by Chris Chase
Crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) were originally conceived to capitalize on the popularity of truck-like SUVs while offering car-like fuel economy and driving feel.
In the last few years, though, automakers have started building off-road-friendly CUV options that bridge the gap between comfortable daily drivers and rugged SUVs.
If a crossover with some off-road agility sounds like just what you’ve been waiting for, read on for an overview of the models that are available now or arriving soon.
2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness – Available Spring 2021
One of the newest and most promising options in this niche segment is the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness, an off-road-oriented variant of the brand’s popular mid-size crossover.
The Wilderness starts with the 2.4L turbocharged four-cylinder engine (260 hp/277 lb-ft of torque) available elsewhere in the Outback lineup. Then, Subaru raises the ride height by about 25 mm to add more ground clearance and suspension travel for better agility on uneven surfaces.
The Outback Wilderness is geared for more low-speed torque, which the company claims allows the car to climb a 40-percent grade on gravel.
There’s also an enhanced version of the company’s X-Mode all-wheel drive control system, which functions at higher speeds for more traction on ice, dirt, mud and gravel. X-Mode also gains a roll angle display to help the driver avoid the risk of a rollover in challenging off-road driving.
New bumpers specific to the Wilderness trim improve the Outback’s approach and departure angles. Simply put, that means you can drive the car up onto and down from taller obstacles without scraping the bodywork.
Putting power to the ground are all-terrain tires on 17-inch matte black wheels.
The Wilderness trim’s other cosmetic tweaks are just for looks: a unique grille, more plastic body cladding, a front skid plate, a matte black hood, hexagonal LED fog lights, and tow hooks and roof tie-downs in a copper-coloured finish.
Subaru says the Outback Wilderness will go on sale sometime in the spring of this year but, as of this writing, the company had not announced pricing.
2021 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk – $42,270
Jeep is no stranger to the off-road segment but, like most of its vehicles, the compact Cherokee is designed primarily to satisfy the market’s demand for on-road comfort and convenience.
That said, since the current Cherokee’s arrival in 2014, Jeep has offered it in a Trailhawk trim that adds some useful off-road features. Key among those is Jeep’s Active Drive Lock four-wheel drive system, which has low-range gearing and a locking rear axle to add traction on rough terrain. The Cherokee Trailhawk also gains a rock drive mode (in addition to sand, snow, and sport settings), skid plates, tow hooks, and all-terrain tires.
Jeep also fits the Cherokee Trailhawk with LED headlights, an 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, a 7.0-inch digital gauge display, heated front seats and steering wheel, and ambient interior lighting.
The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk comes standard with a 3.2L V6 engine (271 hp/239 lb-ft) and a nine-speed automatic transmission.
2021 Ford Bronco Sport — $32,199 – $40,199
The Ford Bronco Sport is unique in this niche as a stand-alone model line, rather than a trim level for an existing model. However, it qualifies as an off-road crossover thanks to sharing a platform with the Ford Escape.
If you want as much off-road ability as you can get, choose the Bronco Sport’s Badlands trim. It comes with a more advanced all-wheel drive system with a locking rear differential, tougher shock absorbers, a taller suspension with more ground clearance, and all-terrain tires. Other Badlands-only features include trail control, which is like cruise control for off-roading; a front camera that gives you a view of what you’re about to drive over; and metal underbody bash plates to protect the chassis from damage.
Despite its all-terrain focus, the Ford Bronco Sport also offers niceties like a heated steering wheel, dual-zone A/C, power front seats, LED headlights, and an 8.0-inch infotainment display. Engine choices are a 1.5L turbocharged three-cylinder (181 hp/190 lb-ft of torque) and a 2.0L turbo with 250 hp and 280 lb-ft. Both engines come with an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
2021 Toyota RAV4 Trail — $39,390 – $42,910
Toyota introduced the Trail trim level to the fourth-generation RAV4 compact crossover in 2018, and carried the more rugged package forward to the fifth-generation design in 2019.
In base form, the RAV4 Trail’s most notable trait is that it can tow 1,588 kg (3,500 lbs) – more than twice what other RAV4 models can handle. It also uses a torque-vectoring AWD system that can send more power to either the left or right rear wheel if the other one spins.
RAV4 Trail buyers can add a TRD Off-Road option package that brings a specially-tuned suspension, off-road wheels, and a front skid plate.
Toyota offers the RAV4 Trail with a 2.5L four-cylinder gas engine (203 hp/184 lb-ft) and eight-speed transmission. You can’t combine the Trail package with the RAV4’s optional hybrid powertrain.
2022 GMC Terrain AT4 – Available summer 2021
2021 GMC Acadia AT4 – $48,398
GMC offers two off-road inspired crossovers in its compact Terrain and mid-size Acadia models, both of which can be optioned with an AT4 package.
The newest of these is the 2022 Terrain AT4, which was the last of GMC’s five models to get such an option. It’s a relatively light-duty package that consists mostly of cosmetic add-ons, but does include a front skid plate and tires with more off-road grip.
There are other changes to the Terrain for 2022, which gets refreshed styling across the line, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and more standard driver safety assists, including collision warning with automatic braking, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, and automatic high beams.
The 2022 GMC Terrain AT4 will arrive in Canada this summer, and GMC says it will announce pricing closer to that time.
GMC added the Acadia’s AT4 option for 2021. It consists of all-terrain tires, a hill descent control system that controls the car’s speed when driving down steep grades, and a hill start assist feature that prevents the Acadia from rolling backward as you move your foot from the brake to the gas accelerator.
The 2022 GMC Terrain AT4 uses a 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine (170 hp/203 lb-ft), a nine-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive.
Acadia AT4 models get a 3.6L V6 engine (310 hp/271 lb-ft), a nine-speed transmission, and all-wheel drive.