Sports utility vehicles aren't all what they used to be. Today, the rude beasts of yore have mostly evolved into crossovers that assume the silhouette of a rough-and-tumble SUV but have more in common with a minivan than a Ford Raptor. And that, frankly, makes a lot of sense. With a crossover, you get to imagine the potential for adventure without the drawbacks inherent in genuine off-road rigs: ponderous handling, heavy, low-range gearboxes. But what if you're the kind of guy who still wants the ability to ford a creek without drowning? Or ascend a mountain without taking a step? In our imaginary off-road world, where most of us are well served by cars disguised as trucks, are there any SUVs out there that can still handle terrain more fearsome than the ski-resort parking lot? The answer is yes. There are plenty of SUVS that meet the bulk of our criteria: respectable ground clearance, no less than 5,000 pounds of towing, underbody skid plates, and locking differentials. They're out there – you just have to know what to look for.
Land Rover Range Rover
4. It's a venerated off-road brand.
There are a handful of hallowed badges that are valiantly resisting the crossover craze. The Land Cruiser, the Jeep Wrangler, the Grand Cherokee, and the Range Rover are more than just names; they're legit go-anywhere SUVs, throwbacks that haven't traded their reputations for front-wheel-drive and mall-crawler running boards. The Range Rover is all new for 2013, and it's still an off-road powerhouse – a real four-wheel-drive from a company that obsesses over stats like departure angle and maximum fording depth. Set a Range Rover to the air suspension's highest setting, throw it in low range, lock the center and rear differentials, and there isn't much that'll stop you. We've driven one over rocks that looked like they we have broken our ankles if we'd been walking. And though you can still find ruggedness without spending too much, there's a definite correlation between price and off-road aptitude. The more money you spend, the less likely you are to get marooned atop a speed bump in the Cheesecake Factory parking lot. The premium foreign SUVs – all over 40 grand – are pretty stout, from the VW Touareg up through the Mercedes GL, which is all new but still offers an off-road package with low-range four-wheel drive, so you can creep along rocks at a walking pace. Even the BMW X5, which prioritizes street over dirt, can take you to some surprising places. We drove one all over Namibia – beaches, dunes, rocky trails – and its only modification was a set of skid plates.