Nowadays, the best 4X4 crossovers can be nearly as capable as true body-on-frame SUVs, only without the truck-like handling and driving experience. Yet the emphasis here is on “can.” Most crossover-style entries actually stick to a less intrusive all-wheel drive setup that’s meant to handle inclement weather and some slippery conditions, while also maintaining credible fuel economy ratings. Which should be just fine for most crossover customers, who’d rather save the money anyway.
10 4X4 Crossovers that Perform Well Off-Road
2016 Chevrolet Trax
The Bowtie brand has bet big on smaller vehicles in recent years, and entries like the 2016 Chevrolet Trax are continuing to win over new buyers. Indeed, as one of the first mainstream crossovers in the subcompact segment, the Trax has seen nearly 60 percent of its trade-in customers come in to get rid of non-Chevy products. Part of that is surely tech-related, too, since the Trax serves up two infotainment resources not often found in its price range: a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and 4G LTE connectivity. But there’s also 48.4 cubic feet of total cargo space, and when you take into account the available all-wheel drive system, you’ve got one of the best 4x4 crossovers in the class—although Autobytel will point out that a refreshed 2017 Trax is due this fall, complete with enhanced styling, a more refined cabin, and advanced smartphone integration through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
2016 Dodge Journey
The 2016 Dodge Journey isn’t just one of the country’s best 4X4 crossovers; it is, according to Dodge, “America’s most affordable V6 AWD seven-passenger crossover.” Even better, there’s a new starting point for the Journey SE in that configuration, and it’s $1,200 lower than for a comparable 2015 edition. Dodge’s price reductions this year also extend to the custom-look Crossroad appearance package, which is $600 less expensive than last year’s iteration. Of course, despite the price drop, the 2016 Journey Crossroad still comes with 19-inch Hyper Black aluminum wheels, dark-tinted headlamps and taillamps, and premium-style Platinum Chrome accents for the fascias, lower side sills and roof rack. A Crossroads Plus bundle also can be added to bring more premium content to the cabin, along with an 8.4-inch Uconnect system and leather seats.
Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
2016 FIAT 500X
The best 4X4 crossovers are those that don’t just offer improved traction; they also tout high marks in other important areas, as well. For instance, the 2016 FIAT 500X does serve up an available all-wheel drive system, and it’s fairly advanced, thanks to Fiat-Chrysler’s axle-disconnect technology that uncouples the rear axle when four-wheel grip isn’t necessary. In those conditions, the 500X runs as a front-wheel drive vehicle for better fuel economy. But at the same time, that gain in fuel economy ratings is complemented by impressive safety ratings, like a Top Safety Pick+ recognition from the IIHS. Customers can credit a robust body structure and a high-tech front crash-prevention system—with automatic emergency braking—for that accomplishment. Meanwhile, other notable and available safety measures for the 500X include lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, rear parking assistance and a rear-vision camera. The 500X also passes the Turin test for style, courtesy of its Italian design.
Photo Credit: Ford
2016 Ford Explorer
Some of the best 4X4 crossovers also provide more than a modicum of off-road capability. So while you won’t confuse a 2016 Ford Explorer with a body-on-frame beast like the Blue Oval’s Raptor pickup, the former choice features a relatively sophisticated terrain-management system. This technology can analyze driving conditions “about 20 times faster than the blink of an eye,” according to Ford, and respond by fine-tuning torque distribution for optimum performance on sand, gravel, grass and other low-traction surfaces. Drivers simply select the system’s setting with a console-mounted dial, then let the Explorer do the rest; owners can shift on the fly, too, for added convenience. For added versatility, Ford’s full-size crossover also can carry up to seven occupants or mix and match its rear rows of seating to swallow up to 81.7 cubic feet of gear. A new 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine also joins the Explorer powertrain portfolio for 2016.
2016 Mazda CX-9
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 is an example of how certain companies rely on innovative technology to create the best 4X4 crossovers. The i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system in Mazda’s all-new three-row entry relies on 27 sensors that can analyze road conditions 200 times per second, then optimize torque distribution between the front and rear axles accordingly. Naturally, the CX-9 also takes an “ACTIV” approach to powertrains and safety technology. Motivation comes from a turbocharged SKYACTIV-G engine, in this case a 2.5-liter unit that blends up to 250 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque with best-in-class EPA ratings of 22 mpg city/25 mpg combined; the CX-9’s highway mark is a none-too-shabby 28 mpg. In terms of passenger protection, owners can order an available i-ACTIVSENSE setup to benefit from radar-enabled adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assistance, automatic high beams and Smart City Brake Support with automatic emergency braking.
2016 Nissan Murano
Following a market-friendly makeover for the previous model year, the 2016 Nissan Murano doesn’t alter its winning formula very much for the new one—so it remains one of the best 4X4 crossovers for design-conscious customers. Now, the Murano is sold with Nissan’s “intuitive” all-wheel drive technology, to furnish drivers with improved grip whenever needed, but it’s the concept-style appearance of vehicle that really stands out. From the Murano’s V-Motion front end to its “floating” rear roof, the exterior is sleek and sculpted like that of no other mainstream models. The two-row cabin also showcases premium details, like a low, modernized dashboard and Zero Gravity seating, and the Murano further delivers luxury cues like climate-controlled front-row seating, a second row with available Quick Comfort heating capability, Nissan Connect infotainment with an 8-inch screen and 11-speaker Bose audio backed by dual subwoofers. Similarly upscale is the Murano’s standard 260-horsepower V6.
2016 Jeep Renegade
The 2016 Jeep Renegade reveals a surprising number of design details considering its subcompact size, from its X-marks-the-spot taillamps to two “My Sky” roof-panel systems—each of which carries on the brand’s tradition of open-air driving. And because today’s tiniest Jeep also manages to build on another family trait, Jeep’s hallmark off-road capability, the Renegade joins our roster of best 4X4 crossovers. In fact, the Renegade Trailhawk earns the official Trail Rated designation by offering a standard Jeep Active Drive Low setup. That hardware helps tackle tough terrain with a 20:1 crawl ratio, a specific Rock mode for its standard Selec-Terrain system, an elevated 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and underbody skid plates to protect the Jeep’s vital organs. The new model year also brings a new Beats premium audio system to get things rocking in the Renegade’s cabin, bolstered by 506 watts of power and nine speakers that include a 6.5-inch subwoofer.
2016 Honda CR-V
Given that family customers are fueling much of the sales growth in the crossover segments, it should come as no shock that some of the best 4X4 crossovers also are among the best cars for families. At Honda, however, such is the case for all of its crossover entries, at least according to the editors of U.S. News & World Report. They literally recognized the entire Honda light truck lineup as part of the U.S. News 2016 Best Cars for Families list. The 2016 Honda CR-V leads the way as the brand’s best-selling crossover entry, also capturing kudos as a Top Safety Pick+ of the IIHS and receiving a 5-Star Overall Safety Score from NHTSA. For our purposes, the real difference-maker is the CR-V’s available Real-Time All-Wheel Drive with an Intelligent Control System. Per Honda, it “offers the optimal balance of confident capability and user friendliness in a lightweight and fuel-efficient design.”
2016 Toyota RAV4
Customers may not think of the best 4X4 crossovers as being particularly fuel efficient, but that was before engineers thought of deploying an electronic on-demand all-wheel drive system with the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. With that technology on board, the front wheels are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine, with assistance from an electric motor and hybrid battery pack, so that drivers can achieve EPA ratings of up to 34 mpg city/31 mpg highway/33 mpg combined. But if there’s the need to prioritize traction over fuel efficiency, a second, separate electric motor can power the rear axle. Shoppers also should note that the RAV4 hybrid isn’t just more economical than a typical crossover, it’s also faster. Thus, compared to the gas-only model, the hybrid hauls from 0-60 nearly a full second quicker, doing so in a brisk 8.1 seconds.
Photo Credit: Subaru
2016 Subaru Outback
The 2016 Subaru Outback is perhaps the epitome of the best 4X4 crossovers, as it combines the brand’s signature symmetrical all-wheel drive with an especially car-like exterior. Which makes sense, since the original Outback evolved from an earlier iteration of the Legacy station wagon. The current model actually gets positioned as “the world’s first sport utility wagon,” and whatever you call it, the Outback continues to provide the best of both worlds: Cargo-conscious customers can take advantage of 73.3 cubic feet of storage space with the vehicle’s rear seat folded, owners facing poor driving conditions are protected by standard active torque vectoring and, despite its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback displays the road manners of a “regular” station wagon. It’s also worth remembering that Subaru can serve up EPA grades that reach 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway/28 mpg combined in the four-cylinder Outback.