Making Crossovers Into Rock Crawlers? Rounding Up the New Rough-Road SUV Trims

subaru forester wilderness 2022 oem 14 angle blue camping exterior front jpg 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness | Manufacturer image

For as long as we can all remember, the idea of going off-road in your personal vehicle has been a part of the SUV mystique. Never mind if you actually did go off-road; it was the idea that you could if you so chose that made these family-hauler, truck-based runabouts so popular. So what if the vast majority of them only ever went to the supermarket and back? If yours had equipment to tackle the Rubicon Trail if needed, that made you cool. 

But when consumer tastes switched toward crossover-style SUVs, ones based on car platforms instead of truck platforms, the off-road image seemed less important. These crossovers didn’t look like trucks, so it didn’t seem important for them to act like trucks. But like so many other ideas in society, it would seem that two years of the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed this idea.

Related: What’s the Best Compact SUV?

According to several automakers’ marketing departments, everyone’s going camping these days. Some have data to back this up: Ford said in May that 40% of Americans claim they’ve spent more time outdoors due to the pandemic, and more than half of surveyed Explorer owners said they’ve increasingly off-roaded in the past three years. The result is that many automakers are now making their soft-road crossovers a bit more butch — and in some cases, genuinely more off-road-capable.

We did a quick roundup of all of the latest quasi-off-road trims out there, which SUVs (or minivans, in one case) they’re on, what extra equipment they bring (if any), and our verdict as to whether each trim is a potent off-road improvement or a poser wannabe effort. 

ford explorer timberline 2021 01 black exterior front angle suv scaled jpg 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline | photo by Aaron Bragman


  • Trim level: Timberline
  • Available on: Expedition, Explorer
  • Potent or Poser? Potent

While the Expedition isn’t a crossover by any stretch of the word (it’s a traditional, truck-based SUV), the Explorer is — it may be a rear-wheel-drive platform, but it’s a unibody chassis like most new cars. The Timberline trim level for both SUVs gets standard four-wheel drive and unique trim with orange highlights. The Expedition gets a standard high-output, 440-horsepower, turbocharged V-6 engine, plus 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires, a higher (10.6-inch) ride height, a two-speed transfer case, underbody skid-plate protection from the F-150 Raptor pickup and electronic Trail Turn Assist. 

The Explorer gets Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tires, a new Torsen limited-slip rear differential and Ford’s electronic Terrain Management System with hill descent control. It has steel skid plates, heavy-duty shock absorbers from the Explorer-based Police Interceptor and a slightly higher ride height of 8.7 inches. The only powertrain available, however, is a 300-hp, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine — not the 400-hp turbo V-6s available in higher Explorer trims. 

gmc acadia at4 2020 01 angle  black  exterior  front jpg 2020 GMC Acadia AT4 | photo by Aaron Bragman


  • Trim level: AT4
  • Available on: Acadia, Terrain, Yukon
  • Potent or Poser? Poser (Acadia, Terrain), potent (Yukon)

GMC’s off-road trim is called AT4, and it’s available on all of the brand’s SUVs. On GMC’s pickups, the AT4 gets all kinds of off-road equipment, but the SUVs get mostly visual attention with minimal equipment upgrades. The Yukon has a standard 5.3-liter V-8, 4WD with a two-speed transfer case, 20-inch wheels with Goodyear all-terrain tires, and a revised front bumper with an integrated skid plate. An adaptive air suspension is optional, as is a bigger 6.2-liter V-8 engine. 

The Acadia also has an AT4 option, but it gets even fewer off-road upgrades. The Acadia AT4 has standard all-wheel drive with hill descent control, as well as black-chrome accents and 17-inch gloss-black wheels with all-terrain tires — but no improvement in ride height or underbody protection. It’s the same story on the Terrain: 17-inch gloss-black wheels and black-chrome accents, but even the tires are only considered “sport terrain” tread. All AT4 models get unique interior trim with embroidered seats and accent colors. 

honda passport trailsport 2022 02 exterior profile silver suv 1 jpg 2022 Honda Passport | Manufacturer image


  • Trim level: TrailSport
  • Available on: Passport
  • Potent or Poser? Poser

Honda’s Passport SUV, essentially a shorter version of the Pilot, enters 2022 with the TrailSport trim. This gets you standard torque-vectoring AWD, roof rails, 18-inch wheels with “rugged design” tires, new front and rear bumpers with “skid-plate designs” (but not actual skid plates), and a slightly wider track. Inside, the Passport TrailSport gets a dark interior with orange stitching and embroidery, rubber floormats, and heated sections of the windshield where the wipers sit to keep them clear of ice and snow. Without any real mechanical changes, however, this trim level remains mostly visual. 

jeep compass trailhawk 2022 oem 03 angle  exterior  front  gray jpg 2022 Jeep Compass | Manufacturer image


  • Trim level: Trailhawk
  • Available on: Renegade, Compass, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee
  • Potent or Poser? Potent

Jeep, the original off-road brand, has made a move into crossover-style SUVs over the past decade. But the image of Jeeps as go-anywhere SUVs is important, so the brand uses its Trailhawk trim to not only uphold that image, but deliver genuine off-road equipment upgrades to what are mostly car-based SUVs (the exception being the Grand Cherokee). Trailhawk versions all get standard 4WD with a selectable low range and more aggressive final drive ratios, making them genuinely more capable off-road. And all of them get all-terrain tires and off-road suspensions with additional ground clearance, plus skid plates and redesigned bumpers for better approach and departure angles. All Trailhawk versions are “Trail Rated” by Jeep, meaning they’ve gone through rigorous testing in five areas: traction, water fording, maneuverability, wheel articulation and ground clearance. Whereas other automakers’ off-road branding might look like they have better off-road ability, Jeep’s Trailhawk models actually do

kia sportage x proexterior 2023 18048 front angle silver suv scaled jpg 2023 Kia Sportage X-Pro | Manufacturer image


  • Trim levels: X-Line, X-Pro, X-Pro Prestige
  • Available on: Sorento, Soul, Sportage
  • Potent or Poser? Poser

A redesigned Kia Sportage is arriving for the 2023 model year. It features the X-Line trim first seen on the larger Sorento SUV and smaller Soul hatchback, plus new X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige trims that add a bit of off-road equipment to the X-Line’s appearance mods. On the Sportage, the X-Line is just a trim: unique bumpers and mirrors, a robust roof rack and 19-inch wheels. It’s the X-Pro trims that bring more significant upgrades: BFGoodrich all-terrain tires on 17-inch wheels, LED lights, multiterrain drive modes and some upgraded interior equipment. 

On the Soul, the X-Line is effectively an appearance package with a black grille, body kit and roof rails. On the Sorento, the X-Line adds torque-vectoring AWD, a center-locking differential and another inch of ride height, plus some different styling options — but no underbody protection or all-terrain tires. 

subaru outback wilderness 2022 05 angle  dynamic  exterior  front  green  off road jpg 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness | photo by Corey Boland


  • Trim level: Wilderness
  • Available on: Forester, Outback
  • Potent or Poser? Potent

Subarus are already capable off-road, but the automaker is capitalizing on the new trend by offering a trim called Wilderness that packs additional capability, unique styling and higher pricing. Both the Outback and Forester now get this treatment, which includes a revised continuously variable automatic transmission with gear ratios better suited to off-roading and trail climbs. Wilderness editions also get a retuned X-Mode AWD system, higher ride heights, all-terrain tires, body cladding meant to deflect rocks and trail obstacles, underbody skid plates and a ruggedized interior with rubber floormats, neoprene-based upholstery and a front trail camera. The changes over standard Outbacks and Foresters are meaningful, and they make both crossovers more capable and durable off-road.

img1632506989 1549556921386 jpg 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road | Manufacturer images


  • Trim levels: Woodland Edition (Sienna), Adventure (RAV4), TRD Off-Road (RAV4)
  • Available on: RAV4, Sienna
  • Potent or Poser? Poser (Woodland and Adventure), potent (TRD Off-Road)

Toyota has a few interesting quasi-off-road trims available. The one barely worth mentioning is a silly tire-and-trim package for the Sienna minivan that features standard AWD, a slightly higher ride height and some decidedly non-outdoorsy trim colors. It’s called the Woodland Edition. ‘Nuff said.

More significant is what’s offered on the RAV4 compact SUV: the Adventure and TRD Off-Road packages. The Adventure has a few off-road goodies, such as torque-vectoring AWD, a raised ride height and a skid plate, but it uses 19-inch wheels with all-season tires. More serious is the TRD Off-Road, which replaces the Adventure’s all-season tires with Falken all-terrain rubber on 19-inch wheels. It also gets all-weather floormats and an off-road suspension tuned by Toyota Racing Development. It’s not nearly as complete as a Jeep Trailhawk trim, but the TRD Off-Road trim does boost the RAV4’s off-road capability.

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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