Off-road vehicles often have a few key common traits: big tyres, big suspension and big ground clearance.
- shares

Drive Car of the Year 2021 - Best Off-Road Vehicle


And while these three contenders are all guilty as charged, they go about their own respective business in very different ways.

Ford’s Ranger Raptor is a high-performance four-wheel-drive ute, while Jeep has applied their time-honoured off-road chassis into their own new Gladiator ute. And Land Rover’s new Defender is the British off-road icon, completely reimagined through a modern lens.

While the smooth, flowing bitumen of our test course wasn’t going to do much to test the off-road credentials of these four-wheel drives, it was an interesting experience to see how dynamically good or bad these vehicles were. Remember, 99% of off-roaders spend a significant amount of time on the blacktop, so it’s an important consideration.

And for off-road testing, we drew upon a large amount of time we have spent with each contender off-road previously. We’ve travelled plenty in all three podium-getters in the past year, running through mud, hills, rock steps, water crossings and ruts to see what they’re made of. And while all are very good off-road, there was one in particular that really stood out.

And the Winner is...

Land Rover Defender

All weather. All terrain. All Land Rover. The return of an icon.

While all of these off-roaders easily up the ante over the more everyday four-wheel drive options out there, they have particularly different flavours going on. The Jeep Wrangler is the choice for the traditionalists, with time-honoured designs and engineering making for good old-fashioned capability.

The amount of time and sheer engineering prowess that Ford – in Australia by the way – has put into the Ranger Raptor, allows it to still impress despite now being a few years old. It’s all about the suspension: Fox dampers do a lot off-road, but also yield a great on-road ride. It’s the best example yet of the rapidly changing and gentrifying ute segment, now serious dipping a toe into performance.

But the Defender, although so far removed from its predecessor, is the most impressive of the three. There is great attention to detail going on with this new Defender, showing how important the nameplate is to the British brand. Now made in Slovakia, initial build quality is impressive, as is off-road performance. True legendary status will only be earned after many years of hard slogging, but all of the ingredients are there.