2019 CarBuzz Awards: Off-Road Warrior

2019 CarBuzz Awards / Comments

If you like to get muddy, these are our favorites of 2019.

While the market is dominated by unibody SUVs and crossovers, 2019 turned out to be an especially strong year for off-road vehicles. So strong in fact, we had trouble narrowing down our contenders for the Off-Road Warrior Of The Year award. Some of the vehicles that just missed the cut include the Chevrolet Silverado Trailboss, GMC Sierra Heavy Duty AT4, Mercedes-Benz G550, and Toyota Land Cruiser.

Only three vehicles could make the cut, and we based our decision on which vehicles have the best powertrain, suspension, and size for off-road use - basically, which vehicle we'd grab the keys to for an off-road adventure weekend. These three vehicles all boast incredible capability, extreme durability, and advanced technology to aid even a novice off-roader.

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Finalist: 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

No list of off-road vehicles could be complete without mentioning the legendary Ford F-150 Raptor. The second-generation Raptor has been around since 2017 and still comes packing a 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 sending 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque down to the dirt through a 10-speed automatic transmission. Changes for the 2019 model year include upgraded Fox Racing suspension, new adaptive dampers, new Recaro racing seats, and a Trail Control, which works as an off-road cruise control system.

If we needed one vehicle to get across a desert as fast as possible, it would be the Raptor. Few vehicles can match the Raptor's incredible capability but the F-150's massive size can be cumbersome on tighter trails with loads of surrounding trees. Ford prices the Raptor well with a starting price of $52,855, but the example we tested had a sticker price of $73,555, which is just too expensive for a vehicle that will be bumped and scratched on a consistent basis.

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Finalist: 2020 Jeep Gladiator

After years of rumors and speculation, the Jeep Gladiator arrived for the 2020 model year as the first Jeep pickup truck since the Comanche in 1992. Though it shares its design with the Wrangler, the Gladiator is based on its own unique platform. Power comes from either a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 producing 285 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque mated to an eight-speed auto or six-speed manual, or a 3.0-liter twin-turbo diesel V6 with 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque.

All Gladiator trims are off-road-capable but the Rubicon trim adds front and rear-axle lockers, an electronically disconnecting sway bar, and an Off Road+ setting for higher-speed off-roading. The center breakover angle isn't quite as generous as the Wrangler due to the Gladiator's extended wheelbase but during our time off-roading it, we couldn't come close to reaching its limits. With a starting price of $33,545, the Gladiator can quickly become pricier than its mid-size truck rivals. But where else will you find an off-road pickup truck with removable roof and doors?

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Winner: 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

If you want a vehicle to survive the apocalypse and beyond, you better go with a Toyota. The Toyota 4Runner received some significant updates for the 2020 model year with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) now standard on all trim levels. On the road, TSS-P includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard for the first time ever.

Motivation continues to come from a 4.0-liter V6 producing 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque, mated to a five-speed automatic. Toyota has expanded its off-road TRD Pro lineup for 2020 but the 4Runner is still our favorite of the bunch. Opting for the 4Runner TRD Pro adds Fox racing shocks and TRD-tuned suspension, an aluminum front skid plate, unique wheels with Nitto Terra Grappler tires, and more aggressive bodywork. There is also a new Army Green color that perfectly matches the 4Runner's toughness.

Pricing for the 2020 4Runner starts at $36,120 but the TRD Pro costs $49,865. Toyota dealers even have trouble keeping these in stock, and many see markups. All of the vehicles on this list have phenomenal resale value, but the 4Runner TRD Pro might be depreciation-proof. Many are eagerly awaiting a replacement but we are just happy Toyota still sells this thing in a market dominated by car-based crossovers. Bravo Toyota!

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