The Search for the True Off-roader

    SUV Off-roader — What does it take to be a true off-roader? Does it even exist in this era of plush SUVs that probably never see a dirt road?

    I went on a search for this ultimate off-roader and it seems that the term SUV is used lightly. Perhaps it’s just terminology, but maybe a SUV isn’t what it used to be. See, not everyone fords rivers or crawls over fallen trees in their vehicle, and some just need something with a little extra space and stability.

    I looked at numerous vehicles and some impressed, others disappointed. I looked for true off-road characteristics and only things that came standard on the vehicle. I listed things such as base price, seating capacity, and standard off-road features.

    When looking at off-road vehicles, there are several things you might want to consider. Ground clearance is important because you don’t want to be scraping on rocks or other obstacles. Many of the SUVs in the lineup included electronically controlled stability, or downhill assist. These are newer features to help the driver maintain better control without doing it manually. Whatever works, right?

    One of the important off-roading numbers is the axel ratio. If the manufacturer stated it, then it was included. This number is a ratio of the size of gears, so a 2:1 ratio gear has a gear turning the axel that is twice the size of the input gear.

    The axel ratio translates basically to how hard your motor has to work, so in essence it means power and torque. The larger the number, the more power you have for climbing hills or towing a trailer, but it reduces your top speed and fuel economy. This is because the engine must turn at a higher rpm. A higher number is ideal for severe off road, because it gives you more power and torque, and you don’t cruise at a high speed anyway.

    For example, if you plan on highway driving mostly, with some moderate off road or towing, then you would want a number in the middle, to satisfy both needs, so around a 3:1 or so. If you are planning on lifting your SUV and putting bigger tires on it, then a lower ratio (higher number like 4:1) would be ideal. You would then have the power you need to turn those bigger tires.

    Now, just because your SUV isn’t on this list is no reason to be alarmed, there’s still time to make a mad dash to the dealer to pick one up. I’m sure the dealer won’t mind at all. Just check out my article on trading in your vehicle for tips on getting rid of your lesser SUV and getting one of these. If you don’t, I will understand.

    So, here are the vehicles that made it to my final round…

    1. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

    2. Nissan Xterra

    3. Nissan Pathfinder SE

    4. Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

    5. Jeep Liberty Renegade

    6. Toyota 4Runner

    7. Hummer H3

    8. Toyota Land Cruiser

    9. Land Rover LR3

    10. Hummer H1 Alpha 4-Door Open Top

    11. Land Rover Range Rover

    There are a lot of vehicles that are very capable SUVs, just not the ultimate offroader. Take a look at my Honorable Mention picks here.

    So, you’ll notice that some of these are very, very expensive. If you don’t have an extra 120 grand for a Hummer, that’s ok, who does? But some of these like the Liberty and Xterra are reasonably priced. But I had to include the Hummer, just because it is the ultimate in off-roading.

    My conclusion is that with most SUVs, taking it off road was an after thought. They are more meant to haul people and things in safety and comfort. They have better visibility and 4WD just in case you need it. The market is heading towards these vehicles becoming more of a status symbol then a true Sport Utility Vehicle.