The 5 Best Small 4×4 Off Roading Vehicles
Traditionally, off-roading has been a preserve of the bulky and imposing trucks and SUVs. However, other unlikely candidates can be transformed into formidable off-roaders.
Join us as we dive into the world of the best small and unlikely off-roading vehicles.
What Are The Best Small Or Unlikely Off-Roading Vehicles
When it comes to off-roading, size doesn’t always matter. Big trucks and SUVs may seem like the go-to, but their weight can be a major hindrance on certain types of terrain. They’re likelier to get turtled (high-cantered) and have a terrible turning radius.
So the ideal small or unusual off-roading vehicle for you depends on various factors such as location, budget, and availability.
The Wrangler is the best bang-for-your-buck option out there, and it’s a dream vehicle for any off-road enthusiast. It is a popular choice, offering everyday driving and off-road capabilities.
It packs a punch, out-wheeling even the most mild-mannered Subarus. A stock Wrangler can give a heavily modified Subarus a run for their money, thanks to its smaller wheelbase and tough construction.
And if you want to modify it further, you’re already starting with a solid foundation.
The AWD Subaru is also a capable and versatile choice that doesn’t require you to splurge on a truck.
While not an unexpected option, Subarus offers a lot of bang for your buck with their transaxle system, which may not be as robust as a transfer case but still does well.
If you’re lucky, you may find an Outback with a dual-range gearbox, a rarity in the US but more common across the pond.
And if you’re itching to tackle some serious terrain, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better alternative than a lifted Subaru with 26s and a 3″ lift. Finding an older model with dual-range can be tricky these days, but the upgrade is well worth it.
While they may not be small in the traditional sense, these older models are certainly smaller than their modern counterparts. And can still hold their own on rough terrain.
Plus, they are built like tanks and have plenty of room for all your gear, making them a solid choice for off-roading adventures.
The AMC Eagle was a unique vehicle when it hit the market in 1980. It wasn’t just a regular station wagon. It was a crossbreed with wood-paneled exteriors.
It was available in various models, such as a coupe, sedan, hatchback, and convertible. At the time, no other four-wheel drive cars were on the market.
So AMC took advantage of this by giving the Concord/Spirit models a rugged and outdoorsy look and renaming them after a bird of prey.
The full-time four-wheel drive system was designed based on the Ferguson Formula, which was previously used on the Jensen FF and allowed for an independent front suspension.
The Eagle was a unique and pioneering vehicle, perfect for those who wanted a practical and stylish car. You might want to give it a try!
The Isuzu VehiCROSS was a futuristic off-roading vehicle that looked like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie. Its unique design was so ahead that it seemed like a time machine got stuck in the mud.
Originally showcased at the 1993 Tokyo Auto Show, Isuzu brought the production model to the US for the 1999-2001 model years. However, the VehiCROSS may have a weird exterior, but its mechanics are solid and reliable.
Borrowing hardware from the Isuzu Trooper, one of the most widely rebadged cars of all time, the VehiCROSS includes a 3.5L, 215hp V6 and a “Torque-On-Demand” four-wheel drive system that provides power to the front axles as needed.
With its beefed-up suspension and rarity (only 4,000 sold), the VehiCROSS is a fun and dependable off-road option that combines otherworldly looks with practical functionality.
GMC Safari/Chevrolet Astro
Lastly, there’s a two-in-one deal: the GMC Safari and Chevrolet Astro. These minivans may look like boxy people carriers, but they were equipped with an optional all-wheel-drive system that became available in 1990.
The system resulted from a partnership with Ferguson Formula, and it was paired with the 4.3L V6 engine that was optional for both models.
Of course, the stock all-wheel-drive system may not be enough for serious off-roading. But there’s a simple solution: swap it out with a full low-range NP233 transfer case from the S10/S15 pickup trucks.
With this modification, you’ll get the best of both worlds – the go-anywhere capabilities of a truly locking four-wheel drive system and the practicality of a van that can double your accommodation when stranded in the middle of nowhere.
What Off-Roading Vehicles Can Also Be Used for everyday Commuting?
This question is not easy to answer as it largely depends on your preferences, budget, and the terrain you plan to tackle.
Off-roading can be categorized into levels ranging from dirt roads to deep-water crossings, rocks, and mud.
For the former, any 4WD vehicle will suffice, but for the latter, you will need a vehicle that is highly capable with underbelly protection, aftermarket support or factory-installed lockers, and additional features such as snorkels and lifts.
Your vehicle preference is also a crucial factor to consider. Would you prefer to buy a new or used vehicle? Do you want a small car or a truck with a bed?
While some suggest a Subaru or F150, others swear by Jeeps. Therefore, it is important to determine what off-roading means to you and your priorities before deciding.
Nonetheless, you have a lot of options. From Ford to Toyota to Jeep to Subaru and more. The key is finding something cheap, reliable, and won’t break the bank with trail damage.
Any 4WD vehicle will do light off-roading as long as it has good tires and a lift. If you also want good on-road manners, look for something with independent front suspension (IFS). The Ford Escape, for example, is a great option. It’s a smooth ride on-road, even with a lift and tires. The V6 engine offers enough power to get you out of sticky situations.
However, you’ll want to consider a purpose-built vehicle for more serious off-roading. Something like the Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Wrangler. Both are reliable and can handle rough terrain with ease. Older Jeep Cherokees and Toyota Landcruisers are also great choices.
Remember that purpose-built 4X4s may not make the best daily drivers. They can be more expensive to maintain and may have lower gas mileage. And if you want to do serious rock crawling, you’ll need to invest in a lift and bigger tires.
This can also affect your gas mileage and day-to-day drivability. Ultimately, it’s all about balancing off-road capabilities and on-road practicality for your needs.
Why are Off-Road Cars SUV Shaped?
The definition of an SUV is not clear-cut but rather has a broad range of characteristics. To begin with, an SUV should have a commanding presence.
The trend of lowering vehicles is passé, and people now prefer to enter and exit easily- while having a clear view of the road ahead on both the freeway and off-road.
This preference change is largely due to older people being the primary target audience for SUVs. They’re often referred to as “suburban taxis.”
Another essential aspect of an SUV is ground clearance. It is particularly important when venturing off-road. The more clearance an SUV has, the less likely it is to encounter difficulties. Suspension design is crucial in achieving this clearance, but taller tires can help.
A true off-roader requires good entry and departure angles, which explains many SUV designs’ short and stubby nature.
However, the Subaru, which was very popular with the outdoor set, was arguably the original SUV and lacked many features. It cannot be considered a true off-roader despite traveling admirably on dirt roads.
Other requirements for SUVs vary considerably based on their design and intended use. For example, AWD is a convenient feature that comes standard in most Subarus, as it allows easy maneuvering and prevents skidding and getting stuck.
However, most modern SUVs come with electronically controlled 4WD transmissions, which can handle rough terrain but not extreme off-roading.
Older 4WDs, or “real 4WDs” as purists call them, come equipped with dual manual transmissions, separate low ranges, and the ability to lock differentials physically.
With proper setup, these 4WDs can handle almost any off-road terrain. Although many 4WDs are designed like SUVs, most have a commercial vehicle design, with the most common type being the “crew cab.”
Finally, diesel engines are essential for SUVs for off-roading and water fording. They are also preferred in some regions where diesel is more readily available outside urban areas.
Which SUVs Are Rugged Enough for Serious off-Roading
It’s still popular in Canada, where it’s often salvaged and repurposed as a makeshift deer-hauling tractor.
And don’t let its small size fool you—the Samurai can handle even the toughest terrain, as proven by a colleague who drove one on a safari in Kenya with completely bald tires.
Of course, the Land Cruiser is a serious contender in the off-road world, particularly the FJ40 series. These vehicles may be too slow and gas-guzzling for highway use- but they can handle just about anything off the beaten path.
For something even more rugged, early Land Rovers, are practically indestructible. And while newer Land Rover models are great for off-roading, military-style Jeeps and Toyota Hilux pickups remain the go-to choices for insurgent militias worldwide.
But you don’t need a fancy, high-priced vehicle to navigate rough terrain. A simple, reliable ride like the Toyota Rav4 can get the job done, as evidenced by a woman who bought 40 for rural nurses in an African country.
And if you’re in a pinch, even a light truck like the 2002 Tacoma with good tires can plow through deep snow and easily haul heavy loads.
This video has been included for its clarification of the topic matter. Credit goes to Driving Sports TV
You might hit a few bumps if you’re seeking a small off-road car. Some may insist that a compact car can handle the rugged terrain- but the reality is quite different. There are several reasons why small cars struggle off-road.
For instance, without a solid frame underneath the body, the chassis can flex, leading to many issues, including difficulty opening doors.
Additionally, most all-wheel-drive vehicles lack a transfer case, which is essential for serious off-roading. Half-shafts are no match for a solid axle. And finding parts for a DIY off-road build can be a nightmare. Even turbocharged engines can be unpredictable off-road.
So, before you hit the trails, think twice about whether a small car is truly up to the challenge.