Getting behind the wheel is an experience most of us take for granted, but when it comes to tackling tough terrain and crawling across jagged rocks, a measured blend of speed and skill guarantees you great rewards. Having the correct vehicle to accomplish such a task is a huge factor, too. Because no two automobiles are made the same — and not every set of four tires can off-road equally as well. To help you get a better sense of what makes and modes you should consider for your next off-road rig, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best off-road cars we figure will get the job done without costing you a fortune in scraped up, punctured parts. Without further ado, here are the best off-road cars of all-time, in no particular order.
Drive yourself down to the nearest Jeep dealer, pick out any one of their various models — whether it’s the Wrangler, Cherokee, Compass, Patriot, Liberty, Renegade, Gladiator, you name it — and you’ve got the beginnings of a respectable off-road-ready vehicle.
The biggest reason we picked the Jeep name isn’t for the available suspension upgrades, durable seating and outdoor-geared interior materials, or the overall ruggedness any and every model exudes. It’s the sheer value you’ll gain when you purchase a Jeep. Off-roading takes quite a toll on any vehicle but buy a Jeep and you’re investing in a car when most are depreciating by the second.
9. Toyota Land Cruiser
The Toyota Land Cruiser is a hard package to beat when it comes to off-roading. Pick any year from the nameplate’s long history and you’ve got the basis for a mean off-road machine. We chose the Land Cruiser for the ruggedness and durability this model offers. It may seem unassuming and could definitely blend in at your nearest supermarket but put a dirt road with bumps and ruts ahead of it and let the fun begin. She’ll clean up nice too once you’re done making a mess.
8. Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6
Most people choose their off-road vehicles for the 4WD capabilities they offer. But why not add 2 more wheels to the mix? Mercedes-Benz took the challenge and came up with this beast, which has more wheels than you’d know what to do with — and a whole lot of power to match. There’s not much terrain this beast couldn’t tackle, except for maybe parking on a city street.
7. Subaru Outback
Like Jeep, Subaru earned its way into the dictionary under the words “off-road” and “reliability.” This Japanese automaker also has quite a lineup of terrain-tackling models as well. You could easily find your way behind the wheel of a 1998 Outback, slap some off-road wheels and tires on it, and keep up with the likes of any Jeep on any day. The same could be said for the newest generation of the historical nameplate, which comes equipped with larger wheels and tires from the factory. Just try not to scratch the paint — too much.
6. Land Rover Range Rover
Jeep enthusiasts will scoff and most anyone else will wince at the thought of bringing an $80,000-$120,000 vehicle up on treacherous trails. But the potent blend of technology, navigation, and suspension adjustability is what earned the Land Rover Range Rover a spot on our list. The Land Rover Defender was a close second for this coveted spot as well. It’s hard to beat what money can buy in the Range Rover—especially those massaging, plush leather seats, which feel even better after jostling around for hours on end.
5. Suzuki Samurai
For those with shallower pockets, the Suzuki Samurai fits any budget well. This two-door Jeep-wannabe doesn’t take up much space and won’t cost you a fortune if you scratch the panels. Replacement parts are cheap since you’re only going to find used models anymore. If you’re new to the off-roading world and want to get a feel for what it offers, pick up a used Samurai for a few thousand dollars (at most). Worst case scenario? You junk the car at a demolition derby to let it go out in style.
4. Toyota Tacoma
Smaller than the Tundra but in no way the size of a 90’s Ford Ranger, the Toyota Tacoma meets the needs of many who want a truck but don’t want the honking behemoth other brands offer. At the same time, the Tacoma offers drivers a lot more cargo capacity than you might imagine possible in a light-duty pickup. Add a topper for even more space in the bed. Single off-roaders might even find the covered bed good for camping out after a long day of being thrown around by Mother Nature.
3. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van
Trust us, one look at a Sprinter Van straddling the upside of a ridge and we know what you’re thinking. That thing’s gonna tip over! But Mercedes equips this capable van with more suspension that raises this panel vehicle to heights you might not imagine possible. Add to that the endless possibilities of customization within that paneling and you’ve got the ultimate camper, sleeper, mobile home, you name it. Just figure on spending about as much — or more — as you would on a Land Rover when it’s all said and done.
2. Ariel Nomad
The Ariel Nomad skirts the line between ATV/UTV and street-legal vehicle but that’s what makes it one of the best off-road cars in our eyes. The amount of clearance you get from the suspension geometry is astounding. Bare bones in nothing but a roll cage, the Nomad won’t necessarily keep the outdoors out but it will keep the fun coming again and again.
1. Mercedes-Benz Unimog
We had to add one more Benz to round out our list of the top 10 best off-road cars of all-time and the Unimog won out. This baby AMG 6×6 puts the driver up high and in the front seat of the action. A wide pickup bed, large tires, and a vast windshield make the Unimog seem more like a miniature dump truck than an overgrown pickup. Either way you slice it, there’s no mistaking this off-road-ready monster truck.
Off-Road Dream Machines
When the dust has settled and the air’s pumped back into the tires for the drive home, the best off-road vehicle is the one that you enjoy most. We chose the 10 above for their various characteristics, from reliability and suspension travel to the sheer value they offer, whether it pays in American dollars or smiles, laughs, and whoops of joy. Did your favorite off-road machine make it on the list? Which ones did we forget? Share your picks with us in the comments below.