The 10 wildest off-road vehicles of 2015
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
Mercedes may be known best for stylish luxury cars, but its full fleet also includes some of the biggest, baddest recreational 4x4s and work trucks on the planet. The Unimog is the gnarliest of the bunch, but the G-Class is pushing closer thanks to monstrous build-outs like the G63 AMG 6x6 and all-new G500 4x42.
Mercedes showed the new G500 first as a show truck at March's Geneva Motor Show, then as a production model at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The new 4x4 is a functional cross between the standard G-Wagen and the G63, and it borrows the latter's portal axles, giving it its imposing presence with 1.5 feet (450 mm) of ground clearance and a "diving depth" of 3.3 feet (1 m). It's powered by a 416-hp 4.0-liter V8 biturbo and has a permanent all-wheel drive, an off-road reduction and three differential locks. Not many will be able to stomach the €226,100 (US$248,500) price tag, but those that do will buy themselves one helluva ride.
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.
Howe and Howe hasn't published many details about the Ripsaw EV2's build, but it calls the Ripsaw platform the "fastest dual tracked vehicle ever developed." The EV2 has 600 hp of diesel power, and according to Fourwheeler.com, the tank has a top speed over 60 mph (96.5 km/h) and gets there with sports car-like acceleration. While the Ripsaw was originally developed for the military, the EV2 is available to a limited number of regular customers that have the wherewithal to drop six figures on an honest-to-goodness tank.
Moving all the way to the other end of the off-road sizing scale from the Ripsaw, the German-designed Bees Bike puts an interesting spin on the electric mountain bike. The bike's distinctive frame gives it its signature adjustability and modularity. Owners can adjust the placement of components to better fit their bodies and riding and can even switch between full suspension and hardtail configurations by swapping a solid bar in for the rear shock. The bike comes with a Brose mid-motor electric drive to supplement the rider's leg power.
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.
Thanks to the spidery legs independently suspending each wheel, the unique electric buggy can wheel over big, jutting rocks, traverse straight across hills with up to a 50 percent gradient, climb hills of up to 70 percent and arrow through ditches that would leave most other vehicles screaming for mercy. It includes an electric motor integrated into each wheel and a four-wheel steering system. It's not especially powerful, and appears bouncy enough to reacquaint you with the contents of lunch, but watching it in action is truly a sight to behold. If you didn't already see it when it blew up the Web back in August, here's a look at the Swincar in action.
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 Racer
Deciding 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 Sand Racer is positioned as tough enough for blasting across blistering hot sand in the day and sophisticated enough inside for cruising town. We imagine it'll be driven mostly by folks with a fleet of cars, though, so they'll probably take something else out for nights in the city.
In base trim, the Zarooq is powered by a 304-bhp (227 kW) 3.5-liter V6 mounted mid-rear inside the steel tube frame, and things can be tuned up to 500 hp. Zarooq opts for an RWD layout rather than 4WD, helping to keep weight down to 2,315 lbs (1,050 kg). Zarooq is still finishing the design up and plans to reveal the actual car early next year.
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.
The Ardenner's three electric motors team up for a whopping 1,033 lb-ft (1,400 Nm) and up to 107 hp (80 kW) of output. The all-electric, all-terrain machine is designed to roam all year long and can be used for both work and play, hitting speeds up to 50 mph (80 km/h) and carrying loads as heavy as 550 lb (250 kg). We get the feeling that the driver will have fun with this thing even if they're just hauling manure around the farm.
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.
Outside of confirming a 10,500 redline, Yamaha didn't release engine specs when announcing the YXZ1000R in September, and the model has not yet joined the Wolverine and Viking on Yamaha's website. Rumors put the power figure around 110 hp. Whatever their specific number, those horses will put an emphatic signature on the dirt or sand when finding their way to the long-travel Fox-cushioned 14-in aluminum wheels with 27-in Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 radial tires. Drivers can dial between 2WD, 4WD and 4WD full diff lock.
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.
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