We Go Where the Pavement Ends

Starting summer with some off-road adventures around the world

The road leads to where the road ends, but what if we feel compelled to continue on, to push farther, harder, and wider to see more of the world than the road shows? That’s when we come to appreciate the kinds of vehicles capable of freeing us from our asphalt and concrete boundaries. Vehicles unbound by traditional notions of what’s possible, that allow us to crawl through lush forests, traverse moss-covered rocks and muddy ruts, and explore uncombed beaches. From classic four-wheel-drive trucks to new-school luxury utes to turbocharged off-road toys, we celebrate the machines that coax man to get away from mankind and go where the pavement ends.

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” –Edward Abbey

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Patagonia, Argentina — This rugged but insanely beautiful corner of South America, the mountainous Patagonia region that spreads into both Argentina and Chile, is nearly the size of Texas yet contains fewer than 2 million inhabitants and is home to some of nature’s most mystifying marvels. The Subaru Outback braved a road with a surface resembling what a Brillo pad looks like under a microscope to get here, the Perito Moreno glacier. It towers 250 feet above the waterline of Lake Argentino, covers roughly 100 square miles, and is said to be the world’s third-largest reserve of fresh water (after, we believe, Lake Superior and the sultan of Brunei’s private stockpile of bathing Perrier). It’s an awesome sight to behold: a seemingly endless mass of craggy, blue-tinted ice that creaks and pops, rumbles like thunder and, every few minutes or so, sheds another huge chunk of itself into the frigid water below. –Arthur St. Antoine

“The wildernesss holds answers to questions man has not yet learned to ask.” –Nancy Newhall

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Algodones Dunes, California — In this ocean of sand, where most cars can’t go, one of today’s most rugged and powerful side-by-sides, the Can-Am Maverick X rs Turbo, feels right at home. With long-travel suspension, an exposed tube frame, and a high-output engine, it makes light work of the endless dunes. Its astonishingly strong brakes dig into the sand confidently, and the Maverick changes direction without hesitation. We lose track of our speed, of where we are, and of the fact we’re driving on sand dunes, which often and unexpectedly fall away, leaving you with a big vertical drop. The Maverick launches off the dune, hits the sand headfirst, and comes to rest on its side; we simply dust it off and get back to it. Staring back at the beautiful mess of tracks we’ve made, we realize just how well-built this specialized machine is, handling rollovers and hard hits without balking. Vehicles like this take us farther than cars can, unflinching and eager to explore untouched terrain. –Jonathon Klein

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”John Muir

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Los Angeles, California — With two Treks strapped to the Volvo V60 Cross Country’s optional roof rack, we climb through dense forest before the tree line gives way to a stunning vista overlooking downtown Santa Monica. Sullivan Trail here has fast sweepers, rolling hillcrests, and big kickers—perfect for mountain biking. It’s a tough trail, and we’re glad we followed friend and pro rider Philip Birschbach’s line through a particularly steep section. Another friend, and Automobile’s social media guru, Chris Bacarella, doesn’t, opting for a line that ends with a sheer drop to solid concrete. He falls straight on his tailbone but pops up like a champ and walks in circles trying to shake off the slam. When we get back to the Volvo, Philip and I place our bikes onto the roof-mounted runners as Chris slowly lowers himself into one of the V60’s supple leather seats. –Sandon Voelker

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” –Frank Lloyd Wright

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Johannesburg, Michigan — The BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires on the bright-purple Jeep Wrangler Backcountry Unlimited 4×4 claw helplessly against the frozen ground. We’re stuck in axle-high powder and won’t get free without using a pair of inappropriately named sand ladders. We bury arms in the snow and dig around the big, knobby tires until our fingers are numb. Back in the Wrangler, we engage the Backcountry’s locking rear differential and go for it, charging up and over a snowbank as our passenger white-knuckles the Wrangler’s “oh crap” handle on the passenger-side dashboard. We bound along northern Michigan’s most challenging trails, sporadically coming across other stuck souls in need of assistance. We brave the cold again and again, break out our kinetic recovery rope and tether the other cars to our Backcountry’s front shackle points. It’s a fun and fulfilling day that ends when even our bones feel cold. On the road home, we simply flip a switch back into two-high mode, which is all the Jeep needs to go from quintessential off-roader to comfortable commuter. –Sandon Voelker

“Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself.”Walt Whitman

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Cottonwood Canyon Road, Utah — The Land Rover Discovery’s leather-wrapped steering wheel, cream-colored seats, high-pile carpeting, and soft-touch dashboard are caked with the same thick, gray mud bogging down the tires. We lay down a set of plastic Maxtrax recovery boards ahead of the front tires, which help the Disco get going again, but it immediately sinks back into the mud. We try again and again, but after an hour the mud-covered Maxtrax boards weigh about 100 pounds each, and the SUV has moved 100 yards, maybe. The nine-speed automatic transmission starts to cut power and short-shift into second gear, but we grind on, which causes the Rover to default to front-wheel drive and throw an engine code. We finally call a tow truck after a huge chunk of mud flies from the Disco’s spinning tires and hits one of us squarely and forcefully in the, er, yeah. A haul to the closest dealership, 200 miles away in Las Vegas, costs $1,875. Maybe we should’ve given more heed to the sign at the start of the trail that read, “Impassable When Wet.” –Chris Nelson

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” –Frank Lloyd Wright

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Moab, Utah — If a Hellcat supercharger whines in the desert and nobody is there to hear it, it’s because the 707-horsepower Jeep Trailcat is long gone. Or maybe it’s because, for once, the high-pressure blower’s foreboding spool is drowned out by something other than the screech of rubber on pavement. Red rocks crunch beneath the Trailcat’s 39.5-inch tires, as its modified Wrangler body barrels its way across the craggy red landscape. Managing to filter out unfamiliar clouds of dirt and sand, the Hellcat engine sucks in greedy gulps of air through extra venting in its surprisingly roomy Rubicon hood. Out here the 6.2-liter V-8 enjoys riding high, free to unleash its fury away from other cars, and especially out of sight from the boys in blue. Only in this earthen vacuum does something so ridiculous, so unhinged from the normal grind, make a perfect sort of sense. –Eric Weiner

2016 Ford F 150 Raptor side profile in motion

Parker, Arizona—The marauding terrain conspires to ravage Ford’s latest F-150 Raptor, but the truck presses on, blitzing across the desert. Exposed metal guts, naked interiors, and long nights wrenching are commonplace during this dusty rag-tag odyssey. Of the 68 teams tearing through the thankless desolation of the Arizona desert, only 19 manage to complete the 2016 Best in the Desert Mint 400 Rally. And when the Ford F-150 Raptor race truck crosses the finish line it becomes the only full-size factory stock-class truck to do so, leaving dozens of dedicated off-roaders literally in the dust.–Eric Weiner

Buying Guide
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0-60 MPH:

9.5 SECS

Real MPG:

24 City / 31 Hwy

Cargo (Std/Max):

36 / 73 cu. ft.