Factory-backed off-roaders ready for the trail
For many overlanders and off-roaders, modifying their SUV or truck is half the fun—I know this full well, as I’ve watched my wife turn her Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid into a light-duty overland expedition rig. But modifying any vehicle (not to mention assuming you know better than a team of highly skilled automotive engineers) can be risky, especially if you plan on heading off the beaten path.
At worst, a poorly chosen part could break, leaving you stranded a long hike from the nearest pavement. At best, you might destroy the way your vehicle drives. With that in mind, here’s a list of MotorTrend‘s picks of the best new overland vehicles.
All 10 of these trucks and SUVs are ready for overland travels right off the lot, and they’ve also been tried and tested by us off-road on the trail. We’ve also kept in mind prices, factory options, and payload capacities. After all, a vehicle that’s good off-road but can’t haul your rooftop tent and gear is of little use. Here’s what we came up with:
2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Pros: Tremendously versatile—equally at home on the highway, running the Baja, and rock crawling. AEV Bison package is appealing for overlanding, too.
Cons: Cabin is spacious but feels cheap; diesel fuel economy should be better.
The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 has proven itself to be a capable overlander multiple times, including on our journey across the Trans-Labrador Highway and on the infamous Mojave Road. We love its standard MultiMatic DSSV dampers, which give the ZR2 exceptional manners both on the road and off it, and its electronic full-locking front and rear differentials for low-traction situations, which is becoming increasingly rare from factory vehicles.
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Available with a 308-hp 3.6-liter V-6 or a 186-hp 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4 and with a payload capacity of up to 1,100 pounds, the Colorado ZR2 is also available with the AEV Bison package. That adds boron steel skidplates and bumpers for extra peace of mind off-road.
2020 Ford F-150 Raptor
Pros: Powerful, fast, and fun to drive. Ford’s Trail Control and off-road drive modes help make things easy.
Cons: The Raptor’s payload is unimpressive for its size, and its dimensions might give you trouble on narrow trails.
Arguably the vehicle responsible for starting the warranty-backed desert-running truck craze, the Raptor is unsurprisingly quite capable as an overland platform, too. Although its large size might make life trickier on narrow trails (its tires and fender flares make it wide enough to require clearance lights), the Raptor’s cushy Baja-ready electronically adjustable Fox shock absorbers, meaty tires, and powerful 450-hp 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 help make it one of the most fun-to-drive overlanders on this list. Don’t forget to tick the box for the bead-lock wheels (allowing you to run super low tire pressures without the tires falling off the rim) and the limited-slip front differential. The Raptor has payload capacity of up to 1,000-1,200-pounds.
Research the Ford F-150 on MSN Autos | Find a Ford F-150 near you
2020/2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon/Mojave
Pros: Like a billy goat, a stock Gladiator can take you almost anywhere, thanks to its long list of standard off-road features. Good payload capacity for its size, too.
Cons: The manual is geared too tall, cabin can be noisy, sub-par breakover angle, and Gladiators get pricey quickly.
Despite just losing to the Colorado Bison in a recent comparison, the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon and the newly released Gladiator Mojave are easy adds to this list. If the Gladiator’s segment-best four-wheel drive payload of up to 1,200 pounds doesn’t pique your interest, the tremendous capability brought forth by its off-road hardware should.
The Rubicon model, the more rock-focused of the two, sports locking front and rear differentials, an electronic anti-roll bar disconnect for increased articulation, and a low range with a 4:1 crawl ratio. We haven’t driven the desert-focused Gladiator Mojave yet, but we have no reason to believe it would be less capable than the Rubicon. It gets a beefed-up frame and shocks to handle high speeds across the desert, plus a wider front track for better stability.
It also gets a locking rear differential, but it lacks a front locker or anti-roll bar disconnect. Both models get 33-inch tires, steel bumpers, skidplates, rock rails, and a standard 3.6-liter V-6 with 285 hp. One knock: Its long wheelbase means the Gladiator drags its well-armored belly on nearly everything.
Research the Jeep Gladiator on MSN Autos
2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Pros: See Jeep Gladiator: There aren’t many places a stock Wrangler won’t go. Tremendously capable and well-thought-out package from the factory.
Cons: Low payload capacity, cabin can be noisy, and the Jeep’s suspension setup favors a steady pace, unlike some of the desert runners on this list.
An off-road comparison test winner and 2019 SUV of the Year, the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is an easy add to this list. Few vehicles are as tremendously capable from the factory floor as the Wrangler Rubicon. Sporting the exact same hardware as the Gladiator Rubicon but in a more compact, maneuverable package, the Wrangler can directly trace its lineage back to the World War II Willys MB, the vehicle that created the SUV and this segment.
A 285-hp 3.6-liter V-6 is standard on the Wrangler, and both a 270-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 (our favorite) and a 260-hp 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 are optional. The Wrangler’s payload capacity is 892 pounds, though, so pack light.
Research the Jeep Wrangler | Find a Jeep Wrangler near you
2020 Land Rover Defender 110
Pros: A thoroughly modern 21st century overlander; supremely comfortable and capable with a high payload capacity. Seats up to eight.
Cons: The mild hybrid engine is an expensive option; brakes can be a bit touchy.
It’s easy to dismiss the new Defender 110 for its unibody chassis and fully independent air suspension, but despite its modernity it’s a tremendously capable (and comfortable) overlander. With full-time four-wheel drive, automatic locking center and rear differentials, and Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response software, the Defender drastically reduces the learning curve for budding overland enthusiasts.
Land Rover also offers an Explorer package from the factory, complete with a heavy-duty expedition-style roof rack and snorkel, a winch, an onboard air compressor, a shower (say what?), and more. We’ve yet to drive the base 296-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, but the optional 395-hp 3.0-liter electrically supercharged and turbocharged I-6 is more than sufficiently powerful. Payload ratings of as much as 2,100 pounds are truly impressive.
Research the Land Rover Defender on MSN Autos
2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon
Pros: Arguably the most off-road-capable pickup on the market; great payload capacity; and a standard winch, lockers, and electronic anti-roll bar disconnect.
Cons: If you thought the Raptor was big, wait until you see this thing. Has a drinking problem.
Like the Wrangler, the Ram 2500 Power Wagon can trace its roots back to World War II, when the Dodge WC (to be named “Power Wagon” when the civilian version went on sale in 1946) helped the Allies in their winning war effort. It’s modern descendant has proven itself time and time again, ably conquering whatever we can throw at it despite its size.
Powered by a thirsty 6.4-liter V-8 with 410 hp, the Power Wagon sports locking front and rear diffs, an electronic anti-roll bar disconnect, steel body armor, and a Warn winch rated for 12,000 pounds. Although the Power Wagon is a stand-alone model, it’s also possible to spec it as a package on the base Tradesman model. It’s rated to haul 1,500-1,620 pounds.
2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
Pros: Impressive payload, great ride quality, and beefy drivetrain.
Cons: Dated, cramped cabin—powertrain is even older. Inefficient for its size.
The 4Runner has long been a favorite of off-roaders because of its perceived reliability and large aftermarket support. With the creation of the TRD Pro model in 2017, you no longer need to modify your 4Runner to take a beating, as it’s tremendously capable out of the box.
Long-travel Fox Racing Shox, a locking rear diff, a snorkel, and Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) system are all standard on the 4Runner TRD Pro. Despite its capability, the 4Runner is one of the most dated vehicles on this list, with a cramped, cheap-feeling cabin and a 270-hp 4.0-liter V-6 that dates back to 2002. Even with its old powertrain, this old girl can haul up to 1,550 pounds.
2020 Toyota Land Cruiser
Pros: Lives up to its legendary reputation; will likely last longer than you will; off-road turn assist makes the Land Cruiser feel far smaller than it is.
Cons: She’s a thirsty girl; third row impedes cargo space; transmission’s tall gearing can make life more difficult than it needs to be off-road, especially at higher attitudes.
More than any other vehicle, the Toyota Land Cruiser’s reputation is overlanding. Since they first went into production in 1951, Land Cruisers have been favorites of explorers, farmers, militaries, armed militias, and everything in between because of their capability, durability, and reliability.
The current Land Cruiser is getting on in years and is on the bigger side, but it’s tough to beat this package. Its 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8 is backed up by locking center and rear differentials, Multi-Terrain Select, a neat turn assist feature negating its size disadvantage, and the fantastic-riding hydraulic suspension. The functionally identical (though approach angle-challenged) Lexus LX 570 is also available. Skip the third-row package to put its 1,320 pound payload capacity to good use.
2020 Ford F-Series Super Duty Tremor
Pros: Nothing here can haul as much as far as the F-350 Tremor.
Cons: Like the Power Wagon and Raptor, the Tremor is massive. It’s thirsty, too.
Although we’ve yet to go overlanding with the new Ford Super Duty Tremor, early impressions off-road are promising. Ford’s answer to the Power Wagon, the Tremor is available in F-250 and F-350 forms and capable of hauling up to 3,890 pounds. Powertrains include a monstrous 7.3-liter V-8 with 430 hp or a 6.7-liter turbodiesel V-8 with 475 hp. The Tremor package gives the Super Duty an off-road-oriented suspension with a lift, a locking rear and limited-slip front differential, and massive 35-inch off-road tires.
2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
Pros: Great ride quality, tidy dimensions, and a decent payload.
Cons: Poor powertrain calibration and lack of low-end grunt; cramped cabin, especially for taller drivers.
The Tacoma TRD Pro is arguably the most popular overland vehicle in the U.S. There’s a lot we like about the Tacoma—chiefly the bits it shares with the 4Runner, such as its comfy Fox Shox, Multi-Terrain Select system, snorkel, tidy dimensions, and 1,175-pound payload. We’re less fond of the Tacoma’s underpowered 278-hp 3.5-liter V-6, jerky transmission, and cramped cabin; it’s capable stock, but nowhere near as capable as it needs to be. Even so, with those caveats, the Tacoma TRD Pro is certainly worthy of consideration.
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