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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

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A black 2021 Ford Ranger Lariat is shown driving through snow during a 2021 Ford Ranger vs 2021 Chevy Colorado comparison.

Off-Road Rumble: 2021 Ford Ranger vs 2021 Chevy Colorado

Off-roading has quickly become one of the most popular amateur sports for automotive enthusiasts. There is nothing quite like taking a vehicle out into the wilderness, challenging yourself and your vehicle’s limits on a rough and often unready trail. Automakers have taken note, with many offering packages, optional equipment, and even purpose-built vehicles for tackling some of the most challenging off-road trails. Ford and Chevrolet are two of the oldest automotive companies still operating today, and they have made it this far because they both have their fingers on the pulse of the auto-buying public. This is why two vehicles to consider when buying a midsize pickup truck for off-roading are the 2021 Ford Ranger vs 2021 Chevy Colorado. Each truck gives you the option of designing a model that will give you all the gear you need to get on, up, and over practically any obstacle in your path when you hit the trail.

Not only are these both rugged and dependable midsize trucks, but they also offer you other features to consider. Both trucks provide ample space in the bed, with the Ford Ranger able to carry up to 1,860 pounds of cargo, while the Chevy Colorado is capable of hauling up to 1,550 pounds. The same goes for towing, with the Ranger having a standard towing capability of 7,500 pounds while the Colorado offers 7,000 pounds with its optional V6 or 7,700 with the available diesel. This gives you the ability to tow a camper to stay if you want to overnight in the wilderness or use your Ranger or Colorado for work during the week. This is all well and good, but the real reason for buying one of these midsize trucks is the ability to get down and dirty while hitting the trail. So let’s take a look at how they compare in this regard.

A tan 2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2 is shown driving on a muddy road through a field.

Two Different Approaches

Ford and Chevrolet have taken two very different approaches to their midsize pickup trucks when it comes to off-roading. Chevy has decided to offer the 2021 Colorado with two specific trims with off-road capabilities: the Colorado Z71 with a base MSRP of $35,500 and the Colorado ZR2 with a base MSRP of $41,600. However, while the ZR2 is four-wheel drive standard, you will actually have to pay extra to get a 4X4 on your 2021 Colorado Z71.

Ford has taken a completely different approach with the 2021 Ranger. Rather than make a trim that is designed specifically for off-roading, Ford has chosen to offer the Ranger with two off-road packages that can be added as an option. The FX4 off-road package can be added to any of the three Ranger trims, the XL with a base MSRP of $25,070, XLT with a base MSRP of $29,120, and the Lariat with a base MSRP of $33,160. The more advanced Tremor off-road package can be added to the XLT and Lariat trims, giving you the ability to drive these trucks out on the trail.

Of the two approaches, Ford should be preferable for most drivers. By being able to choose your trim and then adding one of the two packages, you will have greater flexibility to get the gear you want on the truck you desire. Often with trim-specific designs, you end up with things you may not desire. For example, if you are concerned about fuel economy and would prefer a four-cylinder engine on your Chevy Colorado, this is not available as the Z71 and ZR2 come with a standard 3.6-liter V6 gas engine. In addition, Ford offers you a choice of two different off-road packages, so you can choose the one with the features you prefer and the capabilities you desire.

Off-Roading Equipment Comparison

The 2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2 and the 2021 Ford Ranger Tremor off-road package both offer the greatest variety of off-roading gear on either of the two trucks. The ZR2 is 4X4 standard, with an automatic locking rear differential, off-road suspension, Multimatic DSSV damping system, an Autotrac 2-speed transfer case, off-road rocker panels, red recovery hooks, and a transfer case shield. Similarly, the Tremor off-road package includes four-wheel drive, an electronic locking rear differential, a terrain management system with trail control to help you get the most out of off-roading, an off-road-tuned suspension with FOX dampers, tow hooks, and skid plates to protect the underside of the truck.

While both these lists of features seem fairly comprehensive, if you dive deeper, you will see that the 2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2 does not include everything you need to take on the toughest trails. For example, if you want skid plates to protect critical areas of your truck, including the rear differential and fuel tank, you will have to pay extra for these options. This also goes for a specialized air intake system. The Colorado ZR2 also does not have the terrain management system with trail control that comes as part of the Ranger Tremor off-road package. This is because Chevy offers a special edition 2021 Colorado ZR2 Bison and has reserved a great number of features for this model, causing buyers of the already pricey ZR2 to decide whether to go a la carte with these key features or spring for the entire ZR2 Bison special edition.

So what happens if you don’t think you are going to need all the bells and whistles if you want to go off-roading? Well, you could decide to buy a 2021 Colorado Z71. However, as already pointed out, you will need to pay extra for a 4X4 on the Z71. While this will give you an automatic locking rear differential and off-road suspension, you will still have to pay extra for some key off-roading features. This is not the case if you choose a 2021 Ford Ranger with the FX4 off-road package, which includes a 4X4 drivetrain, an electronic locking rear differential, an exposed steel bash plate, and an off-road-tuned suspension. In addition, the Ranger with the FX4 includes skid plates to protect the radiator, electronic power steering, transfer case, and fuel tank, something that not even the Colorado ZR2 includes in its basic package.

A very important thing to consider when off-roading is the amount of ground clearance offered by your midsize truck. Even with skid plates, many boulders, logs, and other obstacles can be quite unforgiving. You are going to need to know that you have enough space between the bottom of your truck and whatever lies beneath, especially if you plan on fording creeks and streams. The Ford Ranger with four-wheel drive gives you 8.9-inches of ground clearance. This increases to a very spacious 9.7-inches if you equip your Ranger with the Tremor off-road package. In contrast, the 2021 Colorado Z71 has only 8.2-inches of ground clearance. Even the Colorado ZR2 only gives you 8.9-inches of ground clearance, the same as a Ranger FX4.

An orange 2021 Chevy Colorado is shown driving on a desert road during a 2021 Ford Ranger vs 2021 Chevy Colorado comparison.

Better Value for the Money

Both of these midsize trucks have a great many off-road features that will serve you well out on the trail. But when you compare them head-to-head, you see that Ford’s package approach provides you more value for the money than the Chevy trim level approach. First, you can get the Ford FX4 on any model of the Ranger, so you can put it on the base model Ranger XL with its very affordable MSRP. What’s more, the FX4 package offers more features than the Colorado Z71, even though the Z71 costs a great deal more than a Ford Ranger.

Second, you can get the Tremor package on a Ranger XLT for a lot less than it will cost you for a top trim 2021 Colorado ZR2. When you factor in that the Tremor includes things like skid plates that are not included on the ZR2, then if you want a midsize truck that has it all for off-roading, you will get more bang for your buck with a 2021 Ford Ranger with the Tremor package than the 2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2. And when it comes to off-roading, if you can save some money and get all the features you need, then you’ll have more money to spend on gas, allowing you more time to be out on the trail.

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