9-inches which isn’t too shabby. It also has a 27-degree approach angle and a 23-degree departure angle.
But again, we are talking complete luxury with this model. You can expect a starting price around $85,000 just to get into the base model of this Lexus. Obviously, it is geared more toward every day driving over off-road adventure, but it’s nice to know you have the option.
Want More Top Rated SUVs?
Apart from the models listed above, you can try tackling the trails in almost any SUV ever made, but you might receive unwanted results. While many models such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Ford Expedition, or Kia Sorento look like they’ll be good off-road, you might find that they only have limited capabilities while they’re in stock trim. Most of these models can easily be converted into real off-roaders without too much effort. Same goes for the likes of the GMC Acadia, Acura RDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-5, and Volkwagen Atlas. Don’t discount all crossover SUVs either many of them are pretty darn capable on the trail, providing you’re driving them right.
Well, there you have it! Our top 10 top rated SUVs for off-roading. Be safe and enjoy!