- If you’re looking to extend your summer adventures further than paved roads, these three vehicles – priced from $US40,000 to $US130,000 – are the best picks to upgrade your ride.
- The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon can be loaded with a surprisingly high feature count and is tough on all driving ranges.
- The 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 X is more luxurious than the Rubicon and provides ample accommodations for up to seven passengers.
- The 2020 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is the top of the line, with a roomy interior and the latest tech and features.
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In a world stuffed with mall crawlers, there are still a few high-end SUVs that can hold their own when faced with terrain that’s a little tougher than a gravel lane cutting through cottage country. Whether you’re looking to extend your summer adventures a little further than the asphalt allows or want to start exploring more of the great outdoors without being forced to rough it from behind the wheel, we’ve put together a guide to the feature-filled premium sport-utility vehicles that will be happy to come along for the journey.
And yet there’s no single blueprint for getting you from trailhead to trail’s end in comfort and style, as even the leading off-road players in the sport-utility space have their own ideas on what qualifies as luxury. Slice the market across three different price tiers and you’ll come up with a trio of separate answers to the question of how to tackle serious off-road challenges in style.
Let’s examine the leading lights that define the current state of go-anywhere SUVs.
The best pick for the rugged individualist: 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, base MSRP $US42,440
Wait a minute – “Wrangler” and “luxury” in the same sentence?
Hear us out. The four-door version of the rock-crawling Rubicon can be loaded with a surprisingly high feature count, including a fully retractable power top, perforated leather upholstery (with a heated steering wheel), one of the best infotainment and navigation systems in the industry, and a full raft of active safety gear that includes adaptive cruise control with automatic braking.
All of that’s on top of a traditional truck-like body-on-frame chassis that sits on two solid axles front and rear, which makes for exceptionally tough construction and durability (albeit with a handling penalty to pay on smooth pavement). Cruising across boulders, mud, and snow in the Rubicon is made easy by way of its unique four-wheel drive system (with an ultra-low 4:1 Rock-Trac crawler gear for more control and better torque at low speeds).
It also features a suspension setup that can remotely detach the front anti-sway bar to allow for greater wheel and suspension movement when tackling challenging trajectories.
Throw in the Wrangler’s torque-happy, optional turbodiesel V6 on top of the equipment mentioned above and you’re hovering at just over the $US60,000 mark. While you can definitely find a more comfortable SUV at that price point (and one that’s quieter and less clunky on pavement), you won’t even come close to matching the Rubicon’s capabilities in the absence of asphalt.
Who is the Rubicon aimed at? Trail-breakers who love the Wrangler’s inimitable styling and unstoppable character and want the best possible out-of-the-box, off-road SUV without having to pay extra for the badge on the front.
The best pick for the distinguished adventurer: 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 X, base MSRP $US80,900
All new for 2020, the Land Rover Defender 110 X modernizes the British brand’s longtime adventure rig and brings it to a wider audience of off-road fans. It also serves as a bridge between the bespoke elegance of Land Rover’s larger and better-appointed, $US90,000 Range Rover and the more day-to-day duds of the family-oriented, $US52,000 Land Rover Discovery.
From a luxury perspective, Land Rover’s prestige is significantly higher than that of the Jeep, even if the two brands share equal recognition among off-road fans. Fit and finish is also a considerable step above for the Defender 110 X, which provides ample accommodations for up to seven passengers while insulating them from the outside world on the way to and from the trail (thanks to its unibody platform, which is far smoother and quieter at speed than a truck-based design). Premium gear that would have been a reach in the Wrangler is par for the course among Land Rover’s customer set, and that’s reflected by the healthy inclusions on the 110 X’s equipment list.
Although the Defender may drive more like a plush sedan, once out on the rocks the Land Rover reveals itself to be equally sure footed as compared to the rough-and-tumble Rubicon. Rather than rely on good, old-fashioned axles-and-gearing design used by the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon to rove its way across the mesa, the 110 X is packed with a range of electronic driver’s aides that are designed to walk you through even the most challenging obstacles you might encounter while off the beaten path.
These include an adaptive low-range, four-wheel drive system that can be dialed in for specific types of terrain and a crawl feature that acts as a sort of off-road cruise control while climbing over rocks and other obstacles so you can focus on steering rather than wear out your right foot on the pedals.
Who is the Defender 110 X aimed at? Anyone who can’t park a Wrangler in the parking lot at the office and get away with it – but more specifically, those who prize a comfortable commute just as much as they do dune bashing on the weekends. Families who need to squeeze into that available third-row seat from time to time will also find an extra dimension in the Land Rover that’s unavailable with the Jeep.
The best pick for the CEO of the Great Outdoors: 2020 Mercedes-Benz G-Class, base MSRP $US130,900
Sometimes only a world-conquering luxury truck built on the bones of a military vehicle will satisfy your specific off-road requirements.
Fortunately, Mercedes-Benz has been in the business of building the G-Class for just over 40 years, and the most recent iteration, while smoothing out some of its predecessor’s rougher edges, is still one of the toughest tanks money can buy.
The Mercedes-Benz G550 is perhaps the best “dare to be different” option in the high-end luxury SUV space. With its rectangular proportions and menacing presence, the G-Class looks every inch the troop transport it originally was – only now thoroughly civilized for all of your mobile command post needs.
With a roomy interior and up-to-the-minute features and tech found in Mercedes-Benz’s top passenger cars, the G550 stands alone among similarly priced haulers by pairing a premium experience behind the wheel with chassis specifications that expertly balance Defender-like road manners with the Wrangler’s raw capabilities.
Although the G-Class provides many of the same e-assists as the 110 X, it provides a trio of locking differentials (one at the front, one in the middle, and one at the rear live axle to prevent the tires from spinning in low-traction conditions) that combine to provide extreme levels of four-wheel drive grip as well as a unique low-speed crawl that’s entirely mechanical. It’s not an anachronism if it’s useful, and the G550’s unstoppable forward momentum is a rarity among ultra-luxury rigs.
Who is the G-Class aimed at? Given that it can claw its way through anything this side of a minefield, it’s safe to say there’s no four-by-four substitute when money is no object. Just make sure your parking garage is tall enough to tuck the Mercedes truck.