These Off-Road-Ready SUVs Uphold Tradition. On the road and in dealer showrooms, it’s hard to escape the ubiquity of the almighty SUV. Yet despite the SUV’s roots as a truck-based alternative to a regular family sedan or wagon, few of the vehicles we know as SUVs actually provide substantial “sport” or “utility” under their tough-looking skins. The 2021 Jeep Cherokee is among the off-road-readiest compact SUVs on the market. You can't have a best-of list for off-road without the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. It remains the most capable off-road SUV you can buy in Rubicon trim. Front and rear solid axles with locking.
Crossovers are here to stay. Enthusiasts have kicked and screamed, blasted every comments section with hate, but at the end of the day, more and more consumers prefer the increased ride height and ground clearance of these lifted hatchbacks. The roads are littered with CRVs, RAV4s, and Traverses, carting families around from home to the grocery store, to the soccer field, and back again. Out of this takeover, however, there’s been a community rise-up and rally around these seemingly throwaway transportation appliances.
Enthusiasts began to wonder that if a vehicle has a lifted ride height and AWD, what’s to stop it from going off-road? Sure, it’s not going to challenge the legends of the 4x4 world, but if a set of tires and some skid plates make for a more exciting daily driver, what’s the harm in seeing how far they could get?
Several years ago, manufacturers began to take notice. More and more crossovers have been marketed in “adventure-ready” guise. The aftermarket began to take notice, and small companies have appeared offering all kinds of modifications to outfit these vehicles for the trails. We figured it was time to take a look at some of the newest offerings from manufacturers, see what the aftermarket was like for that model, and hopefully provide a good starting point for interested buyers.
This entire market owes its existence to Subaru. This Japanese company has AWD baked into their DNA, and the “lifted trail wagon” has been there since the early ‘80s. While nearly all of Subaru’s offerings show up in soft-roader circles, the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek represents the latest version from the brand. A refresh of the existing second generation model, the 2021 Crosstrek Sport finally offers a larger 2.5L engine from the Forester with 182hp. If you want the manual though, you’ll need to stick with the existing 2.0L.
The Crosstrek’s aftermarket is certainly the healthiest for any of the soft-roaders. Wheel and tire companies have released packages tailored to that chassis, companies like Subtle Solutions and ADF offer lift kits, skid plates, off-road accessories, and chassis-specific solutions to problems that arise from taking the Crosstrek further into a trail ready machine. It’s safe to say if you really want to go all the way with a late-model soft-roader build, you should certainly consider the Crosstrek first.
Having a conversation about anything off-road without mentioning Jeep would be a bad move. Obviously best known for its legendary Wrangler, the company has a couple of entrants in the soft-roader scene. For an out-of-the-box ready rig, a buyer certainly wouldn’t be wrong to start with the 2020 Renegade Trailhawk.
If all you want to do is go off-road, then the Jeep Wrangler has that as its core competency. Every Wrangler comes with four-wheel-drive, a pair of solid axles, plenty of ground clearance,.
With off-road capability already incorporated into the brand, the Renegade Trailhawk offers a few more tricks than its competitors. Trailhawk models are sold with a locking 4WD mode, available crawling gear ratio, hill descent control, and tow hooks. A quick search reveals that many of the same companies that offer lift kits and off-road protection for the Wrangler are offering Renegade parts as well. For buyers that want to dive right in without doing a lot of mods though, the Renegade offers the most bang for the buck.
Another legend in the off-road world, Toyota's recent update to its RAV4 crossover has set the soft-roader community on fire. New for 2020, the most capable model is the TRD Off-Road RAV4 model that builds on the AWD Adventure model by adding a TRD-tuned suspension and stabilizer bars, TRD wheels, and a unique interior. Like other AWD crossovers, a multi-terrain selector switch is available to help guide the AWD system in its behavior.
Although the model is new, aftermarket companies have jumped on board with the AWD RAV4. Companies like Rough Country and LP Adventure are already offering 2.5” lift kits and skid plates, which when combined with TRD package make for probably the best looking of the recent soft-roader entries.
Although Honda has had several AWD models in its history, the new 2020 Passport is certainly the most aggressively marketed “adventure-ready” model in decades. Built on the existing Pilot/Ridgeline platform, the Passport shrinks its overall size compared to its bigger brothers and adds nearly an inch of lift on AWD models. Sand and Mud modes are added to the multi-terrain selector for the i-VTM4 AWD system.
Several companies have begun offering lift kits for the Passport, but Los-Angeles based shop JSport has been working closely with Honda to offer dealer-installed ready-to-go packages as well as piecemeal products for the aftermarket that are guaranteed not to interfere with factory performance. Time will tell if other companies jump on board with more aggressive mods, but like RAV4, the model’s newness has prevented many owners from going too far down the rabbit hole yet.
The European off-road scene has always had a strong, devoted following. While Volkswagen hasn’t traditionally been a player in that world (with a few exceptions), their recent 2020 Atlas Basecamp concept shows promise from the German manufacturer. With help from Fifteen52 for wheels and H&R for a set of lift springs, the 280hp AWD-equipped crossover certainly looks the part. An Offroad-Road with hill descent control setting should help the 4Motion AWD system on more aggressive trails.
Like the other newer models, modifications are mostly limited to lift kits, skid plates, and other bolt-on adventuring accessories. Traditional VW-friendly shops like Smith Performance, Forge, and APR are already deep into off-road Atlas builds, so the future seems bright for this model.
Best Off Road Crossover 2019
This list is certainly not exhaustive. Nearly every manufacturer offers some variation of AWD crossover, so it’s really up to the owner to how adventurous they want to get without serious aftermarket support. Ford’s 2021 Bronco Sport (baby Bronco) will almost certainly be a big contender in the soft-roader market, especially if it borrows styling from its bigger brother.
Still need to be convinced? Check out our piece on the Rise of the Soft-Roader.
They can take on more than you think
Although body-on-frame 4x4 SUVs (think Jeep Wrangler) are the most capable vehicles for serious off-roaders, many crossovers offer more than enough capability for the occasional trip off the beaten path. Choosing a crossover with off-road features gives you the best of both worlds - comfort for everyday driving, and the ability to take the road less traveled at a moment's notice. Features like AWD, multi-mode select for various driving conditions, and off-road technology like hill descent control make these 4 vehicles ideal for adventurous drivers and their families.
2020 Kia Telluride
The Kia Telluride strikes the right balance of comfort, style, and off-road capability. The boxy, bold exterior that stands out in the sea of crossovers is the first indication of the Telluride's adventurous nature. While it's not a tough body-on-frame vehicle, it can take on more than you think. The long and broad hood, wide grille, and sculpted rear skid plate contribute to the 'ready-for-anything' design. The Telluride's 3.8-liter V6 engine produces 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque enabling it to tow up to 5,000 lbs. While you may not want to go rock crawling in the Telluride, the SUV is prepared for most off-road escapes a family will take with four-wheel independent suspension, available AWD with â€œSnowâ€ and â€œAWD Lockâ€, for specific driving conditions, and downhill brake control for controlled descent on steep terrain.
2020 Toyota RAV4
From highway to trail, the Toyota RAV4 offers the versatility of comfort on paved roads coupled with capability on rougher terrain. The RAV4's Adventure trim used to be the most off-road ready in the lineup, but new for 2020 is the RAV4 TRD Off-Road model for drivers who want even more off-road chops. The TRD grade's suspension, wheels, and tires are specifically designed for rugged trail driving. Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive is standard, and the multi-terrain select allows the driver to choose from modes including Mud & Sand for beach driving, Rock & Dirt for trails, and Snow for wintery conditions. Under the hood, the RAV4 Adventure and TRD grades house a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 203 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. The TRD Off-Road can tow up to 3,500 pounds of adventure gear.
2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Best Crossovers To Buy
The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque is the crossover equivalent to glamping. It allows you to experience the great outdoors without losing any of the luxury and creature comforts you're used to. The Range Rover Evoque was redesigned for 2020 and offers two versions of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The base engine gets 246 horsepower, while a 48-volt hybrid system makes 296 horsepower. The Evoque's redesign gives it improved infotainment, a more refined cabin, and a new Terrain Response system that gives drivers the choice of five driving modes (General, ECO, Sand, Grass-GravelSnow, and Mud & Ruts). Additional technology like Hill Descent Control, Gradient Release Control, and All-Terrain Progress Control help navigate the trails, and a maximum wading depth of up to 23.6-in will satisfy the most adventurous drivers.
2020 Subaru Outback
Best Off Road Crossover 2017
Subaru may be known for excellent safety, but the redesigned 2020 Subaru Outback won't bore the adventure-seekers and risk-takers. As part of its redesign, the Outback gets a new XT trim that comes with a standard 2.4-liter turbocharged BOXER engine for 260 horsepower (a substantial increase from the Outback's 182-horsepower base engine). Off-road friendly features include Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, Active Torque Vectoring, Vehicle Dynamics Control, and X-MODE with Hill Descent Control. Subaru's X-MODE optimized the All-Wheel Drive system for maximum traction on slippery surfaces. The Outback also offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance to go over obstacles. The ground clearance is higher than most competitors in the segment, yet the step-in height remains low for passenger comfort.
Best Off Road Crossover 2020
What makes a crossover adventure-ready?
Best Off Road Crossover 2016
- Available all-wheel-drive
- Multiple driving modes for various conditions
- Comfortable for long drives
- Good towing capacity