These are our toughest picks for blazing new trails.
The off-road segment is very strong as we emerge into 2019 - it's no longer just about the traditional SUV anymore. Off-road trucks are not new, but the mid-sized truck segment is also growing as full-sized trucks get bigger, leaving a hole to be filled by people that either don't need an absolute monster and who want something to use recreationally. For recreational use, off-road ability can be key and the automakers are recognizing that. The good news is that means a lot of choice for consumers across the board
Whether you need a truck to get out to the trails and lakes or whether driving the trails is the recreational activity itself, there's something for everyone in 2019.
The G-Class has been around since 1979 and became a status symbol as SUVs became popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. Recently, Mercedes gave the G-Class a complete rebuild from the ground up while retaining both the iconic boxy shape and legendary off-road ability. For those still seeking a status symbol, the G-Class has also retained its 6-figure price tag while amping up the luxury factor. For those not afraid of getting their investment dirty the G-Class is the perfect machine for going long distances on both on the paved road and off the beaten track.
When it comes to off-roading, vehicles don't get much more iconic than the Jeep Wrangler. For the 2019 evolution of Jeep's signature off-roader, they took a light touch to improve the Wrangler's looks while taking a full-on approach improving just about everything else. The Wrangler's interior is still unapologetically functional but now uses the kind of soft-touch and high-quality materials you expect in more luxury orientated vehicles. But, while the Jeep faithful will appreciate that, the new Wrangler's off-road ability is where the biggest improvements lay.
Not much is known about the new Defender but it's expected to debut this year at one of the North American auto shows as Land Rover has made a big deal of letting everyone know it will be coming to America. The company even staged and released publicity shots of the camouflaged next-gen Defender in New York. We suspect they could be aiming squarely at eating a piece of Jeep's pie in North America starting sometime in 2019.
After more than a quarter-century, Jeep is bringing a pick-up truck back to its lineup this year. The Gladiator stole the LA Auto Show at the end of 2018 when Jeep displayed its truck in full trail-spec Rubicon form as well as in less-expensive trims. With a five-foot steel truck bed capable of carrying 20 sheets of 4x8 wood or drywall, it may not have the capacity of other mid-sized trucks but it will sure as hell get its payload into the toughest spots anyone may need to reach.
After a long hiatus from North America, the Ranger is back by popular demand. Ford understands the Ranger will be more for the urban dweller seeking recreation than the F-150's more work orientated demographic. For that reason, it will be offering the FX4 off-road package which features the Trail Control system as standard along with upgraded tires, a steel front bash plate, off-road tuned shocks and suspension, and reinforced skid-plates mounted to the frame.
Ford has already showed of a Raptor version in Europe, and the smart money is on an American spec Raptor coming to America in the next year or two.
The Colorado ZR2 Bison is an evolution of the Chevy ZR2 pickup truck and that hasn't really grabbed the headlines it deserved for its off-road prowess. The ZR2 is an already very capable off-roader, but the Bison deals with the issue of the long wheelbase needed for the truck bed with an extra 2-inch lift, locking front and rear differentials, a low range transfer case, and a revision to improve the approach angle the truck can deal with. Chevy also added steel bumpers and 5 AEV designed skid plates to deal with any errant rocks trying to do damage.
The Range Rover is the true daddy of the luxury off-roading experience. It's come a long way since it's early days as a two-door upgrade from a regular Land Rover so a farmer could traverse their land in a bit more comfort. Nowadays, the average Range Rover doesn't see much more off-road action than a gravel driveway. Inside any trim of the Range Rover, Land Rover has mastered the art of spacious luxury so it's no surprise so many are satisfied with just that. When it comes to drivetrain technology, the Range Rover has always been on top its game, and now Land Rover has brought its Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) technology to the range.
While Jeep has improved the interior of the Wrangler, it can't be accused of being luxurious. Now, with the Trailhawk package, Jeep has upped the off-road ability of the Cherokee and surprised many people with what a uni-body SUV can actually do. It may not quite challenge a Range Rover for ability but, with the Cherokee Trailhawk's price tag, it certainly brings a value-for-money proposition that's hard to ignore.
Nissan is promising to bring a real competitor for the Ford Raptor to market called the Titan Warrior, but right now it's hard not to be impressed by the Titan Pro 4X and it's Cummins 5.0-liter V8 diesel engine option. We're talking just 310 horsepower here, but a staggering 555 lb-ft of torque and anyone that understands off-roading knows that's the important figure. Add Bilstein shocks and a locking rear differential to the recipe, and you have a brutal workhorse of a truck that will take up the challenge to go anywhere you need it to.
After serving for six decades as Toyota's flagship full-size SUV, the Land Cruiser has nothing to prove. Its reputation for rugged reliability is unsurpassed and a thorn in the Range Rovers paw. The Land Cruiser got a refresh in 2016, and little has changed since. It has one version of the drivetrain to offer, and that's a 5.7-liter V8 through an 8-speed automatic transmission. Every Land Cruiser comes equipped with full-time 4-wheel drive, a locking center differential, and a 2-speed transfer case and it's all bolted to a ladder-frame chassis. It will also seat 8 people.
If there's one criticism to level at the Land Cruiser, it's the appalling fuel economy. However, that's the price you pay for a vehicle strong and reliable enough for people to trust transporting them in and out of remote, war-torn, regions of the world.
Toyota tends to only put the TRD Pro badge on its most capable of off-roaders, and for 2019 that includes the Tacoma and Tundra trucks as well as the 4Runner. The 4Runner is the most comfortable of the three as well as a formidable off-roading machine, so unless you need that flatbed then it's the one to go for. The 4Runner TRD Pro means all the reliability of a Toyota SUV plus Fox off-road suspension components, a sturdy roof rack, and Nitto tires that are particularly at home in the mud.
Other off-road full-sized trucks are available, but Ford has taken the high-speed off-roading Raptor model up into the red on the Crazy-O-Meter. 2019 sees some upgrades for the Raptor, and they start with new adjustable Fox Live Valve shocks that ensure the compression ratio in each unit is adjusted in real time. Not only do they ensure that you can sip on hot coffee over even the roughest of corrugated dirt track, but word on the street is that they help reduce body roll on the street as well.
The bottom line is that Ford has built the supercar of trucks. Some may be able to follow it, but right now you would have to build something yourself to keep up with it.