Best SUV for Off-Road: Ultimate Guide to Conquer the Terrain

Off-roading enthusiasts are always on the lookout for an SUV that can tackle challenging terrain with ease while providing comfort and style.

Some of the top options in the off-road SUV market include the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, the Subaru Crosstrek, the Ford Bronco, and the Land Rover Defender. All these models boast impressive ground clearance, durable construction, and powerful engines to overcome obstacles and secure a superior driving experience. Additionally, they offer various convenient features to ensure both driver and passengers are comfortable and entertained, even on the wildest adventures.

What Makes a Great Off-Road SUV

When shopping for an off-road SUV, there are a few key factors that contribute to a vehicle’s performance and capability in challenging terrain.

Ground clearance plays a crucial role in avoiding damage to the underbelly of the SUV when navigating obstacles like rocks, logs, and uneven surfaces. A higher ground clearance allows the vehicle to pass safely over these obstacles without getting stuck or damaging vital components.

Suspension and chassis design are also important for off-road performance. Body-on-frame construction typically fares better in off-road conditions, as it is more durable and offers better articulation capabilities. A good off-road suspension system should provide ample wheel travel, which enables the wheels to maintain contact with the ground on uneven surfaces.

Drivetrain and traction control systems significantly impact an SUV’s off-road prowess. Four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) systems endow the vehicle with better traction and grip on slippery or uneven terrains. Additionally, advanced traction control features like limited-slip differentials, locking differentials, or torque vectoring can provide even better control during off-road adventures.

Some of the best off-road SUVs on the market in 2023 include:

  • Mercedes G-Class, known for its luxurious appeal and top-rated off-roading capabilities
  • Lexus LX, offering impressive all-around capabilities for both urban and off-road adventures
  • Land Rover Discovery, a classic choice for tackling tough trails while maintaining on-road comfort
  • Nissan Armada, an affordable yet highly capable off-road option
  • Toyota Sequoia, featuring a long-awaited update for improved utility and performance
  • Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, offering a body-on-frame construction and 8.0 inches of ground clearance
  • Land Rover Defender, an iconic SUV with excellent off-road performance, a spacious interior, and smooth ride quality

Taking these factors into consideration, a great off-road SUV should excel in ground clearance, suspension and chassis design, and drivetrain and traction control systems to provide the best experience in off-road environments.

Best SUV Models for Off-Roading

Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler has always been a top choice for off-road enthusiasts due to its rugged design and impressive capabilities. With its sturdy body-on-frame construction and solid axles, the Wrangler is built to tackle tough terrain with ease. Equipped with advanced 4WD systems, such as the Rock-Trac® and Command-Trac®, drivers have improved traction and control on various surfaces. Furthermore, the Wrangler offers:

  • High ground clearance
  • Skid plates for underbody protection
  • Option for removable doors and roof

These features make the Jeep Wrangler a versatile and practical choice for off-road adventures.

Land Rover Defender

The Land Rover Defender is another renowned off-road SUV that has earned its reputation through its robust design and superb off-road performance. The Defender features a unibody construction with an aluminum-heavy structure, offering both strength and weight savings. Its advanced Terrain Response® 2 system allows drivers to select specific settings based on the terrain, providing maximum off-road capability. Key features of the Land Rover Defender include:

  • Adjustable air suspension
  • Low-range transfer case for slow-speed crawling
  • Wading depth: up to 35.4 inches

These elements combined create a luxurious and highly capable SUV for tackling challenging terrain with confidence.

Toyota Land Cruiser

Lastly, the Toyota Land Cruiser is known for its excellent off-road performance and reliability. With its robust body-on-frame construction and powerful V8 engine, the Land Cruiser is built to handle a range of difficult terrains. Toyota’s advanced Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) provides enhanced body control, especially when the vehicle is off-road. Notable attributes of the Toyota Land Cruiser are:

  • Full-time 4WD with locking center differential
  • Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control for improved traction
  • Towing capacity: up to 8,100 lbs

The Toyota Land Cruiser’s long-standing reputation for reliability and off-road prowess makes it a trusted companion for any off-roading adventure.

Key Off-Roading Features

When it comes to off-roading, there are a few essential features that can enhance an SUV’s performance and capability. In this section, we will discuss three key off-roading features: 4×4 Drive, High Ground Clearance, and Durable Tires.

4×4 Drive

A 4×4 drive system is crucial for off-roading adventures, as it provides power to all four wheels at the same time. This results in better traction, especially on difficult terrains. Additionally, most off-road-focused SUVs come with a low-range gearbox, enabling drivers to tackle steep inclines and rough surfaces with more precision and control.

  • Advantages of 4×4 Drive:
    • Improved traction on challenging terrain
    • Better control and stability
    • Enhanced climbing capabilities

High Ground Clearance

Ground clearance is the distance between a vehicle’s undercarriage and the ground. A higher ground clearance is beneficial for off-roading, as it allows the SUV to traverse over obstacles such as rocks, branches, and uneven terrain without damaging the underbody.

  • Reasons to prioritize high ground clearance:
    • Helps to avoid damage to the vehicle’s undercarriage
    • Allows for more confident off-road navigation
    • Reduces the risk of getting stuck in deep mud or snow

Durable Tires

When off-roading, it’s essential to have durable tires that can effectively grip various surfaces and withstand rough conditions. Look for tires with deep treads and reinforced sidewalls that can handle the demands of off-road adventures. Some off-road-focused SUVs even come equipped with specialized all-terrain or mud-terrain tires.

  • Characteristics of durable off-road tires:
    • Deep tread pattern for better traction
    • Reinforced sidewalls for increased durability
    • Suitable for various terrains, such as mud, gravel, and sand

These key features can significantly enhance an SUV’s off-roading capabilities, providing drivers with a more enjoyable and confident experience on various terrains.

Evaluating Off-Road Performance

When assessing the off-road performance of SUVs, it’s crucial to examine several factors that contribute to a vehicle’s ability to tackle challenging terrains. These factors enable a confident and knowledgeable comparison of various off-road SUVs available in the market.

Ground Clearance plays a vital role in off-road performance, as a higher ground clearance provides more space between the vehicle’s undercarriage and the ground. This enables the SUV to pass over rocks, uneven terrain, and other obstacles without damaging its components. SUVs like the Ford Bronco and the Jeep Wrangler are known for their impressive ground clearance, making them popular choices for off-road enthusiasts.

Traction and Tires come next in the evaluation process. Off-road vehicles need to maintain traction on various surfaces like mud, sand, and rocks. All-terrain tires are designed to deliver maximum grip and control, no matter the surface. Some SUVs, like the Toyota 4Runner, come equipped with advanced traction control systems that further enhance their off-road prowess.

Suspension and Articulation are also crucial aspects of off-road performance. A robust suspension system allows the SUV to absorb shocks and vibrations, providing a smooth experience on rough terrain. Articulation measures the ability of a vehicle’s axles and suspension to flex, ensuring that all wheels remain in contact with the ground during off-road situations. The Mercedes G-Class, for instance, excels in this department with its impressive suspension system.

Approach, Breakover, and Departure Angles are essential geometric considerations when off-roading. The approach angle is the steepest incline a vehicle can climb without its front bumper touching the ground, while the departure angle measures the same for the rear bumper. The breakover angle describes the maximum angle a vehicle can traverse before its undercarriage makes contact with the ground. Off-road SUVs like the Ford Bronco Raptor boast impressive angles, making them well-suited for tackling challenging off-road obstacles.

Evaluating off-road performance ultimately requires a combination of these factors. By considering ground clearance, traction, suspension, and angles, one can more accurately determine the capabilities of each SUV, allowing for an informed decision when seeking the perfect off-road vehicle.

Off-Roading Safety Precautions

When it comes to off-roading adventures in an SUV, safety is a top priority. Equipped with the right features and precautions, off-road enthusiasts can fully enjoy the experience while minimizing risks. Here are some important safety aspects to consider while using your SUV off-road.

Vehicle inspection: Before setting out, it’s crucial to ensure that the SUV is in good working condition. Check the tires, brakes, suspension, and engine to make sure everything is functioning well. Address any issues that may affect your vehicle’s performance during the off-road journey.

Travel in groups: Venturing into remote areas alone can be dangerous, especially in case of emergencies. It is recommended to travel with at least one other vehicle, as well as maintaining communication with the other drivers. This allows for assistance and ensuring everyone is safe during the trip.

Carry essential equipment: Bring necessary tools such as a spare tire, toolkit, tow straps, and a high-lift jack to handle unexpected situations while off-roading. An emergency kit with first aid supplies, food, and water is also essential for situations where help may take longer than usual to arrive.

Know your limits: Respect your SUV’s capabilities and never push it beyond its limits. Understand the terrain and be conscious of potential hazards such as deep water, steep hills, and loose rocks. Driving within your limits and being aware of your surroundings helps prevent accidents and damage to the vehicle.

Use proper techniques: Off-road driving requires specialized skills and techniques. Learn how to navigate different terrains, use low gears for steep inclines, and properly engage the four-wheel-drive system. Additionally, be mindful of the gas, brake, and steering inputs to maintain control of the vehicle in challenging environments.

By incorporating these safety precautions, off-road adventurers can confidently explore challenging terrain while reducing the risks and ensuring a safe, enjoyable experience.

Off-Road SUV Maintenance

When choosing an off-road SUV, it’s essential to consider not only the vehicle’s capabilities but also its maintenance and repair costs. Off-roading can be tough on a vehicle, making regular maintenance crucial to ensure optimal performance and longevity.

One of the top-rated off-road SUVs in the market is the 2023 Ford Bronco. According to Kelley Blue Book, the Ford Bronco has a 5-year ownership cost of $47,961, which is $3,059 less than the segment average. This makes it a more affordable option among off-road SUVs in terms of maintenance and repair costs.

On the other hand, some off-road SUVs have higher maintenance and repair costs. For example, the Mercedes G-Class is known for its luxurious features and excellent off-road performance. However, this luxury comes with a price, as the G-Class typically has higher repair and maintenance costs compared to more budget-friendly options.

Similarly, the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is a popular choice for off-roading enthusiasts. While it has an overall score of 7.0/10 by U.S. News, potential buyers should be aware that its older design may contribute to maintenance and repair costs in the long run.

There are a few factors that influence the maintenance and repair costs for off-road SUVs:

  • Parts and labor costs: High-performance or luxury vehicles often use specialized or expensive parts, which can drive up maintenance costs. Labor costs may also be higher for these vehicles.
  • Frequency of off-roading: Frequent off-roading can result in more wear and tear, leading to the need for more frequent maintenance.
  • Driver skill and experience: Drivers who are inexperienced or reckless in their off-road adventures may cause damage to their vehicle, resulting in higher maintenance costs.

In conclusion, when choosing an off-road SUV, it’s essential to weigh both the performance capabilities and the maintenance and repair costs associated with the vehicle. By considering these factors, buyers can make a more informed decision and select an off-roader that fits their needs and budget.


In this article, we have explored some of the best off-road SUVs available in 2023. Among the top contenders, the 2023 Ford Bronco has been praised for its impressive capability, versatile performance, and modern features. Its ground clearance of up to 13.1 inches allows for superb off-road capability, perfect for novice and experienced drivers alike.

Another excellent option is the 2023 Land Rover Defender. Known for its outstanding off-road performance and spacious interior, it offers a combination of ruggedness and luxury. The Defender’s top-of-the-line turbo-six engine ensures a smooth and powerful ride, attracting both off-road enthusiasts and everyday commuters.

For those on a budget, the Subaru Crosstrek may be the best choice. Hailed as the best bargain in the off-road world, it offers competent performance and reliability without breaking the bank. Subaru Forester is also a viable choice for outdoor adventurers, with its practicality, durability, and advanced safety features.

Lastly, the Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 is an excellent off-road SUV for those seeking a bigger and bolder option. Its size and capabilities make it an attractive choice for large families or groups that require more space and power.

When considering an off-road SUV, it’s essential to keep in mind your specific needs, preferences, and budget. With so many exceptional options in the market, narrowing down the choices can be challenging. Remember to research, test drive, and compare the available models to find the perfect off-road SUV to suit your lifestyle and fulfill your adventurous spirit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Top 6 off-road SUVs for 2023

In 2023, some leading off-road SUVs include the Porsche Taycan Turismo, which is a hybrid vehicle with a 93.4 kWh-hour battery and a range of nearly 283 miles. Other top contenders are the Lexus LX Urbane Adventurer, Land Rover Discovery, Nissan Armada, Toyota Sequoia, and the iconic Mercedes G-Class. Each of these vehicles offers outstanding off-road capabilities while providing comfort and luxury options to suit various preferences.

Most reliable off-road vehicles

While it is difficult to determine the most reliable off-road vehicles due to varying usage and maintenance factors, some highly dependable options are the Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Defender, and the Ford Bronco. These vehicles have reputations for durability and proven track records in off-roading.

Best off-road SUVs under $20k

Finding off-road SUVs under $20k might require looking at used models. Some worth considering are the Jeep Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, and Subaru Outback. Additionally, older models of the Land Rover Discovery and Nissan Xterra may fall within this price range. Consider the vehicle’s condition, mileage, and maintenance history when purchasing used off-roaders.

Comparing small vs large off-road SUVs

Small off-road SUVs generally boast better maneuverability and fuel efficiency compared to their larger counterparts, making them ideal for tight trails and commuting. Examples include the Jeep Renegade and Subaru Crosstrek. Large off-road SUVs, such as the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Range Rover, offer greater towing capacity, more interior space, and a higher level of luxury, making them suitable for long-distance excursions and more demanding off-road conditions.

Off-road capabilities of daily driver SUVs

Many daily-driver SUVs offer enough off-road capabilities to handle weekend adventures or light trail driving. The Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4 are some popular choices in this category. While these vehicles may not have the most aggressive off-roading features, they offer a good balance of daily usability and off-road capabilities.

Off-road trucks vs SUVs

Off-road trucks like the Ford Raptor, Ram Rebel, and Chevy Colorado ZR2 provide impressive off-road capabilities combined with the utility of a pickup bed. SUVs, such as the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, and Land Rover Defender, prioritize passenger space and interior comfort. The choice between a truck and an SUV depends on personal preferences and intended usage. If towing capacity and cargo space are priorities, a truck may be the better choice; however, if off-roading with more passengers is the main objective, an SUV would be more suitable.

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