Trading in the sedan
The Range Rover Velar has an exterior worthy of a concept car and a simply gorgeous interior.
The SUV and crossover segments continue to grow as American drivers trade in their sedans and coupes for something “more capable.” Ironically, automakers are making these utility vehicles more carlike and less off-road focused to appeal to an even wider segment of consumers. Which means the average SUV/crossover is really just a car with a hatchback, higher ride height, and AWD.
Fortunately, some manufacturers continue to make Sport Utility Vehicles that still deliver on the promise of “sport.” Summer is the best time of year to leave the pavement behind and explore the dirt roads and rocky trails where adventure really begins. If you have a need to get away from civilization, a rugged 4x4 can take you places lesser vehicles can’t. We rounded up three of the best choices for drivers who believe an active lifestyle is more than an hour at spin class.
Jeep Wrangler 2018 is a big year for Wrangler enthusiasts. For only the third time since its introduction in 1986, Jeep has rolled out a new version of their iconic 4x4. The JL as it is referred to, is completely redesigned to make it more fuel efficient, safer, and better performing both on and off-road. The fact that it looks better is an added plus. Yet, the Wrangler still retains the rugged family resemblance to the original Willys Jeep of WW II. The JL comes in a variety of trim levels and in both two- and four-door variants.
The interior has been redesigned for better ergonomics and comfort while adding modern technology including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a large touchscreen interface.
Yet for all its refinement, the new Wrangler has not gotten soft. The suspension and drivetrain are optimized for the most extreme off-road adventures, especially in the Rubicon version. This rock crawler comes standard with 33-inch Baja-rated BFG tires and can ford up to 30 inches of water.
Half the fun of a Jeep is driving it in warm weather with the top down and the doors off. The new version makes the open-air conversion mush easier. An optional new full-length canvas roof opens with a push of a button. For the ultimate bugs-in-your-teeth experience, the windshield still folds flat onto the hood. But the 2018 Wrangler is not just a weekend play toy. Unlike previous generations, this Jeep is so civilized, it could be your daily driver. 2018 Wrangler prices start at only $27,495
Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road First introduced in 1984, the 4Runner is one of the most durable and widely used SUVs on the planet.While the original 4Runner was essentially a pick-up truck with a fiberglass cap, the current generation introduced in 2009 is a full-featured mid-sized SUV with seating for up to seven passengers. What sets the 4Runner apart from lesser vehicles is its capability. The 4Runner uses a traditional body-on-frame design for superior strength and toughness. The suspension and drivetrain can be optimized for on-road cruising or the most extreme rutted trails and steep climbs.
On a recent trip to Arizona, my wife and I put a 4Runner through its paces. The 125-mile highway drive from Phoenix to Sedona was smooth and comfortable. But when we hit the rocky trails to explore the stunning red rocks of Sedona, the 4Runner showed its true purpose. With 85-degree temperatures, and the A/C cranking, we were able to access the hardest to reach hiking trails without breaking a sweat, or a wheel. 2018 4Runner prices start at $34,610
Range Rover Velar Range Rovers have a storied history as reliable and capable vehicles for exploring the remotest spots on Earth. Yet they’ve haven’t won a lot of beauty contests along the way. The new Velar is the family swan. From the outside, it looks like a concept car with disappearing door handles and a profile shaped by the wind. The interior is a luxury and technology showcase. My loaded Byron Blue Velar R-Dynamic HSE diesel test vehicle featured two-tone Windsor leather; 20-way adjustable seats with massage, heating and cooling; a sliding panoramic roof; and an 825-watt Meridian sound system. The Velar’s controls are clean and simple with two large touch screens and two multi-purpose knobs. The flat-screen dash is configurable to suit your needs. But the menus are deep, so best to open the manual and learn the options before driving off.
Speaking of driving, like other Range Rover models, the Velar has multiple settings for different surfaces and driving styles. The on-road manners are smooth and comfortable but the Velar shines when the road gets rough. Steep hills, rutted trails, sand, deep mud, and water crossings are the Velar’s playground. Most folks will cringe at the thought of taking a vehicle this gorgeous off-road. But for the adventurous few, they’ll find this beauty is a beast. 2018 Velar prices start at $49,900.
JEEP GOING DEEP The totally redesigned Jeep Wrangler retains the rugged resemblance to the original Willys Jeep of WWII but way outperforms all its ancestors.