We've seen some truly wild and awesome motor-powered off-road vehicles this year, everything from electric mountain bikes to monstrous expedition vehicles, from luxury-branded 4x4s rolling into dealerships to experimental show trucks. It wasn't easy trimming the list, but we've compiled our 10 favorites from 2015. Collectively, these cars can roll and ramble over virtually every inch of solid ground Earth has in its possession.
Mercedes G 500 4x42
Howe and Howe Ripsaw 2
What's even tougher than a massive, muscled-up G-Wagen? How about a consumer "luxury super tank"? Hollywood sure thought Howe and Howe's Ripsaw was tough enough when it based the Peacemaker from Mad Max: Fury Road on it, and now the slick tank gets a new generation in the closed-top Ripsaw EV2 - the "e" stands for "extreme," not electric.
When it's sitting silent in a garage, the insect-legged, tilting Swincar Spider probably doesn't look much like an off-roader at all, appearing more like some kind of oddball go-kart or child's toy. But things change in a hurry when it gets some dirt or rock under its tires.
One of the biggest motorcycle debuts of 2015, the new Honda CRF1000L brings back the legendary Africa Twin badge. Even without the Dakar pedigree of "Africa Twin" scrawled across its side, the CRF1000L is an exciting development for tourers, a ground-up "go-anywhere" design that promises masterful off-road performance and solid, comfortable on-road touring.
Power comes from a new 94-hp (70-kW) 998 cc twin engine working with a six-speed manual gearbox or optional dual-clutch. The DCT adds off-road grit through a a traction/control-improving "G" mode. The engine's compact packaging contributes to the bike's 9.8-in (250-mm) ground clearance, and the 21-in front/18-in rear wheel/tube tire package helps the bike's off-road handling and reliability. This bike begs the rider to jump on and venture wherever the road or dirt takes him, not worrying about stopping for gas for close to 250 miles (400 km).
Zarooq Sand RacerDeciding that the efforts of American and Japanese automakers weren't quite up to snuff for their particular desert-shredding needs, UAE-based startup Zarooq Motors formed to design a desert racer from the ground up. The
Worlds away from the hot sands of the Middle East, Austria's Mattro builds unique off-roaders designed for the dirt, rock and snow of the Alps, including the Ziesel electric armchair. This year, Mattro revealed the Ardenner, a functional cross between an ATV and a snowmobile. It leans a little more toward the latter, but it can move on both snow and dry ground thanks to the two powered front tracks that stand in for the dual skis you'd see on a regular snowmobile.
Side-by-side manufacturers were all about giving drivers new ways of engaging with the engine this year, Honda with its paddle-shifting Pioneer 1000 and Yamaha with the manual-sticked YXZ1000R. We pick the Yamaha out of the two because it brings two industry firsts, according to Yamaha: first SxS with fully manual five-speed sequential shift transmission and first three-cylinder engine in its class.
Toyota Ultimate Utility Vehicle
Even as a SEMA show car, a Sienna minivan smashed on top of a Tacoma truck frame, then transformed into an angry off-road machine, would have been surprising. But Toyota actually drove its Ultimate Utility Vehicle on the streets ... for thousands of miles. The unique truck was designed as a support and command center for the Ever-Better Expedition, a caravan of Toyota employees rolling all around North America.
The idea was to capitalize on the roomy Sienna interior to create a functional workspace and the modified Tacoma chassis for its toughness and off-road capabilities. The one-off includes an overhauled suspension with 4-in lift, 33x22 Nitto Mud Grappler tires around 22-in Monster Energy 539B off-road wheels, and suicide front doors to accommodate those mods. It's definitely the strangest off-road vehicle to come from a major automaker this year.
Ariel got the year of off-roading started off right when it revealed the Nomad in early January. If you're familiar with Ariel, then just attaching the term "off-road buggy" to its name should be enough to give you goosebumps. If you need more than that, consider that this British outfit has taken the street-legal, track-tuned Atom, an open ultralight capable of sub-3-second acceleration when tuned with optional power increases, and turned it into a dirt-n-dune buggy.
Starting with the Atom and Honda's 235-hp K24 iVTEC four-cylinder, Ariel has added a steel tube cage, off-road-ready double-wishbone suspension, and a variety of road, all-terrain and mud tire options. Though beefier than the Atom, the Nomad still maintains a low weight at 1,477 lb (670 kg), allowing it to hit 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds and 100 mph (161 km/h) in 8.7 seconds.