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.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
2. It hasn't been redesigned lately.
With each redesign of a given vehicle, trail-ready chops tend to regress ever deeper into the DNA. Typically, SUVs get designed with all sorts of off-road features (e.g., the first Porsche Cayenne's low-range four-wheel-drive option), and then companies realize that nobody actually drives their Cayenne on the rocks at Moab, so those features get dropped as weight, and simplicity becomes the priority. It's counterintuitive, but if you care about off-road capability, you're generally better off looking at the models that have not been overhauled. The Suzuki Grand Vitara, for instance, has been around in its current guise since 2006, which means it hasn't gotten wussified yet. You can get it with rear-wheel drive and a five-speed manual. The 4x4 models have low range, normally reserved for the big trucks. Mercedes-Benz's Geländewagen, which falls into this category, hasn't been redesigned since 1979.