Some would argue that the time of purchasable off-road trucks and SUVs is over, that the only great off road vehicles are older ones that, when updated slightly, serve as the best rides out there for hitting the trail.
While there are some amazing trucks and SUVs in the past for off roading, there are definitely some new ones that hold their own. For the sake of this article, I will be talking about new trucks and SUVs in the 2013 model year. I’m focusing on these because they are the newest vehicles I have enough information about to speak on with any authority. There are some awesome up-coming 2014 trucks out there, but I think 2013 the best since they have been out there for at least a little while now.
Off road capable is a vague idea. Everyone has a different thought in his or her head when they read “off road truck.” Some think light trails, some think desert, and some even think snowy fields and trails. Whatever your impression, I’m listing what I think are the best all around. The trucks and SUVs in this list are here because they can be daily drivers all the while getting you out on the trail on the weekend. They will all accept upgrades to make them more capable as well.
5. Nissan Xterra PRO-4X
Nissan’s off road offering hasn’t always been the prettiest SUV, but it’s always been a solid platform. With the recent redesign, this SUV offers a nicer looking exterior, interior, while keeping some great stats and features. This model comes with a 4.0 liter DOHC 24-valve V6 mated to a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. The rear differential is a locking one, helping this SUV hold its own on the trail. The Xterra comes from the factory with a decent off road suspension including a double-wishbone front end and rigid leaf spring rear.
The Xterra has built in lights in the roof rack, adding additional brightness to dark situations. The roof rack has a small closing gear basket as well, giving a perfect place to store wet, dirty gear. You can even purchase a tent that attaches to the Xterra for camping!
4. Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
Toyota’s TRD, or Toyota Racing Development, line of vehicles never disappoints. The Tacoma TRD in the Access Cab size is a solid contender in this top 5 list. With a 4.0 liter V6 engine in either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic, the TRD Tacoma gives you the extra interior room for you and your stuff, all the while sporting a solid 4×4 system. Bilstein shocks, locking rear differential, skid plates, and electronic hill-assist help this to be a solid choice for new and slightly experienced off roaders.
Deck-mounted AC power outlet gives you access to a standard power outlet that can charge devices and basically run any low amperage home device. This can be great for camping, which can be just as fun as the off-roading it took to get to the camping spot.
3. Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk
The grand cherokee has always been a solid SUV, as you would expect from a vehicle sharing lineage with one of the original off road vehicles. The 2013 Trailhawk adds to this heritage by giving you the best of both worlds. It starts with an SUV that is perfect for the road. Leather interior and every feature you would expect come standard. From here, this SUV let’s it’s off road capability show. A 5.7 liter V8 will get you going on pretty much any trail with a computer controlled 4×4 system transferring all that power to the ground. This model comes with kevlar-reinforced tires to keep you a little bit safer on those rocky trails as well.
Rock rails and skid plates keep the under carriage safe, with front tow hooks standard to get you out of sticky situations, whether it’s you being towed or doing the towing, these are a great introduction to towing capability. The only down side to all these features is the price tag, This is the priciest truck or SUV on this list coming in at around $44,500.
Standard media center with a built in hard drive keeps your music safe and always with you because what fun is off roaring without some good music?
2. Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
First off, I’m a sucker for speed. I love off-roading and hitting a good trail, but speed is something I just can’t ignore. This is why I’ve always been a fan of the SVT line from Ford. They do a great job at speeding up the already great F-150 to make it a solid contender in this list. The Raptor comes with a 411 horsepower/434 ft lb torque 6.2 liter V8. This engine has a shorter stroke than most other truck engines, which allows for higher engine speed. The engine is mated to an electronic 6-speed automatic transmission to make sure you get every bit of power possible.
(side note: I’ve always been a fan of standard transmissions. I feel that they help me control the vehicle more and give me more options. With today’s computer controlled transmissions, they can shift and control better than most people can. I haven’t given up on manual gearboxes.)
Along with engine/transmission, suspension is where it’s at for an off road vehicle. The SVT Raptor has an extra-long travel suspension that gives 11.2 inches in the front and 12.1 in the rear with Fox Racing Shox for some added stability. An electronic locking rear differential gives traction to both rear wheels and the Ford Roll Stability Control (RSC) helps maintain stability and keep you save. All these features add to the SVT parts hiding in plain site, too. Most notably the cast-aluminum SVT control arms that provide that extra off road strength. All in all, this truck was made to be off road, but has enough features like leather seats, back-up camera, and safety to be a daily driver on the road as well.
The SVT Raptor has a front-facing camera that can be turned on when the truck is in off-road mode and going under 15 mph. This can help the driver to see what is directly in front of the truck without getting out. There’s even a spray nozzle that cleans the grille-mounted camera off when it gets muddy.
1. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Few people will argue that the Wrangler is one of, if not the original, off-road vehicle. In a class of it’s own, the Jeep makes for a fun off-road truck that is small, light, agile, and overall just damn fun to drive. With a 3.6 liter V6 engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, the Rubicon stays light but still powerful. Locking front and rear axles make sure all four tires get their equal say in traction, while a 4:1 4WD system keeps you going forward. Dana heavy duty front and rear axles are there for the added torque requirements of off-roading.
A removable soft-top opens you up to the outdoors and gives you a better feel for the trail you’re on, and multiple skid plates and shields keep your undercarriage from getting too connected to the outdoors. Rock rails standard on the Rubicon keep you safe and moving forward and standard front and rear tow hooks are there in case you or a friend gets stuck.
The jeep comes with semi-mud tires stock and a nice high ground clearance. All in all, this really is the best choice for off-road fun and daily driving. Coming in at around $30,00, this won’t break the bank, but it’s definitely not a cheap toy.
Everything in the Jeep is cool. From the removable doors to the soft top, to the heritage it shares with the Willies’ Jeeps, the Wrangler is a piece of history that has been constantly updated to keep current with the times.
Well, there’s my list. I’m sure you disagreed with at least one of my choices, and that’s fine – just add your pick in the comments section. This is basically my wish list of trucks I’d love to drive and have. While there are more expensive options out there, I tried to keep this list as low cost as possible to make it attainable for regular people, like me.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the trail.