Types of Off Road Builds & How We Evaluate Them – Offroadium’s Rating System
Over the years, we have featured hundreds of diverse off-road vehicle builds on the pages of Offroadium. These builds range from simple lifted crossovers and AWD wagons to uncompromising pre-runners and highly capable 4×4 rigs purpose built for extreme off-roading.
Each of these vehicles serves a specific purpose for its owner – some require a compact and versatile crossover capable of reaching a remote camping destination while others need a vehicle suited for long distance overland expeditions or technical trails like the Rubicon.
Our Classification / Rating System:
In order to better organize the off-road builds on our site and differentiate them in a way that helps our visitors identify projects suiting their individual goals, budgets, and needs, we have devised a rating and classification system for off-road vehicles. The parameters evaluated by this system for each build are detailed below.
1. Style (Purpose)
Each project vehicle has a specific purpose behind its build. We have defined the following build styles to categorize their intended off-road usage:
Off-Road Build: A vehicle modified for general recreational off-road driving.
Overland: An off-road vehicle optimized for multi-day overland-style adventures.
Global Expedition Vehicle (GEV): A heavy-duty truck or bus platform extensively customized as a self-sufficient long-term expedition vehicle for travel to remote areas of the world.
Pre-Runner: A purpose-built off-road vehicle with long travel suspension and other specialized equipment for high-speed driving on off-road terrain (typically desert).
Rock Crawler: A highly-capable off-road vehicle optimized for traversing extreme trails, with maximum articulation, ground clearance, suspension flex, and slow-speed crawling.
2. Build Level
Off-road vehicle projects featured vary in complexity and capability depending on the owner’s needs, budget, and experience. We categorize build levels as follows:
Entry Level Off-Roader
Basic modifications like spacer lifts and slightly larger all-terrain tires, but otherwise mostly stock. Focuses on cost over maximum capability.
Typical Entry Level Upgrades:
- Spacer/budget lift kits
- Slightly oversized all-terrain tires
- Basic universal accessories
- Cost-driven component selection
Includes 2-3 inch lift kits, more aggressive all-terrain or mud terrain tires, basic accessories and additional armor that provide improved off-road performance over stock.
Typical Medium Level Upgrades:
- Quality 2-3 inch lift kits
- More aggressive all-terrain or mud-terrain tires
- Useful accessories and protection equipment
Extensive upgrades across engine performance, drivetrain, suspension, exterior, and interior using quality components for significantly improved capabilities.
Typical Advanced Upgrades:
- Full high-quality suspension lift kits
- Aggressive tires (all-terrain/mud-terrain)
- Upgraded engine, transmission, transfer case, diffs, etc.
Optimized for extreme trail driving or long-term expeditions using custom solutions and top-tier components to achieve maximum capability from the vehicle platform while prioritizing function over cost.
Typical Pro Level Upgrades:
- Custom long-travel suspension
- Specialized tires and wheels
- Heavy duty and custom armor
- Capability-focused component selection
This parameter indicates the estimated budget spent on vehicle modifications only, not including the base vehicle cost. While it’s difficult to determine exact build costs due to variances in parts pricing and labor, we use a point system to categorize budget levels intuitively on a scale of 1 to 5:
- $ – Applied to basic builds featuring simple upgrades like spacer lift kits and off-road tires.
- $$$$$ – Typically assigned to extensive Advanced and Pro level builds representing immense amount of time and/or tens of thousands dollars invested in high-end custom modifications.
The goal is to provide a general sense of the modification budget range. Actual totals can fluctuate significantly based on multiple individual factors. But this 1-5 scale offers a quick snapshot of the relative scope of monetary investment in the build.
4. Off-road Capability Rating
All vehicles are made differently, and there are various factors that influence their off-road capabilities, such as size, shape, weight, front & rear overhangs, approach/departure/breakover angles, suspension and axle type, electronic assistants, durability of parts, and so on.
Taking all of them into account and performing complex calculations is not always possible due to limited real-world data and modification variability. If we did so, the end results would sometimes raise more questions than answers from professionals and experienced off-road drivers. That is why our editorial team decided to implement a simplified rating system based on the fundamental parameters that directly influence a vehicle’s off-road capability.
- Drivetrain: 2WD (FWD/RWD), AWD, 4WD, 4X4
- Layout: Unibody or Body-on-Frame
- Modifications: Lift, wheels, armor
- Tech: Locking differentials, low range gears
- FWD or RWD with lift & offroad tires: 10 points
- FWD or RWD with aggressive lift & heavily oversized offroad tires: 20 points
- 4WD/AWD stock height, A/T tires: 20 points
- 4WD/AWD with basic lift and slightly oversized off-road tires: 25 points
- 4WD/AWD with suspension lift and heavily oversized off-road tires: 30 points
- Rear / Center locking differential / LSD / Spool: +10 points
- Front locking differential: +10 points
- Low Range: +10 points
- Advanced traction enhancement modes in AWD crossovers:+5 points
- Body On Frame Layout: +5 points
- Body Armor, protection & Skid plates: +5 points
POSSIBLE MAXIMUM: 70 points
*We decided not to give a certain score to center differentials found on Full-Time 4×4 vehicles like a Toyota Land Cruiser, Lexus LX/GX, Mercedes G-Wagon and some older rigs, if other lockers are present, to avoid bias in total score calculations.
Based on our tests, the off-road capabilities of a Toyota Land Cruiser 200 (Full-time 4×4) equipped with center locking differentials, ATRAC and Crawl Control that utilize ABS to imitate the rear locker function were comparable with a Nissan Xterra Pro-4X (Part-Time 4×4) equipped with a rear locking differential.
This calculation system also allows us to assign a fair equal score to a Mercedes G-Class equipped with three locking differentials and the unquestionably capable Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with front and rear lockers. Jeep doesn’t have a center differential like the Mercedes. When its transfer case is in four-wheel drive, it sends equal torque to the front and rear axle. With no differential, it’s by definition locked, and it behaves similarly to the G-Wagen with its center differential locked.
In summary, our off-road vehicle classification system aims to provide a standardized method of evaluating and comparing the wildly diverse range of custom builds featured on Offroadium. By breaking down builds based on critical attributes like intended driving style, modification extent, budget, and fundamental off-road hardware, we offer readers a means of identifying projects that truly align with their individual needs and interests.
Whether you’re looking for a budget weekender, an expedition overlander, a high-speed pre-runner, or an ultra-capable rock crawler, our rating parameters help match you with your perfect off-road build. Of course, assigning exact scores is part art and part science – but by focusing on the fundamentals over complex calculations, our system gives a reasonably objective snapshot of real-world competence.
We’ll continue honing this methodology over time as new trends, technologies, and techniques emerge. But for now, we believe this framework offers invaluable perspective and comparison capabilities to enthusiasts navigating the expansive world of off-road vehicle customization. Contact us if you have any critics or recommendations to perfecting this rating system.