Skip to main content

As SUVs become increasingly popular, many auto manufacturers are abandoning sedans for these versatile vehicles. Off-road SUVs, in particular, are gaining in popularity, with adventure seekers looking for features to enhance their driving experience.

MotorTrend recently tested more than 200 vehicles, rating them based on their performance, safety, tech, efficiency, interior space, value, and performance. Find out the auto reviewer’s top three choices for the best compact off-road SUV.

1. The 2023 Jeep Wrangler beats out the competition as an excellent off-road SUV to buy

A red 2023 Jeep Wrangler, one of the best compact off-road SUVs, off-roading.
2023 Jeep Wrangler | Stellantis

The 2023 Jeep Wrangler is the MotorTrend choice for the number one off-road SUV noting its “killer off-road capability.” The military-inspired vehicle provides superior performance and efficiency, offering excellent features for even the most inexperienced off-road driver.

The Wrangler comes with a wide variety of trim and powertrain options, ranging in price from $31,195 for the base Sport model to $82,495 for the fully loaded 470 hp Unlimited Rubicon 392 edition. 

The Jeep Wrangler has best-in-class resale value, going for three-quarters of the original purchase price after owning it for five years, making the versatile vehicle a wise investment for off-road enthusiasts. MotorTrend claims that while “the Wrangler won’t impress with traditional practicality or comfort the way our top-ranked family SUVs do, its near-unlimited off-road capability, timeless design, and strong value make it a worthwhile pick.”

2. The 2023 Land Rover Defender combines luxury features with its off-road prowess

Earning second place on the coveted MotorTrend list is the 2023 Land Rover Defender. The luxury off-road vehicle has a starting price of $53,500 and goes as high as $118,400 for the 100 Carpathian Edition.

While the Land Rover has refined pavement performance, it is off-road where the all-terrain vehicle shines, with unsurpassed capabilities. The well-designed interior features an 11.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system and provides five passengers with a comfortable and luxurious ride.

Three powertrain options are available, all of which are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels. The base P300 model utilizes a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.

The high-end supercharged V8 is the most powerful Land Rover Defender, with the P525 engine generating 518 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. The off-road vehicle can go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, making it a solid choice for drivers demanding quick acceleration.

3. The 2022 Ford Bronco is a worthy off-road SUV to buy

According to MotorTrend, the return of the Ford Bronco is the first real competition the Jeep Wrangler has seen in decades. But that doesn’t mean the Bronco is not a highly sought after vehicle. With a removable roof and doors, the Bronco has rugged styling and superior off-road capabilities.

Ranging in price between $31,300 and $68,500, the 2022 Ford Bronco offers a versatile interior with appealing design and tech features. A trick seven-speed manual transmission, locking differentials, and super-low crawling gear make the Bronco a worthy contender for exceptional off-road maneuvering. However, if you are looking for a hybrid or diesel option, the Bronco is not for you, as it is currently only available in a gas combustion engine.

The Jeep Wrangler stands out from the competition because of its vast range of powertrain options. While it doesn’t offer the luxury of the Land Rover Defender, it does carry an attractive base price of $31,195 with unsurpassed performance. In a side-by-side comparison of the top three compact off-road SUVs, the 2023 Jeep Wrangler stands out, receiving high scores from MotorTrend for tech innovation and overall value.