We're not sure 2016 quite matched the sheer off-road weirdness of 2015, and its nomadic minivans, spider-like articulating go-carts and recreational tanks, but it definitely brought a vast variety of off-road vehicles for all tastes and types. From 6x6 trucks to flying ATVs, here are the best new vehicles for kicking up dirt, squelching through the mud, motoring over snow and otherwise having fun meters or miles away from dry, level pavement.
Otherworldly giant: Sherp ATV
Sick of Ads?
Join more than 500 New Atlas Plus subscribers who read our newsletter and website without ads.
It's just US$19 a year.More Information
One of the weirdest vehicles we've seen, ever, the Sherp ATV looks like something straight out of a video game ... or Russia. It does indeed hail from the latter, where it relies on gigantic 63-in tires to rove over any land obstacle in its way, then paddle through any water that might cross its path. So it'll rumble over rock fields and crunch small trees on its way to taking a swim through the river. And while it looks absolutely massive, the Sherp ATV's 2,866-lb (1,300-kg) weight and 44-hp 1.5-liter turbodiesel engine are quite modest in size. Just a wild ride through and through.
Get up, stand up: Works Electric B14 Adventure
Very different from the dime-a-dozen electric scooters we see virtually every week, the Works Electric B14 Adventure actually gets us excited about stand-up electric motoring. This high-performance off-road scooter puts its 4,400-watt electric powertrain to work punching through dirt and grit. Underbody protection keeps the hardware safe during 3.9-second 0-30 mph sprints and 37-mph (60-km/h) top speed runs. The scooter also folds, so it's much easier to get to the trailhead than a dirt bike or ATV.
Thrashing through the snow: Nissan Winter Warriors
We flirted with the idea of including the Kia Sorento Ski Gondola on this list, but then we remembered Nissan's fleet of powder-pillaging utility vehicles. Not only did Nissan beat Kia to the idea of creating a tracked crossover, it actually built an entire lineup and unleashed them all on actual snow.
Nissan's Pathfinder, Murano and Rogue Winter Warriors rely on Dominator snow tracks for the ultimate in winter traction. Nissan took pains to keep other mechanical and structural elements as close to stock as it could while accommodating the tracks. With their hatch tents, the Winter Warriors could have been dark horse contenders for our motorhome round-up, but we think they fit in better here.
Audaciously amped-up ATV: Nikola Zero
When we first heard Nikola Motor Company's plan for a 520-hp all-electric UTV, we thought, "sure, we'll ride that down the trail on those days when our unicorn is under the weather." But so far, the startup with promises much bigger than its name recognition is moving along with the design. Over the course of the year, the Zero went from rendering to 520-hp prototype. With roof-mounted solar panels and a choice of 72- and 107-kWh battery packs, the Zero will purportedly drive for between 100 and 200 miles (161 and 322 km) and complete a supercar-like 3-second 0-60-mph (96.5 km/h).
The Zero is several times more powerful and expensive than the typical UTV and is really in a class of its own ... or it could be, if Nikola gets it to production. Though the startup has seemingly been moving along with its bold plans, which also include a powerful, long-range fuel cell semi-truck, we remain skeptical of any overnight company touting such extreme goals. Maybe the $37,000 production Zero will make our "best of 2017, 2018 ..." list, or maybe it'll be conspicuously absent during voting.
Off-land vehicle: SkyRunner MK 3.2
We've seen plenty of off-road vehicles that can tackle various types of earth and some that can master earth and water. The SkyRunner MK 3.2 belongs to a very select class that can leave the rugged earth completely for the air.
This unique vehicle is part dune buggy and part light aircraft, relying on independent powertrains to send it ripping through the dirt at up to 70 mph (113 km/h) and soaring through the sky at up to 52 mph (84 km/h) with help from the parafoil wing.
A full tank will get you 240 miles (386 km) on the ground or 120 nautical miles (222 km). The vehicle's propeller doubles as a self-rescue system for thrusting it out of sticky situations on the ground, like when its wheels are spinning in the mud. This one is definitely the "2016 vehicle we'd most like to do an extended test on."
Motored mountain bike mayhem: Neematic FR/1
The super e-bike category keeps growing. This year we tried our hand at the very convincing Stealth Bomber and watched as that bike got some big, new competition from Lithuania. An adrenaline-pumping cross between a dirt bike, an electric bike and a mountain bike, the Neematic FR/1 packs a super-potent 20-kW mid-drive.
That's good for an estimated 62 mph (100 km/h) top speed, one of the fastest speeds we've seen for an e-bike. This "top performance e-bike for rough terrain" will travel between 31 and 62 miles (50 and 100 km) on a full charge of its 2.2-kWh battery pack. Pre-orders are supposed to start next year, but again, when it comes to insane vehicles from startups we've never heard of, skepticism is prudent.
Stay-over Rover: Defender Heritage Edition with Icarus pop-top
It was a pretty big year for iconic 4x4s around the world. The Jeep Wrangler blew out 75 candles; the Toyota Land Cruiser morphed into this insane 2,000-hp land rocket; and the Land Rover Defender ended production after 68 years. The Defender has been conspicuously absent from the US market for two decades, so you can imagine our blissful surprise when we stumbled upon an all-new Heritage Edition in the mountains of North Carolina.
Not only was this a cool sight in itself, but this particular model flaunted an Alu-Cab Icarus pop-up roof with built-in bed, making it an overlander equipped to string together days and weeks of exploratory off-road adventure. In this final year of the Defender, this example exemplifies the iconic 4x4's spirit better than any other we saw.
More-adventure bike: Yamaha T7 concept
Yamaha's T7 concept got adventure riders drooling at EICMA this year. Channeling the great XT600Z Ténéré, the T7 concept aims to provide a balance of baggage-hauling mileage-clocking and sharp, agile off-road handling.
As Yamaha explains, many a mid-size adventure bike will treat you just fine on the highway, but it'll be less than friendly in the dirt and rock. The T7 aims to end those off-road deficiencies with an all-new, lightweight chassis and specially tuned version of the 700cc CP2 motor. This bike screams out and invites adventurous souls to explore anything and everything on the horizon, pavement or otherwise. Yamaha plans to release a production bike in this vein in 2018.
All-terrain mobility: Uji SafariSeat
We've covered a ton of high-powered off-road vehicles aimed at heart-quickening recreation this year but not nearly as many off-roaders constructed with the goal of helping humanity. The SafariSeat does just that as an off-road-ready wheelchair designed to help the disabled tackle their daily transportation needs in places where proper paved roads and sidewalks are lacking.
A regular wheelchair won't be of much use in a rural, pavement-free village, but the SafariSeat and its levered drivetrain, knobby tires and suspension make it possible to get around. Unlike other off-road mobility aids with high price tags, this one is designed to be as affordable as possible, and plans call for making the blueprints open source so that people who can't afford them can build them themselves. Uji's recent Kickstarter campaign tripled its goal a couple months ago, with more than 100 backers gifting one or more £200 SafariSeats to those in need.
Added limbs, sharpened claws: Hennessey VelociRaptor 6x6
How do you make the 450-hp 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor super-pickup even wilder? Adding another axle seems like a pretty sure means to that end, and throwing in an extra 150 hp just seals the deal. And who better to do that than Hennessey, creator of the world's fastest production car (unofficial).
In addition to the added wheels and power, Hennessey's VelociRaptor 6x6 upgrade program includes suspension modifications, new wheels and tires, new bumpers, a roll bar, and LED lights. We're not sure it's among the first 50 vehicles we'd spend over $300K on, but it'll start a conversation as quickly as any of the models on that list.
See more of these agile aggressors and mountain marauders in pose and dirty action in our photo gallery.View gallery - 71 images