Soft-roading: everything you need to know

By: Discount Tire

Subaru outback soft-roading with a husky dog

You’ve definitely heard of off-roading. It’s where you take your burly truck, SUV, or any four-wheel-drive and traverse across dirt trails, riverbeds, mud, snow, and other natural terrain. It’s bringing out the adventurer in all of us and becoming increasingly popular, which is why manufacturers often build trim levels of 4x4 vehicles specifically for off-roading and overlanding.

What you might not have heard of is a newer trend called “soft-roading”.

Similar in concept to off-roading, the act of soft-roading is usually carried out with any number of all-wheel drive vehicles (sometimes referred to as light off-roading). Hardcore soft-roading enthusiasts will often equip lift kits, blocky off-road tires, as well as roof racks and rooftop tents on their AWD vehicles, giving them a level of capability similar to a full-on 4x4.

Many take their lifted Subarus (especially the Outback, Crosstrek and Forester) or other all-wheel-drive unibody cars, hatchbacks or CUVs with decent ground clearance and mosey on up to a cabin in the woods while safely navigating through mud, snow and ice.

Where to get started with soft-roading

There’s a lot to consider when choosing the right vehicle to make into a soft-roader. Don’t know where to begin? First, let’s explore what type of vehicle is suitable for soft-roading.

white soft-roading subaru with toyo tires

AWD vs 4WD

What’s the difference between the two? Ultimately, it depends on the driving conditions you plan to face.

A four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle is better at handling adverse conditions and often come equipped with locking differentials and 4hi/4lo configuration options. These are more common for large SUVs and trucks with higher ground clearance – necessary for those who seek out adventurous and intense rugged terrains. Even a fully stock 4WD vehicle should make quick work of light off-roading.

On the other hand, all-wheel drive (AWD) can work well in snow, rain or even engage in some light off-roading. An AWD system is designed to sense traction loss and will send power wherever needed. AWD systems are becoming increasingly popular, and with more and more vehicle models being built with AWD as a standard or available option.

As there’s a wide range of choices when choosing an AWD vehicle – from compact sedans to SUVs – it’s no wonder many drivers of AWD vehicles are beginning to wonder what hidden potential their vehicle has to offer with some off-road modifications.

To mod or not to mod

In order to hang with some full 4x4 vehicles on muddy dirt trails, there are a few requisite mods for someone looking to get into soft-roading. But if you’re thinking of starting fresh on a new vehicle platform, pretty much any Subaru is a solid, popular choice.

While Subaru all-wheel-drive models are already pretty strong on pavement, there are certain key upgrades for the Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and others that will really make them all-terrain ready. The first and more common upgrade is adding BFGoodrich T/A KO2 all-terrain tires (shown below).


BFGoodrich three tire view top half

Some lifted Subaru owners also opt for:

  • Custom wheels
  • Two-inch+ lifts
  • Roof racks or safari baskets for external tire storage
  • Upgraded fog lighting

(Equipping a lift on your Subaru will also allow you to run even larger tires.)

If you don’t like the idea of drastically altering your AWD vehicle’s handling characteristics, an example of an out-of-the-box soft-roader is the upcoming Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road.

Shaping up to be decent off road as it is, this new RAV4 trim’s original equipment tires are the rugged Falken Wildpeak A/T – perfect for those who want the thrill of off-roading combined with a streetable drive on pavement (shown below).

Falken Wildpeak at3w three tires top half

There’s no shortage of tire options and types when it comes to upgrading so you can customize as much as you like.

Some soft-roading enthusiasts take modifications to the extreme. For example, what comes to your mind when you think of a Porsche 911? Probably rallying, racing and generally being a stylish showpiece – but probably not for off-roading.

With the right upgrades, you can make your older Porsche into the perfect soft-roader or full-on dedicated off-roader. Referred to as the “Safari 911,” this platform can still handle with spectacular dynamics even after adding a few inches to its ride height and tire sidewall.

It’s neither a conventional nor a traditional choice, but with customizations and the proper tires and wheels, you’ll have a contemporary vehicle as you drive and rally around to your heart’s content.

Want an expert’s opinion?

You always have more choices when it comes to choosing great tires and wheels. Make an appointment or stop by one of our locations to get more information about the right tires for your vehicle.

At Discount Tire, we’ll get you taken care of for your off-roading and soft-roading setup!

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