Best Off-Road SUVs for 2023
These are the best off-road SUVs based on iSeeCars' analysis of their off-road specs and capabilities.
The best off-road subcompact SUV is the Jeep Compass (8.6 inches of ground clearance), with the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible being the best off-road luxury subcompact SUV (8.3 inches of ground clearance). The Subaru Outback ranks #1 for the best off-road small and compact SUVs (9.5 inches of ground clearance).
The best off-road luxury small and compact SUV is the Land Rover Defender (9 inches of ground clearance) and the best off-road midsize SUV is the Ford Bronco (13.1 inches of ground clearance). Topping the list for the best off-road luxury midsize SUVs is the Land Rover Discovery (11.1 inches of ground clearance), while the Ford Expedition ranks first for the best off-road large SUVs (10.6 inches of ground clearance).
The best off-road luxury large SUV is the Mercedes-Benz G-Class (10.5 inches of ground clearance), with the Subaru Outback being the best off-road crossover SUV (9.5 inches of ground clearance). The Land Rover Discovery ranks #1 for the best off-road luxury crossover SUVs (11.1 inches of ground clearance).
The best off-road three-row SUV is the Ford Expedition (10.6 inches of ground clearance) and the best off-road luxury three-row SUV is the Land Rover Discovery (11.1 inches of ground clearance). Topping the list for the best off-road hybrid SUVs is the Jeep Wrangler (Plug-in Hybrid) (11.2 inches of ground clearance), while the Volvo XC90 (Plug-in Hybrid) ranks first for the best off-road luxury hybrid SUVs (8.8 inches of ground clearance).
The best off-road plug-in hybrid SUV (PHEV) is the Jeep Wrangler (Plug-in Hybrid) (11.2 inches of ground clearance), with the Volvo XC90 (Plug-in Hybrid) being the best off-road luxury plug-in hybrid SUVs (PHEV) (8.8 inches of ground clearance). The Rivian R1S ranks #1 for the best off-road electric SUVs (8.8 inches of ground clearance).
The best off-road luxury electric SUV is the Rivian R1S (8.8 inches of ground clearance) and the best off-road 7-seater SUV is the Toyota Sequoia (10 inches of ground clearance). Topping the list for the best off-road hybrid 7-seater SUVs is the Toyota Sequoia (hybrid) (9.1 inches of ground clearance), while the Land Rover Discovery ranks first for the best off-road luxury 7-seater SUVs (11.1 inches of ground clearance).
The best off-road electric luxury 7-seater SUV is the Rivian R1S (8.8 inches of ground clearance), which is also the best off-road electric luxury 7-seater SUV. The Ford Bronco ranks #1 for the best off-road 5-seater SUVs (13.1 inches of ground clearance).
The best off-road 6-seater SUV is the Mazda CX-9 (8.8 inches of ground clearance) and the best off-road 8-seater SUV is the Ford Expedition (10.6 inches of ground clearance). Topping the list for the best off-road luxury 5-seater SUVs is the Mercedes-Benz G-Class (10.5 inches of ground clearance), while the Volvo XC90 ranks first for the best off-road luxury 6-seater SUVs (8.5 inches of ground clearance).
The best off-road luxury 8-seater SUV is the Land Rover Defender (9 inches of ground clearance).
The popularity of SUVs has exploded over the past 20 years, giving them by far the largest market share in today’s new vehicle sales. While this growth has increased the percentage of new model year vehicles equipped with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive systems, those features alone do not define off-road capability. Those drivetrains can add confidence in slippery or snowy on-road conditions, but serious off-roaders need a vehicle with a combination of sufficient ground clearance and dedicated off-road equipment.
Those are the two areas iSeeCars focused on when identifying the best off-road SUVs. Starting with a required ground clearance of 6.5 inches or better, and then evaluating which off-road features contribute most effectively to off-road prowess, SUVs in 18 categories below were ranked according to 10 factors. The weighting for these off-road features were prioritized as follows:
- Two-Speed Transfer Case: Also known as a two-speed gearbox, this allows the vehicle to switch into a lower (or low-range) gear set for improved torque and pulling power, which can be extremely helpful when scaling or descending steep inclines
- Locking Differential: Unlike a limited slip differential, which tries to keep the wheels on each side of an axle from spinning on low-traction surfaces, a locking differential will lock both sides together, removing any possibility of one side spinning freely; most vehicles have a locking rear differential, though some, like the Mercedes G-Wagen, can also have a central and front locking differential that lock all four wheels together
- Skid Plates: Skid plates protect the underside of a vehicle by forming a shield between outside terrain and critical drivetrain components like the cooling system, oil pan, and transmission to greatly improve the durability of serious off-road vehicles
- Disconnecting Sway Bars: The most capable off-road vehicles, including the Ford Bronco Raptor and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, can disconnect their front sway bars to allow additional suspension articulation under extreme off-roading conditions
- Winch: A winch can be mounted on a vehicle’s front or rear bumper, allowing an extended cable to be attached to a fixed location (like a tree) and then retracted to free an otherwise stranded vehicle; winches are common in the off-road aftermarket, but a few vehicles, including the Chevy Colorado, offer them as factory equipment
- Hill Descent Control: Hill descent control is a driving mode that controls a vehicle's speed while descending a sharp incline, ensuring it doesn’t begin traveling so fast the driver loses control or risks damaging the vehicle
- Multiple Driving Modes: In recent model years it’s become more common for off-road vehicles to include specific off-road driving modes; these driving modes coordinate everything from throttle response to transmission shifting to the suspension dampers to maximize a vehicle’s off-road capabilities
- Hill Hold Technology: Similar to hill descent control, this technology keeps a vehicle from rolling backwards when climbing up a steep incline; it lets a driver carefully release the brake and apply throttle versus feeling rushed in this process to avoid rolling back
- Full-size Spare Tire: Getting a flat tire is never fun, but it can be life threatening when traveling off-road where a tow truck or Triple A might never arrive; a full-size spare allows the driver to change a damaged tire and continue on without any outside aid
- Roof Rack Crossbars: Safely traveling off road can involve a lot of extra equipment, and having a roof rack with crossbars increases a vehicle’s storage capacity to carry this equipment
Some of these off-road upgrades, like a winch, are still quite rare on factory models, with only the Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck offering one. Others, like a rear-axle locking differential or two-speed transfer case are available on many SUVs. Some obvious off-road features, like all-terrain tires or excellent approach angles and departure angles, weren’t included in the list of 10 features because they are so commonly found in vehicles designed for rock crawling.
We also didn’t focus on powertrain designs because they don’t have a direct correlation with off-road ability. Whether equipped with a small four-cylinder engine like the Ford Bronco Sport and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, or a large V8 engine like the Nissan Armada or Toyota Land Cruiser, these elements don’t matter when adventuring off the beaten path.
Use the lists below to find the best off-road SUVs that meet your size and pricing requirements.
Best Off-Road Plug-in Hybrid SUVs (PHEV)
- Ground Clearance
How We Rank These Cars
The Best Off-road Vehicles lists rank vehicles by their ground clearance and off-road features.
The best off-road vehicle is specific to one or more trim levels for a given vehicle model, and has the highest ground clearance and the most important off-road features.. In the event there is a tie, we use iSeeCars proprietary rating of the overall quality of the car (iSeeCars Score) to break the tie.
The overall iSeeCars Score is an analysis of three factors: reliability, resale value and safety. It is calculated based on the latest research and analysis by our data science team. The data analysis comes from over 12 million new and used vehicles in our Longest-Lasting Cars and 5-Year Depreciation Studies, combined with NHTSA and IIHS Safety Ratings.
Vehicles are scored in three categories:
Reliability | 33.3%
The reliability score represents an analysis of iSeeCars' proprietary research on the longest-lasting vehicles.
Value Retention | 33.3%
The value retention score is based on our data science team's statistical analysis and prediction of 5-year depreciation from MSRP to determine which cars hold their value best, using US Bureau of Labor Statistics data to adjust for inflation.
Safety | 33.3%
The safety score is calculated based on the last five years of crash test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and incorporates the latest Top Safety Pick information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).