Years ago, most shoppers interested in an SUV were looking for a vehicle that could handle rough trails and dirt roads with ease. But modern sport-utility vehicles are usually built for cruising on the pavement -- with kids and gear in tow. Are there still SUVs out there for drivers who want to tackle off-road terrain? We list a few choices for those who want to spend some time off the pavement.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
The modern Jeep Grand Cherokee is unlikely to be used off-road by many of its owners, but it's certainly capable of tackling the trails. While it's no Wrangler in terms of capability, it can outdo nearly all of its midsize competitors by virtue of its exceptional ground clearance and off-road-ready 4-wheel-drive system. The Grand Cherokee also boasts available Selec-Terrain traction control, which allows you to choose the road surface (from Snow, Mud, Rock, Sand and Auto) and let the Jeep do the rest. While off-road capability increases as you spend more money, we're also impressed with the Grand Cherokee's reasonable base price of $30,000 with shipping.
The Wrangler is possibly today's best-known off-road-oriented SUV. Substantially updated for the 2010 model year, the Wrangler is offered in two body styles: 2-door (starting at $23,000) and 4-door Unlimited (starting from $27,000). A muscular 3.6-liter V6 helps take on the trails, while impressive ground clearance also gives the Wrangler a leg up over rivals. But the Wrangler offers more than an off-road friendly design. It also boasts a long list of 4-wheeling features, such as hill ascent and descent assist, locking differentials and available Rock-Trac 4-wheel drive for traversing rocks and boulders.
Land Rover Range Rover
It may not look like an off-roader anymore, but the luxurious Range Rover can handle just about any type of terrain. Sure, the starting price is a steep $83,500 with shipping, but that figure includes an impressive 5.0-liter V8, full-time 4-wheel drive and a litany of electronics that make off-roading easy. Such items include hill descent control, adjustable air suspension to help the Range Rover clear objects and a terrain response system that adapts the SUV's driving to any surface. Best of all, each of those items are standard on all Range Rover trim levels, so you don't have to pay extra for more capability.
The G-Class may be the car of choice for Hollywood celebrities, but it's also the most off-road-ready vehicle on our list. Part of the reason is three locking differentials, which practically ensure you'll never get stuck on a trail or rough road. But the G-Class boasts other 4-wheeling features such as eight inches of ground clearance, standard 4-wheel drive and robust off-road suspension. The downside? Even a base-level G550 starts at $114,000 with shipping -- and if that wasn't bad enough, fuel economy is rated at 12 miles per gallon city/15 mpg highway.
With a starting price of around $23,000, the 4-door Nissan Xterra is an inexpensive way to get off-road capability and room for the whole family. A standard 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 gives the Xterra muscle, while an optional 4-wheel-drive system provides the capability. From there, shoppers can add roof rails, a locking differential, rock guards and improved suspension -- all while keeping the SUV's price under $30,000. Our only gripes are poor fuel economy and a rough ride, two items we bet most off-roaders are willing to sacrifice for good performance on the trails.
Toyota's midsize 4Runner SUV is highly similar to the FJ Cruiser under its skin, and that's a good thing. That's because the 4Runner uses the same powerful V6, off-road-ready architecture and robust suspension as the boldly styled -- and highly capable -- FJ Cruiser. It also offers a few similar options, giving off-roaders some choices if they're looking to leave the paved roads behind. And with a starting price of around $33,500, the 4Runner is surprisingly well-priced -- especially when you consider it offers some of the best resale value of any modern SUV.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
The 2014 model year will be the FJ Cruiser's last, and that's a shame for off-road enthusiasts who appreciate the SUV's tremendous capabilities. Starting from $28,000 with shipping, the FJ Cruiser boasts a thirsty yet potent 4.0-liter V6 that gives it enough torque for nearly any off-road situation. The FJ Cruiser also includes an impressive list of standard and optional off-road gear, ranging from a lifted suspension to rock rails, chunky tires and roof-mounted driving lights.
What it means to you: While many SUVs have gone soft in recent years, a few models can still handle life off the pavement.