Jeep 4xe adventure vehicle of the year
(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

Adventure Vehicles of the Year: GearJunkie’s Top Picks From 2021

GearJunkie editors and contributors drove a slew of new vehicles over the past year to find the very best adventure vehicles of 2021.

Despite global supply chain issues hitting the industry, there were a lot of new adventure vehicle options on the market. From electric Jeep Wranglers to time-tested crossovers with an armor upgrade for off-road prowess, automakers are finding ways to make our favorite vehicles even more adventure-worthy.

We got our hands on the majority of the new vehicles to hit the market in 2021 for review. So, let’s dive into our list of the best of the best adventure vehicles that became available this year.

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The Best Adventure Vehicles of 2021

Best 4×4: Jeep Wrangler 4xe

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe
(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

The 4xe version of the Jeep Wrangler has far surpassed the sales expectations that anyone could have had for it, and for good reason. The first electrified Jeep Wrangler ever can go 21 miles on electricity alone, doesn’t lose any of its off-road worthiness, and offers impressive power (395 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, numbers just shy of the new Hemi V8-powered 392 Wrangler).

The key with the 4xe is that it’s a hybrid and not a pure EV, which allows you to fill it up with gasoline and keep exploring no matter where your adventures take you. This plug-in hybrid is very much a Trail Rated Jeep, and a near-silent and torquey electric drive is a ton of fun off road. Read more in our full review.

Best Midsize Truck: Nissan Frontier

2022 Nissan Frontier pickup truck
(Photo/Sean McCoy)

The fully redesigned Nissan Frontier is pretty much a winner across the board. It’s not only competitively priced, but its V6 also offers very competitive power (310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque). It has an impressive payload capacity (1,610 pounds), and it’s loaded with the safety and tech features you’d expect in a properly modern American pickup.

In the real world, this truck is peppy, smooth, and comfortable to live with. The interior is rugged, but with touchpoints just nice enough to not feel commercial.

The Frontier PRO-4X is, of course, our favorite version of this new midsize pickup. It rolls off the showroom floor with AT tires, an electronic locking rear differential, Bilstein off-road shocks, and steel underbody skid plates. You can read our full first-drive review for a closer look.

Best Full-Size Truck: Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T - on trail

Yep, after years of waiting, the Rivian R1T has won the first-to-market American electric truck race. The trucks are just now hitting first investors‘ driveways, so it just snuck in under the wire for our 2021 best adventure vehicle list.

What’s not to like about a truck with more than 300 miles of electric range, a properly capable 4×4 system, and a massive amount of secure gear storage (or even a built-in slide-out kitchen), and unique styling? You can read our first-drive thoughts on the Rivian R1T and soon-to-market GMC Hummer EV.

We think there is so much more to come from Rivian as it ramps up production of its pickup and soon SUV. You can get some insight about its cool new tailgate patent and modular truck bed patent. The future of the electric truck in America is bright.

Best Wagon: Subaru Outback Wilderness

Subaru Outback Wilderness
(Photo/Seiji Ishi)

The vehicle you find aplenty in every adventure town in America is the Subaru Outback. For the 2022 model year (released in mid-2021), Subaru upped the Outback’s off-road worthiness direct from the factory by debuting the Wilderness edition.

This new off-road-oriented edition gets you a lift, a skid plate, more aggressive dirt-worthy tires (along with a full-size spare), and more. It also gets more plastic body cladding, fully synthetic and waterproof upholstery, and rooftop tent-rated roof rails.

The Subaru Outback Wilderness is the “Swiss Army knife” of cars; long live the AWD wagon! One of our editors, Seiji Ishi, is a Subaru Ambassador and has put the Outback Wilderness through a ton of real-world testing recently. Stay tuned for Seiji’s full review soon.

Best Crossover: Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 AMG

Mercedes GLB 250 AMG
(Photo/Doug Berger for NWAPA)

The GLB 250 just hit the market in 2020, with the AMG version coming out in 2021. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 AMG is a surprise winner, as it impressed in more ways than it should.

It is a top-performing CUV on road, does better than you’d expect off road, has some of the best driver ergonomics out there, and one of the very best interiors in its class.

The GLB 250 AMG looks sharp and a bit different than the sea of crossover competitors, but is pretty small and not inexpensive. For a look at how our CUV winner stacks up against a load of other adventure vehicles, check out Best AWD/4WD Cars of 2021: Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year Awards.

Best SUV: Jeep Grand Cherokee

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee review
(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

We got behind the wheel of every trim level, drove both the V6 and V8, and experienced both the two- and three-row versions of the all-new Grand Cherokee. We also got a chance to tow with it, drive hard on curvy mountain roads, and even do a little rock crawling.

Needless to say, this new full-size SUV from Jeep is ready for adventure. Read our full first-drive review.

The 4xe plug-in hybrid version of this SUV is coming in 2022, and will likely make this capable, comfortable, adventure vehicle even better.

Best UTV: Can-Am Commander XT-P 1000R

utv, Can-Am Commander XT-P 1000R
(Photo/Bryon Dorr)

The Commander XT-P 1000R sits in that sweet spot between sporty off-road fun and a utility vehicle for doing work, hunting, and/or camping. It has a super-impressive Fox suspension with 14 inches of travel, a 100-horsepower motor, and a dump bed. And it even comes with features like an integrated winch, selectable diff lock, and light bar.

If you’re looking for a one UTV quiver machine that can do work — and still have a ton of fun ripping in the dunes, climbing rocky trails, playing in the snow, and getting way off the beaten path — then the Can-Am Commander XT-P 1000R is for you. Read our full review, which includes a super-fun video of our testing.

Best Motorcycle: KTM ADV 890

KTM 890 Adventure
(Photo/KTM)

KTM punched out the 790 Adventure motor to an 890 for 2021, but the bike remains virtually identical otherwise, a bike that received well-deserved accolades when introduced in 2018.

The KTM 890 Adventure is an adventure bike, with all the modern traction control and ABS, that finally delivers the feel of a dirt bike that could burn highway miles versus a street bike that can ride on dirt.

The low-slung fuel tanks vastly improved the top-heavy feeling of almost all adventure bikes. The factory WP Suspension (after some work) proved capable on the most challenging single-track terrain our editor has ridden on an Adventure bike.

After over a decade of settling for sub-par performance off road on adventure bikes, our editor finally feels at home on the dirt. He says he’s never going back to the larger adventure rigs. KTM has a winner with the 890 Adv.

Most Outlawed: Mitsubishi Delica

delica and yokohama geolanders dirt
(Photo/Mercedes Lilienthal)

Imagine getting a notice in the mail saying your vehicle registration is revoked and that your vehicle is no longer road legal. That would be a tough pill to swallow, especially after legally importing the vehicle and getting it titled and registered in the first place.

This exact scenario happened to Mitsubishi Delica owners in Maine this year. If you’re as appalled as we are, you can read about all the details our JDM and Delica expert (and owner) Andy Lilienthal dug up: Registration Revoked: Delica Vans No Longer Road Legal.

We know — the Delica isn’t a new vehicle. But, this trend toward outlawing cool imported vehicles is a travesty worth mentioning. And if we see one on the road, we promise to keep our mouths shut.

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Bryon Dorr
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Bryon Dorr caught the outdoor adventure addiction through whitewater kayaking, and worldwide adventures to remote places ensued. He crafted his own professional path as a photographer, journalist, and marketing consultant in the automotive and outdoor industries, while full-time overland traveling for nearly 8 years. You’ll usually find him out exploring by 4x4, adventure motorcycle, or sports car while seeking out opportunities to ski, mountain bike, and kayak. Bryon now has a home base in Portland, OR with his wife and young daughter.