So, which is the best off-road? Nissan Patrol, Toyota LC300, Land Rover Defender or Ineos Grenadier?
We’ve spent the day playing with these big four wagons and we’re at the point where we can make a call about which car is best offroad.
What’s the story?
The first thing to remind everyone is that all these cars are not just good offroad, but very good, so differences are a bit like choosing the best F1 driver; in comparison there’s differences but they’re all amazing. And each terrain requires a different set of capabilities, so every vehicle will be better matched to one terrain than another. Choosing a ‘best’ is therefore hard; is Vehicle X so much better on sand than Vehicle Y that Vehicle Y’s advantage over X on rocks is negated? It’s a hard call. As an extreme example, a smooth, slippery track is “offroad” and you’d probably want a Forester on for that, but we all know a Subaru won’t keep up with a Wrangler on rocks.
So caveats aside, let’s start with what is perhaps the most impressive offroader in the lineup, the LC300 GR Sport. I say impressive as the way it oozes smoothly over rough terrain with its long-travel suspension aided by eKDSS disconnect-able sway bars is beautiful to watch, and Toyota has done a first-class job on the brake-traction control (BTC) so it rarely needs its front and rear cross-axle locking differentials. In every case where traction and suspension flex were the key to success, the LC300 was clearly first, and daylight second. The Grenadier had the flex, but lacked the BTC, and neither Defender nor Patrol could match the live-axled cars for tyre-to-the-ground stability and traction.
300 Series Problems
But the LC300 has serious weak spots that see it dead last, again by a margin, in other conditions. And those conditions are when ground clearance and angles are challenged. At around 225mm the vehicle has the least ground clearance, and no amount of suspension flex or clever electronics will help when your rear diff is embedded into the mud – the others could cruise by, only rubber on the road. And compared to the Grenadier and Defender the LC300’s, and the Patrol’s departure angle is poor; both actually touched their backs even if the weren’t actually stopped. It would be an interesting design if Toyota allowed eKDSS not to be enabled as sometimes less flex = more clearance and more progress, but that’s a nuance I’ve never seen any carmaker understand.
How about the Defender?
At the other end of the scale, we have the wheel-waving Defender, often three-wheeling its way through whatever we pointed it at. Time was one wheel so high would have been the end of progress, but not in 2023, and not with Land Rover’s frankly incredible engineering of the electronics. Like a free climber, the Defender just needs one wheel with a sniff of traction and somehow it pulls through. Add to that the fantastic ground clearance and angles provided by variable-height air suspension and you have a truly brilliant off-roader that gets the job done very differently to the LC300. But it’s not perfect either; I do have concerns about the way its centre diff/clutch doesn’t lock up when it should which does impact performance and safety, but that can largely be driven around, and I don’t like the way it restricts throttle over driver input in extremis. And it’s a tradeoff; sometimes all four wheels firmly on the ground with limited clearance is better than three on the ground with more clearance.
The Grenadier is old-school done reasonably well with a 2023 twist. Flexible suspension, good clearances all round, great crawl ratio and cross-axle lockers in Trialmaster variant on test make it a formidable offroader, and if INEOS hired some Land Rover engineers for the electronics it could well beat the LC300. It’s got a big turning circle, but that’s not a major issue in Australia.
The Patrol is somewhere between the Defender and LC300. Fantastic ground clearance, but poor departure angle, better flex than the Defender but electronics not as good. It’s the kid often comes second or third, an under-the-radar all-rounder that somehow appears on the podium at the end of the season.
So which is best? I’m going to base my answer on the day’s test, but also my personal experience on other occasions driving each of the cars. Naturally, the answer is terrain-specific, so let’s imagine a little bit of terrain I just have to drive for fun, nothing more, nothing less. If clearances aren’t going to be a challenge then I’d be reaching for the Toyota keys without any doubt at all. If they were…well, I don’t fancy having to dig or winch my way through when I could be in the Defender and simply avoid the problem, so in that situation, I’d pick the Land Rover as in really rough conditions clearance is what’ll stop you, and it has the electronics to pull through with unmatched clearances.
So the Defender is tops, right? Well, that depends. Here’s another scenario, and this has been a reality for me. I need to head off into a deep forest at night, in the rain, to fetch or help. I’ve no idea of the track conditions. This is very different to the sunny-day just-for-fun terrain challenge in the first scenario. And this is where I have concerns about Land Rover’s nanny-state engineering; the way the centre diff/clutch doesn’t lock when it should leading to front-wheel skids, cutting the throttle when the driver demands full power as the car bounces. And the inability to control the car’s traction aids; Terrain Response 2 is to my mind a marketing exercise not an actual tool for expert control, a veneer of tick-the-box configuration.
So I’d reach for the Defender keys, but my hand would hover as I thought it over. I don’t want to fight the car, I want it under my control so we’re a team, a design philosophy Land Rover doesn’t agree with and especially so since they insist on shodding their cars with high heels aka 19 and 20” rims, and nor do I need a fragrance generator or whatever the marketeers have dreamt up for DEFENDER EXPERIENCE So my hand would move towards to the LC300..and I’d think no, I’m likely to get hung up somewhere. I don’t need that grief if I’m on a mission. I’ve got to keep moving, hours of tough, full-focus offroading are ahead.
Tough choices to be made
I’d look at the Patrol and Grenadier. Tough choice. Patrol has better ground clearance, Grenadier better angles. Grenadier offers two cross-axle lockers in this variant, Patrol has the better BTC. Grenadier descends hills better. I trust both in the bush, as indeed I do the LC300.
As I write this, I’m sitting in one of my favourite cafes trying to decide. It’s a two-coffee decision, but I got there. If I consider the terrain ahead then generally you want +5mm more ground clearance than the average 4×4, and the Grenadier has 245mm (not 264) and the Patrol 280 so both are good to go.
Doesn’t matter whether you miss it by a millimetre or twenty..so while one can never have too much ground clearance I’m happy with the Grenadier’s figure, the Trailmaster variant’s lockers mean I don’t need to rely on the BTC even if they are the most irritating locker implementation, ever, and I like the angles more than the Patrol. So, I reckon I’m picking up the INEOS keys for that mission, and trust that Mr Ratcliffe’s team has done what they said they would. If the Grenadier Trialmaster didn’t have lockers then I’d be in the Patrol.
So tell us in the comments…given that scenario, which would you choose and why?