Enterprising reader HammerheadFistpunch has taken 17 trucks and SUVs you can buy in the US that reckons are best suited to long-distance off-road overland expeditions, and compared their abilities in this incredibly detailed report.
Image being able to go where the silence truly is golden, where the views inspire and where the people you do meet are friendly and interesting. Now imagine you can bring along a fridge, and chairs and a table, and comfortable bed and you friends and family too. Now imagine you don't even have to break a sweat or don a backpack if you don't want because you're in a vehicle.
"Sign me up!" you say. And rightly so, but to start you will need a vehicle that's up for the adventure. "But where can I find such a vehicle in today's crossover and hybrid sports performance suv coupe cabrio nonsense market that can satiate my now unquenchable vehicular wanderlust?"
Well your in luck! To make your life easier, I've gathered a selection of vehicles, taken the necessary traits and mathed them up good to produce the best of the best. I did this all for you at
great expense some expense a reckless use of time so you can get out and enjoy the 1-2 combo of cars and world.
Now I am going to say something right up front that will make several of you upset: there are no full size trucks, there are basically no "domestic" makes on this list aside from Jeep. The reason is three fold:
- I don't have time to sort through the billions of permutations of available vehicles....okay I do but I don't want to
- I picked vehicles that are traditionally well suited, and oft chosen, for the task and included a few wild cards for fun.
- At a certain point a vehicle becomes too big to effectively serve as a touring vehicle, that point is about where most domestic trucks start.
What I did do is find 17 of the cars most likely to assume touring duty based on popularity, capability and reputation. That having been said, I would like to revisit this with more heavy duty vehicles (including expedition rigs) eventually, so I guess I will call this the 17 best medium to heavy touring vehicles...and here they are (in Alphabetical order):
- Infiniti QX80
- Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
- Jeep Grand Cherokee overland ED
- Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland3.6
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
- Land Rover LR2
- Land Rover LR4 HSE
- Lexus GX460
- Lexus LX570
- Mercedes-Benz G550
- Mercedes-Benz G63
- Nissan Frontier quad short bed Pro 4X
- Nissan Xterra Pro 4X
- Range Rover V8 SWB
- Toyota 4Runner Trail
- Toyota Land Cruiser
- Toyota Tacoma quad short bed TRD
Over-landing, expedition travel, heavy touring whatever you call it, has different requirements that what you might consider for a traditional "4x4", and I ranked the vehicles based on these requirements in a quantitative fashion:
Load capacity - If touring in a vehicle means taking it all with you...or at least what you need with you...then you need the room for it. More than just "will it fit in there" your vehicle must have the necessary payload (GVWR - Curb weight) to be able to safely carry your gear. You would be surprised to find that with some vehicles, just putting 5 people and gas in it you are close to your max safe weight. You can get away with exceeding this max on the road (sometimes), but off road and on rough trails this becomes dangerous fast. The load score is a composite function of both how much volume you have for cargo and payload ratings.
Trail worthiness - We aren't talking about rock crawling or extreme wheeling here, however the better a vehicles trail score, the more likely you are to get to your destination without getting stuck or becoming exhausted. Even non-technical trails forest trails can turn into real challenges with unexpected weather. Points here are tallied by the availability of traction aids, suspensions flexibility, and angles relative to off road travel; Approach angle, departure angle, break over angle, ground clearance. All the vehicles on the list are fitted with advanced forms of brake based traction control and without a way to compare them they are treated as equal and from my experience they are for the most part. Also, vehicles with adjustable suspensions are being tallied at their most capable measurements. Purely numerical calculations for the Trail score.
Range (fuel economy on and off road) - In the US this is a big deal, in other countries you have to choose between the power of the gas engine and the range of the diesel...we just get the power but that does mean that how far you can travel without carrying fuel is much more a factor. Carrying extra fuel is often a necessary evil but its costly to do safely and reduces your payload, Vehicles with inherently good range have a major advantage. Calculated by averaging the City/Highway/off road (city-25%) ranges.
Reliability - I think it goes without saying that this is an important trait when you may be calling on your vehicle to get you back home. I tried my best to scour several different sources to determine what is considered reliable, and based some of this with historical data on models that are brand new or have little data. Its not perfect, but I tried to be fair. This is the first category to have SOME subjectivity.
Durability - This is different that reliability, this is how long you can expect to drive a heaven laden vehicle on rough tracks before it starts to loosen up, develop rattles and generally fall apart. Like reliability this is somewhat subjective, but I did factor in points for vehicles with construction that is generally considering more durable as well as some historical analysis.
Value - How much of the above can do you get for your money. Touring can be a rich mans game but it doesn't have to be, use your money wisely on your vehicle and put it into your adventures instead. This is scored by combining the above values and factoring in price.
I did my best to be objective and data driven as much as possible, again, is it perfect? no. Are there factors I've missed? Of course...but how is this different than any other comparison you've ever read? Feel free to write me a comment and tell me what I fool I was for omitting _________. Did I mention I tried to do this by the numbers and as fair as I could? good.
In the interest of space, I've left of the bottom 7 vehicles, but they are included at the bottom; So, starting at #10 we have.
#10 Lexus LX570 - If you didn't already know, the LX570 is a Toyota Land Cruiser made uglier and sillier; World traveling ability in a World Market package. The Toyota inside SCREAMS toughness that the Lexus outside doesn't want you to enjoy and as a consequence the LX, though based on excellent hardware, get neutered just enough drop it all the way to 10th.
MSRP as equipped: $83,550
Pros: Lots of load space and a fair amount of payload. Durable as the day is long. KDSS allows for good wheel articulation and adjustable ride height means this Lexus will take you places the predator face actually looks at home.
Cons: Reliability marked down on account of the sheer volume of systems to go wrong, range with the thirsty 5.7 is poor and the lack of any mechanical traction aids as well as the ground scraping face mean its not going to enjoy heavy travel and the value is just not there.
Verdict: World exploring capability, in a World Market package.
#9 Toyota Land Cruiser - Much like the G63 compared to the G550, the Land Cruiser is still too bloated in its "standard" form to make much sense compared to the marginally more equipped and expensive Lexus version. There is less than $2600 difference between the two and it begs the question; why? That being said, with simple coil springs, and solid robust hardware the Cruiser is tough in ways that belie its soft exterior, KDSS is standard for excellent wheel articulation and build quality is second to none.
MSRP as equipped: 80,925
Pros: You cannot buy a better built vehicle at any price, it will be durable and reliable all the days you own it, and then some. Can carry a heavy load without complaint. traction control, suspension articulation and heavy armor means you will keep moving, even if you are scrapping a lot.
Cons: No rear locker, 8.9 inches of ground clearance, long overhangs and a poor break over mean this rig isn't going to love the rough stuff. Poor range (even worse than the Lexus somehow) and poor value.
Verdict: A reliable, an adequate performer that's over optioned where it matters least.
#8 Grand Cherokee Overland EcoDiesel - First off, its got overland in the name, so it has to be good right? One of two grand Cherokee Overland's on this list, included because of the unique to America diesel engine. Well the big nod to that end is the range, unsurpassed in this gathering by a LONG shot; Able to go nearly 700 miles on a single tank! Aside from the that the newest Grand Cherokee is considered a true rival to the European blue-bloods in terms of refinement and capability, only at a fraction of the price.
MSRP as equipped: $52,300
Pros: Amazing range. High tech off road tools. Decent value (that it ties in points with the vastly more expensive and highly regarded Land Cruiser says a lot here)
Cons: Mid range across load, trail score, reliability and durability.
Verdict: Jack of all trades, master of none.
#7 Range Rover V8 supercharged SWB (HD package) - Now we're getting to the classics. This Range rover, despite all its suburban stereotypes, does appear to be the real deal and worthy of the hype. It has the best payload, the 2nd best off road numbers and decent range. What hurts the Rangie most in this comparison is its starting price of over $102,000 as equipped. This is a "best for the money thing" so that price is going to sting no matter how great it is. That it did so well despite the price is a feat in and of itself.
MSRP as equipped: $102,325
Pros: Phenomenal trail performance for its category. The most payload by far (1800 lbs). A surprisingly good range thanks to its relative weight and large fuel tank.
Cons: Like the Land Cruiser, the Land/Range rovers have earned reputation for reliability, only in a bad way. Durability is also concerning.
Verdict: Over-landing for the sponsored traveler on new money types.
#6 Land Rover LR4 HSE HD - It's funny how the families values show through. The VASTLY less expensive LR4 is traditionally the land rover you buy for adventure, and for good reason; Good off-road, can carry a heavy load, more durable with its body on frame construction than its upscale Brother. This is the Lean Land Rover experience (at least in America)
MSRP as equipped: $56,875
Pros: Rear locker with decent angles and clearance. Adjustable suspension and decent articulation for fully independent. Great for carrying a heavy load year after year. Kind of a value if you consider the Range Rover.
Cons: Range is only so/so. Land Rover and Air suspension. Land Rover reliability.
Verdict: I've always wanted to try my hand at this exploring thing...put it on my AMEX.
#5 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 3.6 - Everything I said for the EcoDiesel, minus the crazy range. The beauty of the 3.6 is because its so much lighter it gets a better payload rating AND is significantly cheaper to buy. All the same off road goodies apply
MSRP as equipped: $47,100
Pros: Decent on the trail. Can carry a decent load. Has a one of the bast gasoline ranges available. Better value than the EcoDiesel.
Cons: nothing WRONG per-se, but no standout in any one category. Durability could be an issue owning to the construction type. Reliability hasn't been a strong point of this generation, though its not necessarily bad.
Verdict: A good multi-tool, inexpensive and indispensable yet not the best at any one its jobs.
#4 Nissan Frontier Pro 4X - The frontier is a tried and true, solid as a rock contender for the overland traveler looking to keep his gear outside of where the passengers sit. A locking rear diff, HD suspension and decent armor means its ready to go touring right out of the box. If you need to carry people AND gear, a truck is a great weapon, though make sure you check your payload, the Frontier is a heavy truck for its GVWR.
MSRP as equipped: $32,950
Pros: Good construction. A dated..uh...proven design mean its in it for the long run and wont leave you stranded. Very good value. All the Off-road goodies you need to get there.
Cons: Poor payload; its not enough to have SPACE to carry it all, you have to be able to take the weight and the heavy Frontier is low in that regard. A thirsty but powerful V6 limits your range.
Verdict: Built like a tank, in both a good and bad way.
#3 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon - The Legend. This vehicle deserves a spot on any 4x4 list by virtue of the fact that it may be the most capable off-road vehicle you can buy off the lot today and its a relative bargain in the process. However, over-landing is less about rock crawling and trail work and more about the occasional tough spot while traveling heavy and in making the Rubicon as good as it is off road, Jeep have sacrificed those needs.
MSRP as equipped: $37,785
Pros: The most trail capable vehicle on the list. Full locker package (shared only with the g-wagons) and all the hardware and armor an over-lander would need. A great value.
Cons: Poor interior volume. Poor Payload. Only average reliability and durability (a consequence of its mission coupled with its value)
Verdict: If you need to travel the more technical trails and can afford to travel a little lighter, there's only one.
#2 Toyota Tacoma Quad cab TRD short bed - Yes, this is an outdated truck, but its still selling so well they must be doing something right...right? Put it this way, another way to say ancient is: seasoned. After all, you wouldn't call Renulph Fiennes outdated would you? The Tacoma is right blend of capability and cost for maximum value to the overland traveler, which is probably why its the vehicle of choice or in the convoys of so many overland travelers, sponsored or amateur. As a bonus, if you decide to move on, resale is so high you wont loose much of your investment.
Pros: More payload than the heavier Frontier. As reliable as the sunrise. A great value.
Cons: Not as equipped to tackle the tougher trails, despite a locking rear diff and HD suspension, as others on this list. Only a moderate range. Poor angles.
Verdict: still the standard bearer for light trucks, wrinkles and all.
#1 Toyota 4Runner Trail - As a Land Cruiser man, I was startled to see the 4Runner on the top of this list. All the same here it is, the Toyota 4Runner Trail: The best over-land value in America. Originally a 4Runner was just a Toyota truck with more seats, now though the 4Runner is built on the bones of the insanely tough and capable Land Cruiser Prado J150 platform (shared with the Lexus Gx460 and proceeded by the now defunct FJ cruiser and its J120 platform) only with better angles, a locker and more clearance. Its full strength and ready for action and paired with an updated and more powerful version of the dependable V6 found in the Tacoma.
MSRP as equipped: $36,700
Pros: Strong off-road performance courtesy of a rear locker, Land Cruiser derived KDSS suspension, good clearance and great angles for a heavy touring vehicle. Better than average interior volume AND payload. Tried and true components and assembly mean you can venture deep with confidence. Surprisingly good range thanks to a large fuel tank.
Cons: In terms of the numbers, the durability compared to the leaders in this group is down, but that's about it. Okay, I don't like the new grill either.
Verdict: For carrying a large, heavy load over rough terrain, year after year you simply cannot get more bang for your buck than the 4Runner trail.
Vehicles 17-11 are as follows.
|Land Rover LR2||1||3||2.5||1||2||2.6||2016|
|Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk||3||3||3||2||1||3.8||2633|
|Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG||4||4||2.5||4||1||1.1||2773|
|Nissan Xterra Pro 4X||4||1||3||3||2||4||2837|
These 7 didn't make the cut based on value, capability, or range...sometimes all of the above. Granted I expected some to fall on their face [Land Rover LR2/G63 AMG] but some were a genuine surprise [Cherokee Trailhawk/G550].
So what do you say? What did I get wrong, what did I get right? what do YOU think is the best, off the lot vehicle for exploring the world?
This is The World By Vehicle or, in summary, my rambling stories about seeing neat things by car or how to do the same.