Are SUVs Fit for Off-Roading?

Young couple sitting on the top of the SUV car at mountain peak enjoying the landscape view at summer sunny day. Concept image of “Are SUVs Fit for Off-Roading?” | Outlander Motorsports in Martinez, CA.SUVs have become wildly popular! They come in all sizes and seating configurations, ranging from two-row, five-seater SUVs to massive three-row SUVs that accommodate up to nine passengers. They can also offer a range of off-roading capabilities. 

It’s possible to use certain SUVs to venture off-road. But you will likely need a four-wheel drive (4WD) SUV for serious off-roading. 

Let’s discuss SUVs and off-roading, the drivetrains (2WD, AWD, and 4WD), and what each means for your off-road performance. 

Which SUVs are Okay for Off-Roading?

Within the automotive industry, the term “SUV” (sports utility vehicle) can have a broad definition. Most SUVs are essentially cars with higher ground clearance and a hatchback look, and any vehicle that wears the SUV designation will share characteristics, including:

  • Hauling and towing ability
  • Spaciousness
  • Flexibility
  • Potentially some off-roading abilities


While traditional, rugged, body-on-frame SUVs—like the Toyota 4Runner and Ford Bronco—were built to go off-road, the newer car-based SUVs may not have the same capability. 

To further blur the lines, most car-based SUVs and crossovers offer full or partial all-wheel drive (AWD) systems that open the door to light off-roading. Such vehicles may be able to handle rugged terrain.

Moreover, SUVs with four-wheel drive (4WD) systems can do serious off-roading to varying degrees. But if the SUV is of the two-wheel-drive (2WD) type, it’s good to say it won’t suit off-roading unless you add some modifications

Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) SUVs and Off-Roading

Not all SUVs have a 4WD system. But most 4WD vehicles will be an SUV.

4WD (or 4×4) refers to a drivetrain system where the engine sends power to all four wheels. Contrary to popular belief, a 4WD isn’t a class or category of vehicle; it’s just the drivetrain designation. As power is sent to all four wheels, a 4WD can help your vehicle master challenging terrains. 

4WD is of two types: full-time and part-time.

About Full-Time 4WD SUVs

The full-time 4WD system is usually found on the masterful, archetypal off-road SUVs, such as:

  • Jeep Wrangler
  • Toyota Land Cruiser
  • Mercedes-Benz G-Class
  • Land Rover Defender


These SUVs have a full-time 4WD system that can’t be turned off. They are only suitable for drivers rarely traveling on paved roads. 

Part-Time 4WD SUVs Offer the Best of Both Worlds

If you venture on paved roads, you’ll be best suited with a more conventional part-time 4WD system that you can turn off and on as needed.

While full-time 4WD SUVs offer around-the-clock four-wheel performance, part-time 4WD allows you to choose the best drivetrain mode for your driving situation. This offers you more control and flexibility behind the wheel. 

For example, if you’re driving a Toyota 4Runner to work during weekdays, you can switch the SUV to rear-wheel drive mode. But when you venture off-road on the weekend, you can use the center differential to create a mechanical lock between your rear and front wheels to activate 4WD.


All-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles represent a much larger category of vehicles as this drivetrain isn’t limited to SUVs. 

While often confused with 4WD, AWD systems function differently and offer unique advantages. 

  • An AWD system instinctively, automatically, and electronically sends power to every wheel as needed. These systems utilize a variable connection that your vehicle can seamlessly adjust at any speed on the fly. In contrast, 4WD connects your rear and front wheels through a transfer case that evenly splits the power and is only designed to be used at low speeds and in the most challenging terrains.
  • 4WD vehicles shine the brightest in the most rugged off-road conditions, they aren’t as useful in normal, day-to-day driving. AWD vehicles are designed to bolster traction and grip in almost all situations but may not be suitable for really rugged and challenging off-road conditions.

SUVs for Off-roading: In a Nutshell

As you can see, the entire definition of an SUV has changed and evolved. Today, the expanded definition of an SUV includes car-based crossovers and hybrid vehicles. And these vehicles are much more likely to have an AWD drivetrain that automatically alters the traction requirements based on your driving needs. 

For off-roading: 

  • Most drivers do not need a true full-time 4WD SUV and can find the most flexibility and performance in a part-time 4WD SUV.
  • AWD SUVs may be capable of light off-roading. 
  • You’re out of luck with 2WD unless you have a modified SUV with such a drivetrain.

Contact Outlander Motorsports for Modified SUV & Off-Road Modifications

At Outlander Motorsports, we are your local modified SUV experts. Whether your SUV is a full-time or part-time 4WD or has an AWD drivetrain, we can elevate it to the next level! In addition to creating modified SUVs, we offer a vast range of the best and most premium accessories for SUVs.

In any case, our off-roading experts will help you create the best-modified SUV for your driving habits. Call us at (925) 839-4144 or stop by to see us at 1424 Shell Avenue, Suite D, Martinez, CA 94553.