It’s a common question posed across the internet: What’s the best off-road vehicle? Everyone has an opinion. We here at Sawtooth Overland are no different. So, we compiled a list of our 10 favorite off-road 4×4 rigs.
Pulling this list together was no small feat; several fights broke out in the Sawtooth Overland HQ offices in whittling it down to just 10, across four brands. In compiling the list, we scored for durability (reliability and ruggedness), accessibility (price and commonality), form (design and style), and function (usability), aftermarket support, and—of course—off road capabilities.
Without further delay, here is Sawtooth Overland’s best off-road vehicles.
The Toyota Tacoma tops our best off-road vehicle list simply because it received the highest marks across all our criteria. It’s legendarily reliable. Its pickup bed and towing capacity make it an outstanding tower and hauler. It has tons of aftermarket support. And it’s super common—parts and dealers are always accessible.
Yes, the 4.0-liter V6 gasoline engine and five-speed automatic might be ancient by automotive standards. And used Tacos nearly as expensive second hand as they are at the dealer. But what the Tacoma lacks in refinement or modernity it makes up for with personality, character, and great off-road capabilities.
Although virtually any 4×4 version of the Tacoma is super capable, the more rugged TRD Sport is the one we’d choose to put in our driveway. After all, if you find one with the six-speed manual and stock 4.56 final drive gear radio, you canrun 35-inch tires without re-gearing 💪.
Yep, it’s true (don’t worry, some of our staffers were as mad as you are). Ultimately, we put the Tacoma on top of the Wrangler because Jeep has a bit of a reliability issue. What’s that saying, ‘if there’s nothing wrong with your Jeep, there’s something wrong with you’?
With JLs being recalled for broken frame welds and previous generations suffering from electrical issues and overheating-prone automatic transmissions, we couldn’t put the Wrangler on top of the nearly bullet-proof Toyota. Sorry not sorry.
With all of that negativity out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff—but you probably already know it. The Wrangler is America’s most iconic 4×4. It essentially invented the class. And in its newest form, it takes point-and-shoot off-roading to the next level. It has the approach and departure angle mixed with impressive ground clearance to ensure you can get through or over just about any obstacle.
Finally, Jeep is now offering a slew of powertrain options, from mild-hybrid to diesel. So, no matter your budget or powertrain tastes, there’s a Wrangler for you.
It doesn’t hurt that the sweet-jumps-loving Raptor is one of the F-150 variants. But, even in more accessible FX4 trim, the F-150 makes a great off-road rig. The EcoBoost engines are powerful, smooth, and fairly fuel efficient. Ground clearance is plentiful. The full-size Fords can hold a lot of people and tow a lot of stuff—and they look good doing it.
No, the F-150 is not great for tight trails. Nor will it win any rock-crawling championships without locking differentials. But if you’re a wide-open-spaces overlander, the F-150 is a great option.
Toyota Land Cruiser
If the Wrangler is the grand daddy of the off-roaders, the Land Cruiser is his slightly younger cousin. Although the Jeep started off the segment, the Land Cruiser proved itself the global dominant nameplate in off-roading. After all, it’s the official vehicle of the United Nations. That should tell you enough right there.
We at Sawtooth Overland love the Land Cruiser. It’s proven to be an unstoppable off-road driving machine. The Land Cruiser name is as synonymous with reliability as Coke is to refreshment or Dawn is to cleaning stuff up.
“Oh, Land Cruiser? Yeah, he’s going places … and nothing’s going to stop him. ‘Nuff said.”
Like the Wrangler and the Tacoma, Land Cruisers are everywhere—just not quite as common as the previous two. They enjoy plentiful aftermarket support. Since they’re Toyotas, they enjoy the same OEM parts availability as their stablemates.
Ultimately, though, we love how damn civilized the Land Cruiser is. Some early generations are mighty slow. But the 100 and 200 series are virtual rocket ships by comparison. If you want an all-round daily driver off-roader, there’s little better choice than the Land Cruiser.
The 4Runner is the SUV companion to the beloved Tacoma. Just like the Taco, its powertrain could use some refreshing. But do you really care if your rig doesn’t drive like a mini van? We reckon that’s half the enjoyment, the old-school truck feel of it. And the 4Runner has that in spades.
When you’re not wheeling or hitting the mountain, though, the 4Runner proves to be—like all other Toyotas—a family-friendly rig you can set your watch to. No matter if you get it in base trim or TRD Pro, there’s something to love for everyone.
We love it because it’s big without being too big. the 4Runner is trucky without being annoying (unlike the Wrangler JK on the highway). And it’s supported by tons of aftermarket suppliers and fabricators. Sure, in the 4Runner, you might be mistaken for a soccer mom. But that’s OK. Slap on some bigger tires, strap a shovel to your roof rack, and prove them wrong.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
The FJ Cruiser is a truck that might have been just a bit ahead of its time. Just a few years after Toyota discontinued it in 2014, off-roading and overlanding skyrocketed in popularity. Now, FJ Cruisers fetch second- and third-hand prices comparable to what they retailed for at Toyota dealerships. Crazy.
It’s starting to feel like beating a dead horse with the Toyota praise. You know what we’re going to say next: reliable, capable, parts availability, and so on—all true of the FJ Cruiser. But what sets this one apart from the other Toyotas on this list was that it was designed first and foremost as an off-roader. The Land Cruiser is a luxury barge. The 4Runner is for suburban families. The Tacoma is for dentists who own motorbikes. But the FJ Cruiser was for off-road bad-asses who were willing to sacrifice exterior visibility for trail-taming bona fides. And, boy, what bona fides they got.
The new, second-generation Colorado has been slowly climbing the off-road respect ladder since its reintroduction in 2011. In the intervening years, Chevy has revealed two off-road variants: The ZR2 and ZR2 Bison (by AEV). With triple locking differentials, skid plates, sliders, and Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs on its feet, there are few trucks as capable as the Colorado ZR2 right out of the box.
Some people still view the current-gen Colorado through the old GM lens. We think that’s a mistake. This new one drives better than any other truck in its segment (sorry, but it’s true). It’s proven to be reliable. And the parts support is growing. It’s not ready to top our list yet; it still has a lot more to prove, since it’s a relative newcomer on the scene. Still, what we’ve witnessed from the ZR2 (not to mention the kick-ass new front fascia it received for 2020) impresses us a lot.
The Gladiator is the newcomer on this list. But it’s already a legend. Still, like the Colorado just above it, the Gladiator has a lot to prove before it can ascend our list. “Like what?” You ask? We’ll tell you.
Well, first off, the size of the thing is monumental. For example, it has a 137-inch wheelbase. The Land Cruiser 200 has a 112-inch wheel base. The Gladiator has 25 more inches between its wheels than the blue whale-sized LC 200. And you know what that means.
OK, we give. We’ll tell you: Long wheel bases make for difficult going off road.
Secondly, we’ve been irked by the recalls this new truck has seen already. A stop-sale was put on the Gladiators because some might not have had the driveshafts properly lubricated, which could cause them to fail. It’s that sort of stuff that worries us. Yes, it’s early in the build, and most vehicles have early growing pains. This one, though, feels different.
Regardless of its length and build quality and reliability issues, the Gladiator is going to be an amazing off-roader. We already know this. Give it a few years and it might find its way atop our list competing with the Taco—just not yet, though.
The Tundra is maybe more obnoxiously out-dated than anything else on this list. That’s because all the full-size truck competitors like Ford, Ram, and Chevy have released updated and super compelling offerings in recent years. Meanwhile, Toyota is still running its tried and true Tundra.
Want update tech and leather? Forget it. Clever tailgate designs? Not here. Do you want a truck that’s as reliable as the day is long and beginning to be blessed with a growing slew of bad-ass aftermarket offerings? Then the Tundra is for you.
Companies are starting to realize that guys and gals are really starting to seriously use their Tundras on the trail. So, they’ve stepped up with aftermarket support. That is one benefit to the old-as-dirt Tundra: with so little changes in the last decade, there’s a lot of parts support across the years. See? There’s a silver lining to Toyota’s laziness after all.