If you think working at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is nothing more than filling out Excel spreadsheets and measuring rear-seat legroom, you couldn’t be more wrong. Not only does it have a 327-acre test facility that includes a dedicated test track, Consumer Reports also has its own off-roading course to test SUVs and pickup trucks.
It’s not the most extreme test of a vehicle’s off-road capability, but it does allow the staff to thoroughly test each vehicle’s abilities off-pavement.
If you’re in the market for vehicle that you know you’re going to take off-road, then you’re in luck. Consumer Reports has complied a list of the most capable vehicles this year. In alphabetical order, here are the 12 best off-road vehicles you can buy.
12. Infiniti QX80
The Infiniti QX80 is a luxury SUV, and its styling reflects that. Under the skin though, it’s hiding a little secret – it’s actually based on the Nissan Patrol. The Patrol is world-renowned for being just as capable off-road as Jeep Wrangler. You might not expect the QX80 to be able to handle anything more challenging than a last-minute Starbucks run, but it’s actually more capable than you’d think.
11. Jeep Grand Cherokee
It’s a Jeep, so you expect it to be good off-road. Unsurprisingly, it is. Unlike other capable off-roaders, the Grand Cherokee can be civilized and comfortable, too. Its interior is upscale and well-appointed, and yet it also has a maximum of 10.4 inches of ground clearance. If can also ford 20 inches of water, and it easily earns its “Trail Rated” badge. Needless to say, the SRT version of the Grand Cherokee is not intended for serious off-roading.
10. Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler is nothing short of an off-road icon. If you ask anybody what their top choice would be for leaving the pavement behind, the most popular choice would absolutely be the Wrangler. Entry-level Wranglers might not be able to tackle every single obstacle, but upgrading to the Rubicon gives you a vehicle that’s literally designed to handle the Rubicon Trail.
9. Land Rover Range Rover
Nearly as famous as the Wrangler is the Range Rover, an off-road icon known for both its dirt-tackling prowess and luxurious interior. You pay significantly more for a Range Rover than a Wrangler, but if you want to tackle off-road obstacles in style and comfort, you can’t beat the Land Rover Range Rover. Don’t be fooled by its luxurious interior appointments, though. It has a foot of suspension travel out back and can ford 35 inches of water.
8. Land Rover Range Rover Sport
A separate model than the Range Rover, the Range Rover Sport also costs $20,000 less. It’s mostly intended for on-road use and has excellent manners around town, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still keep going when the pavement ends. If you opt for the low-range transfer case and swap out its low-profile tires, the Sport is almost as capable as its big brother. Even without the upgraded transfer case and knobby tires, though, it’s still probably capable of handling anything its owners are going to throw at it.
7. Lexus GX 460
The Lexus GX 460 wears the same “predator grille” that the rest of the company’s cars do, and it’s luxurious enough to wear the Lexus badge, but it’s also a surprisingly capable off-roader. Under the skin, it’s a body-on-frame SUV that comes equipped with a transfer case that has a Torsen center differential that can be locked for an even 50:50 torque split. It also has a trick suspension that reduces the amount of body roll on the road and then loosens up the suspension once you go off-road.
6. Nissan Frontier
Unlike GX 460 or the Range Rover, the Nissan Frontier doesn’t have incredibly advanced electronics working to make sure you can drive over anything and everything. Instead, it gets by the old-fashioned way – rugged construction and good old-fashioned four-wheel-drive. In Pro-4X trim, you’ll be surprised just how far its locking rear differential and four-wheel-drive system can get you.
5. Nissan Xterra
Based on the Frontier, the Nissan Xterra is one of the last few affordable SUVs you can buy that still comes with real off-road capability. The two-wheel-drive version doesn’t look much different, but if you’re going to be doing anything more challenging than a little soft-roading, you’ll want one with four-wheel-drive. Like the Frontier, there’s also a Pro-4X trim that offers the best off-road capability. In that price range, about that only SUV that could go further off-road is the Jeep Wrangler.
4. Ram 1500
Full-size pickup trucks are constantly in competition with each other to prove which one is the most capable off-road. If you’re not looking to upgrade to something wildly expensive like the upcoming Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, your best bet is probably the Ram 1500. It offers a torque-rich, light-duty diesel engine that’s perfect for off-roading, and its automatic four-wheel-drive system will handle all but the toughest trails entirely on its own. If you want to upgrade your Ram’s off-road abilities, the Ram Rebel will do exactly that.
3. Toyota 4Runner
Toyota may mostly be known for its sensible family vehicles like the Prius and the Camry, it also makes some surprisingly capable off-roaders. The 4Runner, for example, has been built to go off-road since it debuted in 1984, and it’s since evolved into an incredibly-capably off-roader. In TRD Pro form, the 4Runner is about as capable as an SUV gets.
2. Toyota Sequoia
The Toyota Sequoia is a humongous family-hauling SUV that’s based on Toyota’s full-size pickup, the Tundra. If Mom decides to take a detour on the way to lacrosse practice, though, the family is in for a heck of an adventure. The Sequoia’s body-on-frame construction and limited-slip differential work with its four-wheel-drive system to make the Sequoia surprisingly capable in the dirt.
1. Toyota Tacoma
As shown on Top Gear U.K. several times, if you want a truck that won’t ever die, buy a Toyota. In America, the best option for that is the Tacoma. Even its basic four-wheel-drive models have plenty of ground clearance to go surprisingly far out into the middle of nowhere. If you choose the TRD Off Road package, you get skid plates, Bilstein shocks, and an electronic locking differential. At that point, the Tacoma will be ready to hold its own against Wranglers.