Adventure Vehicles 2013

Adventure Vehicles 2013

#14—Lexus GX 460

Stoke Score: 46
Base MSRP: $53,795

Lexus has barely changed this vehicle in the last few years, likely because there’s no need. “Rugged elegance,” says reviewer Jason Fogelson for Forbes. Sure, you might be inclined to write this off for the soft crossover appearance, but not so fast. Aside from its high reliability ratings, the GX 460 has a fairly impressive drivetrain: limited slip center differential that optimizes power between the rear and front axles at all times, plus a center selectable locker. The 4.6-liter V8 motor delivers 301 horsepower and will tow 6,500 lbs. Inside it’s what you’d expect from a Lexus, plus a decently high seating position for good visibility. Rear seats fold flat, providing a cavern worth 64.7 cubic feet.  Fuel economy is right where you’d expect a V8 to be, 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. The GX is a solid little vehicle that will do very well on snowy roads, dirt trails and school parking lots.

#13—Mercedes Sprinter, Passenger 2500 High Roof

Stoke Score: 48
Base MSRP: $42,530

This list wouldn't be complete without an entry in the van category. Sprinters do not have 4WD; no commercially produced van does that's sold in the U.S. Doesn't matter, though. If the Sprinter lacks 4WD, it makes up for it with the high roof that gives you the space to change your pants standing up inside; there’s 76 inches of interior height. Sometimes what you want in an adventure vehicle is just a comfy space to camp, and here it is. The Sprinter operates with a turbocharged diesel engine and delivers power to handle a 2,800-lb. load within the 141 cubic feet of space within its walls. Let your campervan dreams go wild.

#12—Jeep Wrangler, Rubicon Unlimited

Stoke Score: 49
Base MSRP: $35,920

The advantages should be obvious with the Jeep Wrangler: a long lineage that goes back to WWII and renowned capabilities. The four-to-one low range transfer case gives you incredible control when the dirt roads cease to resemble roads at all. Both axles contain an electric locker that makes the vehicle virtually unstoppable. The aftermarket for add-ons and customizations is endless—in fact, ask a Jeep owner what the name means and they’ll tell you, “Just Empty Every Pocket.”  While the four-door Unlimited has the best cargo capacity with 34.5 cubic feet, and sleeping in the back can be done. Towing capacity is a little shy at 3,500 lbs; what it lacks in this regard it makes up for in capability even if it is a brash vehicle.  Additionally, you’re an instant family member among Jeep owners, so expect random waves from happy strangers.

#11—Subaru Outback, 2.5i Premium

Stoke Score: 50
Base MSRP: $25,795

Just try passing though Jackson, Wyoming without seeing a dozen Outbacks. It’s a solid choice for the mountain-loving tribe partly because of the “rugged wagon” look and function: all the family hauling capacity of a Clark Griswold special without the endless wood paneling. More importantly, Subarus feature a boxer engine that, in simple terms, has less vibration and therefore runs efficiently, quietly and lasts a long, long time. It’s not uncommon to make a Subaru live beyond 200,000 miles. Ground clearance, believe it or not, is 8 inches, too. The all-wheel drive system is another smart one like what you’ll find in the Land Rover—sending power to the wheels that need it most when it senses a loss of traction—but less sophisticated. The Outback only tows 2,700 lbs, but provides over 70 cubic feet of cargo space. 

#10—Toyota Tacoma, Double Cab 4x4

Stoke Score: 54
Base MSRP: $28,545

When it comes to trucks, the Tacoma has to be on your radar. It is, after all, the best selling compact pickup in North America. For plenty of reasons, too. The well-powered V6 will tow 6,400 lbs and accept a payload of 1,050lbs, and the Tacoma comes with a no-nonsense 4WD with low-range and rear selectable locker. At 9.3 inches, this truck also has one of the best ground clearances you can buy. The seats are comfortable but the cabin roof is low and the floor high, making it a squeeze for tall folks. It’s fairly wide, though, making the 4-door version viable for four road-tripping adults. The Tacoma is a tough truck you likely won't be sorry to own. 

#9—Ram 2500, Power Wagon

Stoke Score: 56
Base MSRP: $42,555

No doubt about it, the 2500 is a big machine with a powerful 5.7-liter Hemi V8. The 149-inch wheelbase truck will turn a circle in 43.9 feet, and tow over 10,000 lbs. There’s a locking differential in both the front and rear axles (both of which are solid axles, by the way) and the Power Wagon comes with a factory-installed 12,000-lb. winch. This special version of the 2500 comes with upgraded suspension, all-terrain tires, and electronically disconnecting anti-sway bars—all of which add up to better performance off highway. You’ll also enjoy the acres of interior space. 

#8—Mitsubishi Outlander, GT S-AWC

Stoke Score: 60
Base MSRP: $27,795

On looks alone, the Outlander stands little chance of being memorable, but it is competitive in this survey of vehicles. To start, the Outlander boasts 8.5 inches of ground clearance, identical to that of the Jeep Wrangler. Sure, it has a run-of-the-mill 4-wheel independent suspension that makes road travel nice and comfortable. There's no low-range in this 4WD, but Mitsubishi employs a smart traction control and stability control that will do just fine as you venture along forest roads in less than favorable conditions. She'll tow just 3,500 lbs, but you can heap on 1,200 lbs of payload into the 63 cubic square feet behind the front seats. 

#7—Dodge Durango, Crew AWD

Stoke Score: 62
Base MSRP: $37,545

Built on the same platform as the Jeep Cherokee, the Durango aims for a cross between luxury and economy. The rear seat offers a video and game system with two sets of headphones, and the Durango can receive Wi-Fi as far as 150 feet away. The vehicle has full-time all-wheel drive with traction control, so you needn't concern yourself with switches or knobs should roads get slick, rutted, snowy, or rough. The four-wheel independent suspension makes cruising the paved roads easy and smooth—but the Durango still has enough guts to take on washboard and rocky roads. Amazingly, she'll tow 7,200 lbs, the second best among the SUVs on this list.

#6—Honda Pilot, EX

Stoke Score: 62
Base MSRP: $33,370

Here's a very surprising vehicle. First, there aren't too many rides as reliable as the Honda Pilot, and it comes recommended by Consumer Reports. If nothing else, it's money well spent. But it also deserves a fair shake as your adventure wagon. A slightly shorter wheelbase than the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, it's nimble and efficient. The all-wheel-drive system operates on its own, except for the manual rear differential lock you can engage when you need it, up to 18 miles per hour (which is plenty). The Pilot will tow more than it looks like it can: 4,500 lbs. And with the rear seats folded down you get 87 cubic feet of space for gear.

#5—Ford F150, XLT

Stoke Score: 66
Base MSRP: $29,460

When the Power Wagon is too much and the Tacoma is too little, cast your eyes on the F150. It's a tried-and-true truck that's getting more reliable every year, and like Car and Driver says, “There's little to complain about.” The on-demand 4WD system comes with a rear differential locker, hill assist, and active traction control. Off-highway prowess of the F150 is not in question. Throw a pop-up camper on the bed and you could travel quite happily for quite some time. 

#4—Land Rover, LR4 with the Heavy Duty Package

Stoke Score: 67
Base MSRP: $54,970

The original Land Rovers were inspired by the WWII-era Willys Jeep, which might be hard to swallow today because you probably think of Land Rover as a luxury vehicle. It’s true though. And under that shiny paint is one hell of a 4WD system that hardly requires effort on your part. The full-time all-wheel drive senses wheel slip and transfers power to the tires that need it without your even pushing a button or realizing what's happening; but you’re still empowered with a selectable rear locker when you’re experiencing more wheel spin than you’d like. Unlike any other car featured here, the LR4 has an air suspension that soaks up inconsistencies in the road and self-adjusts to your load to keep the car level. Land Rover reliability suffered some years ago, but has only improved in recent years. Sure, you might be thinking, “There was no place to go but up!” Nevertheless, you’re looking at one fine machine that’s refined and powerful. Tow as much as 7,700 lbs with the LR4 and enjoy 87 cubic feet of storage (with the seats folded).

#3—Toyota Highlander, Hybrid

Stoke Score: 67
Base MSRP: $41,425

Admittedly, hybrid makers insist on serving us wimpy looking cars. But take a closer look at the Highlander. It can shoulder a healthy payload of 1,200 lbs and tow up to 3,500 lbs. Ground clearance suffers with just 6.5 inches (the lowest on this list) but fold down the rear seats and you'll open up 95 cubic feet of space, plenty for sleeping two. The 4WD even features traction control and stability control. But what makes this car stand out most is the 28 miles-per-gallon it sips.

#2—Toyota 4Runner, Trail

Stoke Score: 67
Base MSRP: $39,765

The 4Runner first hit the market in 1984 and it's in its fifth generation today with a 2WD and a 4WD version available. Unlike the Xterra, the 4Runner has a coil suspension on the rear axle and accepts a bigger payload of 1155 lbs. You can tow 4,700 lbs and sleep inside as there's 89 cubic feet of space behind the front seats. 4Runners with the Trail package come with a rear differential lock and an advanced traction control as well.

#1—Nissan Xterra, PRO-4X

Stoke Score: 67
Base MSRP: $29,440

The Xterra frequently takes a beating from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, which lodge complaints about the flimsy interior, scanty fuel economy, and a selectable 4WD. But they just don’t look at it the way I do, primarily that a 4WD system that’s selectable is a good thing. Nevertheless, the Xterra has a proven robust drivetrain and a heck of a stock ground clearance of 9.5 inches—equal to the Jeep Wrangler. The PRO-4X package includes a rear selectable locker which means you’ll rarely have a problem with losing traction. Fold the seats down to make a cargo cavern of 65.7 cubic feet, or to clear space to sleep two people.  The towing capacity of 5,000 lbs means you can bring along a fair sized Airstream if you want a better sleeping situation.  Aftermarket support is limited, but it’s there for extras like an improved suspension, roof racks, and skid plates.