The best off-road vehicles give you the confidence to climb every mountain and ford every stream. We look at your best off-roading options for 2021.
When it comes to most car segments, making a “Best” list will be full of problems because everyone has an opinion. For instance, we can all get on board with the Prius being the best car of the last ten years, right? We didn’t think so. It’s even a more significant thing when it comes to listing out the best off-road vehicles. Many would say that they’re all named Wrangler, Land Rover, or Unimog.
We admit that the best off-road vehicles list is full of competent vehicles, but we want to give a snippet of some capable, reasonably priced, yet highly capable off-road vehicles for you to consider. They need to be highly competent on the rocks and dirt, confidence-inspiring, desirable, and mostly affordable. Mostly. So, let’s see what 2021 has to offer in terms of the best off-road vehicles.
If you do some digging, you’ll find that the Land Cruiser was conceived around the time of the Korean War. That’s 70 years ago. It’s been on the battlefield, the African plains, steppes of China, and the dunes of the Middle East. It’s an icon of the old-school body on frame durability and has a never-give-up attitude. It loves to wade into the water like a dog and grind it out through the dirt and up rocks like a mountain goat.
On December 20, 2020, with the second-highest Land Cruiser sales month ever, Toyota announced that 2021 would be the model’s last year of production. So, be sure to pick up one of the best off-road vehicles with a proven history before it’s gone for good.
If you were to design the best-looking off-roader, it would look like the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor. Its bodywork is a bit like the yellow and black design of a bumblebee. The aggressive design says, “I could attack you, so stay away.” Unlike the competing TRX that feels fine on a surface street, the Raptor is more comfortable off-roading since it was designed to be a Baja off-roader from the start.
You’ll have to look hard to find something this truck can’t do. Ford has thrown in Fox variable damping shocks and multiple drive modes – including Baja like the TRX – to prepare you for any terrain. At a starting price of around $52,000, it may be the bargain of the group. Get them while they’re hot because the next version will be pricey.
Okay, at nearly $100,000 when optioned as we would want, this is our “affordable” stretch with our best off-road vehicle criteria. We’ll be honest and say that, even if we could afford a fully loaded 2021 Ram 1500 TRX, we’d be on a waiting list. But oh, would it reward our patience when it arrived.
The TRX may be one of the best out-of-the-box off-roaders made for America today. Its unique coil suspension and Bilstein Blackhawk e2 adaptive shocks will turn jumps and bumps into butter. And yes, it will beat the Raptor on high-speed off-road running with a 3.7 second 0-60. It also has an all-wheel-drive system that doesn’t fight you like the Raptor’s has and gives you more confidence on the trail with its full coil suspension than the rear leaf springs of the Raptor. Until we see what Ford pushes out with the updated Raptor, the TRX is the monster of this group.
It may look like a small barn shed and may beat your ears into submission with wind noise, but put the Wrangler on a nasty trail and you’ll be reminded of why you love it. When it comes out this Spring, you may think it’s a typical Wrangler, but the four tailpipes, higher ground clearance, and bead-lock wheels with their 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires make this Wrangler anything but ordinary.
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392‘s SRT Hemi engine isn’t quite as powerful as a Raptor, but it will still move you quickly across the flats while still being capable of fording 32-inch-deep streams. Its high ground clearance, short overhang, 48:1 crawl ratio, and 480 lb-ft of torque make the rocks seem like pebbles. With things like a sway bar that electronically disconnects and a Ramp Travel Index of 730, it’s going to go places other can’t. And no one can get mad at that. We know that you’ll probably be spending most of your time around the city, so be assured that all of this makes for a comfortable (if not a bit noisy) ride around town.
If you’ve been with us for a while, you know how much we love this reasonably priced off-roader. It’s no TRX, but the 2021 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 still has a few pedigreed off-road technologies to speed you along the trails. The Colorado’s stellar price, excellent Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve shock system, and front and rear locking differentials make it a great choice. Multimatic has been making DSSV’s for CART/Indy racing, Aston Martin, Mercedes, and Chevy‘s sports car applications. The Mulitmatic damper spool valves work perfectly enough to let you really get some air out in the wilderness. Don’t be afraid to take the ZR2 where no truck has gone before.
Everyone loves the Tacoma. Like the other best off-road vehicles in this group, Toyota’s TRD Pro trim throws in various off-road modes to choose from, performance Fox shocks, and the capability to smooth out big rough spots. Oh, and there is the snorkel that says, “I can swim through streams.”
Is it an old platform? Just a bit. The same 6-speed transmission design has been in a Tacoma since 1994, while the body and frame are still pretty old school too. Does anyone care that it’s old school? No, especially when you take into account that the Tacoma gathered up 39 percent of its competitors’ market, so we’re saying old school brawn wins every time. Be aware that it’s not luxurious inside and doesn’t care about making your everyday trips comfortable, but when you put it on the dirt and rocks, it shows the trail who’s boss.
It’s seemed as if it was never going to happen, but you can finally see the 2021 Ford Bronco out at dealerships. It doesn’t have a V8, but the optional 2.7-liter turbo V6 churns out 310 horsepower. You can remove its top and doors like a jeep and carry five mudding friends with you. By loading it up with black bead-lock wheels and 35-inch tires, you’ll be able to take it on some demanding trails.
Ford, and the aftermarket, have prepared for your need to accessorize, and the sky’s the limit. If you get the Sasquatch trim, it’s fully off-road capable and blessed with an extra 3-inches of track width. The Bronco’s 12-inches of ground clearance and the semi-disconnected sway bar will flex with you over boulders and rough terrain when needed. There’s rubber, silicone, and drain plugs all over the interior, so the Bronco is made for fun as long as you hose it down afterward.