The Japanese manufacturers of Subaru and Toyota have a long history of building off-road vehicles. Subaru started out making four-wheel drive versions of regular passenger cars and developed their off-roaders from there, while Toyota built off-roaders and pickup trucks from the FJ40 to today’s Land Cruiser. J300†
Subaru designed sedans and station wagons equipped with four-wheel drive, making them more capable off the beaten track than many of their competitors. Granted, their engines were underpowered, but in the 1980s Subaru vehicles started making a name for themselves on the rally stages and off-road competitions of the world. Toyota started in 1951 by building BJ and FJ type of light military commercial vehicle, based on the Willys Jeep design for use in the Korean War. The second generation introduced the FJ40 – arguably the most famous Toyota 4X4 ever made – which morphed into the Land Cruiser range and spans the past 71 years.
So while Subaru hasn’t gone through the same development processes as the mighty Toyota, they’ve still managed to build some great off-roaders over the years. Here are 5 of the best Subaru and 5 of the best Toyota off-roaders ever made.
10 Subaru Crosstrek
The Subaru Crosstrek was launched in 2012 and was the smaller and more affordable crossover in Subaru’s lineup. While the Crosstrek looked like just another lifted hatchback, it was actually built on the same platform as the Impreza, meaning it got symmetrical AWD and good flat-4 engines.
Many owners have customized their Crosstreks with bigger off-road tires and underbody protection, which has helped them tackle the same kinds of trails as the larger Subaru SUVs and 4X4s. The Crosstrek is currently in its second generation and is even available as a hybrid.
9 Subaru Forester Wilderness
The Subaru Forester is a fantastic SUV† Originally introduced in 1997, the Forester is one of the best vehicles in the Japanese brand’s lineup. The second generation even included a Forester STI, which had the same 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4 found in the Impreza WRX STI, with 260 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque.
The newer Foresters have taken a more refined approach to the SUV segment, with smoother lines, but Subaru still made sure it was a capable off-roader. The Forester Wilderness comes equipped with many off-road-specific upgrades, including an increased ride height, a lower final drive ratio and a stronger roof rack.
8 Subaru Outback Wilderness
The Subaru Outback started life as a sportier version of the Impreza wagon but then moved on to the more off-road oriented version of the Legacy wagon. The model has since been turned into its own model – still based on the Legacy.
The Outback is a fantastic family car that is practical, safe and reliable, along with its slightly elevated ride height over the regular Legacy wagon. The Outback was such a good car it won the Top Gear 2007 Car of the Year award together with the Ford Mondeo. It was also one of the few cars that all three presenters really liked.
7 Subaru Leone
The Subaru Leone, which means “lion” in Italian, was produced between 1971 and 1994. The Leone was the company’s largest car in the 1970s and was the second four-wheel drive car on an off-road production car. . five years after the Jensen Interceptor FF.
Although the Leone was a road car, the second-generation model soon entered rally championships and other off-road competitions, thanks to the superior grip and road holding provided by the four-wheel drive system. The second generation Leone was also the basis for the legendary Subaru BRAT.
6 Subaru BRAT
The Subaru BRAT was a compact pickup truck built between 1978 and 1994. BRAT was short for ‘Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter’, although it went by many different names around the world, including the 284, the Brumby and the Shifter among others.
Interestingly, the BRAT was never sold in its native Japan, so it became a popular gray import. The BRAT came standard with four-wheel drive and a naturally aspirated boxer-4 engine. It was also quite light, making it easy to maneuver. The BRAT was so popular in the United States that Ronald Reagan even owned one!
5 Toyota Tundra
The Toyota Tundra was introduced in 1999 to compete against the American Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and the (then) Dodge RAM 1500. It was available with different engines, including two V6s and a V8. The first generation Tundra was a great pickup, but it only became as popular as it is today when the second generation was launched in 2007.
The second-generation Tundra was in production for 14 years between 2007 and 2021 and received only one major refurbishment. Still, it was a huge success, and the design and build make the Tundra an excellent off-roader. It even has a towing capacity of over 10,000 pounds.
4 Toyota Land Cruiser 200 Series
The 200 Series Land Cruiser was the fifth generation of the comfort-oriented Land Cruiser models. Introduced in 2008, the 200 Series is one of the most successful Land Cruiser models ever made. It was available with a range of engines – including a V8 turbo diesel – and received two model upgrades during its 13-year production run.
The Land Cruiser has always been great at off-road driving and many owners are upgrading and improving their vehicles even further, fitting roll cages, all-terrain tires and off-road underlayment. The Land Cruiser is also the basis for the Lexus LX – an even more luxurious version, yet retaining its off-road capability and reliability.
3 Toyota 4Runner
The Toyota 4Runner was built as the SUV version of the popular Tacoma pickup truck† It was equipped with the same powertrain components as its pickup brother, but in a more attractive and elegant body. The first generation was simply a Tacoma with an oversized canopy covering the bed, but became a true SUV with the introduction of the second generation.
The current 4Runner is one of the most popular choices for off-road riding thanks to its relatively simple design and handling. While the stock 4.0-litre V6 isn’t the most exciting engine, it’s enough to get the job done. The current 4Runner has been in production since 2010, so a new one may be on the way.
2 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40
The original Toyota FJ40 is a legendary vehicle acclaimed by enthusiasts for its clever yet simple design. The FJ40 was available with a range of engines ranging from two petrol inline-6s to single 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder diesels. The FJ40 was only available with manual transmissions.
The FJ40 had such a big influence on the world of off-road 4X4s that Toyota tried to recreate it several times. The two best-known examples are the FJ – a modern take on classic design – and the current J70 Land Cruiser, which has been in production since 1984 and has a V8 turbo diesel in select markets.
1 Toyota Hilux
The Toyota Hilux is the world’s favorite pickup truck, with the model being sold around the world for the past 53 years. The Hilux is the vehicle of choice for construction sites, oil and gas companies, sawmills, wineries, freedom fighters and soccer moms. It’s built to withstand the toughest conditions and to ride comfortably in the middle of a city.
The Hilux can be seen in every corner of the world, as workhorses delivering goods and services to the most remote locations, all while maintaining its impeccable reliability. Top gear even used a modified Hilux to drive to the Magnetic North Pole and used another to climb the side of an erupting volcano. The Hilux can do almost anything – including surviving the rising tide, being set on fire and imploding while a building is being demolished. The Toyota Hilux is probably the best off-road vehicle ever made.