Outdoorsy Autos: The Best Vehicles For Exploring Nature
Off-Roading, Overlanding, and Safariing are some of the hottest trends in automobiles and trucks right now. Countless builders, customizers and OEMs have gotten in on the action and are creating some of the coolest and most capable vehicles to take on the great outdoors.
So what to drive if you’re into seeing the world off of the beaten path? It should be four-wheel or all-wheel drive, rugged, customizable to suit your needs and not only get you to remote areas, but it should be able to get you home again too!
Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison – Real Off-Roading Talent In A Smart Mid-Sized Pickup
The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison is an impressive truck. The standard ZR2 comes with a wider track, two-inch height increase, locking front and rear differentials and trick Multimatic Spool Valve dampers. The Bison package comes from a collaboration with America Expedition Vehicles (AEM) and adds a host of body protection elements.
AEM adds beefy front and rear bumpers, the front can accommodate a winch, and five skid plates help protect the underside of the truck. Think of it as a suit of armor for the ZR2. The ZR2 Bison can be had with either a diesel four-cylinder or V6 gas engine. The diesel is the choice for serious off-roading.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk – An Upscale SUV That Can Take You Up The Mountain
Of the eleven Grand Cherokee trims offered by Jeep, the Trailhawk is the most off-road orientated. While all the Grand Cherokee models are capable SUVs, the Trailhawk is the most capable, and with increased ground clearance, off-road tires, available rock rails, and a distinctive look, it’s the go-to Grand Cherokee for those that prefer a rocky mountain trail over the mall parking lot.
The Trailhawk is available with either the Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 or a 360 horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Either engine is paired to the excellent Quadra Driver II 4×4 System that has a rear limited-slip differential to keep you moving on tough terrain.
Ford Raptor – A Faster, Fun Loving Truck That Begs To Be Driven
In 2010 Ford introduced the world to the Raptor, a 411 horsepower V8 off-roading version of the F150 pickup truck that was modeled after desert racing trucks. The second generation (2017-present) ditched the V8 in favor of a 450 horsepower twin-turbocharged V6.
Either generation is capable of high-speed off-road shenanigans, and thanks to Fox Racing adaptive dampers and electronic Trail Control, the Raptor is able to get you into a lot of trouble, and then safely back out. There’s a wealth of aftermarket support for these trucks, and customizing them to suit specific needs is remarkably easy, making them a great choice for seeing the world away from the freeway.
Jeep Cherokee XJ – Simple, Reliable, And Nearly Indestructible
Despite its age, the Jeep Cherokee XJ (1983 – 2001) is still a versatile, relevant SUV that has a reputation for being “un-killable.” The aftermarket support for the XJ is immense and these trucks can be built for rock-crawling, overlanding, camping and everything in between.
Rust can be an issue on the rocker panels, doors, and quarter panels, so sourcing one from an area that doesn’t see harsh winters and road salt is a good idea. They’re intensely personable and immensely capable off-road, making them a favorite as an expedition vehicle.
Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro – The Lovable, Supremely Capable SUV That Goes Anywhere
There’s not much out there that can match the 4Runner TRD Pro’s off-road chops and the 4Runner is one of the few body-on-frame SUVs on the market. It comes equipped with FOX off-road-tuned shocks, locking differentials, special 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tires, skid plates and a number of appearance accessories.
While the 4Runner is starting to show it’s age, in terms of interior design, powertrain, and chassis, it’s lost none of its off-road prowess. Few new vehicles can keep pace with it on a trail, and with a large amount of aftermarket support, it’s possible to outfit it to suit any environment.
Honda Africa Twin – Half The Wheels, Twice The Fun!
You weren’t ready for that pick! Sometimes, two wheels can be better than four, and the Honda Africa Twin is a sensationally awesome motorcycle that will immerse you in the outdoors and tackle any terrain you throw at it.
The brilliance of an adventure motorcycle is that without a roof or doors or windows, you stop looking at nature as it passes by and start being a part of it. Only a motorcycle, like the Africa Twin, can immerse you in the experience and expose you to the great outdoors in ways you never thought possible.
Land Rover Discovery – For When You Do More Rock Crawling Than Mall Crawling
As its name implies, the Discovery is meant for you to take on adventures, experience the trail less traveled, and discover nature that few see in person. The middle child of the Land Rover line-up, the Discovery is widely regarded as the most off-roady of the bunch, at least until the new Defender arrives.
Available with either a supercharged V6 or a turbocharged diesel V6, there’s ample power for any trail, mountain or desert. And don’t think for a second that those suave looks and luxe interior mean that this is just a mall-crawler; the “Disco” can wade through nearly two and a half feet of water.
Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro – Unchanged For The Better Part Of A Decade
Like the 4Runner, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro seems to be an ageless wonder. Like a Tiger Woods comeback, the “Taco” continues to defy the skeptics and performs at the highest levels.
TRD tuned FOX off-road shocks, skid plates, a performance cat-back exhaust and an unimpeachable reputation for toughness and reliability make the Tacoma TRD Pro a superb choice for expeditions and off-roading. And with a 6400-pound towing capacity, it can easily bring your toys and gear with you.
Land Rover Defender – The Quintessential Safari Icon
When Sir David Attenborough films in nature, what does he use to get there? A Defender. When you see tourists on a safari in Africa, what are they riding in? A Defender. When you see rangers tracking elephants, lions and photographing Hippos, what are they driving? A Defender.
There’s a very good reason why the Land Rover Defender is the quintessential safari vehicle and the choice of the British Military, it’s simple, durable and able to traverse anything short of a lava flow. They’re not full of luxury, but they are stacked with ability.
Ford Ranger FX4 – The Prodigal Son Returns With Off-Road Chops
After an eight-year absence, the mighty Ford Ranger has returned to the U.S. market. The mid-size truck is available as a supercab (two-door) or a supercrew (four-door) in three trim levels.
For those seeking the most capability on surfaces other than concrete, the FX4 Off-Road package is the option box to tic. With that selection, you get off-road tuned suspension, all-terrain tires, skid plates, an electronic-locking rear differential, and Ford’s Terrain Management System, which helps navigate tough trials by keeping the vehicle under control.
Mercedes-Benz G550 – A Luxury Off-Roader That’s More Capable Than You Think
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class was originally designed as a military vehicle and offered as a civilian model in 1979. Dependable, rugged and supremely competent in all conditions, the U.S. Marine Corp purchased close to 160 for use as fast attack vehicles.
If it’s good enough to satisfy the U.S. Marines and militaries all around the world, it’s certainly capable of taking you on that camping holiday, and in its current form, you’ll be conquering mountains while being swathed in luxury. The G550 is the better off-road pick than it’s AMG counterpart, as the AMG model is tuned for on-road performance.
Toyota Land Cruiser ANY – For Anywhere Hostile And Remote
These trucks are so tough and robust that it’s become a cliche. If you’re going anywhere hostile and remote with the worst conditions you can imagine, you need a Land Cruiser.
Every version of the Land Cruiser is capable of astonishing sticktoitiveness, and none will disappoint when it comes to traversing terrain without roads. The earlier models are starting to become collectible and rare so the 1980’s and 1990’s models are the ones to get for exploring nature. They are widely available, relatively inexpensive, and easy to customize with skid plates, bumpers, cargo racks, and other off-roading bits.
Jeep Wrangler – The Default Off-Roader Of Choice
If you were to ask 10 people to name a vehicle that you can take off-road, explore nature with AND use every day, 9 of those people will pick the Jeep Wrangler. This SUV has remained largely the same since Willys-Overland introduced the first civilian model of the Jeep CJ in 1945.
That’s an impressive run, and proof that it’s hard to improve on a winning formula. While the Wrangler, in all its forms, may not be the most sophisticated vehicle on the road, it is undoubtedly one of the most capable off-road and it is the standard by which all others are measured against.
Land Rover Range Rover – An Off-Road Icon With Space-Age Tech And Comfort
Most Range Rovers will never see the craggy rocks of an alpine slope, or the treacherous dunes of the Sahara desert. In fact, they appear to be more common climbing the Hollywood Hills than the foothills of the Rockies. But don’t let its posh lifestyle fool you, underneath that finely tailored bodywork lies an off-road beast.
The Range Rover’s capabilities are legendary and the newest version is easily the best of the family. Capable of fording through three-feet of water and climbing a 45-degree slope, the big truck is nearly unstoppable in any terrain and condition all the while keeping its occupants calm, cool and comfortable.
Ram Power Wagon – The Off-Road Brute Of Your Dreams
The Ram Power Wagon is the Incredible Hulk of off-road pickup trucks. A 6.4-liter HEMI V8 with 410 horsepower motivates this brute and Bilstein suspension components with chunky off-road tires make sure it won’t get easily stuck. If you happen to find yourself in a sticky situation, a WARN 12,000-pound winch ensures your easy escape.
This is a truck that doesn’t do things subtly, it’s a truck that beats adverse conditions into submission and it’s an epic choice for extreme expedition use, towing large campers and exploring parts unknown.
Subaru Outback – Way More Capable Than It Needs To Be
Few things scream “outdoorsy” like a Subaru Outback. For those favoring adventures, family hauling and eating up road trip miles, there are few cars that can do it all like the Outback.
While it may lack the extreme off-road capabilities of a Wrangler or Land Rover, the “Subie” is no slouch with 8.7-inches of ground clearance and its trademark symmetrical all-wheel drive. Couple that to a wagon body that gobbles-up an entire family and all of their camping gear, and you’ve got a near perfect outdoor adventure car.
Mercedes-Benz Unimog – An Unstoppable Force Of Off-Roading Might
The Mercedes-Benz Unimog is a force of nature. Primarily used for carrying heavy loads in the remotest parts of the world or as a military transport, the Unimog has become a favorite among off-roaders, adventurers and those seeking to explore the most extreme places on the planet.
Most Unimogs are offered in trims designed for industry and hard work, but Mercedes also offers an off-road camper version specifically designed to get you and all your gear to places that most people have never seen. Used Unimogs are plentiful, easily customizable and nearly indestructible. In fact, there’s a good chance that the landscape will fail before your Unimog does.
Ariel Nomad – Enjoy The Outdoors At Warp Speed
What happens when you combine a dune-buggy, a side-by-side ATV and a sports car? You get an Ariel Nomad. Powered by a Honda four-cylinder engine, the Nomad is able to rocket you to 60 mph in 3.5-seconds, and with adjustable suspension and rally-spec wheels, it can do that on almost any terrain.
Lightweight, rugged and reliable are the Nomad’s attributes, and few off-roaders can offer as much fun in such a unique package. The beauty of the Nomad is that it’s fast, fun to drive and gives you the ability to go exploring, anywhere.
Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X – The Best Japanese Off-Road Truck You Forgot About.
In a category that includes trucks like the F150, Silverado, Ram 1500 and Tundra it’s easy to forget that there’s another option. The Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X is that other option. It may not garnish the headlines that its competition does, but Nissan’s tough truck can definitely hang with the best.
Nissan’s full-size pickup truck can be fitted with the Pro-4X off-road package that adds Bilstein off-road suspension, electronic locking rear differential, skid plates, and beefy all-terrain tires. A 390 horsepower 5.6-liter V8 provides the muscle and makes the Titan a legit off-road exploration truck.
Volkswagen Golf Alltrack – A Lifted, All-Wheel-Drive Subaru Fighter
Volkswagen’s Alltrack is a hidden gem of a car and is unfortunately overshadowed by the Subaru Outback. But, if you’re looking for an alternative to Subaru’s outdoor-adventure wagon, the Alltrack is a great choice. Powered by VW’s stellar 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, you get 168 horsepower and the ability to mate that to a six-speed manual transmission (enthusiasts rejoice!).
But don’t think that VW is bringing a knife to a gunfight here, the Alltrack has some off-road weaponry to bring to the fore. The 4Motion all-wheel drive with an “Off-Road Mode” helps the wagon negotiate difficult terrain, descend steep grades and keep adventures under control.