Best New Family SUVs with Off-Road Appeal

Forget the Wranglers and Broncos - these familiar family sport utilities are (finally) built for adventure.

Editor’s Note: we’re adding more models to this list as they become available.

Many of the glossy new SUVs on the road today were once adventure-going haulers built to go off-the-grid. Today, those same models return to their rugged roots, offering buyers the chance to hit the outdoors equipped with proper features to match. (Fuelled in part by COVID-19 lockdowns and the mental benefits of being outside, according to recent studies.)

SUV upgrades like higher ground clearance, skid plates, tow hooks, enhanced transmissions and drivetrains, burlier wheels, bigger bumpers, and more – all from the factory floor. Here, we’ve skipped the usual off-roaders like the Wrangler, Bronco, Defender, Outlander and so on; instead, going for the SUVs gaining significant upgrades and/or getting new trims altogether like Subaru’s Wilderness, Ford’s new Timberline, and GMC’s AT4.

So, here are some of the best family-friendly, off-road SUV and crossovers you can buy straight from the dealership.


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Subaru Outback Wilderness

The Outback SUV has always been a capable off-roader with its advance all-wheel drive and utility-focused design. The current redesigned, six-generation model introduced in 2020 took it a step further.

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But Subaru has significantly dialled it up for 2022 with the new Outback Wilderness, converting the generally well-mannered suburban family hauler into a proper off-the-grid, raised-and-cladded wagon warrior with everyday drivability intact.

The ramped Outback gains a long list of worthy upgrades – about 17 in total you can read about here – from higher ground clearance and beefier tires to new bumpers and a more blacked-out look to conquer the unpaved terrain.

Otherwise, the powertrain remains the same with the Outback’s current range-topping 2.4L turbocharged engine and 8-speed CVT transmission, producing 260-hp at 5,600 rpm, 277 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, and 3,500-lb. towing capacity.

Key off-road features:

Revised CVT transmission offering low-end torque

Upgraded wheels & tires and larger wheel arches

Hex-designed LED fog lights


Ford Explorer Timberline

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Steel skid plates, higher ground clearance, improved towing – this definitely is not your typical Explorer. Dubbed the most off-road-capable Explorer ever, the bold claim is backed up by the specs. 

The foundation starts with standard Ford intelligent four-wheel drive, bolstered by a Torsen limited-slip rear differential. The LSD is capable of automatically distributing torque to the wheel getting the best traction, while stopping the other from spinning, to help get things moving. 

Powering the mid-size SUV is Ford’s 2.3-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine producing 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. A Class III Trailer Tow Package is included allowing drivers to haul along other adventure-ready toys like RVs, ATVs and watercraft. 

Read more about the 2021 Explorer Timberline’s features here.

Key off-road features:

Steel skid plates

Torsen limited-slip rear differential

5,300 pounds towing capacity


VW Atlas Basecamp

Introduced back in 2019, VW’s biggest SUV gained the off-road treatment with the Atlas Basecamp. Unfortunately, this isn’t for sale but should provide enough inspiration to those looking for off-road parts and upgrades.

Powered by the same 3.6L VR6 engine found in the Atlas SEL matted to the 8-speed transmission, the Basecamp puts down 276-hp equipped with the Volkswagen 4Motion all-wheel drive with Drive Mode Selection, so going off-road won’t be an issue.

This Atlas variant steps it up in a few major ways: the blacked-out fifteen52 Traverse MX Concept wheels are custom and wrapped in beefy 265/70R17 all-terrain rubber. It gets a custom body by by Air Design, lift gate by H&R with coil over springs that raise the ride height around 1.5 inches, a roof rack with bike mounts, and LED light bars up top.

Key off-road features:

Custom wheels & all-terrain tires

1.5-inch raised suspension with H&R Springs

HIVE EX compact expedition trailer


VW Taos Basecamp

Based on the positive response for the Atlas Basecamp, VW decided to give its compact SUV the same off-road love with the Taos Basecamp Concept – but like the Atlas, this little SUV isn’t a production model (yet, we hope).

Conceived by the Volkswagen Design Team in Oxnard, California, this raised and ramped-up Taos definitely isn’t your typical compact SUV. Sporting custom Traverse MX wheels by fifteen52 wrapped in all-terrain Falken tires alongside H&R Special Springs, bold fender flares, silver rocker cladding running along the sides, and skid plates at the front and back, this is a serious adventure machine ready to hit the unpaved roads.

Up top, the small off-roader gains a custom roof rack by Thule Canyon XT with integrated off-road Baja Designs LED lighting, while the interior finds a custom cargo divider to keep all the gear in one place.

Key off-road features:

First VW to showcase the latest Gentex HomeLink Bluetooth enabled frameless mirror with integrated compass

Raised suspension with H&R Springs

Custom roof rack with LED lights


Nissan Pathfinder

Nissan’s mid-size SUV has been going strong for 35 years — for 2022, the Pathfinder hits the market hard with a rugged look and redesign, a more responsive 9-speed transmission paired to 4WD, better towing capabilities, seating for 8, and a massive 12.3-inch digital dashboard, to get things started.

Aside from gaining a bigger presence — from larger tires and wider stance to a more dominant front end — Nissan’s goal here was to return to the Pathfinder’s adventure-going origins. As they put it, “returning to its rugged roots, loaded with the benefit of everything learned along the way.” 

All models come with 4WD, 7 drive modes (Standard, Sport, Eco, Snow, Sand, Mud/Rut and Tow), and standard Trailer Sway Control for the available 6,000-pound maximum towing capacity.

Read more about the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder here.

Key off-road features:

More responsive 9-speed transmission

Larger tires and wider stance

More rugged styling than outgoing model


GMC Yukon AT4

As far as American premium full-size SUVs go, the Yukon Denali has definitely been leading the way since the upscale hauler hit the scene back in 1999. For 2021, GMC is taking things off-road with the rugged new Yukon AT4 following in the footsteps of the new Sierra AT4 pickup, recently launched Sierra HD AT4, and Acadia AT4.

Available later in the season, all 2021 Yukons ride on a four-corner Air Ride Adaptive Suspension that will raise the body up to 2 inches (50 mm) for additional ground clearance when traveling off-road; GMC claims this new suspension makes for a comfier ride, as well.

Unlike the glossy Denali, the Yukon AT4 replaces all the shiny stuff with dark elements and chunks of black. And of course, the prominent pair of red recovery hooks, similar to the Sierra AT4, which really make this Yukon stand out. When at this maximum height, the Yukon AT4 offers a nearly 32-degree approach angle for added off-road capability.

Read more about the 2021 GMC Yukon AT4 here.

Key off-road features:

More blacked-out features with red tow hooks

Four-corner Air Ride Adaptive Suspension

Front skid plate


Toyota RAV4

The RAV4 has never really been an ‘off-road machine’ since hitting the market in 1994. But the new model is heading in that direction, to some degree.

The muscular, aggressively-styled RAV4 is unlike anything we would’ve expected when the covers came off at its 2018 New Auto Show debut – and that’s definitely a good thing for this fifth-generation model.

The new chiseled RAV4 with available 19-inch wheels sports a stronger nose leading into a more dynamic profile with bolder shoulders now. Looks aside, we expect it to handle off-road duties; the RAV4’s sits on a new TNGA platform allowing for a lower, wider package; while the shorter front and rear overhangs will aid in RAV4’s ability to conquer the back trails with ease.

Key off-road features:

More muscular, wider looks

New TNGA platform

New 2.5L Inline-4

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