Got dirt? Got mud? Got a solid AWD or 4×4 to take you through all that? If not, you should consider the following vehicles for your next adventure mobile purchase. The Texas Motor Press Association (TxMPA) decided to hold its first Texas Off-Road Invitational gathering at General Sam’s Offroad Park, located in Huntsville. Approximately three dozen automotive writers, all members of TxMPA, tested a variety of AWD and 4×4 rigs: from trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, to even the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan! Every vehicle was vying for the new “Off-Road Truck of the Year” or “Off-Road SUV of the Year” honors, which were doled out by TxMPA. A few off-pavement courses were offered—showcasing dirt, loose sand, and mud-filled tracks, as well as deep water crossings. It was the perfect place to test each adventure chariot’s prowess.
2019 Honda Passport Elite AWD
After taking some time off, Honda resurrected the Passport model in a big manner. This stylish mid-size SUV boasts a 280 HP 3.5-liter engine, nine-speed automatic transmission, and seats five occupants. The Passport sits larger than the CR-V yet smaller than its three-row seven-passenger cousin, the Pilot. The new Passport iteration boasts an all-wheel drive system that offers up normal, sand, mud, and snow drive settings. A quick flick of the wrist switches drive modes to suite current conditions.
The 2019 Passport Elite shifted effortlessly as I drove it in hard-packed dirt, off-camber turns, as well as water-logged trails. Even though it three-wheeled in tight sections, its body felt planted and secure. The Passport’s suspension was relaxed yet supportive when tackling uneven and washboarded terrain.
The Passport Elite is the top-of-the-line trim level, enticing potential buyers with an oversized interior, oodles of technology and safety features, as well as a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. This AWD would make an ideal cross-country tarmac warrior as well as an adventure rig to hit up various trails. MSRP: $44,725. Fuel economy: 19 city, 24 highway, and 21 combined.
2020 Kia Telluride SX AWD
Winning this year’s TxMPA’s Off-Road SUV of the Year crown, the 2020 Kia Telluride has lots to offer. It’s well-designed, intuitive, and responsive—plus, it’s just plain cool. I’ve had a good amount of time behind the wheel of the Telluride over the last few months, I can fully attest to its agility when maneuvering through tight tree-lined trails. It also has enough power to methodically and successfully drive up steep dirt-packed hills and has safety features like a wheel camera display that lets you know if you’re getting close to rocks, trees, or other trail intrusions.
Unlike the other Tellurides I reviewed, this one wasn’t stock; it didn’t have its stock 20” wheels and tires. Kia mixed things up by donning 18” Kia Sorento wheels and Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain rubber on our tester. That was an excellent choice, I must say! This seven-passenger AWD rig went everywhere I wanted it too. It even successfully navigated the tougher courses mainly reserved for the 4x4s. It did great; I enjoyed my time with it. MSRP: $46,860. Fuel economy: 19 city, 24 highway, and 21 combined.
2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque P300 R-Dynamic HSE AWD
The second-generation AWD Land Rover Range Rover Evoque may be small in size, but it’s big on ability. This five-passenger four-door Land Rover can tackle a variety of off-tarmac terrain that would challenge most AWDs. Even though it’s low to the ground (I was initially nervous driving it through a deep muddy lake), I learned it had a Wade Sensing feature. This tiny crossover is capable of traversing through 23.6” of water! There is even a display that’ll let you know how deep the water gets. Also on board is All Terrain Progress Control, a slow-speed cruise control allowance that can help dictate off-pavement driving. The All Terrain Progress Control allows the Evoque driver to run it from one to five miles per hour, allowing it to navigate over obstacles confidently (with its 8.3” of ground clearance). Its diminutive size made this AWD easy to navigate through tight areas and on loose terrain. Along with the aforementioned technology, the Evoque offers up Terrain Response 2 with selectable driving and off-road modes, as well as hill descent control.
The Evoque boasts a 296 horsepower engine with nine-speed automatic transmission. Its overall styling is forward, sleek, and modern. Even though the rear side windows and rear windshield are squat and narrow, it features a ClearSight interior rear view mirror. Visibility of the front cabin, however, is open and adequate. Interior appointments are carefully designed, with controls in easy reach. MSRP: $67,190. Fuel economy: 21 city, 26 highway, and 23 combined.
2019 Jeep JL 4×4
Jeep doesn’t need an introduction when it comes to off-road capability. Jeep is King. Whether it’s capability, styling, or customizability, Jeep dominates the off-road market. The Jeep JL has well thought-out improvements over its long-standing predecessor (the JK). Its on-road handling and performance has been refined, the automatic transmission shifts more smoothly, and its modernized interior offers up goodies while still maintaining the classic Jeep Wrangler feel. Off-road accoutrements include items like front and rear locking differentials, front disconnecting stabilizer bar, skid plates, rock sliders, a great approach, breakover, and departure angle, as well as 10.9 inches of ground clearance.
Even though Jeep is constantly improving and refining, it still sticks to its open cockpit heritage. You can drop the top, lower the windshield, and take the doors off. What other auto manufacturer in the marketplace has these features? Although skies were dark, gloomy, and the rain held out most of the time, we rolled with the JL top down.
The 2019 Hellayella JL easily trudged its way through deep mud, championed up steep off-camber situations, and confidently cruised through every type of terrain General Sam’s had to offer. It’s perfect for adventurers who may crawl over rocks to get to their favorite fishing hole, drive up a mountain for a day of snow fun, or build it up as an even more serious off-road 4×4. MSRP: $55,070. Fuel economy: 22 city, 24 highway, and 22 combined.
2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro 4×4
The Toyota Tacoma is a great vehicle for those who want a reputable 4×4 truck to adventure around with, or a solid platform to customize into a new overlanding rig. Heck, the Tacoma has been around since 1995. The TRD Pro Tacoma showcases off-road features like 2.5-inch TRD Pro-exclusive Fox internal bypass shocks paired with specially-tuned TRD coil springs and rear upgraded leaf springs, one inch of extra lift (TRD vs stock models), and a quarter-inch thick skid plate with red TRD lettering. The TRD Pro Tacoma also dons LED DRLs and Rigid LED fog lights, although headlights are still halogen. Also on board is the optional desert air intake—it’s not a snorkel, it’s not waterproof, but it’s an intake system allowing minimal dust into the engine.
The Voodoo Blue Tacoma’s ride quality is solid and responsive. Along with a rear locker and multi-terrain select system letting drivers choose settings like rock, mud, and sand, as well crawl control, the 2019 Tacoma TRD Pro can pretty much drive itself through various off-road situations. Add to that an endless array of aftermarket parts, and the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro truck is a great option for off-road traveling. MSRP: $48,480. Fuel economy: 18 city, 22 highway, and 20 combined.
2019 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison 4×4
The Colorado ZR2 gets American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) upgrades to make it the ZR2 Bison, the most capable 4×4 in Chevy’s current lineup. AEV niceties, like five underbody skid plates, steel bumpers with recovery points, and unique wheels were added to make it a serious adventure-ready off-road truck. Add to that locking front and rear differentials, rock sliders, and beefier bumpers, and you’re ready to tackle off-tarmac challenges with confidence.
Driving the 186 HP turbo-diesel Bison was exceptional. Its six-speed automatic transmission seems to always be in the right gear, keeping the engine within its optimal powerband range. This truck has 8.9 inches of ground clearance and also incorporates excellent approach, break-over, and departure angles. During my time with the Bison, it methodically championed up steep off-camber hills, chomped up loose sand easily, and effortlessly drove through deep muddy waters. This truck made me want to keep driving it—it is fun, engaging to drive, and is rock solid. MSRP: $53,245. Fuel economy: 18 city and 22 highway.
No matter if you’re in the market for an AWD or 4×4, mid-size SUV or a truck, test drive everything in your price range. Look at off-road capability, technology, safety features, and creature comforts—that can help you determine which adventure rig is best suited for you.
[Images copyright 2019 Hooniverse/Mercedes Lilienthal]