For some drivers, a vehicle is simply a means to accomplish daily tasks which can include commuting to work, grocery shopping, shuttling kids, and 10,000 other errands. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the drivers who see their vehicles as a means to escape the mundaneness of everyday life and seek out adventure on roads less traveled. For this group, a 4x4 vehicle means taking on tougher trails to discover the best that the great outdoors has to offer. No matter if you adventure solo or with a large crew, there is a 4x4 SUV out there to match your free spirit (and budget).
Subcompact 4x4 SUV: 2020 Jeep Renegade
The small but mighty Jeep Renegade is tougher than it looks on off-road terrain thanks to its 4WD systems, generous ground clearance, and best-in-class approach and departure angles. For under $25,000 starting MSRP, the subcompact crossover comes with two engine options including a 1.3-liter turbocharged engine for 177-horsepower and 210 lb.-ft. of torque and a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter engine. The 1.3-liter comes standard on the Limited and Trailhawk models and is optional for the Sport and Latitude models.
Two 4-Wheel Drive systems are available for the Jeep Renegade including the Active Drive 4x4 and the Active Drive Low 4x4. The off-road Trailhawk trim should be at the top of the list for serious off-roaders. This rugged crossover comes with the benefit of standard Jeep Active Drive Low with an improved 21.5:1 crawl ratio, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, skid plates, signature tow hooks, Hill-descent Control, up to 19 inches of water fording, and up to 2,000-pound towing capacity.
Jeep Renegade Starting MSRP: $22,620
Compact 4x4 SUV: 2020 Jeep Compass
An elevated heart rate during off-road escapades should come from the challenging terrain or stunning views, not from anxiety caused by overpaying for your SUV. Luckily, a compact crossover like the Jeep Compass will allow you to explore without breaking the bank. The Jeep Compass offers one engine option, a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder which gets a best-in-class 4x4 fuel economy of 31 MPG on the highway. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed or a nine-speed automatic transmission is available.
For ultimate off-road prowess, the Jeep Compass Trailhawk is the trim to buy. The Trailhawk offers standard Active Drive Low 4x4, an increased ride height over the other Compass models, skid plates and front and rear tow hooks. The Compass' 4WD system comes with Selec-Terrain traction management, which has four modes including Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud. A 5th Rock traction mode is offered on the Trailhawk trim. Additional off-road-friendly features like hill-descent control, all-terrain tires, and up to 19-inches of water fording make the Compass a fun and practical choice.
Jeep Compass Starting MSRP: $23,895
Mid-Size 4x4 SUV: 2020 Nissan Pathfinder
Although the 2020 Nissan Pathfinder isn't our top choice for paved roads, this affordable mid-size SUV is hard to beat for families who like to go off the beaten path. The off-road capable Pathfinder is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 for 284 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque. It offers a smooth and comfortable ride to the trails as well as a 6,000-pound towing capacity for trailers or outdoor toys.
The Pathfinder's Intelligent 4x4 system allows drivers to choose from full-time 2WD for maximum fuel economy, Auto mode to automatically adjust the balance of power between front and rear wheels, or 4WD Lock mode which is ideal for tougher terrain. The Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition adds exclusive and rugged features like unique dark 18-inch wheels with all-season tires, black mesh grille, black roof rails, black molded overfenders, a standard trailer tow hitch and harness, and splash guards.
Nissan Pathfinder Starting MSRP: $31,980
Full-Size 4x4 SUV: 2020 Nissan Armada
For large families who like to partake in outdoor adventures, the spacious and rugged Nissan Armada fits the bill. The full-size, body-on-frame SUV offers seating for up to 8 passengers in its three rows and gets a best-in-class horsepower of 390 horsepower from a 5.6-liter V8. It also offers a maximum towing capacity of up to 8,500 pounds which beats the competition.
The Armada is available with both 2WD and 4WD, but we'd advise the adventure-seekers to go with the available All-Mode 4WD system. This system offers 3 modes (Auto, 4HI, and 4LO) with an electronically controlled part-time transfer case. The Armada's 4WD system operates in 2WD under normal driving conditions and can be switched to 4WD to distribute torque to all four wheels to tackle tougher conditions like rugged terrain or inclement weather.
Nissan Armada Starting MSRP: $47,500