5 off-road automobiles to look ahead to in 2021

Next year will be a banner year for adventure vehicles. Crossovers are finally being used off-road, trucks are becoming even more powerful, and some of them may even become electric – at least for short distances. Here are the five brand new off-roaders I’m most looking forward to in 2021.

The Bronco is a mid-size, frame-mounted SUV that is similar in size to competitors such as the four-door Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner. It will be more capable than either. (Photo: Ford)

Ford Bronco

The off-road ability is easily quantifiable. Angles determine the size of the obstacles an off-road vehicle can overcome. The gear makes it possible to climb up and down steep things. Differentials (and now electronic traction aids) determine which wheels are driven. The articulation keeps these wheels on the ground. For as long as I can remember, it was the Jeep Wrangler (or its CJ predecessors) that had the steepest angles, the shortest gears, all the locking differences, and the greatest articulation. No longer. The new Ford Bronco now outperforms him on each of these metrics.

The really exciting thing about the Bronco, however, isn’t just that it outperforms the Wrangler, but it does so in a package that works in areas other than the Rubicon Trail as well. The independent front suspension, which still has more joints than the Wrangler’s solid axle, gives the Bronco good ride quality, better pavement handling, and the ability to go straight at highway speeds. Powerful turbo engines ensure high fuel consumption without losing performance at altitude. The ten-speed automatic transmission, which gives the rest of the Ford truck lineup better performance and lower fuel consumption than the competition, will do the same in the Bronco, but a seven-speed manual will be offered for those who want a cleaner driving experience.

The best part is that the Bronco will be accessible to more drivers. Ford’s suite of electronic off-road vehicle aids is the best in the business. Pressing a few buttons and turning a dial is enough to ensure that even beginners can safely drive further off-road than ever before. If you buy a mid-size SUV next year, go for this one. Prices start at $ 30,000 when the Bronco hits dealerships next summer.

The Bronco Sport is a unibody crossover that's about the size of a Subaru Forester.  It becomes faster, more economical and much more powerful off-road. The Bronco Sport is a unibody crossover that’s about the size of a Subaru Forester. It becomes faster, more economical and much more powerful off-road. (Photo: Ford)

Ford Bronco Sport

A four-wheel drive vehicle like the Bronco Sport’s bigger brother, which has limited slip differentials at the front and rear, can drive all four wheels in slippery conditions, thereby maximizing traction. Like pretty much every other crossover, all-wheel drive vehicles send all of their power to a single wheel (the one with the least traction) when things get tough. Since traction is the main challenge when driving on dirt, snow, or any other unpaved item, all-wheel drive crossovers can’t go further off-road than it takes for a quick Instagram shot.

This does not apply to the Bronco Sport. This economical little unibody crossover, roughly the size of a Subaru Forester, has true all-wheel drive and is equipped with a limited slip differential. When it encounters slippery conditions, it can keep the speeds of the front and rear axles together, and with that difference the speeds of both wheels on the rear axle as well. That means this thing will really perform both off-road and in wintry conditions – a first for the modern crossover space.

But the benefits of all-wheel drive don’t stop there. While all-wheel drive crossovers waste energy driving the front and rear drive-shafts and axles at all times, the Bronco Sport is equipped with a part-time system that nominally only drives the front wheels. The energy saved leads to better fuel consumption. If you live in a city but are looking for a bold little adventure mobile that can do that, you’ll want the Bronco Sport, which starts at $ 26,820.


Which electric van will actually reach buyers this year

After years of exciting concept cars and lots of empty promises, it seems like 2021 could be the year when an all-electric pickup finally goes into production.

Will that first electric pickup come from Ford, GM, Rivian, Tesla, or any of the half-dozen or so other brands that are making wild claims for performance? Your guess is as good as mine, but my money goes to GM with its Hummer EV. As the largest automaker in the United States, the company offers many advantages. It already owns factories, dealers and testing facilities. It can afford to have the best engineers and designers in the world. And expensive hurdles that are big barriers for smaller brands, like crash testing, aren’t big barriers for a brand of this size.

I’m also encouraged by the fact that GM is realistic about its first electric truck. Innovation and even batteries are extremely expensive, and it will take a lot of both to create an e-truck that consumers will actually want to buy. But at $ 112,595, GM can afford to get the Hummer EV right. It’s hard to imagine how smaller businesses or companies that have never sold a single vehicle can combine practical ranges, strong performance, fancy interiors and quality components into trucks that they say are cheaper.

Three words of caution: manage your expectations. This first generation electric vehicle seems pretty sexy, but many questions about its practicality still remain. For example, a sponsored driver for Rivian reported that a prototype near production that she took on a navigation rally a few months ago struggled to go beyond 50 miles on a charge under certain terrain conditions. Concerns about this limited range prevented it from venting to adequate off-road tire pressures, and the truck’s failed air suspension system became so stiff at longer ride heights that it broke the chassis components. Expect, as the high prices show, that these first electric vehicles will serve primarily as vanity vehicles for those who own more than one car. The time will come when electric SUVs will come in handy for off-grid adventures – but we’re not there yet.

The Jeep Wrangler 4xE is a plug-in hybrid and increases fuel consumption and performance. The Jeep Wrangler 4xE is a plug-in hybrid and increases fuel consumption and performance. (Photo: Fiat Chrysler North America)

Jeep Wrangler 4xE

If you want to go off-road while minimizing emissions, the new Jeep Wrangler 4xE might be a much more realistic rig. As a plug-in hybrid, it combines a two-liter, turbocharged internal combustion engine and two electric motors for a total of 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. In the EPA’s combined test cycle (which doesn’t include off-roading), Jeep estimates the 4xE will return 50 miles per gallon.

The 4xE should benefit from the exceptional low-speed torque that electric motors produce, and the propulsion system is powered by a conventional two-speed transfer case so you can continue to use both low and high speed transmissions and otherwise operate the Jeep normally off-road. This also applies in all-electric mode; Jeep representatives say that you can get a range of 40 kilometers in this mode, which means you can complete many technical off-road routes without burning gas.

Better still, sales should start in the first quarter of 2021, and prices start at $ 47,995.

This little Honda is only $ 3,899 and can go virtually anywhere. This little Honda is only $ 3,899 and can go virtually anywhere. (Photo: Honda)

Honda Trail 125

Fifty Miles Per Gallon Not Good Enough For You? This friendly little Honda can go 112 miles on a gallon of gasoline. And that’s a good thing because the fuel tank can only hold 1.4 gallons.

By the late 1940s, Honda grew into the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world by reinventing the category, away from gigantic, intimidating machines for tough guys and towards motorcycles that were small and friendly to everyone. Today’s motorcycle industry has once again erred in the direction of excess, so Honda has some symmetry with the Trail 125, which costs just $ 3,899 and weighs just 259 pounds.

With a top speed of around 55 mph, you probably won’t want to drive this machine across the country. But with an automatic clutch, a low seat, and dimensions slim enough to touch your knees while driving, you can use it to explore local hiking trails or just run errands around town. No matter how much driving experience you have, it’s a breeze. Best of all, you can just load it into a truck or carry it on a tow bar receiver mounted on any vehicle. This may be the perfect round camp trip for vanlifers, RV drivers, or virtually anyone else. I will be one of those buyers.

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Main photo: Honda

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