The Best 4×4 SUVs You Can Buy Today
With America’s appetite for crossovers and SUVs veering off the top of the charts, it’s getting harder and harder to find a “real” off-road-capable 4×4 SUV. Many, but not all, new SUVs have some ability to send the engine’s power to all four wheels, but that doesn’t mean they have true 4×4 or four-wheel-drive (4WD) capability. Technical director Frank Markus explains the difference between all-wheel drive (AWD) and 4WD here. Meanwhile, here are the best 4×4 SUVs you can buy today.
2021 Ford Bronco
Well, you can’t exactly buy one today, but the highly anticipated Ford Bronco 4×4 SUV is scheduled to return late this year. What we know: It’s expected to be a body-on-frame challenge to the Jeep Wrangler and to be an immensely capable off-roader. Based on the next-generation Ford Ranger midsize pickup, we anticipate the 2021 Ford Bronco to come standard with four-wheel drive and feature a removable roof and detachable doors. Like its predecessors, the 2021 Ford Bronco will be offered in two- and four-door configurations. Like the Ford Ranger, the Bronco will likely come standard with the EcoBoost 2.3-liter turbo-four. In that pickup, the engine makes 270 hp and a potent 310 lb-ft of torque. It’s believed that Ford’s 2.7- or 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6s will be offered as options. A plug-in hybrid is also expected to join the Bronco line. The only transmission available will likely be the 10-speed automatic found in the Ford F-150 and Ranger. Everything old is new again.
2020 Jeep Cherokee
In the compact 4×4 SUV range, there really isn’t much competition for the Jeep Cherokee in terms of off-road chops. The only vehicle in its segment to offer proper 4WD (though AWD is available, too), the 2020 model received no major updates after a comprehensive set of improvements in 2019. This means the five-passenger SUV continues to straddle the entry-level people mover and rough-and-tumble off-road segments, with a variety of trim levels intended to satisfy a wide range of buyers. The most off-road-capable trim remains the Trailhawk 4×4.
The Trailhawk comes standard with a 271-hp/239-lb-ft 3.2-liter V-6; a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 270 hp (and a substantial 56-lb-ft torque advantage) is optional. A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard. It also comes with a mechanical locking rear differential and various off-road drive modes for added traction and performance. In a rigorous comparison against the off-road-oriented Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD, we came away impressed by the go-anywhere capabilities of the Cherokee Trailhawk, as it comfortably dispatched a series of mud, rock, and clay off-road obstacles. Off-road on a budget? This is your rig.
2020 Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler was probably the first make and model that popped into your head when you thought 4×4 SUVs, and for good reason. Our 2019 SUV of the Year was among the best-selling 4WD SUVs last year. The Wrangler is a legend. Our pick for pure off-roading, however, is the Rubicon 4×4, available in either two- or four-door configurations with electronically locking front and rear differentials, a two-speed (high/low) transfer case, and a front anti-roll bar disconnect feature. A standard 285-hp/260-lb-ft 3.6-liter V-6 can be paired with either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. A 270-hp/295-lb-ft 2.0L turbocharged I-4 is available. A 260-hp/442-lb-ft turbodiesel V-6 engine makes its debut for 2020 (automatic transmission only), and an eTorque mild hybrid is now available with the I-4 or V-6 on Sahara Unlimited. New Willys Edition, Freedom Edition, and Black and Tan packages now join the options list. Like the 2020 Porsche 911, remastering a master is a tightrope act, but Jeep has walked a mile—and then some—for its loyal customers with mile-high expectations.
2020 Land Rover Defender
Like the Ford Bronco, the release of the Land Rover Defender has been highly anticipated. Features editor Christian Seabaugh drove several through western Africa and came away saying, “The Defender expertly balances modern construction, technology, and comfort with the off-road capability, performance, and payload that hardcore rock crawlers and overlanders demand.” He continued, “A P300-badged 296-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 is standard for the U.S. market; a P400-badged mild hybrid with a 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 and an electric supercharger is optional. The hybrid powertrain makes a healthy 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. All Defender powertrains are paired with an eight-speed automatic and permanent four-wheel drive. The high-output 2.0-liter turbodiesel I-4 making 236 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque in the D240 models are not headed to America.” The U.S. will, at least, get a plug-in hybrid version of the Defender in the near future. Like both the Bronco and the Wrangler, the Defender is available in two-door (90) and four-door (110) forms.
2020 Land Rover Discovery
Redesigned for the 2017 model year, the Land Rover Discovery’s off-road prowess dates back to its 1989 introduction. Many might remember the iconic yellow Camel Trophy competitive and support vehicles. Today, the five- or seven-passenger 4×4 SUV is offered with either a 335-hp/332-lb-ft supercharged V-6 or a 254-hp/443-lb-ft turbodiesel V-6. Regardless, both are paired with an eight-speed automatic. The turbodiesel is a real stump-puller, but it runs out of breath on the highway. For serious off-roading, we recommend the HSE Luxury trim that features adjustable air suspension and a two-speed (high/low range) transfer case that gives it proper four-wheel drive. The selectable auto terrain response automatically adjusts to the terrain, recognizing, for instance, deep sand and adapting the driveline to best traverse it. Off-road, the Discovery has few peers.
2020 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Speaking of icons, the ever-boxy Mercedes-Benz G-Class (née Geländewagen) may be seen more often chugging down Rodeo Drive, but its original and true mission of pounding the terrain into submission remains intact. As it was from the beginning, the recently redesigned/re-engineered G-Wagen is built in Graz, Austria, by what is now Magna-Steyr. It is offered with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine in two forms of power: 416 hp/450 lb-ft of torque in the G 550, and a whopping 577 hp/627 lb-ft in the G 63. All that power is routed through a nine-speed automatic with a two-speed transfer case and electronic locking front, center, and rear differentials. An electronic adaptive suspension system designed to improve the G-Class’ performance both on- and off-road is optional on the G 550 and standard on the G 63. As Seabaugh wrote in a thorough First Drive, “It’s always daunting, reinventing an icon. But Mercedes nailed it.”
2020 Toyota 4Runner
Recently updated infotainment and safety systems have brought the five-generations-mature Toyota 4Runner into modern times, but it’s what hasn’t changed that makes it a terrific off-road companion, especially in either TRD Off-Road or TRD Pro trim. The former is equipped with an electronically controlled locking rear differential, a crawl control feature, and the Multi-Terrain Select set of off-road driving modes. The latter further adds Fox shocks with remote rear reservoirs, unique front springs, a skidplate, and 17-inch wheels. The rugged body-on-frame midsize 4×4 SUV is powered by a 4.0-liter V-6 making 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only available gearbox. Despite its off-road cred, it’s also a reasonably comfortable daily driver that can seat up to seven passengers across three rows.
Toyota Land Cruiser
With a history going back nearly as far Jeep, the storied Toyota Land Cruiser carries decades of 4×4 SUV experience. Although it has morphed into a somewhat luxury-oriented SUV with room for up to eight people, it remains an old-school, body-on-frame, live-axle 4×4 that’s intended to take on tough terrain with a mechanically limited-slip center differential and two-speed transfer case. The Land Cruiser is powered by a (thirsty) 5.7-liter V-8 that produces 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is an eight-speed automatic. Features of note are Toyota’s legendary Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which hydraulically adjusts the front and rear stabilizer bars, increasing wheel articulation and traction when the terrain is uneven. There’s also an array of cameras that provide front/side/rear views of the tricky or potentially damaging trail. Because of the Land Cruiser’s full-size dimensions, an off-road turn assist—when activated—applies brake pressure to the rear wheel on the inside of the turn. This creates a rolling pivot point, similar to how a tank turns. Want to get there, wherever there is, in comfort and style? The Land Cruiser’s got you covered.
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