On this live episode of TFLnow, Roman and Nathan name the world’s most off-road worthy make. That is, which company’s lineup inspires the most confidence when you talk about leaving asphalt behind. The duo aren’t picking the best vehicle here. No, they’re picking the no. 1 brand.
Here’s how they do it:
- Group automakers by continent: Asia, Europe, North America.
- Only vehicles currently sold in the U.S. were factored in our rankings.
- The top make from each continent was then pitted against each other to determine a winner.
In most cases, the TFL crew has taken these vehicles off-pavement either at press launches around the country or at our local go-to spot for testing a vehicle’s capability in dirt, mud, rock, and ruts, Goldmine Hill. This road located in the high-country of the Colorado Rockies offers a series of three, progressively more difficult challenges that provide a good benchmark for any vehicle’s prowess on a trail.
For the vehicles which are already known to tackle Goldmine Hill with ease, we have another location, Cliffhanger 2.0, in an even more remote and higher altitude than Goldmine Hill. If a truck or SUV can scoot up Cliffhanger, it should be able to handle most anything you throw at it.
Now on to the list, ranked from least-capable to most-capable off-road.
Kia and Hyundai sell a number of SUV’s and crossovers. Kia has the Sportage, and Hyundai has the Santa Fe and Tuscon. However, none of these vehicles are particularly great off-road. Sure, they have all wheel drive and a bit more ground clearance, but they are happier when they only have to deal with snow, mud puddles, and gravel.
Again, it is not that these companies make bad cars. In fact, we really like some of the latest offerings from both of these companies. However, they are the last thing we would choose to deviate from any paved roads. Hence, why these two are in last place for Asia.
Mazda has only three vehicles that we would even consider taking off-road. Those are the CX-3, CX-5, and CX-9. Much like Kia and Hyundai, these cars do fine in the snow, but are simply not built to deal with tough terrain.
Again, they are not bad vehicles, but you should look elsewhere if you are considering doing any light to moderate trails.
It wasn’t long ago that Mitsubishi dominated many of the world’s toughest off-road competitions. They were kings of the vaunted Dakar rally, highly competitive in the world of rallying, and fortunately offered vehicles in the US that shared DNA with their champion race cars. However, now is a different case. Currently, Mitsubishi only offers two vehicles with any aspirations to even sniff at a gravel path. The Outlander and Outlander Sport. Both of these vehicles are great in the snow, and do alright with some lighter obstructions. But, once you hit the gnarly obstacles, they tend to get into trouble.
Honda and Acura aren’t far from Mitsubishi. Much of their lineup has absolutely zero business being anywhere but a city or suburb. However, they do have one vehicle that pegs them slightly higher on this list. That is the Honda Ridgeline (and Pilot). Honda was quite intentional with their goal to make the Ridgeline somewhat capable in the dirt. Hence their new ‘off-road mode’ which Honda has installed in both of these vehicles.
Regardless, they both performed surprisingly well when faced with some of our tougher trails in the mountains of Colorado. However, when pushed too hard, the Ridgeline did show some signs of serious failure. Specifically when we took it to Montezuma trail — another one of our favorite test sites for vehicles with aspirations beyond smooth pavement — the transmission overheated from all the work the all-wheel drive system had to do. Still, these cars can take you relatively far when the road turns to dirt and gravel.
Generally speaking, Subaru makes a lineup of vehicles that are surprisingly capable off road. Between the XV Crosstrek, The Outback, and the Forester, Subaru has three vehicles that do very well. They are rugged, reliable, have symmetrical full-time all wheel drive, and have a welcome amount of ground clearance. There is one caveats: In TFL’s tests, the vehicles which have a CVT do not perform nearly as well as those with a 6-speed automatic or a manual transmission. The car can cut power to certain wheels in order to protect the CVT. So while the engine is pumping out horsepower, it’s not reaching the wheels. This is certainly a problem in any circumstance, but particularly in mud or loose terrain.
*Note: TFL has not had the opportunity to try out the new generation of Subaru’s on their latest platform.
Nissan’s rank comes thanks to ftwo of the most off-road worthy trucks you can buy. These are the Frontier Pro-4X and the Titan Pro-4X. Previously, they also offered the XTerra which was a beloved and capable overland vehicle.
Unfortunately they no longer sell the Xterra. However, the two that they do sell are perform as asked when put to the test of a trail like Cliffhanger 2.0. Nissan adds to their score with the full-size Armada SUV and Pathfinder crossover, both of which handle light off-roading better than we would expect.
Every one of the vehicles mentioned above could likely take you anywhere in the world — most of them have been there and back already.
Alfa Romeo/Fiat/Maserati (FCA)
It could be argued that the Fiat 500X is the most off-road worthy vehicle of these three companies. Certainly the 500X has proven that it can deal with a bit more than a dirt road.
However, when faced with a challenge like Goldmine Hill, the 500X becomes easily flustered. Alfa Romeo has the Stelvio, but the only place that should go besides the road is a race track. The case is the same for the Maserati Levante.
Some people may not realize that Mini is a strong competitor in the Dakar rally. How? They use a BMW X3 chassis with a Mini body bolted on top to make the car for this race. We have taken the X3 up Goldmine Hill, where it performed surprisingly well. But we couldn’t say the same about the much bigger X5, which is better suited for blitzing over asphalt than rocks. While Mini does offer a vehicle with all-wheel drive in the Countryman All4, we would not attempt to take it up any serious trails.
Volvo surprisingly does offer a number of off-road worthy vehicles under their ‘Cross Country’ line. We recently took the V90 Cross Country up Goldmine Hill and it handled the challenge better than we expected, even nailing the crux move at the top, an axle- and body-twisting rut, ditch, incline combo. This vehicle has impressive ground clearance and decent all-terrain tires.
However, the one place where it falls short is in break-over angle. The car is so long that it ends up having a lot of trouble with cresting hills. However, this vehicle has zero issue with some moderate terrain. Hence why Volvo ended up somewhere in the middle of the European bracket.
The Volkswagen group has a good size number of vehicles between its many brands that play well in the rough stuff. Bentley has their new SUV, the Bentayga, which Roman took through some serious sand dunes with great success. But, the most dirt-friendly vehicle in this group is likely the VW Touareg, which shares a platform with the Porsche Cayenne. Both of these vehicles have no problem tackling some intense obstacles. Furthermore, Volkswagen just released the Golf Sportwagen Alltrack, built to take on the niche long owned by Subaru’s wagons when it comes to traversing light-to-moderate trails.
There is one singular vehicle from Mercedes that has propelled it to the number two spot in Europe: The G-Wagen. Since its introduction in 1979, the G-Wagen has proved time and time again that it is one of the world’s most capable off-road beasts despite its more common use as a Beverly Hills cruiser.
Land Rover/Range Rover/Jaguar
Yes, Jaguar has their new crossover, the F-Pace, and will soon launch the smaller E-Pace. But this brand is all about Land Rover/Range Rover.
This brand was started as an off-road company and, despite its reaches deep into the world of luxury, it hasn’t lost any of its heritage. Land Rover/Range Rover doesn’t sell a single vehicle that we would not be comfortable taking up Goldmine Hill. Enough Said.
Ford does have the Ford Raptor, one of the most off-road worthy trucks on sale right now. However, once past the Raptor, Ford’s lineup is a bit sparse for vehicles that can maneuver the nuances of a tricky dirt path. Ford does offer the FX4 package on the F-150, which gives the truck decent ability in rough terrain.
However there is really nothing else that we would be super confident taking into some moderate to difficult trails. Next year we will have all new Expedition, which has the FX4 package available as well. However that cannot influence this list as it is not currently on sale.
GM is honestly not far ahead of Ford. They have the Chevy Colorado ZR2, which should put up a good fight against the Raptor. Chevy also has the Z71 off-road package available on a range of their trucks and SUVs including the Colorado, Silverado, and Tahoe. We are less inclined to take a Cadillac anywhere where it might get dirty. However, we have done it with relative success. Furthermore, Buick recently released the Regal TourX which looks like it might be able to handle some rocks and bumps. Really though, GM just edged Ford out of second place.
This one may seem pretty obvious. Ram has the Power Wagon, alongside its Rebel package, already offering an incredibly off-road worthy brand. Then you have Jeep which has the Wrangler, one of the most used vehicles when it comes to tackling the great outdoors. The Power Wagon and the Wrangler alone could have won this group.
But, if you look at the rest of Jeep’s lineup, all you find is vehicles that have no problem getting their feet a bit muddy. We have not had the opportunity to test the new Compass on Goldmine Hill yet, but we have driven it in Moab. But we have tested all of their other vehicles with every single one making it past the third obstacle. FCA took the number one spot in the US with zero problems thanks to its wide array of incredibly off-road worthy vehicles.
And the Title Goes To…
To recap, the top three in our global battle are: Toyota, from Asia, Land Rover/Range Rover from Europe, and Jeep/Ram‘s offerings from the US.
But who takes home the crown? Well, you’ll have to watch the video to find out. But of our three finalists, you can cast your ballot and drop your reasons why into the comments below.