SUVs might have taken over the sales charts, but over the past two decades they’ve evolved to the point where only a few models have stayed true to their go-anywhere off-road roots. Most sport-utility shoppers snap up these practical daily drivers for their generous cargo and passenger space, not to mention the added security of all-wheel drive, but there’s still a shortlist out there searching for a trail-ready champion that they can get muddy on more than just a gravel road. Check out these five SUVs that you can actually take off-road.
1. 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk
Why We Like It: The Jeep Grand Cherokee has always been available with a host of trail-rated equipment, but the new 2017 Trailhawk model assembles it all in one place and throws in a bunch of luxury features (heated and cooled leather seats, heated steering wheel, Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system) to go with it. The end result is a comfortable commuter that doesn’t care whether you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic or crawling through a field of boulders.
Killer Off-Road Gear: In addition the brand’s top-tier Quadra-Drive II four-wheel drive system (which includes the Selec-Terrain feature as well as low-range gearing), the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk offers a limited-slip rear differential, skid plates, an adjustable air suspension system that boasts a smidge more ground clearance (just under 11 inches) than other Grand Cherokees, as well as Kevlar-wrapped tires, tow hooks, and hill descent and ascent control.
2. 2017 Land Rover Discovery
Why We Like It: The latest version of the LR4 has a new ‘old’ name, with the Land Rover Discovery returning to its roots as one of the more affordable, but simultaneously most-capable off-road rides in the brand’s portfolio. Seven-passengers can ride in the premium confines of the Discovery, which is as plush a vehicle as one might expect from the British SUV builder.
Killer Off-Road Gear: The Land Rover Discovery offers an available four-wheel drive system that boasts low-range gearing, which together with Terrain Response 2 allows the driver to spin a dial and select the optimum transmission, throttle, and stability / traction control settings for the path ahead. Low-speed cruise control locks the Disco’s forward progress to a safe and manageable rate, and excellent approach and departure angles, combined with 11.14 inches of ground clearance, help to separate it from other soft-roading luxury SUVs.
3. 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser
Why We Like It: Chances are you might not have even known that the Toyota Land Cruiser existed – that’s how under-the-radar this full-size sport-utility vehicle is to most buyers. The most expensive Toyota in the showroom also happens to be one of the most capable, and it comes with a long history of tackling the most extreme environments on the planet without flinching.
Killer Off-Road Gear: The eight-passenger Land Cruiser has been refreshed for 2017, giving it an eight-speed automatic transmission to help it pick the right ratio out on the trail. Also along for the ride is the KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) that hydraulically controls the vehicle’s front and rear stability bars to improve wheel articulation and stability without having to manually disconnect them. A multi-terrain monitor provides camera angles that show you the area immediately around the truck, a limited-slip rear differential improves traction, and a four-wheel drive system with low-range gearing and the SUV’s Multi-terrain Select system keep you from getting stuck miles from civilization. Finally, you also get something Toyota calls ‘Off-Road Turn Assist’ to go with the Land Cruiser’s crawl control system, which is intended to reduce the amount of wheel input required through a low-speed corner.
4. 2017 Jeep Wrangler
Why We Like It: The Jeep Wrangler is an old-school SUV in a way no other current model can claim. With solid Dana axles front and rear, a removable roof, and a fanatical group of owners dedicated to modifying and driving these rigs, the Wrangler is one of the most iconic sport-utility vehicles to ever venture off-road.
Killer Off-Road Gear: In addition to its hardcore axles, the Wrangler offers a choice between two low-range four-wheel drive systems (with one geared specifically for rock crawling), as well as skid plates, knobby tires, tow hooks, available electronically-locking front and rear differentials (with a limited-slip also offered), accessory rock rails, a Mopar winch, and a range of shock choices. Stick with the base two-door Wrangler over the four-door Wrangler Unlimited and you’ll also benefit from a relatively short wheelbase that bobs and weaves around trail obstacles with ease.
5. 2017 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Why We Like It: The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a barely-civilized military SUV that has found a niche amongst well-heeled off-roaders who love its boxy, upright styling and well-appointed interior. Recent updates have made the G-Class more palatable on a daily basis, but underneath the skin it’s still very much the same warrior it was when it first hit the scene 40 years ago.
Killer Off-Road Gear: Like the Wrangler, the G-Class features a pair of solid axles, but it also adds three locking differentials that can be used to mechanically limit downhill progress and significantly multiple traction from its low-range four-wheel drive system. Don’t look for any electronic nannies to help you through the muck, and stick with the non-AMG models if you want to maximize your trail capability – or go for the bonkers G550 4×4² which makes use of portal axles to improve ground clearance to 17 inches.