The ability to lock your differential is important for anyone who needs to go off road or drive where traditional open or limited-slip differentials simply can’t cut it. While many people don’t necessarily need a differential they can lock, if you’re one of those who ventures beyond the pavement or need to get through muddy, snowy or sandy terrain on a regular basis, you need the ability to lock up the differential or you’ll be calling your friend with the RAM Power Wagon to come and pull you out of wherever you’re stuck. CUVs are usually pretty mild when it comes to off-road equipment, but there are a few affordable ones out there that still have the goods. Here are five vehicles with a modest price tags and locking differentials.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (base MSRP $33,195) has been an off-road beast for many decades and if you’re truly looking for a vehicle that can handle everything from city streets to an actual mountainside, you’ll be hard pressed to find such a competent off-road vehicle for the money. The Wrangler features a standard 4x4 setup as opposed to the AWD systems available on many CUVs, this makes it even more capable off road. Powered by a 3.6-liter V6 (285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque) the Wrangler isn’t a speed demon, but when you’re crawling up steep grades and over large rocks, you don’t need to go fast.
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Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
When Jeep first resurrected the Cherokee name, we were a bit apprehensive that it wouldn't live up to the former Cherokee when it came to off-road capability. Then we got to drive the Cherokee Trailhawk (base MSRP $30,995) and learned there was a lot to love. The other trim levels of the Cherokee handle fine off-road, but if you’re really going to take on some really rough terrain, get the Trailhawk as it’s the only Cherokee with a locking rear differential. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (84 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque) is standard, but if you need a little more oomph, the 3.2-liter V6 has you covered (271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque).
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Hyundai Santa Fe
Jeep doesn’t have a monopoly on vehicles that can lock their differentials. Hyundai’s Santa Fe (base MSRP $30,800) can lock the center differential when equipped with AWD, which forces an even split of torque to each axle. While you might not want to do any rock crawling in the Santa Fe, there’s no doubt that you can get pretty far off the beaten track without many problems. Powered by a 3.3-liter V6 (290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque), there’s little chance you’ll be wanting for more power.
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Mitsubishi Outlander Sport AWC
In an age when Mitsubishi is likely on its way to extinction, there are still a couple of the company’s offerings we think don’t get enough recognition. One of them is the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (base MSRP $19,595). The Outlander Sport is an attractive, comfortable package that just so happens to have the ability to lock up the differential for some serious off-road prowess. The Outlander Sport comes equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder (148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque) or a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque). Even though Mitsubishi may be on its way out of the states, this vehicle still makes for a smart choice because of its rock-bottom price and strong performance.
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While Mitsubishi might be on its way out, Kia is on its way up. The Sportage (base MSRP $22,990) is a perfect example of a model that just keeps getting better and better. Like the Outlander Sport and the Santa Fe, the Sportage has the ability to lock the rear differential, pushing power to all four wheels and making slippery off-road terrain easy to traverse. Powered by a either a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (182 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque) or a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (260 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque) the little Sportage comes equipped with all the power you’ll need.