2021 CarBuzz Awards Finalists: Off-Road Warrior

2021 CarBuzz Awards / Comments

When you want to venture into the unknown, these are the best there are.

When it comes to the business of getting down and dirty, there's no shortage of vehicles available. In 2021, a brand-new selection of models joined the ranks of cars that are willing and able to tackle the worst mother nature has to offer, whether it be mud, rocks, snow, or soft sand.

These cars do more or less the same job, but they go about it in very different ways, which made selecting the finalists for the 2021 Off-Road Warrior segment of the CarBuzz Awards a tricky task. It was by far the most difficult segment to choose from.

The finalists this year included the Ford Bronco Sport, the Ford F-150 Raptor, the Wrangler 4xe, and the Defender V8, and these are just the cars that didn't make the final three. All strong contenders, the Raptor is overshadowed by the prospect of a Raptor R, the Wrangler 4xe is a stop-gap on the route to electrification, the Bronco Sport is somewhat soft, and the Defender - which won last year in less-powerful guise - is a little too soft compared to the three that cracked the nod as finalists.

Here they are, in no particular order:


2021 Ram 1500 TRX

It's not just about the 702 horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V8, though it does play a significant role. We love this truck because it's a combination of parts coming together to provide an off-road experience that's as fun as hooning a fast car around a track. Simply put, the faster you go, the better the TRX gets.

In TRX world, potholes and bumps don't exist. The 2.6-inch Bilstein Black Hawk adaptive performance shocks and 35-inch Goodyear tires shrug them off like a human would wipe an ant from their shoulder.

The Ram 1500 TRX is not all about high-speed gravel driving, however. Thanks to a Dana 60 rear axle and a locking differential, it will happily crawl through a technical off-road trail. It has driving modes for sand and a Baja mode. Even though it has a full-time 4WD system, the lack of weight over the rear axle means it will happily wag its tail. You can jump it, hoon it, and abuse it, and it never complains. It's an epic collection of old-school parts culminating in a thrilling off-road experience, whatever your definition of off-roading is.

As a bonus, the suspension makes the TRX a comfortable and compliant companion on the blacktop, too.

2021-2022 Ram 1500 TRX Front-End View Ram
2021-2022 Ram 1500 TRX Side View Ram
2021-2022 Ram 1500 TRX Steering Wheel CarBuzz
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2022 Rivian R1T

The RAM represents the best of the past, while the Rivian R1T offers a glimpse of where we're going. Put simply, this truck is a game-changer, with four electric motors producing a combined 800 hp and 900 lb-ft of torque.

More importantly, it completely changes the rules of off-roading. Since the torque is available instantaneously, there's no need for a transfer case. And because each wheel has its own electric motor, it doesn't need a locking differential. Everything is controlled by electronics and driving modes, making off-roading ridiculously easy.

It doesn't have the same Baja racer suspension as the TRX, but it represents a new kind of off-roading. Because it's so silent, you don't scare the wildlife away. For the first time ever, we could lower the window and hear birds chirping as we were driving along. The Rivian represents a new way of connecting with nature.

We also appreciate the clever use of space. Because there is no engine and the battery pack is located on the floor between the wheels, the R1T has loads of open spaces. You can even order a Camp Kitchen that slides neatly out of the gear tunnel.

2022 Rivian R1T Truck Forward Vision Rivian
2022 Rivian R1T Truck Rear View Driving Rivian
2022 Rivian R1T Truck Table Rivian

2021 Ford Bronco

Let's not beat around the bush. The Ford Bronco is what the 2018 Jeep Wrangler should have been: a thorough redesign and rethink of an iconic badge for the modern world. As good as the Wrangler is off-road, you can't live with it daily thanks to a contemporary suspension design.

You can choose between a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-pot or a 2.7-liter turbocharged V6, but whatever kind of off-roading you prefer, the Bronco can handle it. Ford gave it various driving modes and called the system GOAT - Goes Over Any type of Terrain. You simply tell the Bronco what's going on outside the windscreen, and it adapts itself. All Broncos get a high-performance independent off-road suspension and a bunch of new technology to make off-roading easier. These include Spicer Performa-TraK electronic locking differentials, Trail Control, Trail One Pedal Drive, and Trail Turn Assist. The Sasquatch has model-specific Bilstein dampers with end-stop control valves.

Unlike the Wrangler, you can have a Bronco as an only car. Importantly, the Bronco came along when Jeep thought it had the market cornered. Reviving a classic name, the Blue Oval sucker-punched Jeep in the nads, finally giving off-roaders the Wrangler alternative they've lusted after.

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Front View Ford
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360-Degree View Ford

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