Buying Guides

The 5 Best Body-On-Frame SUVs for Towing and Off-Roading

These big-boy SUVs are the workhorses you really need

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Body-on-frame SUVs are slowly dying as unibody construction takes over. Still, for certain situations, like towing heavy loads and serious off-roading, a classic ladder-frame construction can make all the difference. Pair that with a powerful engine and enough seating for the whole family and you have a vehicle that's better at most things than your neighbor's silly BMW X6. Never mind that these vehicles tend to gulp instead of sip gas. That's the price you have to pay for more capability. Honestly, these modern-day, body-on-frame SUVs aren't too terribly far behind their unibody counterparts when it comes to fuel efficiency. These are the vehicles you get when most rides can't get the job done.

2017 Nissan Armada

  • PROS: Burly construction, towing capacity of 8,500 lbs, mighty V8, luxurious Infiniti-like interior, off-road capable.
  • CONS: Third-row seating is tight, gas guzzler, steering is too light, cargo space on the smaller side.

Anyone from outside of the U.S. will look at the Armada ($44,900 base MSRP) and notice immediate that it’s a Patrol, Nissan's global SUV. The Armada is built on the global Patrol’s platform. That sweetens the deal because the Patrol is a well-loved machine all around the world. The fact that Nissan brought this platform to the U.S. is good news. The interior is nothing short of lovely, with soft leather all over the place and high-quality materials on the center stack and dash, and the infotainment system is smooth and easy to use. The powerful 5.6-liter V8 (390 hp and 394 lb-ft of torque) thrums beneath the hood and moves this large SUV along nicely. There’s little not to love about the Armada, aside from its over-boosted steering and tight third row.

2017 Toyota Land Cruiser

  • PROS: Serious off-road chops, towing capacity of 8,100 lbs, well-respected name, solid construction and engine, comes fully loaded.
  • CONS: A bit dated, thirsty V8, premium brand price tag.

The last time the Toyota Land Cruiser ($84,325 base MSRP) was really overhauled was in 2013 and that was a major refresh of a vehicle from 2008, the 200 series. That vehicle’s bones are still a part of the 2017 Land Cruiser. Just because it’s a little dated doesn’t mean you should overlook this competent SUV. The Land Cruiser is the go to vehicle for NATO and many other organizations and people around the world because it is an extremely versatile and stalwart machine. The brawny 5.7-liter V8 (381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque) is both powerful and reliable and the interior is luxurious, comfortable and equipped with modern amenities and features. Yes, the price is high, but that’s really the only price the vehicle goes for because it comes fully loaded with all that Toyota offers, save a few minor accessories.

2017 Mercedes-Benz G-Class


for the Prestige Seeker

  • PROS: Stylish in an old-school way, towing capacity of 7,000 lbs, plenty of prestige, top-of-the-line interior materials, fast, off-road monster.
  • CONS: Sickening fuel economy, poor handling capabilities, driver assist technology isn't robust.

On the surface, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class ($122,400 base MSRP) doesn’t really make sense. It has a ridiculously high price tag, happily sucks down more gasoline than any other vehicle on this list and isn’t as smooth or good to drive as most other vehicles on the road. However, when you look beyond those things, you find a vehicle that is unlike anything else available today. It’s a status symbol and a hardcore off-road machine with a luxury side. Its goddamn fast, thanks to a potent 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 (416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque). It’s brazenly irresponsible in an age when every vehicle, even body-on-frame SUVs are sensible and pragmatic. In many ways it’s a big, expensive, German-engineered middle finger to the world. That’s what makes it so wonderful and worthy of its six-figure price tag. If you can afford to buy one of these, do it.

2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited


for the budget off-roader

  • PROS: Iconic design and styling, off-road ready, fun to drive and own in a way that's different than a sports car.
  • CONS: Rugged construction, poor on-road manners, can only tow up to 3,500 lbs, interior isn’t very luxurious.

The Wrangler Unlimited ($27,895 base MSRP) in many ways is the affordable American alternative to the Mercedes G-Class. It isn’t luxurious and doesn’t offer as much prestige, but it is extremely capable off-road and carries a reputation for being fun to drive and own. It has an iconic design and elicits images of camping and going to the beach from most Americans. That’s exactly what this vehicle’s good for. However, most of the time you see these cursing around suburbia or parked at the mall. Either way, the Wrangler has the goods to get the job done. When summer comes around, drop the top and enjoy it, and no matter the season you can be sure the 3.6-liter V6 (285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque) will chug along without issue. If you’re looking for an iconic American classic that’s tons of fun in the sun, it’s hard to do better than the Wrangler.

2017 Dodge Durango

  • PROS: Aggressive looks, towing capacity of 7,400 lbs, two good engine options, good road manners.
  • CONS: Heavy curb weight, no seating option for eight passengers, somewhat unrefined infotainment system.

Dodge has considered killing the Durango ($29,995 base MSRP) before and eventually they may. Until that day comes, we have to note that it is an exceptional machine. In an age when unibody crossovers are taking over, the Durango proves that there’s still room for body-on-frame SUVs on the road. Although it’s weight has an impact on its handling, its road manners are really very good. Off-road, the vehicle is better suited to gravel and dirt paths as opposed to rock crawling, but it is able to handle what most folks do off pavement. The 3.6-liter V6 (295 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque) is both powerful and efficient, but if you really want to have fun, opt for the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque). The V8 also allows you to tow some seriously heavy trailers (up to 7,400 lbs), but it isn't very efficient.

What comes in a body-on-frame rig?

  • Higher max towing rating than unibody vehicles
  • Supreme off-road capability
  • Powerful engine options
  • Plenty of seating