Automakers recognize that Americans are hungry for off-road capable vehicles, even if they rarely drive off the pavement. Manufacturers are not building mall-crawlers though; they are making legitimate off-roaders that can handle high-speed dirt roads and even light rock crawling.
To satisfy America's desire for off-road cred, we put together a list of the best off-road SUVs for 2021.
The Jeep Wrangler is the most off-road-ready convertible SUV you can buy today -- until the Bronco shows up and challenges that. The Wrangler has maintained its styling with slight tweaks each generation, but is instantly recognizable as a Jeep. Inside, the Jeep's interior quality has improved over the decades as well. The Jeep can be fitted with all the niceties of a modern luxury SUV like touchscreen infotainment and heated seats.
The Wrangler has several powertrain options including a plug-in hybrid, turbocharged 2.0 four-cylinder, 3.6-liter V6, 3.0 liter turbo-diesel and, for the first time, a 470-horsepower V8 engine. This Jeep Wrangler 392 rockets to 60 mph in 4.5-seconds and shares its functional hood scoop with the Gladiator Mojave.
In Rubicon trim, the four-wheel-drive system features locking differentials, a two-speed transfer case, and off-road tires. The Jeep Wrangler also boasts nearly 11 inches of ground clearance. This Jeep Wrangler starts at $40,370 and, when optioned with the V8, the price jumps to an eye-watering $74,995.
Ford has revived the heralded Bronco name for the 2021 model year. Styling is classic Bronco, following Ford's penchant for modernized retro designs. The Bronco is available in either two- or four-door, and is built on a platform ready for off-roading -- and for challenging the current off-road king, the Jeep Wrangler.
Ford touts its programming with the Bronco GOAT selectable drive modes (Goes Over Any type of Terrain), which can assist drivers with traction in sandy, slippery, or other types of conditions. A more hardcore Ford Raptor-inspired variant is in development, nicknamed Warthog, and is expected to drop sometime in 2022.
A Sasquatch Package is available across all trim levels and is aimed squarely at Jeep's Rubicon. Checking the squatch box on the options sheet adds 35-inch off-road tires, front and rear locking differentials, and Bilstein suspension.
Two engines are available for the Bronco: A 270 horsepower EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder and a 310-horsepower EcoBoost turbocharged V6. Four-cylinder models come standard with a seven-speed manual transmission, and a 10-speed automatic transmission is optional. The automatic is standard on V6 equipped Broncos.
The Bronco outdoes the Jeep slightly with 11.5 inches of ground clearance. The base price for the two-door Bronco is just under $30,000, but moving up trims and adding options can easily put pricing into the mid-$50k range.
Toyota Land Cruiser
The Land Cruiser name is as storied as Jeep or Land Rover for off-road capability, and even more so for reliability. The modern Land Cruiser sold in North America is a big, expensive, luxury SUV, but that does not mean it has lost its off-road chops. All Land Cruisers have full-time four-wheel-drive, two-speed transfer case, and under body shielding to protect from stray rocks.
The only powertrain available for the Land Cruise is a 5.7-liter V8 making 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The Land Cruiser offers a decent 9" of ground clearance. If you are in the market for a Land Cruiser, you better snatch one up this year, as it appears the sun is setting for the model in 2021. Base price for the Land Cruiser is a hefty $87,030, but there are only two trims, and relatively few options.
Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
The Toyota 4Runner is one of the last offerings in the midsize SUV class still built with a body-on-frame design, shared with the Tacoma pickup truck.
The 4Runner is one of the most capable SUVs available in the U.S. for 2021, and even more so in it's high-end TRD Pro trim. The TRD Pro is built for true off-roading, with FOX 2.5 shocks to eat up wash-board riddled back roads, skid plates to protect vulnerable underbody components, and a locking rear differential. Inside, the 4Runner feels basic compared to more refined crossovers in the class, but does include an 8.0-ich touchscreen infotainment system with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The sole powertrain for the 4Runner TRD Pro is a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V6 making 270 horsepower paired with a five-speed automatic transmission.
Electronic off-road truck models include crawl control and hill descent control, both acting as a kind of low-speed cruise control to keep the truck planted while the driver focuses on steering. The TRD Pro has an extra one-inch lift compared to normal 4Runners, meaning ground clearance of 9.6 inches. The 4Runner can also ford up to 27.6 inches of water.
Starting price in TRD Pro trim is $51,745, and if that is too much, consider the TRD Off-Road model and save about $10,000.
Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro
The Sequoia TRD Pro trim adds similar upgrades as the 4Runner to Toyota's hulking three-row SUV. A locking center differential, off-road tires, and Fox suspension gives the Sequoia real off-road cred. Since this generation of Sequoia is many years old, the interior is dated, with lots of hard plastics. However, the TRD Pro slots somewhere between the 4Runner and Land Cruiser for larger families needing an adventurous rig.
The Sequoia features a 5.7-liter V8 making 381 horsepower, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Reviewers complained of dismal fuel economy, about 14 mpg. Being based on the Tundra pickup gives the Sequoia a respectable 7,100-pound towing capacity. Ground clearance for the TRD Pro is about 10 inches.
Starting price for the Sequoia TRD Pro is $65,690, or about $20k less than the Land Cruiser. If the dated interior is not a deal-breaker, the Sequoia offers similar off-road abilities and reliability at a significant discount.
Once a military truck, the G-Class is now the off-roader for the rich and famous. The off-road prowess of the G-Class is no joke, as it's one of the most capable off-road vehicles on the market, full stop.
The old-school design looks nearly identical to the boxy SUV introduced in 1979, but underneath that skin is a technologically advanced machine. Front, rear, and center differentials all have locking capability, combined with low range gearing, this vehicle can crawl through nearly any terrain.
Inside the G-Class is all Mercedes, with luxurious leather, massaging seats, and premium sound and infotainment systems.
The G550's powertrain consists of a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 making 416 horsepower, while the AMG G63 ups that to 577 horsepower. The G-Wagon was redesigned in 2019, now sporting independent front suspension for better on-road characteristics, but that did not diminish its capabilities. Ground clearance is 9.5 inches and it matches the 4Runner TRD Pro in water fording at 27.6 inches.
All of this luxury and off-road aptitude doesn't come cheap. The base G-Class starts at $132,800 before any options.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk
Jeep's Grand Cherokee is mostly a soft-roader, but upgrading to Trailhawk trim adds adjustable air-suspension, an all-wheel-drive system with low-range transfer case, and limited-slip rear differential. The Grand Cherokee's styling has evolved more over time than it has been redesigned, but it is an attractive SUV. Inside the Jeep is one of the most refined vehicles in the segment.
The Cherokee moves to the architecture of its larger variant, the Grand Cherokee L for 2022, and it will be a completely new generation.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 making 285 horsepower, with an optional 5.7-liter V8 making 360 horsepower available. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Pricing for the Trailhawk version of the Cherokee starts at $47,070, though it may be worth waiting to see what the next generation of Cherokee has in store.
Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
The smallest offering on the list is Jeeps blocky trail-rated subcompact, the Renegade Trailhawk. Outside, the Renegade mimics larger Jeeps, and Trailhawk trim includes red recovery hooks. Two lift-off panels on the roof also emulate the Wranglers open-sky driving experience.
The Trailhawk trim includes all-wheel-drive with a low range and locking differential. Ground clearance is great for the class at 8.7 inches, and fording depth is just shy of 20 inches.
Standard power comes from a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder 180 horsepower, and optional 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder makes just 177 horsepower, but 200 lb-ft of torque.
Overall, the Renegade is quirky, fun, and useable off-roader particularly when compared in its class. Pricing for the Trailhawk is pretty high for the segment at a starting MSRP of $30,395.
Land Rover Defender
Land Rover brought back the four-door Defender 110 for 2020, and the two-door Defender 90 for 2021. The Defender namesake had been on hiatus in North America since 1997. The exterior design echoes the past without being retro. Inside, the Defender is much more luxuriously appointed and quieter than older models.
Though the Defender lacks the outright luxury of the Range Rover, it gets close, and it's certainly a great alternative to the Jeep Wrangler for those wanting a little more opulence without sacrificing off-road cred.
The Land Rover Defender features an optional adjustable air suspension to adjust ride height. In its tallest setting, the SUV has 11.5 inches of ground clearance, and an impressive 35 inches of water fording capability.
The base powertrain is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 296 horsepower. An optional mild-hybrid electronically supercharged V6, making 395 horsepower, is available. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
An even more powerful V8 is slated for 2022. Pricing for the base model starts at $49,050, with loaded versions stretching to over $100,000.
Chevrolet Tahoe Z71
Though not as beefy as its siblings, the Colorado ZR2 Bison or Silverado Trail Boss, the Tahoe Z71 packs the right features to make it a useable off-roader, capable of hauling up to eight people. The exterior design features modified front and rear fascia, for better off-roading angles, and red tow hooks. Skit plates have been added to protect critical underbody components. 20-inch wheels are fitted with all-terrain tires.
The Tahoe Z71 is powered by a 5.3-liter V8 engine making 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. That engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Optional air-suspension and magnetic shocks raise ground clearance up to 10 inches. All Tahoe's now have fully independent suspension, which means this beast is still comfortable on-road.
Pricing for the Tahoe Z71 starts at an MSRP of $60,495. For those looking for an even bigger off-roader, the massive Suburban is available in Z71 trim as well.