Ranked

15 most capable SUVs you can buy in 2021

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz G-Class is a capable and luxurious SUV.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

What does an SUV's level of capability mean to you? Does it mean more towing, hauling, or people carrying? How about its off-road prowess and its ability to get you home when the weather turns nasty? For most of us, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two things. Many buy SUVs for their ability to carry larger loads, but there's an occasional need to get dirty in the woods.

That's where our list comes in. We've rounded up 15 of the most capable SUVs on the market today. We grabbed some for their all-out off-road capabilities, but others were chosen because they can get you home no matter the weather. Yet others were added because of their ability to carry people and tow heavy trailers. Here's our list of the most capable SUVs of 2021, in no particular order.

Land Rover Defender

Land Rover DefenderPhoto courtesy of Land Rover

Make no mistake, Land Rover is a luxury brand, but many of the automaker's vehicles are legitimately capable when the pavement ends. The Defender returned in 2020 after a two-decade hiatus, armed with several selectable off-road driving modes, a surprisingly plush interior, and two ultra-capable engines. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and the mild hybrid-equipped 3.0-liter inline-six makes 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. Towing numbers are strong too, as the Defender can trailer up to 8,201 pounds in certain configurations.

Ford Expedition

2020 Ford Expedition King Ranch

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Ford Expedition is big in all the right places and has the tech, comfort equipment, and driving dynamics to be a supremely useful people-hauler. The turbocharged 3.5-liter engine produces 400 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, and available four-wheel drive makes the Expedition a real beast in bad weather. The Expedition can tow up to 6,000 pounds.

Chevrolet Suburban

2021 Chevrolet Suburban

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

The Suburban is one of the longest running nameplates in the automotive business, and for good reason. Chevy keeps making the big SUV better every year, and the newest 2021 model is a marvel of luxury, tech, and capability. With available four-wheel drive and three powerful engine choices, the Suburban can tackle harsh terrain and bad weather with the best of them. The base engine alone is a 355-horsepower 5.3-liter V8, and on top of that there's a 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and a 277-horsepower 3.0-liter diesel. With body-on-frame construction and powerful V8 engines, the Suburban can tow up to 7,800 pounds.

Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

It's tempting to consider the Bronco Sport the "baby" Bronco, but that's not an accurate description. While it's true that the Bronco Sport is smaller and less capable than its Bronco counterpart, the Sport has some real terrain-conquering tricks up its sleeve. Two engine choices are on offer, which include a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder that makes 181 horsepower and a 245-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. On top of that, the Bronco Sport brings selectable terrain modes and standard all-wheel drive. The Bronco Sport shows its size most openly with its towing stats, which land at up to 2,205 pounds.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

2020 Jeep Grand CherokeePhoto courtesy of FCA US LLC

You can have your Grand Cherokee in several different flavors, from basic to luxurious to rugged. The Trailhawk model hits a sweet spot in the lineup, with a mostly reasonable price tag, four-wheel drive, a solid 295-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, and trail-rated off-road capabilities. The Trailhawk can also be upgraded with a 360-horsepower 5.7-liter V8. In some configurations, those engines can help the Grand Cherokee tow up to 7,200 pounds.

Dodge Durango

2021 Dodge Durango

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The Durango isn't an off-road monster, but it can hold its own in towing up to 8,700 pounds and can haul several people in the process. Dodge offers the Durango with four engine choices, from a tame 295-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 to a rowdy 710-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V8. No matter how you order it, the Durango can be equipped with four-wheel drive and can carry up to eight people.

Honda Passport

2020 Honda PassportPhoto courtesy of American Honda Motor Mfg. Inc.

The Honda Passport takes many of the things that buyers love about the Honda Pilot and applies them to a smaller, more rugged package. The Passport has shorter front and rear overhangs for better off-road driving angles, selectable terrain modes, and a capable 3.5-liter V6 that makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Despite its relatively small stature, the Passport can pull up to 5,000 pounds.

Toyota 4Runner

2020 Toyota 4RunnerPhoto courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It doesn't get much more legendary than Toyota's 4Runner. The SUV is long overdue for a major overhaul, but it's still got the goods to deliver a solid off-road or bad-weather experience. Power comes from a 4.0-liter V6 that makes 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. The 4Runner can also be ordered with full TRD off-road regalia, which includes special paint colors, wheels, and rugged gear like skid plates and transfer case guards. Its V6 engine allows the 4Runner to pull up to 5,000 pounds.

Lexus GX

2021 Lexus GX

Photo courtesy of Lexus

If you need a side of luxury with your rugged SUV, the Lexus GX brings it, bigtime. The GX is built on the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado platform, which contributes heavily to the Lexus' abilities off-road. Under the hood, there's a 4.6-liter V8 that makes 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque connected to a six-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive. The GX can tow up to 6,500 pounds.

Jeep Wrangler

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

There's almost nothing about the Jeep Wrangler that doesn't scream rugged capability. The SUV's appearance has barely changed since its inception, and it's only gotten more off-road abilities in recent years. The latest model is available with a plug-in hybrid system or with an ultra-powerful 6.4-liter Hemi that puts down 470 ponies. The Wrangler shouldn't be the first choice as a towing vehicle, however, as it's only capable of pulling up to 3,500 pounds in certain configurations.

Toyota Land Cruiser

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

As long as you don't mind spending more than $80,000 on a Toyota, the Land Cruiser won't disappoint. It's got a 5.7-liter V8 that produces 381 horsepower to all four-wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. That's in addition to almost unstoppable off-road capabilities and a tow rating of up to 8,100 pounds.

Nissan Armada

2021 Nissan ArmadaPhoto courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan's big-boy SUV, the Armada, just got a major refresh for the 2021 model year. The truck got ten more horsepower, more torque, and plenty of new tech and comfort features. The 5.6-liter V8 now puts down 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. In addition to that, the Armada manages luxury-level ride quality, ultra-capable four-wheel drive, and a towing capacity of 8,500 pounds.

Mercedes-Benz G-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz G-Class

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

It should be no surprise that one of the most expensive SUVs on the planet is also one of the most capable. The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, also known as the G-Wagen, is a boxy off-road monster that owes its prowess to its origins as a military vehicle. The truck's twin-turbo V8 pumps out 416 horsepower, while the Mercedes-AMG G63 is powered by a 577-horsepower twin-turbo V8. Both models get several off-road-friendly features and the standard G-Wagen can even tow up to 7,000 pounds.

Kia Telluride

2020 Kia TelluridePhoto courtesy of Kia Motors

Get past the brand name, and the Telluride is one of the best SUVs on sale today. It sports a 291-horsepower V6, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and eight inches of ground clearance to keep things tidy off-road. The big Kia can also tow up to 5,000 pounds.

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The Hemi Orange package brings unqiue style to the Durango.

Dodge

The Dodge Durango isnt the newest or most refined SUV on the market, but it offers great comfort, good tech, and a handful of raucous powertrian options. The long-running family hauler is due for an update, but in the meantime, Dodge has given it a new Hemi Orange package with unique styling touches.

Dodge already offers the Hemi Orange package fo the Challenger and Charger, and now it's available for the three-row Durango. The package is available for the R/T trim, which comes with a 5.7-liter V8.

Dodge Durango Hemi OrangeDodge offers four exterior colors with the package. Dodge

Much of the Orange package's content comes on the outside, where Dodge adds orange and gunmetal hod stripes, black taillights, and grey/orange badging. The SUV rides on black 20-inch wheels, and Dodge offers different black "Lights Out" 20-inch wheels. Four exterior colors are available: Destroyer Grey, Diamond Black, Octane Red, and White Knuckle. Inside, the Durango gets orange sticthing and unique patterns in the upholstery. Dodge says the stitching extends throughout the interior, including to the gauge cluster, armrests, console lid, and steering wheel.

Two upgrades are available for the Hemi Orange Durango. The first is the Orange Plus Package, which adds a power sunroof, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, and a load of driver aids. The Tow N Go package is available for four-wheel drive models, and brings the 20-inch Lights Out wheels, orange brake calipers, and a Bilstein high-performance suspension system.

The Durango R/T Hemi Orange is available now. It carries a price tag of $1,995. The Orange Plus package costs $4,500 and the Tow N Go package costs $5,095.

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The ZR2 is a beefy off-road pickup.

Chevrolet

Chevrolet has added a beefed-up version of its half-ton pickup to the 2022 Silverado lineup that has more capability and comfort for towing and hauling loads, traveling to hard jobs over a variety of road surfaces and a better 4WD game for backcountry travel. I recently joined the Bow-Tie brand for a 200-mile-long evaluation of the first-ever Chevy ZR2. Our day-long test drive took us from the popular desert playground of Palm Springs, located in a verdant valley surrounded by 5,000 to 10,000-foot mountains, to swaths of nearby desert. There, we traveled along a collection of dirt trails in Joshua Tree National Forest and on a 4WD mining trail to abandoned gold mines, with rugged topography that allowed us to try out the truck’s updated hardware that has been engineered to bring an ease of operation and safety for motoring over tough and technical terrain.

2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2The ZR2 gets several exclusive touches that set it apart from a standard Silverado.Chevrolet

Chevy has made some significant changes to the 2022 Silverado lineup from outside to in and has added Super Cruise, a hands-free drive mode that we were able to try out on local highways in the Palm Springs environs, as we also checked out different trim levels and new technologies. Updates of note are new interior styling, freshened materials and premium trims; a new dashboard and digital displays with a 12.3-inch fully digital gauge cluster and a 13.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system (with Google’s Maps, Assistant and Play Store as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay); and an electronic shifter mounted to the center console. However, our primary task was to focus on the all-new ZR2 that has been set up with a 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 engine, rides on 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires, boasts a new suspension with Multimatic spool-valve dampers, and has electronic-locking front and rear differentials. Elements of the ZR2 and this moniker have been used previously on a special edition of Chevy’s compact truck.

In addition to its functional features, the new Silverado ZR2 stands apart from its stablemates by a collection of unique design cues, including a distinctive front end with a new black hood insert; a large-sized grille with a hollowed-out ‘flow-tie’ emblem for increased air flow and integrated lighting; wheel moldings, ZR2 badges, unique 18-inch wheels and an exclusive Jet Black/Graystone leather-trimmed interior matched with an appealing dark trim. Overall, the truck looks slightly aggressive and fit. The 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 competes with other full-sized desert-running and off-road trucks from Ford and Ram. It’s only offered with a crew-cab body style and either the short- or standard-length cargo boxes with an optional Multi-Flex Tailgate. On sale now, it starts at $67,600 (plus $1,695 destination and delivery)

Chevy’s flagship off-road pickup can tow 8,900 pounds with a conventional trailer hitch and haul up to 1,440 pounds of payload, with more comfortable ride as a result of the spool-valved dampers and specially-tuned springs that bring increased wheel travel when compared to the Trail Boss trim, for instance. This also translates to improved control and greater safety on the road, which we found impressive during our highway driving. The truck has a number of new standard safety features, as well.

2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2The off-road can tow up to 8,900 pounds and haul up to 1,440 pounds.Chevrolet

Added to Chevy’s in-house testing of the truck in everyday driving and extremes, we learned that the new pickup has been put to the test over the past three years by Chad Hall, who is a highly-respected off-roader and noted desert racer. The production truck and Hall’s prototype race truck share most of the major chassis and drivetrain components, including the robust ladder-type frame; the 420-horsepower V-8 and 10-speed automatic transmission; transfer case; front and rear differentials; plus the front and transfer case skid plates, says Chevy. (See below for more info on Hall’s racing success in this truck.)

We sampled a number of the truck’s technologies during our day-long drive, checking the boxes for both high-speed desert-running and slow-speed rock crawling. Overall, there was good power on tap with plenty of torque to move the half-ton’s 5,800-pound mass, smooth shifts from the 10-speed transmission, good brakes to slow our momentum when needed, and a comfortable ride- even over rugged roads and washboard.

I was excited to experience the ZR2’s talents on some isolated backcountry roads including the Old Dale and Black Eagle Mine Roads 4WD trail, where posted signage warned “Proceed at your own risk: Deep sand and rocks-- stranded drivers have died from heat exposure on park roads.” Truth is, this is just the kind of picturesque and formidable place that 4WD enthusiasts love to explore with a truck that can take you there—and bring you back safely.

2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2Chev updated the Silverado's interior with better tech and upscale luxury features.Chevrolet

What makes the ZR2 with its rear leaf-spring set-up abona-fide off-roader? In front are tow hooks and a skid plate underneath the high-mounted steel front bumper, with a 31.8-degree approach angle. Other numbers of note are the: 23.4 breakover angle; 23.3 departure angle; 11.2 inches of ground clearance; with 9.84 inches of suspension travel in front and 10.62 inches in the rear. Its width is 81.2 inches, which helps compared to some of its competitors, as it is more “parkable” in many garages and we found it maneuvered well when navigating through narrow sections of rock. Engineers have also repositioned the dual exhaust for added protection.

One of the truck’s top cool new features is the selectable Terrain Mode that allows for one-pedal driving; this cruise-control-like technology is particularly useful for motoring over rocks and up and down steep slopes. To engage, we locked the ZR2 into 4WD Low, set first gear and let the engineering do the driving, using the throttle to increase speed and the brake to decrease speed, when needed. A forward-facing camera provides visibility to the front and sides, as well as to the back which is another great feature for navigating technical terrain.

*Fuel economy estimates sit at 14 mpg in the city, 17 on the highway and 15 combined. the 24-gallon ZR2’s 360-mile range.

**FAST FACT: Chad Hall Racing also helped test the Chevy Colorado ZR2 off-road technologies in competition — and is still going strong with them. The Colorado ZR2 has been racing since 2017 in the Best in The Desert series and is the only truck in its class to have finished every race entered. It has accumulated more than 22,500 miles of racing experience.

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