Jeep Off Road

The Best Off Road Vehicles: SUVs, Trucks And Hybrids To Take You Off The Beaten Path

Hanna Kielar9-minute read
UPDATED: December 12, 2022


Taking the road less traveled often requires more research and preparation. We’ve done much of the research for you with our complete guide to the best off-road vehicles on the market. Before you begin shopping, it’s important to take into account what you expect out of an off-roader, your budget and the type of terrain you plan to traverse.

Whether you plan to boondock off remote desert back roads for prime stargazing or expect extreme weather conditions to obscure any sign of your road this winter, you’ll want compare vehicle capabilities to your goals. Drivers planning to take on steep off-road mountain terrain shouldn’t compromise on ground clearance or approach and departure angles. Family cars don’t need to sacrifice a quiet ride or fuel efficiency for basic off-roading capabilities.

Our guide to off-road SUVs, trucks and hybrids factored in traction control, safety features and off-road capabilities and used data from J.D. Power ratings, Kelley Blue Book and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ratings.

What Matters Most For Off-Roading

There are many types of off-road vehicles to choose from and the one that’s best for you depends on the types of activities you participate in. For example, if you’re not looking to travel through the deep wilderness or mountains, you can get by with a vehicle that has lower approach and departure angles. Let’s go over some key terminology to help you choose the right off-roader for you.  

  • Ground clearance:This is how much space exists between the ground and the undercarriage of the vehicle. As you scope out rock fields on the road in front of you, you’ll want to make sure you have enough ground clearance to avoid damaging the body of your car.
  • Skid plates:Many outdoor vehicles have skid plates to protect the undercarriage from objects beneath the vehicle. 
  • Ft of torque:This measurement defines the ability of an engine to bring a vehicle into motion, and higher torque means the engine can pull or carry greater loads. 
  • Locking differential:A locking differential automatically slows the inside tires on a turn, which provides more grip and control in wet or icy conditions. 
  • Approach and departure angles:These angles represent how the vehicle handles slopes on the way up (approach angles) and down (departure angles). Effectively, this is the maximum angle they can tolerate before scraping the undercarriage. 
  • All-terrain tires:All-terrain tires are designed to maintain traction on common roads and be suitable for most off-road environments. 
  • All-wheel drive (AWD) vs. 4-wheel drive (4WD): Both will send torque to all four tires, but the difference between AWD and 4WD is in how power is delivered. Generally, 4WD is better suited for off-roading, though may sacrifice the fuel economy and ride quality of an AWD vehicle.

Safety is a priority when traveling off-road, where you may have limited access to assistance. Novice road enthusiasts should take some time to learn about the capabilities of a vehicle, and only travel on terrain their vehicle can handle.

Best Value For Off-Road Cars

We chose the following vehicles based on affordability, safety ratings and included features in the standard trim option. These vehicles are great for outdoor vacations but may be limited on more severe terrain. 

Winner: Kia Telluride

Best for: Family camping/fishing trips, handling in severe weather conditions 

MPG: 20 city | 26 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 17 degrees | 20.9 degrees 

Ground clearance: 8 inches 

The 2021 Kia Telluride offers three rows of seating, available all-wheel drive and a capable engine with 262 ft of torque. The tow package allows you to pull a boat or camper with ease and comes with a self-leveling rear suspension to improve trailer control on the road. With 5,000 pounds of towing capacity, it's capable enough for most outdoor enthusiasts and campers. 

The Kia Telluride earned the top rating from J.D. Power with a score of 85 out of 100, making it the best-rated SUV in the upper midsize category.

Runner-Up: Subaru Ascent 

Best for: Safety, driver-assistive technology 

MPG: 20 city | 26 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 17.6 degrees | 21.8 degrees 

Ground clearance: 8.7 inches 

The 2021 Subaru Ascent received a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA and Top Safety Pick from the IIHS. It offers numerous standard and optional driver-assistive features that help you navigate all weather conditions and multiple terrain types. Its tow package is capable if you’re taking the family on a camping trip or want to pull a boat, and the Ascent delivers a smooth ride even when you take it off a main road.  

J.D. Power gave the 2021 Ascent a rating of 82 out of 100 and named it among the top five choices in its class. If you’re concerned most about safety, affordability and function, the Ascent checks all the boxes.  

Best In Luxury

Plenty of passenger space and an air suspension with a locking differential are two key features to look for in a luxury off-road vehicle. If you want a luxury SUV that provides comfort and functionality both on and off the road, these choices are worth considering.

Winner: Land Rover Defender 

Best for: Ability to handle rugged terrain, luxury features 

MPG: 17 city | 22 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 30.1 degrees | 37.7 degrees 

Ground clearance: 11.5 inches 

The 2021 Land Rover Defender seems like it was designed to bring off-road functionality to the luxury space. With steep approach and departure angles, it can handle some of the roughest terrain on the planet, yet still offers a quiet, comfortable ride. All-wheel drive and a locking differential come standard in all trim levels, but the four-door models offer more utility for families. 

It offers up to 11.5 inches of ground clearance, available air suspension and the ability to ford up to 35.4 inches of water. J.D. Power rated the Defender 73 out of 100 and listed it as a top-five pick.  

Runner-Up: Lexus RX 

Best for: Comfort and reliability 

MPG: 19 city | 26 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 17 degrees | 24.9 degrees 

Ground clearance: 8.2 inches 

The 2021 Lexus RX series offers unparalleled ride quality both on and off the road, and its available safety features provide the confidence needed to tackle all weather conditions. J.D. Power rated the RX 83 out of 100, and it was the #1 pick in the midsize premium SUV category. 

With its 8.2 inches of ground clearance and capable approach and departure angles, the RX can handle regular camping and boating trips and some treks into the countryside.  

Best Off-Road SUVs

There’s a reason SUV stands for Sport Utility Vehicle. The best off-road SUVs will have 4WD and steep approach and departure angles. There are plenty of vehicles that offer functionality and dependability when heading off the beaten track, but these are some of the best.

Winner: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 

Best for: Durability, rock conditions, sand and mud conditions 

MPG: 17 city | 23 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 43.39 degrees | 37.0 degrees 

Ground clearance: 10.8 inches 

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is a capable and rugged SUV that can handle almost anything you throw at it, making it our top pick for off-road enthusiasts. It offers steep approach and departure angles, plenty of ground clearance and an available front camera to help you identify obstacles in your path. Its 4WD transmission is built to provide traction where and when it's needed to get you through tough situations. 

J.D. Power gave the Jeep Wrangler a total score of 80 out of 100, including 91 out of 100 for resale value. It’s the ideal off-road SUV for the most demanding outdoor enthusiasts. 

Runner-Up: Subaru Crosstrek 

Best for: Handling and driver experience 

MPG: 27 city | 34 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 18 degrees | 29 degrees 

Ground clearance: 8.7 inches 

The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek makes our list because it offers off-road functionality while providing the drive experience of a car. It’s not difficult for novice off-road enthusiasts to adventure into the wild in the Crosstrek, which offers numerous standard safety features, all-wheel drive and enough power to take you where you need to go. 

J.D. Power rated the Subaru Crosstrek an 82 out of 100 and included it on the top five list of small SUVs.  

Best Off-Road Trucks

Pickup trucks are designed to be workhorses, but they also offer superior towing capabilities and can allow families to reach prime adventure destinations. These top trucks offer the power needed for off-road adventures, whether you plan to four-wheel along the beach or trek through the mountains. 

Winner: Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 

Best for: Rock conditions, desert terrain, locking differentials 

MPG: 16 city | 18 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 30 degrees | 23.5 degrees 

Ground clearance: 8.9 inches 

The 2021 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 offers impressive torque, 4-wheel drive and locking front and rear differentials to make it one of the most capable off-road trucks on the market. It's designed to tackle rocky and sandy terrain, making it an ideal choice for families who want to take their camping trips far away from civilization. 

Kelly Blue Book rated the Colorado ZR2 4.1 out of 5 stars for its durability, wider stance and upgraded suspension.  

Runner-Up: Ram 1500 Rebel 

Best for: Power and towing 

MPG: 20 city | 25 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 18.9 degrees | 25 degrees 

Ground clearance: 8.7 inches 

The 2021 Ram 1500 Rebel offers 395 horsepower and delivers enough torque to power through dirt, mud and rocks. Its front skid plate is designed to take a beating and offers added protection when encountering obstacles. Kelley Blue Book rated the 1500 Rebel 4.5 out of 5 stars, making it a leading contender in the light-duty truck category. 

Best Off-Road Hybrids

It’s possible to enjoy the outdoors without paying extra at the pump. Our top hybrid picks allow you to travel farther for less, making your off-road enthusiasm more affordable. 

Winner: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid 

Best for: AWD system designed for off-road conditions 

MPG: 41 city | 38 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 19 degrees | 21 degrees 

Ground clearance: 8.1 inches 

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid received a rating of 88 out of 100 by Forbes Magazine. Its all-wheel drive system is able to take on unstable surfaces and inclement weather. Three powertrain options let you choose the RAV4 hybrid that best suits your lifestyle and needs. 

Runner-Up: Kia Niro Hybrid 

Best for: Fuel economy 

MPG: 51 city | 46 highway 

Approach and departure angle: 15.9 degrees | 27.6 degrees 

Ground clearance: 6.3 inches 

The 2021 Kia Niro received numerous awards and was rated #4 in Best Plug-in Hybrids, #10 in Best Electric Vehicles For Range and the #1 Best Hybrid SUV by Forbes Magazine. It also received the IIHS Top Safety pick in its category. It’s perfectly suitable for camping, fishing and hiking expeditions in off-road locations. 

Best Heavy-Duty 4x4 Vehicles

Heavy duty vehicles allow you to work in the most rugged environments. If you’re looking for payload, performance and towing capabilities in off-road conditions, consider these vehicles. 

Winner: GMC Sierra 2500 

Best for: Payload management and workspace 

MPG: Unrated 

Approach and departure angle: 27 degrees | 27 degrees 

Ground clearance: 10.12 inches 

The 2021 GMC Sierra received a rating of 85 out of 100 from J.D. Power, which also rated it the Best Large Heavy Duty Pickup. It offers impressive power, handling and ground clearance for both work and play. 

Runner-Up: Chevrolet Silverado 2500 

Best for: Towing trailers 

MPG: Unrated 

Approach and departure angle: 27 degrees | 27 degrees 

Ground clearance: 10.12 inches 

The 2021 Chevrolet Silverado was ranked the #2 truck by J.D. Power behind the GMC Sierra. The Silverado offers the same utility and performance of the GMC Sierra, but at a slightly reduced price point. With an 18,500-pound towing capacity, the Silverado 2500 has the capability to tow your tiny home trailer along for the ride.

The Bottom Line: There’s An Off-Roader For Everyone

When looking for the ideal off-road vehicle for your family, first evaluate your needs. If you’re not planning on taking trips on steep rock faces or dusty terrain, you may be happy with a luxury vehicle that provides less capability and more comfort. Looking to pull into a wooded campsite with all your favorite people and camping gear? Consider one of our best cars for camping instead.

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.