To access some of the most enjoyable outdoor activities America has to offer, one sometimes has to travel into remote areas using poorly maintained roads or rock-strewn trails. In cases like this, it's important to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle that's rugged and capable for off- highway use. Edmunds.com selected a diverse group of 2008 model-year pickups and SUVs that were the most capable over rough terrain. Admittedly, these vehicles will not win any miles-per-gallon awards. But they are the best-in-class vehicles for those who are hard-core off-roading enthusiasts.
Please note that the order of this list is alphabetical and does not represent an editorial preference of any one vehicle over another.
Dodge Ram 2500
On its own, the Dodge Ram doesn't possess many inherent qualities that make it more capable than other full-size trucks. However, there is a version of the heavy-duty Ram, the Power Wagon, that stands out from the crowd. The Power Wagon is a Ram 2500 that comes standard with specialized off-road hardware, including front and rear differential locks, an electronically disconnecting front stabilizer bar, 33-inch off-road tires, Bilstein shocks and a 12,000-pound winch.
Ever since the discontinuation of the H1, Hummer's H2 has had to stand in as the brand's flagship vehicle. Happily, this full-size and distinctively styled SUV is easily up to the task of representing the image of Hummer, offering a rugged frame, short overhangs and plenty of ground clearance.
When it comes to Hummer, even the runt of the litter, the H3, is still pretty tough. Off-road, the vehicle's big approach and departure angles, tidy dimensions and standard four-wheel drive are all beneficial. For 2008, there's also an available 300-hp V-8 as part of the new H3 Alpha trim level. The H3 is at its off-roading best when it's equipped with the Adventure package; this includes off-road tires and suspension, a specialized transfer case and a locking rear differential.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been a perennial favorite in the midsize SUV segment thanks to its well-rounded nature. It's comfortable for daily use but can still rock with the best of them when it comes to off-road performance. This year, the 4.7-liter V-8 has been heavily updated, and it's now capable of 305 hp.
The 2008 Jeep Wrangler is not so much an SUV as it is an experience. It's slow and loud, handles poorly, has inferior interior materials and features doors that provide virtually no crash protection. But when it comes to off-road performance, the Wrangler is simply the best choice available. The Rubicon trim level is the way to go here; it includes locking front and rear differentials, heavy-duty axles, off-road tires, a special low-range transfer case and an electronically disconnecting front stabilizer bar.
Land Rover Range Rover
The Land Rover Range Rover has a rich heritage relating to off-road adventure. Today's model is somewhat removed from that heritage with regard to mission and price. But underneath the Range Rover's sleek, luxury SUV shell is plenty of off-road capability. All models come with a Terrain Response system that applies the most appropriate settings for the vehicle's many advanced electronic controls and traction aids.
Since its introduction, the Nissan Xterra SUV has lived up to its marketing tagline of "Everything you need, nothing you don't." Rugged construction, a powerful V-6 and plenty of versatility are in the Xterra's repertoire. Common automotive frills, like leather seating or GPS navigation, are not. For maximum off-road capability, go with the Off-Road trim level, which equips the Xterra with a rear differential lock, specialized tires and Bilstein performance shocks.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
If Toyota's upmarket Land Cruiser is too expensive and posh for your tastes, the FJ Cruiser will likely suit your needs. In style, name and mission, this midsize SUV is a tribute to the original FJ40 Land Cruisers that debuted in the 1960s. All 4WD FJ Cruisers are very capable off-road, though models equipped with the All-Terrain Package - which includes special wheels and tires, Bilstein shock absorbers, an additional engine air filter and a locking rear differential - will fare best when the pavement ends.
Toyota Land Cruiser
The 2008 Land Cruiser traces its roots to an earlier era when sport utility vehicles were judged for their off-road credentials above all else. It may be bigger, more luxurious and more expensive than any classic Land Cruiser, but the latest model still offers excellent off-road ability and a reputation for reliability and durability. It even has a special feature that allows the vehicle to maintain a fixed, ultra-low speed on off-road terrain without any driver input.
Though old, beat-up American full-size pickups are still the weapon of choice for most hard-core off-roading enthusiasts, Toyota pickups have earned a measure of respect because of their capability and durability. The midsize Toyota Tacoma, now in its second generation, continues the trend. For off-road use, the Tacoma can be equipped with a TRD Off-Road Package that includes a tuned off-road suspension, Bilstein shocks, special tires, a rear differential lock and an underbody skid plate.