What's the best way to get off-road if you're not into the ATV or motocross scene? The answer is a sport-utility vehicle. It's a truism in the industry that not all options in this category are the best off-road SUVs, which means that you need to do a little research before driving home in a trail-breaker. Japan, Germany, and the USA all build formidable off-road sport-utility vehicles, which provides plenty of options for drivers who want to tread where no tire has tread before. Let's take a quick look at 10 of the best off-road SUVs.
1) 2015 Jeep Wrangler
The 2015 Jeep Wrangler is the prototypical sport utility vehicle, and routinely listed as the best SUV for off-road driving. The Jeep Wrangler is available with two different four-wheel drive systems, including the Rubicon trim level's ultra-low geared setup, and it can also feature skid plates, locking front and rear axles, and an electronically-detachable front sway bar for additional articulation when rock climbing. Power is excellent from the Jeep Wrangler's 3.6-liter V-6, as it offers 285 horses and 260 lb-ft of torque, and transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic.
Photo Credit: Nissan USA
2) 2015 Nissan Xterra
The 2015 Nissan Xterra truly shines as an off-road SUV when ordered in PRO-4X trim. This installs hill descent control for negotiating steep inclines, a hill start assist feature that prevents the mid-size sport-utility vehicle from rolling backwards, and an electronically locking rear differential. It also adds knobby all-terrain tires to grip through the mud that much better. Four-wheel drive and the choice between a five-speed auto and a six-speed manual transmission are offered with the Nissan Xterra, and its standard 4.0-liter V-6 generates 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque.
Photo Credit: Ford Media
3) 2015 Toyota Land Cruiser
The 2015 Toyota Land Cruiser isn't just the most expensive and luxurious truck in the Japanese brand's lineup, but it's also the most capable when it comes to negotiating the rough stuff. Another model with a long history of being considered one of the best off-road SUVs, the Toyota Land Cruiser's plush interior trappings are complemented by full-time four-wheel drive, the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (to minimize body roll and maximize articulation), and Crawl Control. Ample motivation flows from the Land Cruiser's 5.7-liter V-8, which has 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque on offer, and a six-speed automatic transmission handles the shifting duties for the vehicle.
4) 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe
The 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe is typically thought of as a tow vehicle, or a people mover, but when outfitted with the Z71 option package it becomes a serviceable, if heavy, off-road SUV. The Z71 package brings with it special 18-inch rims and rubber, skid plates to protect sensitive areas of the Chevrolet Tahoe's chassis, and some styling updates.The Tahoe features a 5.3-liter V-8 engine that has been tuned to provide 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque, and four-wheel drive is available with low-range gearing. A six-speed automatic transmission is provided free of charge with each and every version of the Chevrolet.
5) 2015 Land Rover LR4
The 2015 Land Rover LR4 might be aimed at the upper crust of SUV shoppers, but its fierce combination of specialized off-road equipment make it a formidable chariot in the mud and the muck. The Land Rover LR4 offers the brand's unique Terrain Response System, which calibrates the engine, transmission, and full-time four-wheel drive systems for the specific environment that the vehicle is driving in, and the SUV also features hill descent control, and the option of a locking rear differential to help improve traction. All LR4s are equipped with a 340-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V-6. Also capable of generating 332 lb-ft of torque, this unit is managed by an eight-speed automatic transmission.
6) 2015 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
This beefed-up version of Toyota’s 4Runner joins the ranks of Toyota’s most powerful pickup trucks. TRD Pro is an equipment package developed by Toyota’s in-house performance division, and it makes the 2015 4Runner, which is plenty capable even in base form, a bona fide off-road contender. The TRD Pro package provides heavy-duty skid plates, a sport exhaust system for a little extra power, higher ground clearance for better rock-crawling ability, and a performance suspension. The 2015 4Runner TRD Pro will be able to reach the most remote off-roading locations, and has plenty of room for passengers and gear.
7) 2015 Subaru Forester
One of the 2015 Subaru Forester’s best attributes is the brand’s standard all-wheel drive system, which comes with every Forester. The Forester also comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, or a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which can come with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission. The compact Forester offers a deceptively generous 74.7 total cubic feet of cargo space to carry gear, and earns 32 mpg on the highway, to get to your favorite off-road terrain as efficiently as possible.
Photo Credit: Toyota Media
8) 2015 Lexus LX
The 2015 Lexus LX 570 can be thought of as the even more up-market edition of the Toyota Land Cruiser. The Lexus LX shares the Land Cruiser's extremely capable off-road SUV platform, giving it a level of all-terrain prowess not seen in any other luxury truck outside of the Land Rover stable. Adding to its adaptive suspension system and full-time four-wheel drive is an adjustable ride height feature that can raise the sport-utility vehicle up in order to better clear an obstacle. Horsepower is excellent, measuring as 383 ponies from its 5.7-liter V-8, and torque checks in at 403 lb-ft. A six-speed automatic transmission is included with the LX 570.
Photo Credit: Jeep
9) 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee is more than just a comfortable commuter - it shares important DNA with the Wrangler in the form of three available four-wheel drive systems, each tuned to deliver a specific level of off-road capability. The Jeep Grand Cherokee's Quadra-Drive II system includes the Selec-Terrain feature for optimal power and traction management under a wide range of driving situations, limited-slip differentials front and rear, a low-range transfer case, and hill descent control. It's also possible to install Quadra-Lift air suspension in order to give the driver control over the vehicle's ground clearance. Engines offered with the Grand Cherokee include a 3.6-liter V-6 (290 horses, 260 lb-ft of torque), and a 6.4-liter V-8 (470 horsepower, 465 lb-ft of torque), both paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
10) 2015 Volkswagen Touareg
The 2015 Volkswagen Touareg isn't quite as hardcore as some of the other SUVs on this list when it comes to off-roading, but its all-wheel drive system, excellent ground clearance, and solid power give it the ability to play around in the mud as long as the driver is aware of its limits. The Volkswagen Touareg features the choice between a 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 (that also generates 260 lb-ft of torque), a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 that provides 240 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, and a hybrid that’s composed of a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6, paired to an electric motor and putting out 380 horsepower. Regardless of which model is selected, the Touareg is outfitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission.