If you’re looking to go off-road, we have a few suggestions. You probably already know you should choose an SUV with a lot of ground clearance and good approach and departure angles. But we’ve rounded up some modern off-roading features you might want to consider to have more fun off the pavement.
Most off-roaders will tell you that you don’t need adjustable suspension for a good trip off-road — but it helps. Many modern SUVs, especially high-end luxury models, boast suspension systems that can raise and lower the vehicle. That makes entry and exit easier when the SUV is closer to the ground, while off-road driving is easier when it’s elevated. Although some off-roaders buy suspension just to “lift” the SUV, it’s nice to go back to a normal height if you just want to cruise around town.
This feature is specific to several high-end Toyota models. It offers a unique benefit: It can control the vehicle’s forward motion in low-traction situations. Basically, the system monitors the terrain and decides exactly how much power — and braking — to give the wheels. All you have to do is steer.
Hill Descent Control
Once limited to upscale models from Land Rover and other luxury brands, hill descent control is more common on all off-road-oriented SUVs. The reason is it works wonders when you’re going down a hill. Like crawl control, hill descent control monitors the terrain and controls forward motion. Unlike crawl control, which works on rough terrain, hill descent control is done on a steep descent. That means you don’t need to worry about your speed, and can instead focus on steering safely down the hill.
A locking diff, called “lockers” by off-roaders, is one of the most important features of a modern off-road vehicle. While a typical vehicle might have traction issues deep off-road, that won’t happen if you have a locking diff. A locking diff doesn’t allow wheels to spin; instead, it forces both wheels to turn at the same rate. Thus, it overrides the common problem of one wheel not getting enough traction in serious off-road situations. Some of the best off-roaders have two sets of lockers: one for the rear wheels and another for all four wheels.
Low-Range Gearing: Low-range gearing overcomes a major problem when you’re off the pavement; namely, that conventional gears are tuned for road use and thus send power to the wheels as if you’re driving down a flat, normal street. For drivers who are instead climbing a boulder and need only a specific amount of power, low-range gearing is right for the job. It sends a lot of power to the wheels without turning them fast, allowing you to climb whatever it is you’re climbing.
Tow Hooks: No matter what, you’ll eventually get stuck. So you’d better have tow hooks on your off-roader, which will help your partner pull you out. After all, even if your vehicle has all the above tools, it’s important to remember you should never go off-roading alone in case something unexpected happens.