Best Off-Road SUVs

Demand for off-road vehicles has been climbing for decades as the popularity of trucks, SUVs, and nature-based adventures has grown. Pickup trucks and SUVs now account for nearly 75 percent of new vehicle market share, with SUVs alone responsible for more than half of all new vehicles sold. Both of these vehicle types feature rugged styling and raised ground clearance, two common traits associated with off-road abilities. But serious off-road enthusiasts know it takes more than a boxy exterior and a few extra inches of ground clearance to make a capable off-roader. The best off-road vehicles feature a long list of rock-crawling upgrades that ensure they won’t get damaged or stranded while venturing over hill and dale. We identified these features and combined them with ground clearance to rank the best off-road SUVs. To earn a spot on these lists a vehicle must have at least 6.5 inches of ground clearance, giving it a reasonable breakover angle to help avoid getting hung up when crossing sharp peaks. Approach and departure angles are also important to avoid getting stuck on uneven terrain, but those figures are rarely available beyond trucks and SUVs, and we wanted to identify the best off-road vehicles in all vehicle categories. Keep in mind that some vehicles utilize an air suspension, allowing them to change/elevate their ground clearance by one or more inches on demand. Standard or optional all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive systems are also required to earn a spot on these lists. While an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive doesn’t guarantee a capable off-road vehicle, these systems, along with all-terrain tires, are the bare-minimum requirements for a vehicle to confidently transition from on-road to off-road capability. Beyond sufficient ground clearance and an available four- or all-wheel drive system, we identified the 10 most important off-road features currently offered on modern vehicles. We then prioritized these features by how effective each one is at improving a vehicle's off-road prowess. The availability of these items, listed below, as standard or optional equipment was combined with ground clearance to rank each vehicle in its respective segment.

  • Two-Speed Transfer Case: Also known as a two-speed gearbox, this allows the vehicle to switch into a lower (or low-range) gear set for improved torque and pulling power, which can be extremely helpful when scaling or descending steep inclines

  • Locking Differential: Unlike a limited slip differential, which tries to keep the wheels on each side of an axle from spinning on low-traction surfaces, a locking differential will lock both sides together, removing any possibility of one side spinning freely; most vehicles have a locking rear differential, though some, like the Mercedes G-Wagen, can also have a central and front locking differential that lock all four wheels together

  • Skid Plates: Skid plates protect the underside of a vehicle by forming a shield between outside terrain and critical drivetrain components like the cooling system, oil pan, and transmission to greatly improve the durability of serious off-road vehicles

  • Disconnecting Sway Bars: The most capable off-road vehicles, including the Ford Bronco Raptor and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, can disconnect their front sway bars to allow additional suspension articulation under extreme off-roading conditions

  • Winch: A winch can be mounted on a vehicle’s front or rear bumper, allowing an extended cable to be attached to a fixed location (like a tree) and then retracted to free an otherwise stranded vehicle; winches are common in the off-road aftermarket, but a few vehicles, including the Chevy Colorado, offer them as factory equipment

  • Hill Descent Control: Hill descent control is a driving mode that controls a vehicle's speed while descending a sharp incline, ensuring it doesn’t begin traveling so fast the driver loses control or risks damaging the vehicle

  • Multiple Driving Modes: In recent model years it’s become more common for off-road vehicles to include specific off-road driving modes; these driving modes coordinate everything from throttle response to transmission shifting to the suspension dampers to maximize a vehicle’s off-road capabilities

  • Hill Hold Technology: Similar to hill descent control, this technology keeps a vehicle from rolling backwards when climbing up a steep incline; it lets a driver carefully release the brake and apply throttle versus feeling rushed in this process to avoid rolling back

  • Full-size Spare Tire: Getting a flat tire is never fun, but it can be life threatening when traveling off-road where a tow truck or Triple A might never arrive; a full-size spare allows the driver to change a damaged tire and continue on without any outside aid

  • Roof Rack Crossbars: Safely traveling off road can involve a lot of extra equipment, and having a roof rack with crossbars increases a vehicle’s storage capacity to carry this equipment

The most capable off-road vehicles leverage most or all of these off-road features. The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, Ford F-150 Raptor, Ram 1500 TRX, and Toyota Tacoma and Tundra TRD Pro models each include nearly every feature listed above, either as standard or optional equipment. While those models are all trucks, off-road capable SUVs like the Land Rover Discovery, Nissan Armada and Toyota Land Cruiser, also provide many of these off-road technologies.


Beyond trucks and SUVs, you’ll find sedans, wagons, and even minivans listed below. While these models won’t include nearly as many of the off-road features discussed above they all offer at least 6.5 inches of ground clearance and some form of four- or all-wheel drive.

Best Off-Road Subcompact SUVs:

Vehicle/Ground Clearance

  1. Subaru Crosstrek: 9.3 inches

  2. Jeep Renegade: 8.7 inches

  3. Jeep Compass: 8.6 inches

Best Off-Road Small SUVs:

Vehicle/Ground Clearance

  1. Subaru Outback: 9.5 inches

  2. Subaru Forester: 9.2 inches

  3. Jeep Cherokee: 8.8 inches

Best Off-Road Midsize SUVs:

Vehicle/Ground Clearance

  1. Ford Bronco: 13.1 inches

  2. Jeep Wrangler Unlimited: 12.9 inches

  3. Jeep Wrangler: 11.1 inches

Best Off-Road Large SUVs:

Vehicle/Ground Clearance

  1. Ford Expedition: 10.6 inches

  2. Toyota Sequoia: 10 inches

  3. GMC Yukon: 10 inches

Visit our website for the complete list of best off-road vehicles across all categories.

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