Off-Roading Promises Fun and Adventure for Drivers, Opportunity for Automakers and the Tourism Industry

2021 Jeep® Gladiator Rubicon

2021 Jeep Cherokee Latitude LUX.

2021 Telluride

Driving off road blends both the adventure of driving and the beauty of nature.  Off-roading is expected to be an industry worth $28 billion by 2024, promising a lucrative tourism market for struggling rural areas as more and more organized groups and driving clubs begin to form.

Wherever you reside in Texas, you’re not far from adventure.  Rocky Ridge Ranch near Denton is a 650-acre private facility featuring steep hill climbs, stream crossings and jumps in wooded and open settings.  Houstonites can find 60 miiles of trails across more than 700 acres of piney woods at General Sam’s ATV and Off-Road Park in Huntsville.

Head south to drive the sand beaches near Galveston and Freeport at Crystal Beach, Follett’s Island Beach, Quintana Beach, Surfside Beach. Lost Highway 87 or Metagroa Beach.  There’s also 120-miles of beach driving on the Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi.

The Barnwell Mountain Recreational Area is located high atop the Barnwell Mountains of East Texas near Gilmer, TX.  The historic “Big Thicket” was once over a million acres that provided a perfect place to hide out for fugitives. There are also tales of swamp ghosts and spirits that haunt the trails you can drive along there.

Some of the most spectacular driving opportunities can be found in West Texas in and around Big Bend National Park.  Black Gap Road is a Jeep Badge of Honor Trail.  Other off-road trails with scenic views of the Chisos Mountain Range and wide-open vistas of the Chihuahuan Desert include Christmas Mountain, the Dagger Flat Auto Trail, Old Maverick Road, Old Ore Road, Paint Gap Road, River Road, Glenn Springs Road and Grapevine Hills Road. Near El Paso, Kermit Sand Hills and Red Sands feature drivable dunes up to 20 miles wide.  The Texas Panhandle has trails along the Canadian River and Lake Meredith that attract off-roaders.

A look at the line-ups of auto manufacturers across the board shows that they are well aware of the off-roading craze.  Which vehicle you decide to purchase for your off-roading habit depends on a number of factors, but the bottom line is, there is a choice for any and all.

Named the 2021 Off-Road Pickup Truck of Texas by the Texas Auto Writer’s Association and MotorTrend’s Truck of the Year, the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is both an on- and off-road truck.  Behind Ram’s ability to tout the TRX as “the ultimate go-anywhere performance vehicle” is  TRX’s thicker frame adding six more inches of width over the standard 1500 and sporting more high-strength steel for off-road jumps.  The engineering team also designed new axles and incorporated Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive dampers, dual air intakes and custom  35-inch all-terrain tires for their new beast,  and powered it with FCA’s 6.2 liter supercharged V-8 Hellcat engine to give it 702hp and 650 lb-ft of torque.  The result is a truck that is a desert plaything, a capable off-roader and a surprisingly comfortable city driver all in one.

The Jeep Gladiator is classified as a midsize pickup, but it’s more like a Jeep Wrangler with a 5-foot cargo bed than it is like any other pickup.  We had the pleasure of driving the 2021 Gladiator Rubicon 4×4 with a diesel-powered turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 (260 hp, 442 lb-ft) and 8-speed manual transmission.  Its suite of standard off-road features include a 4.10 rear axle ratio for increased towing and off-road capability, 33-inch all-terrain tires, fenders with increased clearance, locking front and rear differentials, electronically disconnectable front stabilizer bar, Fox shock absorbers, rock rails, skid plates, and a two-speed transfer case for better off-road gearing.  Our tester was loaded up with  leather, premium LED lighting, premium audio, all the safety group stuff, a hardtop headliner, Ram’s Trail Rail™ system, and a spray-in bedliner with a price tag of $67k.

But off-roading isn’t just for hardcore driving enthusiasts or limited to trucks.  The sport is one that caters to family time too.   There is a Jeep solution for every type of driver, and the Jeep heritage is something that sets the bar for all off-roaders.  Let’s say you are just the occasional off-roader who also like to luxe it up a little in the city without blowing the budget.  A Jeep Cherokee with new top-of-the-line Latitude Lux trim might be the way to go.  Our tester had the standard 3.2-liter V6 engine putting out 271 hp and 239 lb-ft torque and upgraded comfort, convenience and sound packages at a delivered price of $36,355 while offering the same excellent off-road ability and maximum towing capacity as the Grand Cherokee, its higher priced sibling.

Surprising people with its off-road prowess, the Kia Telluride has earned a ton of attention and awards from the top auto reviewers.  Kia’s largest SUV has three rows and seats up to eight passengers with a luxurious cabin, smooth ride and abundant technology and safety features that rival the more established brands in the large luxury SUV segment.  Telluride’s standard 3.8-liter V6 gets 291 horsepower with 262 lb-ft of torque and is paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission.  Off-roaders will want to opt for the all-wheel drive system that locks to enhance grip; underbody skid plates are also added to the AWD. With AWD and the SX Prestige Package adding premium leather upholstery and heated and ventilated second-row seats on top of the already premium SX features plus a towing package, the delivered price on the Telluride we test drove was $49K.

Hardcore or newbie, there couldn’t be a better time to join the weekend warriors in the sport of off-roading!  The competition to build off-road vehicles more capable than the competitors’ while making them safer for any level of driver  to be able to scale a cliff side means more driving fun for all!

The authors of this column were among the journalists first to drive the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX, helping Ram to earn the coveted 2021 Truck of Texas title awarded by the Texas Auto Writer’s Association each year.

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