Overlanding, its the vehicle based equivalent to backpacking, only without the smell or the half sized toothbrushes and for the people that do it that’s exactly the appeal: All the nature you can handle, with a modicum (or more) of comfort. As a curator on the kinja Overland & Expedition as well as in my own personal experience I’ve seen the popularity of the sport explode in the last few years...and its showing no signs of stopping. Gas is cheap[er], SUV’s are coming back into style and even the midsized truck market is picking up again. With that being said, who offers the best vehicle to adorn with your favorite new overland trimmings and which ones aren’t fit to cross a cattle guard?

{NOTE: Updated 9-25-2016 to include the final pricing for the Nissan Armada}

When I first undertook this in 2014 there were 17 candidates, now 19 with several reworked or replaced models including different engine options and one not for sale vehicle yet. These include

  • URJ200 (Land Cruiser/LX570) - New 8 speed transmission and updated interior
  • Tacoma TRD - An “all new” Tacoma for 2016
  • Chevy Colorado - New since the last published list, including the 2.8 duramax version
  • Nissan Armada SV - This is the Nissan Patrol in other markets, and although its technically not on sale yet there is enough published information to get a baseline on it...take the price and value with a grain of salt. Its now on sale and less expensive than thought.
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport - Replaces the unloved LR2 (eventually)
  • Range Rover TD6 - A new diesel engine option
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo E - Replaces the Overland trim 3.6 gas model from 2014's comparison to give the grand Cherokee more diversity by dropping features to gain value.

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In addition the pricing on several of them have changed as well as the methodology I used for comparison in an effort to better weight the right things. You can read more about the methodology and see all the scores and detailed specs heading here.

Now overlanding, 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 and not according to which one is the best “off roader” since that means so many things to so many people. All categories are 1-5 with 5 being score all the rest are curved to with the exception of trail score which is normalized at 10 in an effort to weigh that aspect above the others. The categories are:

  • Load Capacity
  • Fuel Economy/Range
  • Trail Worthiness
  • Reliability
  • Durability
  • Value

Only the top 10 make the list, however, the bottom 9 with their rank will be included at the bottom.

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#10 Lexus GX460 - The GX is an oddball car, its a competent off roader wrapped up in a fancy outfit. It’s based on a “light duty” Land Cruiser called the Prado sold in other markets (related to the FJ cruiser and 4Runner) only here as a Lexus it’s far removed from its honest roots. Still, there is enough of the Prado in here to make it a competent choice for a comfortable long haul cruiser.

Pros: A quiet, competent on road performer with a solid foundation for many years of touring

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Cons: Range is poor, angles are poor and body damage is going to be pricey. The existence of the 4Runner.

Verdict: “Built like a steakhouse but handles like a bistro

MSRP as equipped: $51,730

#9 Nissan Armada SV - Like the GX, the Armada is a legend reskinned for American consumption. The Armada is known elsewhere as the Y62 Patrol, which is a name akin to Land Cruiser and has been crossing continents reliably nearly as long. The Current Y62/Armada is a little soft compared to its fore-bearers but it’s still a solid touring machine with unmatched payload and volume.

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MSRP as equipped:$48,295

Pros: Lots of room inside and the payload to take it, as well as a solid tow rating, this would be the machine you would hitch up a trailer too and take the entire family into the wilderness. Amazing value for money.

Cons: It’s easily the largest vehicle on the list, and although the angles and clearance are sufficient, its going to struggle on tighter trails.

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Verdict: On patrol with uncle chuck.

#8 Cherokee Trailhawk - Due to a change in the way the numbers were run this year, this also-ran from years past has moved onto this list as others more traditional choices (Land Cruiser) fell off. Basically...it’s hard to beat the price. The load and range scores are among the lowest, and it doesn’t fair well in the reliability department but its high trail score and low price secure it a spot on this list.

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MSRP as equipped: $32,235

Pros: Plenty capable. Small and nimble. Cheap.

Cons: Poor range and payload limit the scope of your tours to weekends, which is probably good because you wont want to be too far away from a dealer.

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Verdict: small, light and surprisingly capable.

#7 Grand Cherokee Laredo E 3.6 - One step up from the bottom of the rung in the Grand Cherokee lineup is the best of the bunch in the Laredo E with the off road package; Everything you need in an overlander and very little you don’t. This is as close to the fabled “stripper” off road SUV as can be found on this or any US list. If you are looking at a Cherokee Trailhawk, you owe it to yourself to see if you can scrounge up another couple of grand on this great blank canvas.

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MSRP as equipped: $34800

Pros: Range and cargo in spades, the 3.6 is a reliable performer, comfy on the road, capable off the road.

Cons: The WKII Grand Cherokee isn’t known as a particularly well screwed together vehicle, doesn’t include the nicer 4wd systems in the pricier models. Feels like a stripped Jeep inside.

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Verdict: The Cheap Jeep to buy.

#6 Chevrolet Colorado Duramax Z71 (quad cab short bed) - A small diesel pickup in America?! Yup, and it’s not a bad little performer as well. Diesel is coveted in overlanding circles for its effortless power, especially at low speeds and under load, as well it’s the range you get from the increased economy of the cycle. The trouble with the Colorado is that it’s less off road runabout and more 5/8th’s Silverado and while this makes it a great little truck, its poor off road credentials compared to the Tacoma hamstring it in this trail score weighted competition. However, if less sever trails are on your list or you don’t mind building it up, it could be a very competent performer.

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MSRP as equipped: $40050

Pros: Great range, great payload, that diesel grunt matters when you’ve added up all that weight.

Cons: Angles, ground clearance, mechanical and electronic traction, etc are all well below the trail focused Tacoma. Cost of the diesel is pretty high.

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Verdict: Like a big truck, but a little smaller.

#5 Chevrolet Colorado 3.6 Z71 (quad cab short bed) - The gas powered version of the truck above nets you most of the great things about the diesel, but without the high diesel tax. Less range, sure, but more power for highway passing as well at that $4000 discount are hard to pass up. Overall the Colorado’s are a decent choice and a welcome option in a marketplace that’s heating up.

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MSRP as equipped: $35900

Pros: Range is still quite good and there will be plenty of cargo capacity to bring more if needed. A great small sized truck with excellent towing and payload and decent off road ability.

Cons: It’s just not setup for off road work like it could be.

Verdict: “I won’t buy a Tacoma, that’s for sure!”

#4 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 it’s 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 in the crawling department, Jeep has sacrificed those other considerations.

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MSRP as equipped: $40035

Pros: The most trail capable vehicle on the list by a comfortable margin. Full locker package (shared only with the g-wagons) and all the hardware and armor an overlander would need. A great value.

Cons: Poor interior volume. Really poor payload. Only average reliability and durability (a consequence of its mission coupled with its value)

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Verdict: If you can travel light, need to do tougher trails or only wave at other jeeps, there is only one.

#3 Nissan Frontier Pro 4X (quad cab short bed) - Yeah, it’s old and outdated, but its a BARGAIN! It’s a proven truck with a track record of reliability, it’s got all the right hardware underneath and while the payload, range and trail scores are only midpack, its 2nd lowest price in this comparison means you get a lot for your money.

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MSRP as equipped: $34290

Pros: Good construction. A dated..uh...proven design mean it’s in it for the long run and won’t leave you stranded. Very good value. All the Off-road goodies you need to get there.

Cons: Relatively poor payload. A thirsty but powerful V6 limits your range.

Verdict: Built like a tank, in both a good and bad way.

#2 Toyota 4Runner Trail - The #1 spot used to belong to the 4Runner and for great reasons; Great angles, traction systems, and clearance as well as a stout frame for payload. Its near tops in all the categories on the list and is renowned for being reliable and durable. If you want a touring wagon, a 4Runner should be on your shopping list. The only thing keeping the 4Runner off the top spot is price.

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MSRP as equipped: $39210

Pros: Right sized, reliable, rugged and capable. It ticks off all the basic boxes if not tops in its categories then near the top.

Cons: More expensive this year, uglier this year, still a little thirsty and not the most refined long distance machine on this list (though hardly the least).

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Verdict: The 4Runner shows that no one understands the off road touring wagon market like Toyota.

#1 Toyota Tacoma (Quad cab TRD short bed) - The Tacoma has been the gold standard for people who want a small off road truck for decades and while the “all new” model leaves a little to be desired in terms of keeping up with the new and strong competition as a whole, its missions specific dominance remains unchallenged. The Tacoma is right blend of capability and cost for maximum value to the overland traveler, which is probably why it has been and will likely continue to be the vehicle of choice in the convoys of so many overland travelers, sponsored or amateur.

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MSRP: $35640

Pros: A proven formula, not reinvented but refined. For the money, you simply can’t find a better touring companion, unless you want a wagon, not a pickup.

Cons: Payload is poor (worse this year) and the new 3.5L engine isn’t as thrifty as its loss of mid-range torque would suggest. Love or hate looks. Drum brakes, I guess.

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Verdict: Still the standard bearer for off road light trucks, wrinkles and all.

Below is the complete list, you can read more about the scoring system and my methodology here, but at the end of the day it was money vs merit and many of the losers on this years list are simply too much money to fair well here. However, if money is no object and you don’t mind pin-striping 100 grand+ skip the “value score” and go strait to the “merit score” which are the categories minus the pricing equation. Best in category is marked with bold

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If you want to read about the scoring methodology or see the entire data set, click here