Best Factory Off-Roaders For Different Disciplines

Off-Road / 9 Comments

Plus the one that does them all.

Off-road is a highly general term. It can mean anything from maintained dirt roads to crawling over massive rocks to bashing around on sand dunes, and the ideal type of off-roader can vary dramatically. For example, a vehicle with a short gap between the wheels and short overhangs is better suited for rock crawling. For higher speed off-roading on flatter but slippery surfaces, something with a long wheelbase to help stability and spread the weight out is ideal.

Plenty of off-roaders offer all-around abilities when the going gets rough, but if you're mainly concentrating on these disciplines, these are the best factory off-roaders for each one.


Rock Crawling: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Jeep knows a thing or two about rock crawling, and the best tool for the job in its lineup is the two-door Wrangler Rubicon. Its wheelbase is short to reduce the risk of high-centering (grounding the middle of the vehicle with the front and rear wheels not having enough weight to get traction). The overhangs for approach and departure angles are also short and high, and the Rubicon trim can ride high on the factory's 33- or 35-inch tires. The suspension articulation is excellent, and the Rubicon comes with an available low 4:1 gear ratio, electronic sway bar disconnect, and front and rear locking differentials. Powering the Wrangler Rubicon is the trusted 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. A 2.0-liter turbo-four is optional and that has 270 hp but a more useful 295 lb-ft.

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Desert Running: Ford F-150 Raptor

If you're into hurtling across the desert for kicks, there's a simple answer to this one. The Ford F-150 Raptor has other talents, but it's built primarily for hooning across the desert. The F-150 Raptor is wider than the standard truck to improve stability on bumpy ground, while the chassis runs on a tuned long-travel FOX racing suspension. The F-150 Raptor is powered by a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 making 450 hp and bolted to a 10-speed automatic transmission. A V8 Raptor R is on the way, but it strikes us as unnecessary - the V6 is plenty powerful, and fuel economy becomes essential in the desert.

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Overlanding: Land Rover Defender

Land Rover has always been good at making all-around off-roaders. Long-wheelbase Defender models are a favorite amongst enthusiasts worldwide for expeditions and overlanding. The primary competition to the Defender is the Toyota Land Cruiser, but we're in the US, and Toyota no longer sells the Land Cruiser here. Still, we would choose the Defender 110 for its comfort on- and off-road. It's available with a powerful V8 but we would go with the small but competent turbocharged four-cylinder engine for its superior gas mileage. Not that the Discovery isn't adept enough off-road, but we would add the Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack and Air Suspension Pack to help the vehicle deal with absolutely anything. Land Rover also has exterior storage options for overlanding, and the aftermarket has even more.

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Mudding/Mud Plugging: Ford F-250 Tremor

Driving an off-roader into deep mud is all about the tires, wading depth, and wheelbase. The vehicle must also have strong but simple suspension and axles, so the Ford F-250 with the Tremor Off-Road Package fits the bill. It comes with specially-tuned shocks, skid plates, a front limited-slip differential, a higher ride height, and water fording vent tubes. Power comes from either Ford's 7.3-liter Godzilla V8 or 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8 engines. In the case of the latter, you're looking at a titanic 1,050 lb-ft. It's not that cut and dried, though, as weight can be a problem. If you're thinking of competing, you'll want to buy an older truck and go hard on the modifications.

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Dirt Trails And Fire Roads: Subaru Outback Wilderness

Subaru hits the balance between on-road manners and off-road ability, which is essential as most people spend more time on the road getting to off-road trails than actually off-roading. Not everyone seeks the challenge of off-roading but many still love hitting the dirt tracks to get away from it all, enjoy nature, and take in the scenery. There are plenty of soft-roaders out there, but we like the Subaru Outback Wilderness as it has the extra ground clearance to get past rougher areas and the all-wheel-drive system to deal with less-than-ideal weather and slippery conditions. Subaru includes a skid plate, upgraded suspension, Subaru's X-Mode, and all-terrain Geolander tires.

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Dune Bashing: Ram 1500 TRX

Flying up and down sand dunes is all about pure fun. Tires are critical, but paddle tires are essential for a day playing on giant dunes. Also, a long wheelbase, tall but not too tall ride height (tipping over is a real risk), and plenty of power is key to the vehicle. You're going to be burning fuel like crazy anyway, so why not go nuts and use a Ram 1500 TRX and its 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine making 702 hp? The exhaust note can only add to the visceral fun of attacking the dunes, and the rest of the truck is plenty capable with its tuned suspension and all-wheel-drive system. It's one of the few places where the massively over-the-top TRX makes sense.

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The All-Rounder: Ford Bronco Raptor

If you want a toy that does all of the above well, look no further than the Bronco Raptor. If you want more detail, we went into depth on why the Bronco Raptor is the best all-around off-road vehicle you can buy right now. If you want the cliff notes, well, it has close to the F-150's ability speeding across the desert, but better rock crawling ability due to its shorter length. The Bronco Raptor has 418 hp from its 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, a wading depth of 37 inches, and a roomy, covered back end for overlanding. It's a jack of all trades and does them all remarkably well.

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