Usually, when you read posts about the best overland vehicles, it’s a post outlining some of the most modified 4×4 with high-end off-road components, kitted out to oblivion and back. We’re talking all the bells and whistles, 30-something-inch mud gripping tires – ultimate backcountry machinery, all on the latest model year heavy-duty truck.
While a vehicle like this would be excellent for conquering any terrain, the problem is it’s barely road legal and completely inefficient as a daily driver. Trucks like this quickly run up a bill into six-figure territory. And here’s the thing – most (not all) overlanders are nine-to-fivers who likely use their daily drivers for overlanding.
Your everyday overland camper probably isn’t going to have a vehicle (at least not a six-figure vehicle) to dedicate solely to overlanding. So, the problem is that while these posts are great for showcasing the latest in high-tech 4×4 equipment, they’re not providing much realistic advice for the true overland warrior.
Fear not; this article has some real solutions for anyone looking to find a realistic vehicle efficient for overlanding on Sunday and commuting on Monday (most of them, anyway). These are the top 7 best off-road and overlanding vehicles.
What Makes a Good Overland Vehicle?
So what makes a good overland vehicle? While some vehicles come off-road ready in its stock configuration – especially in upgraded trim packages- it goes without saying that you’ll probably want to make at least a few upgrades. Whether you use stock components or add them yourself, proper attention must be paid to the following areas.
Your overland vehicle must be four-wheel drive. You’ll likely find yourself dead in the mud if you don’t have a four-wheel drivetrain.
The following mechanical components are extremely critical when it comes to off-road performance.
- Engine. You’re going to want some form of the performance engine package. At the very least, you’ll want your engine in a highly optimized state of tune courtesy of a programmer or something similar.
- Transmission. It’s not mandatory, but it helps if you have a manual transmission. You’ll do much better traction-wise and have more control over your drivetrain with a manual transmission.
- Cooling System. An upgraded cooling system is beneficial, depending on where you plan on driving the most. Remember, you don’t need to be in overly hot weather to benefit from a cooling system. When you push your vehicle to the limit, it gets hot. It’s simple mechanics.
- Fuel System. Installing an upgraded fuel pump pushes more pressure to your injectors, giving your engine more power. Remember to have a regulator installed if you decide to take this route. Although an upgraded fuel system isn’t mandatory, it does help.
High Ground Clearance
If you plan on navigating terrain with rocks or areas that could potentially cause your truck to bottom out, you’ll want to consider a higher ground clearance. Using a lift kit can provide you with the ground clearance you need, in addition to making room for bigger tires. You definitely want additional ground clearance if you plan on rock climbing or driving through any substantial water areas.
Ample Wheel Well Space
This goes with the previous point, but ample wheel well space is essential. If you get larger off-road wheels and tires, they must clear without rubbing. Make sure you can cut the wheel both ways without any portion of the wheel rubbing your fenders.
The 7 Best Overlanding Vehicles
The following seven choices are what we consider to be the best vehicles for overlanding. Remember, these aren’t necessarily the best kit trucks, but they do great for modifications for 4×4 use while still being practical enough for daily use. These are in no particular order and not any designated year – as a whole, we feel these to be the best models overall.
1. Toyota 4Runner
The Toyota 4Runner is designed to be an off-road machine. Every generation of this Toyota SUV is geared for 4×4 glory. Even the stock configuration of the 4Runner is a formidable vehicle in snow, rain, and mud. Adding a few modifications makes it among one of the best overland vehicles money can buy. Part of what makes the 4Runner so efficient for 4×4 use fresh off the assembly line is its engine. Usually, the V6 is the standard though there was a V8 option, but only for a short time.
Behind the V6, most 4Runner models get close to 300 horsepower, which is powerful for a vehicle its size. It’s power-to-weight ration makes it quite efficient. The 4Runner already has decent ground clearance and is also broad, giving it excellent stability. It’s also a tough SUV, with a truck-like body on frame setup. And, of course, all 4Runners come with some form of four-wheel drive across all trims.
It’s extremely easy to modify and upgrade the 4Runner. Don’t forget it’s a Toyota. Many of its models essentially function as “kit cars.” The 4Runner is no different, as referenced by the massive number of other off-road and overland kits available for this sport utility vehicle. Popular lift and leveling kits include Eibach Pro Lift Springs, Ironman 4×4 Performance Load Coils, and Toytec Spacer Kits. There’s plenty of roof space too, making it a great overland vehicle.
Even with a lift kit or overlanding equipment installed on a 4Runner, they’re efficient for on-road use as a daily driver. Some earlier generations don’t get the best fuel economy, but that’s expected from older model years altogether.
A new 4Runner starts around $38,000 for the standard model. For a used model, depending on the year, you can expect to pay anywhere from $3,500 for late 90s models and up to $25,000 for more recent years. Toyota 4Runners are excellent at holding their value, so they’re one of the most expensive used vehicles on the market.
2. Toyota Tacoma
Joining the 4Runner on this list is its cousin, the Toyota Tacoma. The Tacoma has long been known as an excellent off-road and overland vehicle – and it’s a title that’s well-deserved. You can purchase these Toyota trucks in an upgraded trim that’s more off-road ready with four-wheel drive and a V6 engine. The “RTD” models are off-road ready and include many upgrades and off-road features. However, base models of the Tacoma have historically included a 4-cylinder motor and lack a 4×4 drivetrain.
That said, what makes the Tacoma so popular as an off-road vehicle is that it’s modification-friendly. Toyota vehicles are typically easy to work on and aren’t as intricate in parts placement as other models, so upgrades are relatively uncomplicated. Many off-road enthusiasts prefer earlier generations of the Tacoma from the late 90s and early 2000s, as these years were famous for how well they held their value. Recently, newer models have been used a great deal among overland vehicles
Overall, the Tacoma is known for being a reliable truck that can take a beating, which has added to its popularity as a 4×4 top choice. There’s no shortage of offroad kits for these Toyota favorites, including the Pro Comp Nitro Leveling Kit, Eibach Stage 1 Pro Lift Kit, and the Bilstein Lift Kit.
The Tacoma is a practical off-road and on-road vehicle and does excellently as a daily driver. These trucks are known for their fuel efficiency and are nearly bulletproof in maintenance and repairs. Tacoma trucks are also known for holding their value for an extended period.
If you factor in new and used prices, the average cost of a Toyota Tacoma is around $34,000. A brand-new Tacoma can total over $60,000 for higher trim levels. Much like the Toyota 4Runner, these trucks are fantastic at holding value.
3. Chevrolet Colorado Z72
The Chevy Colorado might not be much of an overland vehicle in its base model, but much like the Tacoma, a few upgrades will have it trail-ready in no time. However, the Colorado Z72, an upgraded trim, makes an excellent 4×4 vehicle with some serious upgrades.
The Colorado handles excellently, which gives it a great deal of attractiveness for off-road enthusiasts. It might not have the responsive steering of the Tacoma, but the tight handling will get you out of a jam when you’re on the trail. Many people consider the Colorado a direct rival of the Tacoma, especially regarding off-road use.
Because of the hype around the Z72, the Colorado has become popular for off-road fans, and a fair amount of kits are available for this Chevy truck. Some more popular kits for the Chevy Colorado include the Kryptonite Stage 3 Leveling Kit, the McGaughys Premium Silver Lift Kit, and the Icon Stage 1 Suspension Kit.
Even if you purchase the Z72 version of the Colorado, it’s still economical to use it as a daily driver. While not as good as the Toyota Tacoma, fuel efficiency is still above-average for a truck.
A brand-new base model Colorado is a cost-efficient $25,000, with the Z72 starting around $44,000. It’s possible to get a nice, low-mileage 2012 Colorado for $6,000 to $7,000. They don’t hold their value as well as other models, making Colorado trucks more affordable in the pre-owned market.
4. Dodge RAM TRX
The first full-size pickup on our list is one of the most unforgettable trucks on the market. If you’ve never experienced a Dodge RAM TRX, it’s certainly something to behold. Created solely with off-road performance in mind, the Dodge RAM TRX is easily the fastest, strongest, and most powerful factory pickup truck in the world.
Off the assembly line, the RAM TRX includes a 6.2L V8 engine that cranks out a mind-boggling 702 horsepower. The Supercharged Hellcat motor guarantees that the RAM is ready for whatever off-road challenge it would face. The Dodge RAM TRX is a rare breed and not a typical truck to own. Because of the price tag (near $80,000), many owners don’t even touch off-road conditions with these trucks.
This monster has a towing capacity of 8,100 pounds and carries a payload of 1,300 pounds. The fat tires installed on the TRX provide grip and traction like no other. And if that’s not enough, the equipped Launch Control adds additional grip and less slip, allowing lightning-fast speeds even in the worst conditions.
Unless you bring home the bacon (and lots of it), the RAM TRX isn’t recommended as a daily driver, although most owners use it for just that. And can you blame them? Who wouldn’t want to show this thing off? However, the Hellcat motor is very unforgiving at the fuel pumps.
If you’re considering getting one, the RAM TRX comes with a whopping bill of almost $80,000. But to us, worth every penny.
5. Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler is an American classic. It’s got a design so reliable, especially with that military pedigree. If the military trusts a design for life-and-death situations, know that it’s pretty solid.
Fresh from the factory, the Wrangler has always been bred as an off-road dominator. What makes it such an efficient 4×4 vehicle? For starters, the drivetrain on the Wrangler has always been one of the best in the business. The body and frame design are made for crawling. It has insane handling especially when off-road. It’s lightweight, and has hardy front and rear axles.
There are many modification kits available for the Jeep Wrangler. You can simply search for Wrangler overland gear and you’ll get overwhelmed by the selection. However, even if you don’t slap on anything extra on the Wrangler, you can just get one with the right trim and it will be off-road ready.
Many people use the Wrangler as a daily driver, especially newer models. The older years aren’t recommended, as they don’t get the best fuel economy. More recent model years get much better gas mileage and are just fine as a commuter.
Upgraded trims of the latest model year Jeep are priced as high as $84,000. However, the average new price is around $50,000. For a good used Jeep with an average number of miles, you’re looking at a price tag around the $12,000 to $20,000 mark.
6. Ford F-150 Raptor
The Ford F-150 Raptor is another option ready for off-road action straight from the factory. While it’s not nearly as insane as the RAM TRX, it’s still a force to be reckoned with. While the RAM TRX is built for raw power, the F-150 Raptor is an excellent 4×4 vehicle because of its suspension.
The five-link rear suspension in the latest models is a game-changer and gives drivers ultimate control even in the most unforgiving terrains. You can find various trim options for Raptor trucks available from Ford, with different features and upgrades.
This is another vehicle with plenty of upgrade kits available, but again, there’s no real need. These incredible trucks come ready for action off the assembly line.
As a daily driver, we can say the F-150 Raptor is much more feasible than the RAM TRX.
Regarding a price tag, the F-150 Raptor takes the cake. Upgraded versions of the Raptor sell for as high as $134,000. Modified used versions have sold for as high as $199,000. If you get lucky, you can find an earlier model year for around $15,000.
7. Land Rover Range Rover
Our final vehicle on the list is unique, especially considering you can find it anywhere from the Hollywood Hills to the deserts of Death Valley. The Land Rover Range Rover is a rare mix of luxury and performance; most owners purchase them for the former.
However, these vehicles are highly efficient for off-road performance directly from the factory. What makes the Range Rover so remarkable as an off-road or overlanding vehicle? There are a few reasons: The luxury amenities and cool little off-road features are second to none. Second, a Two Speed transfer case makes it an all-terrain machine. Third, it has a wading depth of almost three feet. Fourth, the suspension isn’t too shabby, either. And finally, the low traction launch allows this SUV to take off from nearly any surface without spinning, including ice.
There are kits available for the Range Rover, but you won’t find nearly as many as the other trucks on this list, especially considering most owners buy them for the luxury end of things. That said, the Range Rover is excellent as a daily driver, quite safe, and very sound mechanically. If you want something that gives you maximum capability as an overland vehicle, the Land Rover Defender 110 is ready for action. The Land Rover Defender 110 is a four wheel drive dream – a three-row luxury overlanding rig waiting to happen.
How much does the Range Rover cost? The latest model year is a cool $169,000, making it the most expensive on our list. That said, you can find used models for a more modest $10,000 to $20,000. Finding extremely low-priced Range Rover models for sub-$5,000 isn’t unheard of, as these SUVs are expensive to repair.
Upgrades and Modifications for Overlanding in Trucks and SUVs
If you’re thinking about getting your truck or SUV ready for overlanding or off-road use, there are a few areas you need to get straight. While ideally, the minimum amount of modification is preferred, sometimes you can’t avoid it.
Wheels and Tires
You’ll need good wheels and tires. If you lift your vehicle, you can go much larger on the wheels, which means you can get colossal mud tires. However, it all depends on the terrain you plan on conquering. You don’t get the same tires for mud as rocks or sand, so keep that in mind when purchasing.
The suspension could be one of the essential parts of off-road performance. You need a higher suspension for larger tires and ground clearance. It doesn’t matter how powerful your rig is if you end up getting snagged underneath. You can go as little as one inch or as high as 8-inches and beyond. Keep in mind the laws in your area, and make sure you’re still street legal if you plan on keeping your vehicle for daily use.
Repair and Rescue Tools
You should also equip your vehicle with essential repair and rescue tools. Air compressors are handy since you may need to let air out on your tires for better grip on certain terrains. Just in case you get stuck and can’t make it out, you’ll need a winch and another rig to get yourself unstuck.
Roof racks expand your vehicle’s storage capacity. Overlanding requires bringing additional gear like tents or any other survival equipment. There’s no shortage of different types of roof racks available for tents and storage that are model-specific.
King of the Overland
There are plenty of options for overlanding that double as daily drivers. The most important thing to remember regarding the best overland vehicles is choosing the one that’s right for you. Consider where you’ll take it off-road and how much on-road traveling you’ll be doing. The goal is to keep the modifications to a minimum without sacrificing capability. After some trial and error, you’ll find your happy medium.