If you need true off-road ability, and you need it more than just once or twice a year, the Toyota 4Runner is an excellent choice, especially in Trail trim.
With the available KDSS system, the 4Runner won’t rattle you as much as a Pathfinder or Grand Cherokee, while still offering as much ability for most types of off-roading.
The new Jeep Grand Cherokee is more refined and comfortable on the road than the 4Runner, yet there's nothing quite like the completely off-road-focused Trail model.
An all-new Pathfinder, following more of a crossover design, is due later this year as a 2013 model; expect it to keep some off-road ability but place a greater focus on family comfort and usefulness.
The Ford Explorer was all-new last year and is now built on more carlike underpinnings; it might provide adequate off-road capability for those who occasionally take to the trail, and with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine on the way, should be a much more fuel-efficient choice.
The 4Runner's cousin, the Lexus GX 460, is another alternative; while sharing the same underpinnings, the GX 460 is a luxury SUV of the sort that was popular earlier last decade, with running boards and a V-8 engine.
The GX doesn't cost much more than the 4Runner Trail, but with its complicated power-folding third-row seat and side-opening hatch, we'd rather have the Toyota.
And the most dedicated off-road weekend-warrior types should also consider the slightly more compact Toyota FJ Cruiser, which uses some of the same off-road hardware.
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|17 MPG City / 22 MPG Hwy||16 MPG City / 24 MPG Hwy||12 MPG City / 23 MPG Hwy||15 MPG City / 20 MPG Hwy||19 MPG City / 26 MPG Hwy||15 MPG City / 20 MPG Hwy|
|Gas V6||Gas V6||Gas/Ethanol V6||Gas V8||Gas V6||Gas V6|
|Sport Utility Vehicle 2WD||Sport Utility Vehicle - 2WD||2WD Sport Utility Vehicle||4WD Sport Utility Vehicle||2WD Sport Utility||Sport Utility Vehicle|
|RWD 4-Door V6 SR5 (Natl)||FWD 4-Door Base||RWD 4-Door Laredo||4WD 4-Door||2WD 4-Door S||RWD 4-Door Automatic (Natl)|
|Rear Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive||Rear Wheel Drive||4-Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive||Rear Wheel Drive|
|Sport Utility Vehicle||Sport Utility Vehicle||Sport Utility||Sport Utility Vehicle||Sport Utility||Sport Utility|
|Automatic w/Manual Shift||Automatic w/manual shift||Automatic||Automatic||Continuously Variable Ratio||Automatic|