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Soft-Roader Comparison: Which AWD Crossover are You Taking on the Trail?

Crossovers are here to stay. Enthusiasts have kicked and screamed, blasted every comments section with hate, but at the end of the day, more and more consumers prefer the increased ride height and ground clearance of these lifted hatchbacks. The roads are littered with CRVs, RAV4s, and Traverses, carting families around from home to the grocery store, to the soccer field, and back again. Out of this takeover, however, there’s been a community rise-up and rally around these seemingly throwaway transportation appliances.

2020 RAV4 AWD

Enthusiasts began to wonder that if a vehicle has a lifted ride height and AWD, what’s to stop it from going off-road? Sure, it’s not going to challenge the legends of the 4x4 world, but if a set of tires and some skid plates make for a more exciting daily driver, what’s the harm in seeing how far they could get?

Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

Several years ago, manufacturers began to take notice. More and more crossovers have been marketed in “adventure-ready” guise. The aftermarket began to take notice, and small companies have appeared offering all kinds of modifications to outfit these vehicles for the trails. We figured it was time to take a look at some of the newest offerings from manufacturers, see what the aftermarket was like for that model, and hopefully provide a good starting point for interested buyers.

Honda Passport Off-road

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport

This entire market owes its existence to Subaru. This Japanese company has AWD baked into their DNA, and the “lifted trail wagon” has been there since the early ‘80s. While nearly all of Subaru’s offerings show up in soft-roader circles, the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek represents the latest version from the brand. A refresh of the existing second generation model, the 2021 Crosstrek Sport finally offers a larger 2.5L engine from the Forester with 182hp. If you want the manual though, you’ll need to stick with the existing 2.0L.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek’s aftermarket is certainly the healthiest for any of the soft-roaders. Wheel and tire companies have released packages tailored to that chassis, companies like Subtle Solutions and ADF offer lift kits, skid plates, off-road accessories, and chassis-specific solutions to problems that arise from taking the Crosstrek further into a trail ready machine. It’s safe to say if you really want to go all the way with a late-model soft-roader build, you should certainly consider the Crosstrek first.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek

2020 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

Having a conversation about anything off-road without mentioning Jeep would be a bad move. Obviously best known for its legendary Wrangler, the company has a couple of entrants in the soft-roader scene. For an out-of-the-box ready rig, a buyer certainly wouldn’t be wrong to start with the 2020 Renegade Trailhawk.

Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

With off-road capability already incorporated into the brand, the Renegade Trailhawk offers a few more tricks than its competitors. Trailhawk models are sold with a locking 4WD mode, available crawling gear ratio, hill descent control, and tow hooks. A quick search reveals that many of the same companies that offer lift kits and off-road protection for the Wrangler are offering Renegade parts as well. For buyers that want to dive right in without doing a lot of mods though, the Renegade offers the most bang for the buck.

Renegade 4WD Low Gear

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

Another legend in the off-road world, Toyota's recent update to its RAV4 crossover has set the soft-roader community on fire. New for 2020, the most capable model is the TRD Off-Road RAV4 model that builds on the AWD Adventure model by adding a TRD-tuned suspension and stabilizer bars, TRD wheels, and a unique interior. Like other AWD crossovers, a multi-terrain selector switch is available to help guide the AWD system in its behavior.

RAV4 Adventure

Although the model is new, aftermarket companies have jumped on board with the AWD RAV4. Companies like Rough Country and LP Adventure are already offering 2.5” lift kits and skid plates, which when combined with TRD package make for probably the best looking of the recent soft-roader entries.

2021 RAV4 TRD

2020 Honda Passport AWD

Although Honda has had several AWD models in its history, the new 2020 Passport is certainly the most aggressively marketed “adventure-ready” model in decades. Built on the existing Pilot/Ridgeline platform, the Passport shrinks its overall size compared to its bigger brothers and adds nearly an inch of lift on AWD models. Sand and Mud modes are added to the multi-terrain selector for the i-VTM4 AWD system.

Overland Honda Passport

Several companies have begun offering lift kits for the Passport, but Los-Angeles based shop JSport has been working closely with Honda to offer dealer-installed ready-to-go packages as well as piecemeal products for the aftermarket that are guaranteed not to interfere with factory performance. Time will tell if other companies jump on board with more aggressive mods, but like RAV4, the model’s newness has prevented many owners from going too far down the rabbit hole yet.

Honda Passport AWD Off-road

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Basecamp

The European off-road scene has always had a strong, devoted following. While Volkswagen hasn’t traditionally been a player in that world (with a few exceptions), their recent 2020 Atlas Basecamp concept shows promise from the German manufacturer. With help from Fifteen52 for wheels and H&R for a set of lift springs, the 280hp AWD-equipped crossover certainly looks the part. An Offroad-Road with hill descent control setting should help the 4Motion AWD system on more aggressive trails.

VW Atlas Base Camp

Like the other newer models, modifications are mostly limited to lift kits, skid plates, and other bolt-on adventuring accessories. Traditional VW-friendly shops like Smith Performance, Forge, and APR are already deep into off-road Atlas builds, so the future seems bright for this model.

Atlas Basecamp

This list is certainly not exhaustive. Nearly every manufacturer offers some variation of AWD crossover, so it’s really up to the owner to how adventurous they want to get without serious aftermarket support. Ford’s 2021 Bronco Sport (baby Bronco) will almost certainly be a big contender in the soft-roader market, especially if it borrows styling from its bigger brother.

2021 Bronco Sport

 Still need to be convinced? Check out our piece on the Rise of the Soft-Roader.

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