The most capable off-road vehicles tend to be built on a traditional body-on-frame chassis, traditionally found on pickup trucks and snow-busting SUVs like the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler. Unfortunately, this platform design results in a less space-efficient, heavier, and thirstier vehicle, so most modern cars and crossover SUVs use a unibody platform.
Thankfully, for buyers looking for the best of both worlds, automakers have recently responded with several new crossovers that offer the looks of a rock climber and a bit more off-pavement capability without the inefficiencies of their heavier SUV counterparts.
Here are five crossovers to consider if you need some extra capability and tough looks from your crossover.
- 2023 Honda Passport TrailSport
- 2023 Kia Telluride X-Pro
- 2023 Subaru Outback Wilderness
- 2023 Toyota RAV4 Trail
- 2024 Volkswagen Atlas Peak Edition
The two-row mid-size Passport was the first Honda to offer the automaker’s comprehensive TrailSport off-road trim in the 2022 model year, with distinct styling touches and some hardware changes to what was already considered a competent vehicle off-road.
Like all Passports, the TrailSport is powered by Honda’s familiar 280-horsepower V6 with an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. To aid trips off the pavement, the TrailSport gets a 10-millimetre increase in track width to accommodate unique 245/60R18 tires mounted on machined 18-inch wheels.
Externally, the TrailSport’s rugged looks are emphasized by its unique grille and more aggressive front and rear bumpers that include a skid plate. Power folding mirrors (for narrow trails) and heated windshield wiper parking areas (to keep them from getting stuck in ice storms) are standard. Orange external badging is echoed throughout the cabin.
If you need a larger vehicle, the redesigned three-row eight-passenger 2023 Honda Pilot can also be had in a TrailSport trim.
Like Honda, Kia has recognized the demand for trail-ready crossovers, introducing new X-Line and X-Pro trims to add “ruggedness and capability” for 2023 versions of its compact Sportage and mid-size Telluride. The Sportage can only be had in X-Line. The larger, three-row Telluride offers both X-Line and X-Pro with exclusive upgrades and enhancements.
The all-wheel drive Telluride’s major mechanicals remain unchanged, including the 291-horsepower V6 and automatic transmission. The X-Line adds 10 millimetres more ground clearance, plus improved approach and departure angles. Moving up to the X-Pro trim adds a tow mode to increase the towing capacity from 5,000 pounds (2.268 kilograms) to 5,500 lbs (2,495 kg), an upgraded Traction Control System, and 18-inch black wheels and all-terrain Continental tires. Inside, you’ll find “X-Pro” embossing on the front seats, plus a 110-volt inverter outlet in the cargo area.
Subaru owners have been modifying their vehicles for off-road adventures for decades. But the automaker’s new Wilderness subbrand adds a host of external and interior styling tweaks and serious technical upgrades, giving buyers some additional from-the-factory off-road chops.
Also available with the 2023 Subaru Forester and the upcoming 2024 Subaru Crosstrek, we think the Wilderness version of Subaru’s Outback five-passenger all-wheel drive mid-size wagon/crossover presents a unique offering. It comes standard with the Outback’s upgraded 260-horsepower turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder, improved 9.5-inch (24-cm) ground clearance, standard front skid plate, Yokohama GEOLANDAR all-terrain tires, mounted on matte back 17-inch alloy wheels, with raised white letters (in honour of the original Outback).
Subaru’s off-road heritage shines in the Wilderness package’s details. The Outback’s approach, ramp breakover, and departure have been improved. The standard continuously variable automatic transmission gets a revised rear differential with a final drive ratio, and a new feature for X-MODE allows the vehicle to switch automatically from low-speed managed driving to speeds over 40 kn/h mph without interruption of power or performance.
TRD (Toyota Racing Development) has been offering hardcore off-road versions of body-on-frame Toyota trucks and SUVs for decades. But for fans of the best-selling RAV4 compact crossover, the most capable trim is the Trail.
Based on the RAV4 XLE trim, the Trail gets the ubiquitous 2.5-litre four-cylinder with 203 horsepower mated to an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Plus, there are 19-inch Trail alloy wheels, Toyota’s Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel drive system with rear driveline disconnect, and a towing package that allows for a 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) towing rating.
Externally, the Trail has a more aggressive front grille, larger fenders, LED fog lights, and bridge-type roof rails. Inside, there’s a wireless charging tray and a 120-volt/100-Watt AC power outlet in the cargo area. New this year, the Trail includes a larger 8-inch touchscreen.
Volkswagen has traditionally pitched its crossovers as more practical versions of its, highlighting the on-road capabilities German-engineered cars are known for. But VW is jumping on the rugged crossover bandwagon with the new 2024 Atlas Peak Edition.
Riffing off the Atlas Basecamp Concept seen in 2019, the Peak Edition of the three-row mid-size crossover wears body cladding elements that VW says “create a more rugged overland look. There are plenty of black-out details, a new front fascia, and underbody cladding in silver. Exclusive to the Peak Edition are Avocado Green and Pure Grey exterior colours. Inside, Peak Edition models feature a signature look that pulls from the logo colours.
Beyond its off-road aesthetics, the only exclusive hardware is 18-inch black alloy wheels with 255/60 all-terrain tires.
The Peak Edition trim joins the refreshed 2024 Atlas lineup, which will be fully detailed closer to launch this summer.