By Ben Stewart | Photos: Courtesy of the Manufacturers
This is, in many ways, the golden age for off-road enthusiast vehicles. The market for 4X4 trucks and SUVs developed specifically for serious four-wheelers is booming. Now, nearly every manufacturer has at least one really great off-road package— and in many cases far more. Plus, there are the packages that go way beyond typical, like the Rubicon, Raptor, the new Ram TRX. Yes, the list of hardcore off-roaders is long, but we trimmed it down to just ten. Here are our favorites heading into 2021 ranked in order of capability.
1) 2021 Ram 1500 TRX
The Ram 1500 TRX is quite handily the most capable high-speed, off-road production truck we’ve ever driven. The way the TRX soaks up bumps is extraordinary. Yes, much of that credit goes to the re-enforced frame, those 14-inches of rear wheel travel (13-inches up front), supple coil springs and the incredible 2.5-inch Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive dampers. Those shocks, quite amazingly, can provide a smooth supple ride on road and off as well as relatively flat cornering on a mountain road. But the real TRX treat is under the hood. Ram decided only the Hellcat would do here, so the team installed the supercharged 702 hp monster with 650 lb-ft of torque.
So now we have an offroad monster that can hit whoops like a pre-runner and nail 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. The multi-mode 4WD system tailors just the right amount of traction for the terrain too. Lock-in Baja mode and nothing else can accelerate from a stop in a sandy wash like this truck can. It’s just amazing. And thanks to generous axle articulation and a locking rear differential, the TRX can crawl well too. The only downsides to this rig? It starts at $69,995 and it only returns about 12 mpg combined.
For those worried about fuel economy, the “normal” 1500 Rebel is a very capable package too and offers pump-friendly 3.0-liter diesel and a cushy optional air suspension.
2) 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392
The Wrangler Rubicon is the granddaddy of hardcore off-road packages. Jeep has been developing and refining the Rubicon package on every generation of Wrangler since the TJ. Yes, there’s been a ‘Con on sale every year since 2003. The current model, with electronic locking diffs in the heavy-duty front and rear solid axles, ultra-low transfer case gearing and a front swaybar disconnect, certainly qualifies for a top spot on this list. But there’s one element about the Rubicon that’s been missing—more power. And Jeep fans have been begging for a V8 Wrangler since the late 1980s. This year, the dream comes true. But this isn’t just a standard Hemi.
The new Rubicon 392 receives an SRT-tuned 6.4-liter V8 with 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. This means you’ll soon be able to buy a four-door Wrangler that can rip to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and cross the ¼ mile in 13 seconds flat. That’s staggering! And like the TRX, this Wrangler runs a fulltime 4WD system. This new model uses the Gladiator Mojave hood with a cold air intake system. There’s a new Hydro Guide system of water management that can handle a bow wave of 15 gallons-per-minute over the hood. Translation? The 392 can ford more water than a standard Rubicon. It also gains a slightly taller (one-inch over the standard Rubicon) suspension with Fox dampers and clears 33-inch tires on beadlock-capable wheels. If there’s an SUV that will provide more smiles in the dirt and on the street than the Rubicon 392, we’d like to see it.
3) 2020 Ford Raptor
Until the Ram TRX came along, the Ford Raptor was the gold standard for high-speed off-road packages. The Raptor’s 13.9-inches of rear wheel travel is incredible and does an admirable job soaking up whoops along with the 13-inches up front. And the Fox 3.0 internal bypass dampers are excellent. But compared to the coils at all corners of the Ram, the Raptor’s a bit less sophisticated and controlled in the dirt. Still, Ford’s own Baja mode is a triumph of technology and really allows for some high-speed fun in the desert. Speaking of speed, the Raptor’s 450 hp Ecoboost V6 is very strong. But it just can’t match the Ram’s Hellcat. Good news? At around $55,000 for the SuperCab version, its much less expensive than the TRX but rumor has it that it will only be available as a Super Crew in the upcoming version so get one while you can.
Plus, option the truck right and you’ll have a mechanical limited-slip in the front axle which, along with the standard rear electronic locking diff. And those parts really help the Raptor gain traction on slow-speed four-wheeling trails. Ford fans can rest easy, though. Reports are clear that an upgraded Raptor for 2021 is on the way with more power, perhaps in the form of a supercharged 5.2 V8 from the GT500 (where it makes 760 hp) and maybe even a coil-link rear suspension. Raptor too much?
Ford has announced an F-150 Tremor model with an upgraded suspension (more travel), 33-inch tires and the Raptor’s Torsen limited-slip up front complementing the electronic locking rear axle. It even comes with the Bronco’s trail turn assist feature, which applies the brakes to the inside rear wheel to help negotiate turns more tightly. It launches this summer. We expect it will be very close in pricing and performance to a Ram Rebel so the truck battle rages on it seems.
4) 2021 Ford Bronco Sasquatch
It’s been a long wait but soon the world will finally have the all-new Ford Bronco. And we’re excited. Of course, we haven’t driven the beast yet, but we have seen it tackle some very serious trails thanks to Instagram. And we’re confident that the models with the best off-road gear will be terrific machines in the dirt. Our pick? That depends on whether you want the V6 or the 4-cylinder engine. The Badlands model with the Sasquatch package is hard to beat out of the box. If the 2.7L EcoBoost V6 with 310HP and 400 lb-ft of torque sounds like more fun, the Wildtrack is what you will want along with the addition of a front steel bumper option. The Badlands is like the Wrangler Rubicon of Broncos. It has front and rear electronic locking differentials, a unique long-travel suspension with Bilstein dampers with a swaybar disconnect and a special rock crawl mode. It also has hardcore steel bumpers. Now the normal Badlands will be an animal on slow-going trails with its 33-inch tires, but lay the big tire Sasquatch package over top the Badlands model and you’ll get something special.
That’s because Sasquatch brings factory 35-inch tires on beadlock-capable wheels to the mix along with high-clearance flares and 4.70:1 axle gearing. This should be an amazing machine. But if all this isn’t enough, Ford is testing prototypes of a more extreme Bronco with more power and a longer-travel Raptor-style suspension. Some are calling this machine the Warthog others, Bronco Raptor. When that special Bronco model hits, will it have goods to put the Wrangler 392 on the trailer? These are exciting times for fans of new 4X4s.
5) 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave
The Gladiator Rubicon has electronic locking differentials in both axles and a front swaybar disconnect. It also has a deeper 4:1 low range ratio. Plus, you can order the 3.0-liter Ecodiesel. So, for super-slow four wheeling that package does have an advantage. But to us, the $45,000 Mojave is a more fun package for a pickup truck. The key features of the Mojave are in the suspension. The front suspension is just one inch taller and the rear remains at stock height. But it’s those Fox 2.5 internal bypass dampers that transform the ride. The damping control is really impressive considering that the wheel travel spec doesn’t really change. Whoops are where it shines, and landings are softened by the hydraulic bumpstops. Drive one of these back-to-back with a Rubicon and you’ll find you can carry much more speed with a Mojave.
The Mojave uses Rubicon-spec axles that have been further beefed up for durability and so have certain areas of the frame too. And like the Rubicon, there’s an electronic locker in the rear axle (the front remains open). It all works really well, especially when Off-Road Plus mode is engaged in 4-wheel drive high-range and the stability control electronics are loosened enough to allow some tail-sliding fun. Sure, the Mojave is designed to excel in higher speed desert driving, but that suspension works well in all types of terrain including city streets and fire roads. The Mojave is perhaps the best vehicle in the Jeep line for overlanding. We’d order the 6-speed manual transmission, add a traction differential to the front axle and call it a day.
6) 2021 Ram Power Wagon
The Power Wagon was the first hardcore off-road packages for fullsize trucks when it launched fifteen years ago. The name of course harkens back to the original (and legendary) Power Wagons of the 1940s. And like those first Ram Power Wagons, the current truck is a slow-going beast. To create a Power Wagon, Ram upgraded the front and rear solid axle suspension from a 2500-series with more flex as well as taller springs. In fact, the team even developed the specific Articulink up front to allow more twist. Press the swaybar disconnect button, lock the front and rear axles and the Power Wagon becomes an absolute tractor.
Thanks to the grip of the 33-inch Wrangler Duratrac tires, the Power Wagon can handle mud too. Get in too deep and there’s a 12,000 lb. Warn winch hidden in the front bumper for self-recovery. Under the hood is a 410 hp, 6.4-liter V8 with a re-tuned throttle pedal for slower, more progressive response in low range. The ‘Wagon is an excellent truck for heavy work in remote areas—it can tow over 10,000 pounds. And it could be a great platform for overlanding too. But for those four-wheelers that want to play with a little more speed in the dirt, the Power Wagon isn’t the best choice. This is a big, heavy truck with big, heavy axles after all. That being said, it’s a great platform for a solid chase truck in desert racing that can go anywhere through remote locations as a support truck while hauling over 1500 pounds of payload.
7) 2021 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The $43,000 Chevy ZR2 is easily one of the most capable midsize pickup trucks. In fact, could it be GM’s most capable 4X4 ever? The suspension of the ZR2 is taller by 2-inches, has a wider track and includes more wheel travel than a standard Colorado with 8.6 inches up front and 10 inches in the rear and awesome (but a little firm) Multimatic shocks. The body has been hacked to provide a better approach angle too. The ZR2 has selectable lockers in both axles and can be optioned with a powerful 3.6-liter V6 or a torque-rich diesel (369 lb-ft of torque down at 2,000 rpm) that extends the truck’s useable driving range by a considerable distance.
The 31-inch (265/65R-17) Goodyear Duratracs are a little small for this truck’s potential capability. But there’s a fix for that. The $5750 Bison packaged on top of the ZR2 adds some great stuff from AEV which includes armor-like, super-tough bumpers, side sill rock rails and skid plating. Plus, the AEV kit includes bigger flares that they say (with a bit of trimming) will fit 33-inch tires. There’s also an optional dealer-installed snorkel.
8) 2021 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
Toyota was a pioneer in the industry when it comes to serious off-road packages. The TRD off-road grouping of parts for the Tacoma launched in 1998. And it was a revolution, offering a selectable locking rear differential and Bilstein dampers way before anyone else did. Today’s TRD off-road package trucks don’t stray too far from that original formula. But the upgraded Pro models add some seriously good suspension components.
Toyota offers the TRD Pro in Tacoma, 4Runner, Tundra and now, the Sequoia. But it’s the $50,000 ‘Runner that remains our favorite. The front suspension has coils that are about an inch taller with unique spring rates. And though the rear suspension is stock height, the team uses Fox 2.5-inch dampers at each corner. The result is a truck that is surprisingly capable at high-speed four wheeling. The Pro can really take a good pounding at speed without bottoming out. And when it does, there’s a beefy TRD skid plate up front. Other 4Runners, by comparison, can only handle about half the speed through the same sections. The 265/70R17 tires are relatively small compared to some off-road packages, but thanks to the electronic locking rear differential, the Pro can creep its way up a fairly tough trail. No, it won’t keep up with a Wrangler Rubicon. But a TRD Pro 4Runner is a much better high-speed SUV whether it’s in the dirt of on pavement.
9) 2021 Ford Super Duty Tremor
For more than a decade, the Power Wagon stood along as the only serious off-road package for a heavy-duty pickup truck. That changed this year. And unlike Ram, Ford made sure that the Power Stroke diesel with its 1050 lb-ft of torque was an option in the $3975 Tremor package along with the new 7.3-liter gas V8. The Tremor package adds a lot of equipment. The suspension upfront is an inch taller with a smaller diameter swaybar to help boost articulation in the beefy Dana 60 front axle. It works. Although the rear springs are standard-issue packs they are upgraded twin-tube dampers at each corner of the Tremor. Ford fits 35-inch (285/75R18) Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires on the Tremor and re-sculpts the front air dam to allow for a much-improved approach angle. Like the FX4 package, there’s an electronic locking rear differential here. But unlike any other Super Duty, the Tremor has a Spicer Trac-Lok limited-slip differential up front specifically tuned to engage more quickly.
There’s over 10-inches of clearance under both axles, excellent body clearance and descent flex, so the truck works really well crawling along a slow-speed trail. This grouping of parts allows the Super Duty to go down fire roads with a suppleness not normally found in Ford’s largest pickups. It’s a great rig. Plus, the package is available on both F-250 and F-350 trucks. So, basically you don’t really lose any hauling or towing capability by opting for the Tremor.
10) 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4
GMC’s AT4 package is not created equal across all model lines. The light-duty 1500 Sierra model is more capable off-road than most of the rest. And part of that comes from a unique suspension that sits two inches taller than the standard Sierra with specific bump stops and Rancho dampers. And thanks to the 32-inch, 275/65R18 Goodyear Duratracs tires there’s 11-inches under the front skidplate and a solid 10 inches in the rear. GMC has a revised front facia for the AT4 that, combined with the lift and taller tires, offers a much-improved approach angle. And that allows this truck to really take-on some fun off-road trails. Like most GM trucks, the AT4 has the mechanical rear locker that works with wheelspin. Stay in the throttle and it will indeed send power to both rear wheels. But at times, the operation of this diff can be inelegant sending plumes of dust skyward.
The AT4 comes standard with the 5.3-liter V8. But we’d option the 6.2-liter V8, which makes 435 hp with the Off-Road Performance package and really makes this rig a blast to drive. Overall, the AT4 is a good package that rides smoothly on road or off. Of course, the Chevrolet Z71 Trail Boss and GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 are near clones when it comes to the hard parts. Both are equally capable. But we like the handsome GMC and give it the nod here.
Find this original article and more insights from 4 Wheel Parts here.