7 Best Off-Road Crossovers To Buy For Your Family

Choosing the right vehicle for your off-road adventures can make all the difference in the world. Whether it’s traversing rocky terrain or splashing through streams, you need a car that can withstand the rigors of the wild while providing comfort and stability.

Crossover vehicles, in particular, have gained massive popularity in recent years due to their unique blend of off-road prowess and on-road refinement. This blog post will provide insights into the world of off-road crossovers, distinguishing them from their 4×4 counterparts, and highlighting some top performers in this category.

The Difference Between A 4×4 And A Crossover

Understanding the fundamental differences between a 4×4 and a crossover is crucial for anyone contemplating an off-road vehicle purchase.

4×4 vehicles, also known as off-road or 4-wheel drive vehicles, are typically built with robust, heavy-duty components to withstand harsh terrains. They come with a drivetrain that allows all four wheels to receive torque from the engine simultaneously, enhancing traction and control in challenging off-road situations. Common examples include the Jeep Wrangler or the Land Rover Defender.

On the other hand, crossovers, officially termed ‘Crossover Utility Vehicles’ (CUVs), are built on a car’s platform, unlike 4x4s that are traditionally constructed on a truck’s chassis. This means crossovers generally provide a more comfortable, car-like ride and better fuel efficiency than 4x4s.

They are ideal for those seeking a balance between off-road capabilities and on-road comfort. While many crossovers come with all-wheel drive (AWD), it should be noted that AWD systems are typically not as rugged or capable as a true 4×4 system. However, modern crossovers like the Subaru Outback or the Honda CR-V have advanced AWD systems that can handle mild to moderate off-road situations.

In summary, the main difference lies in their construction and intended use. While a 4×4 is designed with a focus on off-road performance, a crossover is designed to be a jack-of-all-trades, providing decent off-road capability without sacrificing on-road comfort and fuel efficiency.

2022 Subaru Outback exterior view.

7 Best Off-Road Crossovers SUVS

1.      Subaru Outback

Subaru is well-known for its all-terrain capabilities, and the Outback is no exception. It boasts a high ground clearance and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, making it a formidable off-roader. The comfortable, spacious interior and excellent fuel efficiency make the Outback an excellent choice for daily driving and off-road excursions alike.

2.      Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

The Cherokee Trailhawk is a crossover that carries Jeep’s legendary off-road pedigree. Equipped with the Selec-Terrain Traction Control System, off-road suspension, and advanced 4×4 system, this vehicle is prepared to tackle any terrain.

3.      Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V is a comfortable and fuel-efficient crossover that’s surprisingly capable off-road, thanks to its intelligent all-wheel-drive system. The CR-V also offers ample cargo space and a suite of advanced safety features.

4.      Toyota RAV4 Adventure

The RAV4 Adventure adds some serious off-road capabilities to Toyota’s popular crossover line. It includes features like dynamic torque vectoring all-wheel drive, multi-terrain select, and a higher ride height, offering substantial off-road performance.

5.      Ford Bronco Sport

Ford’s Bronco Sport is a compact crossover designed with off-roading in mind. It comes with a standard 4×4, a terrain management system, and a robust G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) Modes system, making it an adventurous choice for outdoor enthusiasts.

6.      Land Rover Discovery Sport

Land Rover’s pedigree in creating rugged, luxurious off-roaders continues with the Discovery Sport. This vehicle offers a compelling mix of comfort and capability, with an adaptive dynamics system, all-wheel drive, and Terrain Response 2 system to automatically optimize performance for various conditions.

2023 Land Rover Discovery Sport off-roading.

7.      Audi Q5

While Audi may not be the first name that springs to mind for off-roading, the Q5’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system and Offroad mode make it more capable than you might expect. Add in its luxury interiors, and you have a crossover that delivers both performance and comfort.

Keep in mind that while these crossovers can handle off-road conditions better than many other vehicles, they aren’t designed for extreme off-roading in the same way that dedicated 4×4 vehicles are. Always ensure the conditions are within your vehicle’s capabilities before setting off.

Are Crossovers Good For Off-Roading?

When it comes to off-roading, the ability of a vehicle greatly depends on its design and features, not merely its category. So while some crossovers can handle off-road conditions adequately, others may not.

Crossovers are usually built on a unibody construction, which means the body and frame are one piece. This design offers better fuel efficiency, ride comfort, and handling on paved roads. For light off-roading such as dirt or gravel roads, many crossovers can handle these conditions without any issue thanks to improved ground clearance and advanced all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems.

However, for more challenging off-road conditions, such as rock crawling, deep mud, steep hills, or crossing streams, a crossover might not be your best choice. These situations require more robust suspension systems, higher ground clearance, and more rugged drivetrains found in traditional 4×4 vehicles.

Do Any Crossovers Have 4 Wheel Drive?

Yes, many crossovers offer four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) options. However, it’s important to note that not all systems are created equal.

While both 4WD and AWD deliver power to all four wheels of a vehicle, the way they operate can be quite different. A 4WD system, typically found in off-road-oriented vehicles, can usually be manually engaged or disengaged by the driver and often includes low-range gearing for challenging off-road conditions.

On the other hand, AWD systems, common in crossovers, operate automatically, sending power to the wheels that need it most. These systems are typically designed for better performance on wet or snowy roads, or for light off-road use, rather than for severe off-road conditions.

Vehicles such as the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, the Subaru Outback, and the Land Rover Discovery Sport, among others, offer robust AWD or 4WD systems in a crossover package.

Which Car Is Best For Extreme Off-Road?

For extreme off-roading, you’ll want a vehicle specifically designed to handle the toughest terrains and conditions. Here are a few top contenders:

Jeep Wrangler

A perennial favorite among off-road enthusiasts, the Wrangler offers exceptional ground clearance, a robust 4WD system with low-range gearing, and durable body-on-frame construction.

Toyota Land Cruiser

Known for its reliability and off-road prowess, the Land Cruiser features a robust 4WD system, ample ground clearance, and a slew of off-road features designed to tackle virtually any terrain.

Land Rover Defender

The Defender blends British luxury with serious off-road capabilities. Its Terrain Response system can adapt to various off-road conditions, and its robust construction and design make it incredibly capable off-road.

Ford Bronco

The Bronco is a classic nameplate that has returned with serious off-road capabilities. It features a robust 4WD system, a high ground clearance, and a variety of off-road packages to choose from.

2023 Ford Bronco back view.

Each of these vehicles offers a unique blend of features, capabilities, and character. The best one for you will depend on your specific off-road needs, budget, and personal preferences.

Which SUV Is Best For Rough Roads?

For rough road conditions, you’d want an SUV that offers a smooth ride, good ground clearance, and a strong suspension system. Here are some top contenders:

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Known for its off-road capabilities, the Jeep Grand Cherokee offers a comfortable ride on rough roads. It also comes equipped with multiple 4×4 systems to choose from, based on your off-roading needs.

Land Rover Range Rover

With a history of tackling the roughest terrains around the world, the Range Rover combines luxury with serious off-road capabilities. Its advanced suspension system and Terrain Response system help deliver a comfortable ride on rough roads.

Toyota Land Cruiser

This vehicle’s reputation for tackling rough roads is well-earned. It offers excellent ground clearance, a capable suspension, and a robust 4WD system, making it well-suited for rough roads.

Subaru Forester

Subaru’s symmetrical AWD system gives the Forester a strong grip on rough roads. Along with impressive ground clearance and a comfortable interior, it’s a great choice for tackling rough roads.

2023 Subaru Forester driving in the forest.

Drawbacks Of A Crossover

While crossovers offer a balance between off-road capability and on-road comfort, they also come with a few drawbacks:

Limited Off-Road Capability

Most crossovers are designed to handle light off-roading at best. For severe off-road conditions, traditional SUVs or 4×4 vehicles are generally more capable.

Towing Capacity

Crossovers, because of their unibody construction and smaller engines, usually don’t offer as much towing capacity as truck-based SUVs or pickup trucks.

Cargo Space

While crossovers tend to have decent interior space for passengers, they often have less cargo space compared to larger SUVs, especially when all seats are in use.

Why Is 4×4 Better Than AWD For Off-Road?

While both 4×4 (4WD) and AWD systems deliver power to all four wheels of a vehicle, they operate differently, and these differences can significantly impact their performance in off-road conditions.

A 4WD system, typically found in trucks and off-road-oriented SUVs, can be manually engaged or disengaged by the driver. When engaged, it provides equal power to both front and rear axles, providing maximum traction in off-road conditions. Additionally, many 4WD systems include a low-range gearbox for severe off-road scenarios, which allows the vehicle to move slowly while generating high levels of torque to navigate through tough terrains or steep grades.

On the other hand, AWD systems, which are common in crossovers and some cars, operate automatically, distributing power to the wheels as needed to maintain traction. While they’re great for handling slick roads, light off-roading, or gravel paths, AWD systems typically don’t offer the same level of capability as a 4WD system in challenging off-road conditions.

In essence, 4WD systems offer more control and are generally more robust, making them better suited for severe off-road conditions than AWD systems.

Crossovers are gaining popularity due to their blend of car-like features and some abilities of an SUV. They provide a comfortable and smooth ride, good fuel efficiency, and modern interiors, making them suitable for daily commuting and long drives.

Additionally, many crossovers offer all-wheel-drive capabilities and higher ground clearance than regular cars, providing some degree of off-road or rough-weather capability. These versatile features make crossovers an attractive choice for consumers seeking a balanced vehicle.

Can Crossovers Handle All Types Of Off-Road Conditions?

While crossovers are more capable off-road than most regular cars due to their higher ground clearance and often standard or optional all-wheel drive, they are not designed to handle all types of off-road conditions.

They are suitable for light off-roading, such as driving on dirt or gravel roads, but for more challenging conditions like rock crawling, deep mud, steep inclines, or water fording, a dedicated off-road vehicle with a robust 4×4 system would be more suitable.

Are There Any Crossovers Equipped With A 4WD System?

While most crossovers come with an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, there are some, like the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, that comes with a true four-wheel-drive (4WD) system. These crossovers offer more robust off-road capability compared to those equipped with AWD, but they still might not match the off-road prowess of a dedicated 4×4 vehicle.

What Are Some Of The Features That Make An SUV Suitable For Rough Roads?

An SUV’s suitability for rough roads comes from features like high ground clearance, which helps the vehicle avoid scraping the bottom on rough surfaces, and a robust suspension system, which can absorb the impact of bumps and potholes.

Additionally, 4WD or AWD systems can provide better traction on uneven or loose surfaces. Some SUVs also come with specific off-road driving modes that adjust the vehicle’s performance parameters for optimum traction and control on rough roads.

Are There Any Downsides To Owning A Crossover Instead Of A Traditional SUV?

While crossovers offer a good blend of comfort, efficiency, and some off-road capability, they do have certain limitations compared to traditional SUVs. They generally have less off-road capability, due to their car-like construction and less robust AWD systems.

Their towing capacity and cargo space can also be lower than that of a traditional SUV, as crossovers are typically smaller and lighter. However, for many consumers, these trade-offs are acceptable given the added comfort and efficiency that crossovers provide.


In the realm of off-roading, the choice between a crossover and a 4×4 comes down to your specific needs and preferences. If you require a vehicle for light off-roading or all-weather driving that also provides comfort and efficiency for daily use, a crossover could be an excellent choice.

However, if your adventures involve more challenging terrains, a traditional SUV or 4×4 would be more suited to your needs. Ultimately, the best off-road vehicle for you is one that fits your lifestyle, meets your off-roading requirements, and brings you joy on all your driving adventures.

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About Matthew Webb

Hi, I am Matthew! I am a dedicated car nerd! During the day, I am a journalist, at night I enjoy working on my 2 project cars. I have been a car nerd all my life, and am excited to share my knowledge with you!