Best SUVs for Off-road Driving

Suzuki Jimny

When you're shopping for an off-road-focused SUV, you want something that can blend day-to-day urban comfort and practicality with impressive capability in the dirt. Vehicles that are equally at home trundling through gridlock traffic and thrusting through dunes deserve to be recognised, so here's our list of top choices...

While cars are designed to be driven primarily on tar, there’s an enthusiastic segment of the car-buying public who are looking to purchase vehicles based on their off-road capabilities. We rated these SUVs based on their ability to traverse routes where 4-wheeled-traction is required; we factored in ground clearance, approach/departure angles, low-range gearbox availability, as well as off-road driving modes.

Best SUVs for Off-roading

Toyota Fortuner


  • Ground clearance: 279 mm
  • Approach/Departure angles: 29/25 degrees
  • Low range: Yes
  • Off-road modes: No
  • Diff lock: Yes, rear
  • Priced from: R 635 300 (April 2021)
  • Wading depth: 700 mm

With multiple #CarsAwards-powered by WesBank category wins under its belt, there are many reasons why the Toyota Fortuner is a fantastic all-rounder. With space for 7 occupants, a range of strong petrol and turbodiesel engines, new safety tech, as well as immense off-road capability, the Fortuner is as happy carting your family to wherever they need to be as it is negotiating dunes, river crossings, or rocky terrain... There are very few things that will stop a Fortuner, but if you do suffer a mechanical failure, help is never too far away thanks to Toyota's strong after-sales support and extensive dealer network.

The latest Toyota Fortuner price and specs

Read a review of the Toyota Fortuner here

Browse new and used Toyota Fortuner for sale here

Isuzu MU-X


  • Ground clearance: 230 mm
  • Approach/Departure angles: 24/25.1 degrees
  • Low Range: Yes
  • Off-road modes: No
  • Diff lock: Yes, rear
  • Priced from: R747 900 (April 2021)
  • Wading depth: 600 mm

The contenders in the bakkie-based SUV segment really know a thing or two about combining excellent off-roading capabilities with family-orientated comfort and practicality. The 7-seater Isuzu MU-X has a reasonably modern interior, but is available with just 1engine and gearbox combination. The Isuzu's 3.0-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel/6-speed automatic pairing is not the most modern or refined, but you do get the impression that it's been built to last. There is an all-new model due soon; it will be based on the all-new Isuzu D-Max bakkie, of which production will commence in the Eastern Cape next year. 

The latest Isuzu MU-X price and specs

Read a review of the Isuzu MU-X here

Browse new and used Isuzu MU-X units for sale here

Ford Everest


  • Ground clearance: 225 mm
  • Approach/Departure angles: 29.5/25 degrees
  • Low Range: Yes 
  • Off-road modes: Yes
  • Diff lock: Yes, rear
  • Priced from: R759 400 (April 2021)
  • Wading depth: 800 mm

Ford's rival to the Fortuner is the stylish Everest. It matches the Fortuner with its off-road capability, but pulls ahead when it comes to in-car connectivity, active safety features and ride comfort. Some would argue the Everest is the slightly more practical of the two with its 3rd row of seats that fold completely flat, as opposed to the Fortuner's fold-up arrangement. There's a choice of engines on offer, but you'll want the more fuel-efficient, newer-spec 2.0-litre turbodiesel motor in combination with the 10-speed automatic transmission for the best performance, both on- and off-road. 

The latest Ford Everest prices and specs here

Read a review of the Ford Everest here

Browse new and used Ford Everest units for sale here

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport


  • Ground clearance: 218 mm
  • Approach/Departure angles: 30/24.2 degrees
  • Low Range: Yes
  • Off-road modes: Yes
  • Diff lock: Yes, rear
  • Priced from: R780 900 (April 2021)
  • Wading depth: 700 mm

We'll miss the Mitsubishi Pajero, of which production will soon end after many decades of service. Your next best bet in the Mitsubishi stable is the Pajero Sport. With one engine and gearbox shared across 3 derivatives, the 2.4-litre turbodiesel delivers 133 kW and 430 Nm. It too offers seating for 7 and we'd argue it's one of the more stylish and capable Adventure SUVs out there. The current generation is often overlooked in favour of the more powerful Fortuner and Everest, which have more luxurious cabins. The Mitsubishi is still a stalwart of the segment and remains a trusty off-roading option from Japan. 

The latest Mitsubishi Pajero Sport prices and specs here

Read a review of the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport here

Browse new and used Mitsubishi Pajero Sport units for sale here

Suzuki Jimny

  • Ground clearance: 210 mm
  • Approach/Departure angles: 37/49 degrees
  • Low Range: Yes
  • Off-road modes: Yes
  • Diff lock: No
  • Priced from: R307 900 (April 2021)
  • Wading depth: 300 mm

You may wonder why this tiny toy (by comparison) is listed among these large off-road-ready SUVs, but don't be fooled – the Suzuki Jimny is phenomenally capable when the tarmac turns to rocks and sand. There's no diff lock, but a trick traction control system that simulates a similar effect. With its short wheelbase, lightweight body and incredible approach and departure angles, the Suzuki Jimny simply clambers over obstacles you would never dream possible. It's sold as a 4-seater, but the cabin is quite confined and the load-bay minuscule, so rather just fold the rear seats down and run it as a 2-seater. 

The latest Suzuki Jimny prices and specs here

Read a review of the Suzuki Jimny here

Browse new and used Suzuki Jimny units for sale here

Haval H9


  • Ground clearance: 206 mm
  • Approach/Departure angles: 28/23 degrees
  • Low Range: Yes
  • Off-road modes: Yes
  • Diff lock: Yes, rear (electronic)
  • Priced from: R659 900 (April 2021)
  • Wading depth: 700 mm

Haval's local sales numbers are looking strong, courtesy of a diverse portfolio of products that offer excellent value. The Haval H9 is the flagship offering, boasting 7-seats, a multi-link non-independent rear suspension, so its ride is a bit more comfortable than the Everest, Fortuner and MU-X's, but when it comes to off-roading, it has a few tricks up its sleeve, such as low-range and electronically accessible off-road modes. There's just 1 engine: a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol motor mated with an 8-speed automatic. Pity there's no diesel in the range, but the H9 has proved its mettle in the toughest conditions. 

The latest Haval H9 prices and specs here

Read a review of the Haval H9 here

Browse new and used Haval H9 units for sale here

Jeep Compass Trailhawk


  • Ground clearance: 216 mm
  • Approach/Departure angles: 30/33.6 degrees
  • Low Range: Yes
  • Off-road modes: Yes
  • Diff lock: Yes, rear
  • Priced from: R604 705 (April 2021)
  • Wading depth: 480 mm

A "best off-roaders" list would seem incomplete without a Jeep and we think the Compass Trailhawk deserves an honourable mention. It boasts a clever 4x4 system replete with smart-terrain modes, low-range and it's able to transfer power between the axles dynamically. One engine is on offer: a 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder petrol motor, which needs to be revved hard to get the most out of it. Still, with commendable ground clearance and respectable approach and departure angles, the Compass Trailhawk proved more than capable when we tested it through dunes.

The latest Jeep Compass prices and specs here

Read a review of the Jeep Compass Trailhawk here

Browse new and used Jeep Compass units for sale here

Further Reading:

Winners: 2020/21 Consumer Awards – powered by WesBank

Best Luxury Cars For Off-road Driving

Best double-cab bakkies for Off-road Driving