It's no surprise that trucks and SUVs continue to dominate the U.S. vehicle market. But in a further move, automakers are increasingly building more SUVs and trucks that are specifically designed for off-road driving. With special enhancements to improve traction, ground clearance and even visibility, these vehicles can climb over rocks or blast over sand dunes that would leave regular trucks or SUVs stuck, stranded or possibly broken.
Edmunds experts report on five ultra-capable off-roaders that are either already on dealer lots or worth waiting for in the coming months.
2022 FORD BRONCO
After a long hiatus, the Bronco is back. This new Bronco stylistically pays homage to the 1960s original and adds more capability and technology. A direct rival to Jeep's Wrangler, the new Bronco has rugged body-on-frame construction and standard four-wheel drive. It will be available in two-door and four-door body styles and have plenty of available customizing accessories.
Ford will fit the Bronco with off-road assist features such as trail cameras to more easily see obstacles, locking differentials to enhance traction, and skid plates and big tires to help it clamber over rocks. The Bronco also has removable doors and fenders to allow for an open-cockpit experience. There are even optional drain plugs in the floor so you can more easily wash out the interior at the end of the day. Expect to see the Bronco at dealerships in late 2021. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price: $30,000 (estimated)
2021 FORD F-150 RAPTOR
This photo provided by Ford Motor Company shows the 2022 Ford Bronco. (Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. via AP)
The Ford F-150 is completely redesigned for 2021, and it features improved interior materials, refreshed design and upgraded technology features. Along with those changes comes the latest version of the off-road-focused Ford Raptor.
Notably, the new Raptor uses a coil-spring rear suspension instead of the regular F-150's leaf-spring design. This should improve off-road stability and traction. For power, the Raptor will have a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 good for around 500 hp. Additional enhancements such as Fox monotube shocks and available 37-inch tires mounted on lightweight wheels further boost the Raptor's dune-busting capability. It should hit dealers this summer. MSRP: $60,000 (estimated)
2021 JEEP WRANGLER RUBICON
It would be odd to leave the Jeep Wrangler off a list of off-road vehicles. With standard four-wheel drive and features such as disconnecting sway bars to enhance wheel articulation and pre-installed connections for modifications like a winch or off-road lights, there's plenty of capability baked into the Wrangler Rubicon.
Jeep is keeping the Wrangler fresh in 2021 with two new versions. First up is the Rubicon 392. The 392 refers to the V8 that generates 470 horsepower, making it the most powerful factory Wrangler ever. And if a growling V8 isn't your style, there's even a new plug-in hybrid Wrangler called the 4xe. It's available in the Rubicon trim and can go about 20 miles on all-electric power. Wrangler Rubicon starting MSRP: $40,370 with destination fees
2021 LAND ROVER DEFENDER
This photo provided by Stellantis North America shows the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited. (Courtesy of Stellantis North America via AP)
We recommend taking a closer look at the recently reintroduced Land Rover Defender if you're looking for a bit more luxury from your off-roader. Taking on off-road duties with a bit more finesse than most rivals, the Defender has sleek styling, a wide range of available options, and a comfortable interior not often found in the most rugged of vehicles.
Hardware such as a low-range gearing and an adjustable air suspension helps the Defender get where it needs to go. And interior features such as heated seats, leather upholstery, and even a refrigerated compartment for drinks help it feel that much more special along the way. New for 2021 is a two-door version, the Defender 90, that joins the four-door Defender 110. Coming soon is an optional 518-horsepower supercharged V8. Starting MSRP: $47,450
2021 RAM 1500 TRX
Based on the standard Ram 1500 light-duty pickup truck, the TRX uses the same engine as Dodge's Charger and Challenger Hellcats. It's a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that produces 702 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. The devilishly powerful TRX is capable of sprinting from zero to 60 mph in fewer than 4 seconds, a metric that any muscle-car owner could be proud of.
More than just a horsepower monster, though, the TRX uses wide-body fenders, a 2-inch chassis lift, a reinforced steel frame and 35-inch tires to considerably boost its off-road prowess compared to a regular Ram 1500. Like the Ford Raptor, the TRX is capable of serious high-speed desert travel. Starting MSRP: $71,890
If you're looking to get dirty, there's no shortage of vehicles that'll be happy to help, and the current batch of available off-roaders are some of the most capable rigs ever built. The only real decision left to make after choosing which one is right for you is just how far off the beaten path you want to go.