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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A grey 2022 Honda Passport Trailsport is shown from the front at an angle after leaving a dealer that has used SUVs for sale.

4 Terrific SUVs for Overlanding

Overlanding is becoming increasingly popular amongst people who want to learn self-reliance and experience a more minimalist and intimate way to explore the vast and beautiful lands of this country. Overlanding is often mistaken for off-roading. While both do involve leaving paved roads, they’re ultimately very different activities that appeal to very different drivers. That means they call for rather different vehicles. If you’re currently researching used SUVs for sale that are ideal for overlanding, good news: we have four terrific options for the pastime, including compact, midsize, three-row, and full-size options.

What Makes a Great Overlanding Vehicle? (And How Is It Different From an Off-Roader?)

Even though both overlanding and off-roading vehicles are more rugged and capable than your standard city cars, they are not identical. Off-roading vehicles are designed for short bursts of intense driving over highly challenging terrain. When you go off-roading, the act of driving is the activity itself—the thrill lies in being in the vehicle and traversing bumpy, hilly, messy, and windy terrain. When people go off-roading, they go to an off-road trail, enjoy some spirited driving, and typically go home that same day.

Overlanding, on the other hand, is more about the destination. People who overland leave paved roads in order to enjoy a more intimate connection with their path and experience more remote areas while on their way to a destination. While an overlanding vehicle needs to be able to leave paved roads, it doesn’t have to do as many challenging maneuvers as an off-road vehicle does. It’s about getting to a destination, usually to camp, and taking unpaved roads when needed. But overlanders spend a good deal of time on highways and paved roads, too. With this in mind, below are the common traits of an overlanding vehicle vs an off-roading model.

Overlanding Vehicle

  • All-wheel drive (or 4×4)
  • Good ground clearance
  • Good interior storage capacity
  • Solid fuel economy
  • Solid towing figures

Off-Road Vehicle

  • 4×4 (usually with locking differentials)
  • Increased approach/departure angles
  • Reinforced bumpers
  • Steel skid plates
  • Heavy-duty winch

When you explore the common traits of these two vehicles, it becomes clear that overlanding vehicles are for light off-road environments that are only traveled out of necessity to get to a destination, while off-road vehicles are designed for the thrill of driving in the most challenging environments.

4 Great Overlanding SUVs

Now that you know what makes a great overlanding SUV, let’s take a look at four terrific choices for this activity that you can find used.

#1 – Honda Passport TrailSport

The Honda Passport is a midsize SUV, making it a great choice for drivers who don’t need more than five seats but who want a spacious cabin and generous cargo space. With the ability to tow up to 5,000 lbs, the Passport is a good choice for overlanders who want to bring along a small camper or trailer. You might not want to sleep in your vehicle every night when you’ll be away from home for weeks (or longer). Having the power to tow separate sleeping quarters behind your SUV will make a big difference.

Now, what really makes a used Passport a great overlander is the TrailSport trim. First introduced for the 2022 model, this trim has wider front and rear tracks for improved stability, more rugged wheels and tires than the other trims, and some unique styling details that will get you in the right headspace to go exploring. The Honda i-VTM4 all-wheel drive system is also worth highlighting since it includes a twin-clutch rear differential for torque vectoring. The available roof crossbars for the Trailsport trim mean you can bring items like kayaks and cross-country skis with you—the exact types of equipment that help overlanders have even more intimate experiences with nature.

A white 2021 GMC Terrain AT4 is shown from the front at an angle in snow.

#2 – GMC Terrain AT4

This compact SUV boasts some surprisingly big-car energy. One thing we love about it for overlanders is the fold-front flat seat. With the rear seats and front passenger seat down, you can fit eight-foot-long items inside with the tailgate closed. For overlanders traveling solo who want the freedom to simply sleep in their vehicle, you can easily lie down in the Terrain. Plus, the 2022 model year introduced the AT4 trim, a dedicated off-road option with beefy Goodyear Sport Terrain tires, an engine skid plate, and a selectable off-road mode.

You can also tow up to 1,500 lbs with this small SUV. That’s great for bringing a small boat, ATV, or trailer with a couple of dirt bikes along with you. Overlanding is all about seeing a beautiful landscape you want to explore more closely and pulling over to do just that. So it’s nice that you can tow the types of vessels that let you do that in the Terrain. As a compact SUV, the Terrain gets nearly car-like fuel economy, so you won’t blow your whole travel budget on gas. It doesn’t sacrifice the all-important all-wheel drive, though, so feel free to leave paved roads for less predictable ones.

#3 – Ford Explorer Timberline

Ford’s family-friendly and road trip-ready three-row SUV, the Explorer, got the addition of its off-road-ready variant, the Timberline, in 2022. So it’s still a relatively new model, and when you find it used, you’ll access modern features and great capabilities. Ford designed the Timberline to be 0.8 inches taller than the other trims, letting it roll over paths littered with small rocks and fallen branches with ease. Hey, you can even drive through modest-sized puddles if you have to. It also sits on all-terrain tires, with the right channels and ridges to push mud and small stones away from your vehicle and maintain traction on messy paths.

You shouldn’t feel bumpy roads inside the cabin, thanks to specially-made dampers that absorb turbulence for a smooth ride. Underbody skid plates make this trim ready to tackle some even rougher terrain, so don’t worry about small rocks flying up and damaging your undercarriage, putting a pause to the fun for a trip to the auto body shop. The increased height of this trim also means you get to enjoy improved approach, breakover, and departure angles. If you are dedicated to overlanding and avoiding freeways and paved roads at all costs, you can tackle some more harrowing terrain in the Explorer Timberline without fear of bottoming out.

A green 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline is shown from the side while off-road.

#4 – Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro

Check out the Sequoia TRD Pro if you want a full-size SUV that’s both ready for off-roading and accelerating on paved roads. TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development, which hints at this trim’s thrilling features. Used models from before 2023 come with a 5.7L V8 engine, which gives you awesome towing powers. In fact, it can tow up to 7,400 lbs, which should be more than enough to drag the camper or boat you need to make your overlanding dreams become a reality.

With a lifted suspension and 10 inches of ground clearance, it’s ready to tackle messy terrain without fear of hazards damaging the undercarriage. A massive TRD skid plate can help with that, too. All-terrain tires let you roll through mud puddles, snow, slush, sand, and more with ease. Plus, the Sequoia TRD Pro has Fox shock absorbers that should eliminate any bumpiness inside the cabin.

Map Out Your Overlanding Adventures in a Great SUV

If you’re craving time off the grid for something more than just a day of off-roading, then you might be the right candidate for overlanding. It takes a special vehicle to let you travel hundreds (if not thousands) of miles of both paved roads and dirt trails. The four used SUVs we listed above should meet that specific challenge while also giving you a comfortable place to take a nap (or sleep overnight) at your wilderness destinations and plenty of room for the gear you need for weeks away from home.

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