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Testing 4 of the Most Off-Road-Capable Midsize Trucks on the Trails

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author photo by Danny Korecki December 2019

I was recently invited to participate in the Trail Trek Tour Midsize Truck Off-Road Challenge. The goal? To play around with the best midsize trucks that you can buy -- the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon and the Ford Ranger FX4 -- on the trails at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area.

AOAA Trails

My journey to AOAA started with, in my opinion, the tamest truck offered during our challenge: the Ford Ranger FX4. I had to trek with the Ranger FX4 two hours north from my southern Pennsylvania home to the country town of Danville, Pennsylvania, which was going to be my home for the night before the quick jump to AOAA and the trails the next day.

The Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, located in Coal Township, Pennsylvania, opened in May 2014. It sits on 7,500 acres of used coal land. The land was mined back in the 1950s and sat vacant for decades, which sadly sent the land down the path of an illegal dumping ground. AOAA partnered with the local government and private local companies to reclaim and maintain the land, which resulted in the beautiful trails you can ride today.

Hitting the Trails

We weren't just handed the keys and sent on our merry way to destroy skid plates and bumpers. We had an expert guide, Kyle from Off Road Consulting, who hits the trails all the time. Kyle showed us how to safely take on the trails and get the best experience with our borrowed fleet. Being a track-day guy and having never gone off-roading, I didn't know what to expect or what to do. After an off-road driver meeting, we aired down the tires and got rolling. The plan was to spend an hour in each car -- 30 minutes driving, 30 minutes being driven.

2019 Ford Ranger

Like my journey to the Trail Trek Tour, my day on the trails started in the Ford Ranger FX4. With the exception of my drive to the event, I didn't have any time in a Ranger FX4. Based solely on its looks when it sat next to the Colorado ZR2 Bison, the Gladiator Rubicon and the Tacoma TRD Pro, the Ranger FX4 definitely looked tamer and more at home on the highway roads than the trails, but it definitely punched well above its weight.

2019 Toyota Tacoma

From the Ranger FX4, we swapped into the Tacoma TRD Pro. The Tacoma was the lone vehicle present equipped with a manual transmission. I had some time with a Tacoma TRD Pro on the roads and a few weeks ago had a 4Runner TRD Pro press loaner, so I was well aware of the package you get when you get the TRD Pro trim. I must say that while the Tacoma TRD Pro also handled the trails, I expected more from the midsize truck with the longest lineage and off-road racing pedigree of the four.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

From the Tacoma TRD Pro, we hopped into the Gladiator Rubicon. The Gladiator felt like it belonged on the trails. Much like sports cars and supercars have switches and buttons to unlock Sport and Track modes, the Gladiator comes packed with many off-road switches and buttons, which the rest of our off-road fleet didn't have. Loaded up with an Off Road+ button, a Sway Bar button, trail screens visible for both the driver and passenger and trail cameras, the Gladiator Rubicon puts plenty at your fingertips to let you know you're behind something special in the off-road department.

2020 Chevrolet Colorado

We finished our-off road experience behind the wheel of the Colorado ZR2 Bison. You might remember when I featured the very same bright red Colorado ZR2 Bison right here on Autotrader, showcasing all of the features that turn a normal ZR2 into a ZR2 Bison. After putting the Colorado ZR2 Bison through its paces on the road, I can now confirm that it's more than up to the task of handling anything you throw at it on the trails.

Off-Road Midsize Trucks

We drove the trucks through many obstacles: significant inclines, significant declines, some deep water and even some spotter obstacles. I never thought so much fun could be had going under 10 mph.

Are my words not enough? I completely agree. Enjoy this compilation of clips of all four vehicles on the AOAA trails.

How I Rank the Trucks

While the event was officially named a challenge, we weren't required to rank the trucks at all. But being that the event was put on by journalists for journalists, I figured ... why not?

Here my rankings, from best to worst:

  1. Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
  2. Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison
  3. Ford Ranger FX4
  4. Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

I say best to worst, but with these four vehicles, there really isn't a worst. You aren't exactly going to be sad hitting the trails in a Tacoma TRD Pro. So let's start with that Tacoma.

As I mentioned above, I'm a fan of the TRD Pro trim line. In fact, a TRD Pro-trimmed vehicle, the 4Runner TRD Pro, is potentially on the shortlist of replacements for my BMW M3, but the Tacoma isn't. Some negatives that stood out were that you can't really see over the front hood as much as you would like when compared to the other vehicles in the challenge, and when creeping through the trails at low speeds and waiting for your turn at obstacles, you have more time to notice how dated the truck is, particularly the interior. The good news is that this was a 2019 truck, and the 2020 Tacoma TRD Pro's interior has been brought more in line with the times. I know that the Tacoma's off-road lineage is more at home at speed in Baja than it is crawling trails, but I expected more.

2019 Toyota Tacoma

I imagine the Ranger FX4 being more favored than the Tacoma TRD Pro will come as a big surprise. Being handed the keys to the FX4 and knowing that I would be driving it against a powerhouse off-road trio, I honestly instantly thought: Why can't we have the Ranger Raptor over on this side of the sea? It might have looked awkward parked next to trucks with roll bars, more aggressive tires and aggressive fenders, but the FX4 was a humbler of a truck on the trails. If the others did it, the Ranger FX4 could do it, too, and it definitely earned my respect.

The Colorado ZR2 Bison is one step behind the top in my ranking, but that step is a very short one. The Bison was almost my top pick, but it just fell short. I think the ZR2 Bison has a few too many off-road-looking options than actual off-road options. It might look like an off-road king, but it falls short right below the throne. The Bison's DSSV shocks and aggressive rubber ate up every off-road obstacle nicely, but there was one truck that, in my opinion, handled it just a little better.

As you can see, my favorite was the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. When you say off-road, everyone thinks of a Jeep first -- and the Gladiator doesn't disappoint. I always say that if the world ends and the zombies come, you want a Jeep. The Gladiator just felt most at home on the trails. It's packed with so many off-road options that it felt as though the other trucks were a step behind -- and not trying their hardest to compete in the segment.

These are just my opinions, but my overall opinion is these are all great off-road trucks. There wasn't one time that I wished I wasn't in one of them on the trails. It's just that some are just better than others. That's the nature of competition.

Experienced one of these beasts? Have a different opinion? I would love to hear about it in the comments. Find a truck for sale

For more of his automotive exploits, you can follow Danny on Instagram (@DKorecki) and check out his YouTube channel.

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Testing 4 of the Most Off-Road-Capable Midsize Trucks on the Trails - Autotrader
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