My preferences, in order, for hunting and fishing vehicles are full-size, four-wheel-drive, pickups, then four-wheel-drive SUVs, and way down the list, a very short list of all-wheel-drive SUVs.
In order to make that list, an all-wheel-drive SUV has to have plenty of ground clearance, as well as a locking differential. If it doesn’t have both of those features, I’m not even going to consider it.
I was a little skeptical when the folks who deliver vehicles to me dropped off a Toyota Highlander, because it didn’t look like it had enough clearance. It did have a locking differential, so I gave it a try.
I didn’t have long to wait before I really put it to the test. In the springtime, my driveway becomes the best off-road test track in Laramie County. It has deep ruts, mud pits, giant rocks, and standing water. A few of the full-on four-wheel-drives I’ve tested lately have had trouble with that driveway, so I was worried I’d get myself high-centered on the way home.
But even with the smooth highway tires, the Highlander made easy work of that driveway. I did have to engage the differential lock when I went through the deepest puddle, but all it took was the push of a button. The wheels grabbed evenly under that muddy water, and I was out.
It scraped the bottom coming out of that hole, but not too bad. That’s what they make skid plates, anyway.
If the Highlander can handle my driveway in the spring, it can get you down 90 percent of the forest roads out there. I’m glad I gave it a chance, because not only did its performance off the road surprise me, it was a sweet ride on the roads, too.