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The best off-road vehicles

The emblematic Jeep Wrangler remains the best off-roader you can buy new in 2020. It will take you and yours just about anywhere, and you can rely on a seemingly endless list of aftermarket companies to customize nearly every aspect of it, from the tires to the gears. The fourth-generation model is tamer to drive on pavement, thanks to an improved cabin and better technology.

We at Digital Trends love hitting the trails, and we’ve tested every off-roader on the market in the conditions they were designed for. If the Wrangler isn’t for you, we’ve selected the most luxurious off-roader, the best pickup truck for off-roading, the best off-roader for families, and the most reliable off-road vehicle you can buy.

At a glance

Product Category
Jeep Wrangler Best overall
Land Rover Range Rover Best luxury off-road vehicle
Ram 1500 Rebel Best off-road pickup truck
Toyota 4Runner Most reliable off-road vehicle
Nissan Armada Best family off-road vehicle

The best: Jeep Wrangler

best off-road vehicles 2019 Jeep Wrangler
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It’s the quintessential off-roader.

Who’s it for: People who want to live life unencumbered by roofs and doors.

How much will it cost: $28,295+

Why we picked the Jeep Wrangler:

What hasn’t been said about the Jeep Wrangler? The styling references the original World War II-era Jeeps, and the Wrangler’s convertible top and removable doors make it easier to get close to nature. It’s a story that’s been told many times before, so it’s easy to believe the Wrangler is over-hyped. It’s not.

While it has as much in common with a World War II Jeep as a Mercedes-Benz GLE has with one of the German automaker’s Formula One cars, the Wrangler remains the real deal when it comes to no-nonsense off-roading. It’s one of the last SUVs available with a traditional four-wheel drive system, which includes a crawl ratio that helps maintain traction over loose surfaces. Rubicon models get full locking differentials to improve traction further, plus 33-inch BF Goodrich KM all-terrain tires. In other words, they’ll keep going where others get stuck.

Every Wrangler model sports a generous amount of ground clearance (10.9 inches, according to Jeep), and approach, departure, and breakover angles (44 degrees, 37 degrees, and 27.8 degrees, respectively), allowing the Wrangler to climb over obstacles without taking damage. Skid plates afford further protection to vital mechanical components. Jeep also claims the Wrangler can ford up to 30 inches of water.

With the launch of the current-generation Wrangler (called JL internally), Jeep has also emphasized tech to a greater degree than before. The latest Wrangler is available with an 8.4-inch touchscreen that runs the easy-to-use Uconnect infotainment system, which is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Buyers can also pay extra for a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which provides adequate power and an EPA-rated 24 mpg combined, but a burlier 3.6-liter V6 is standard. The list of engine options also includes a turbodiesel, and Jeep will release a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid model badged 4XE before the end of 2020.

Read our Jeep Wrangler review

The best luxury off-road vehicle: Land Rover Range Rover

best off-road vehicles 2019 Land Rover Range Rover
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It’s like taking a five-star hotel off-road.

Who’s it for: Rich outdoor enthusiasts.

How much will it cost: $90,900+

Why we picked the Land Rover Range Rover:

The Range Rover is one of the most well-rounded vehicles on sale today. It’s far from cheap, but you get a lot for your money. Land Rover’s flagship offers a high-class interior comparable to many German luxury sedans and impressive on-road manners for a big SUV. It can also take you places no other luxury vehicle could hope to reach.

While rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the Bentley Bentayga, and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan have cropped up recently, Land Rover remains ruler of the mud. To start with, the Range Rover’s body was designed to maximize ground clearance and features short front and rear overhangs — all to make climbing over obstacles easier. Land Rover’s Terrain Response system also sets various vehicle parameters for different types of terrain. The Range Rover can even wade into water up to 35.4 inches deep.

The Land Rover Range Rover isn’t a Spartan truck, though. Its leather-lined interior incorporates a dual-screen infotainment system and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that can support up to eight devices. The high-end SVAutobiography version even sports reclining rear seats and a refrigerated drink compartment. Land Rover also offers a variety of powertrains, from a plug-in hybrid to a supercharged V8. Finally, the 2021 model year brings a cool, heritage-laced limited-edition model named Fifty that celebrates the model’s 50th anniversary.

The best off-road pickup truck: Ram 1500 Rebel

best off-road vehicles 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel
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Why should you buy this: It was designed to tame the trail.

Who’s it for: Off-road enthusiasts who need cargo space.

How much will it cost: $44,740+

Why we picked the Ram 1500 Rebel:

Pickups tend to be tall and rugged, but not every model in the segment is capable of serious off-roading. Trucks make a good foundation to build an off-road vehicle on, but those who want to fully exploit their potential will need to install the right equipment. Thankfully, adding the right equipment is exactly how Ram created its Rebel model.

The Rebel is based on the 1500, the brand’s bread and butter truck (and America’s second best-selling vehicle in 2019). While the Ford F-150 Raptor takes the formula of upgrading a basic truck even further, the Rebel is a more sensible package that more people will be able to get the most out of.

The list of upgrades over the standard 1500 models includes 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires and an electronic locking rear differential to aid traction. It also gets a 1-inch suspension lift, which helps improve ground clearance, and a skid plate that protects the vital mechanical components. Like other 1500 models, the Rebel is available with air suspension, but the standard suspension is a coil spring setup with Bilstein shock absorbers that feature a remote reservoir design intended to keep them cooler, which improves performance.

The Rebel is available with the same powertrains as other Ram 1500 models, including a 3.6-liter V6 teamed with Ram’s eTorque mild-hybrid system, a 5.7-liter Hemi V8, or the EcoDiesel 3.0-liter V6. The ubiquitous Uconnect infotainment system — including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — is available as well.

The most reliable off-road vehicle: Toyota 4Runner

best off-road vehicles 2019 Toyota 4Runner
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Why should you buy this: It will never let you down.

Who’s it for: People who need something dependable in their lives.

How much will it cost: $36,020+

Why we picked the Toyota 4Runner:

The 4Runner was once Toyota’s mainstay family SUV, but the more civilized Highlander now occupies that role. While the 4Runner is a traditional SUV with body-on-frame construction, the Highlander is a more modern car-based crossover. Being freed from family duty means the 4Runner can now live a life of rugged adventure.

The bulky body-on-frame layout and the traditional four-wheel drive system leave less room for kids and groceries, but they make this Toyota a natural off the beaten path. The desert-wise TRD Pro model receives a 1-inch suspension lift, upgraded shocks and springs all around, and an aluminum skid plate. Toyota also offers a generous list of driving aids, including hill-start assist, downhill assist, crawl control, and a multi-terrain select system that adjusts the amount of permitted wheel slip depending on the terrain the 4Runner is traveling over.

The best part about the 4Runner is that it’s a Toyota. The Japanese automaker earned a well-deserved reputation for building dependable cars that won’t let you down mile after mile. No one wants to be stranded in the woods, after all.

Although the Toyota 4Runner is rather old compared to other SUVs, it recently received a new instrument panel designed to accommodate an 8-inch touchscreen, and it was one of the first Toyota models to get both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s compatible with Amazon Alexa as well. That means drivers now have the choice of asking Siri, Google, or Alexa for directions to the best campsite. For 2020, it also received additional USB ports in the back.

The best family off-road vehicle: Nissan Armada

best off-road vehicles 2019 Nissan Armada
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It lets you take the whole family along on an adventure.

Who’s it for: People who have outgrown the Wrangler or the 4Runner.

How much will it cost: $47,100+

Why we picked the Nissan Armada:

Although the current-generation Nissan Armada is relatively new in the United States, it’s a bona fide off-roading legend in other parts of the world. This generation of the Armada arrived for the 2017 model year, but it’s been on sale elsewhere for much longer as the Nissan Patrol. It’s a model with decades of history and a pedigree equal to that of the Toyota Land Cruiser or Land Rover Range Rover. Thousands of explorers depend on the Patrol every day.

Regardless of what you call it, the Armada is an old school, body-on-frame SUV. It’s not as refined as modern crossovers, like the popular Rogue, but it can also go places that they can only dream of driving to. It’s equipped with four-wheel drive, a low range gear, and a 5.6-liter V8 engine rated at 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque. Nissan claims this hulking SUV can tow up to 8,500 pounds when it’s properly equipped.

The Armada isn’t just a big brute. Thanks to its enormous footprint, it has seating for up to eight passengers across three rows. Nissan also equipped the Armada with some handy but straightforward tech features. You’ll find a video rearview mirror and an alert system that reminds the driver if you leave anything (like kids or pets) in the rear seats. General Motors was admittedly the first to offer both features, but they make a lot of sense in a big three-seat SUV like the Armada. For parents of young children especially, this tech offers peace of mind whether you’re on road or off.

The Nissan Armada is also available with an 8-inch touchscreen and 13-speaker Bose audio system. An optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system with dual 8-inch monitors, USB, HDMI, and VTR ports, plus wireless headphones, can pacify both young children and teens on longer trips. Nissan also offers an array of driver-assist features and a 360-degree camera system. It’s basically everything you’d want from a full-size family SUV, but with added off-road capability.

Read out Nissan Armada review

How we test

Digital Trends employs an expert automotive team who conduct rigorous tests of each vehicle we review. Our testing process involves test drives, hands-on examination of features, controlled safety tests, and more. With each assessment, we compare details of each vehicle across categories and price ranges.

For test drives, our drivers spend as much time as needed to get a natural feel for each vehicle. This test includes driving in typical road environments and off-roading and race tracks, when applicable. We test in every kind of driving environment for off-road vehicles until we’re confident in our assessment of each feature.

We go a lot further than merely glancing over a car and checking that the tires are on correctly. Every new car purchase deserves a high level of scrutiny and care. As a consumer, you want to know you’ve tested every aspect of the car you’re about to purchase. Our job is to help you narrow down the options and know your priorities before you even hit the auto lot.

Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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