Diesel engines offer just about everything an off-road enthusiast could desire: incredible reliability, extended range, and tons of low-end torque. But if you look around for diesel trucks for sale, you will see very few models that are designed for the trails. Even worse, what few models do exist are quickly disappearing. The diesel option for the Chevy Colorado ZR2 was discontinued for 2023, and rumor is that the Jeep Gladiator diesel is going away after 2023. We simply can’t understand why manufacturers haven’t given us more off-road-oriented diesel models. If you want to experience what an off-road diesel truck can offer, here are your best options––both new and used.
Why Choose a Diesel Truck for Off-Roading?
Before we get into the best diesel trucks for sale, here is a quick rundown of what makes diesel engines so enticing to serious off-roaders. The single most important point is the incredible durability and simplicity of a diesel. Because diesel engines use compression ignition rather than spark ignition, they have fewer parts than a gasoline engine and fewer things to go wrong. There are no spark plugs or coil packs to worry about, and a diesel will usually run even if its fuel timing is off a bit. The engines are also simply built heavier and aren’t subjected to the same stresses, which allows diesels to last much longer––an added bonus if you are shopping for an older used truck.
Diesel engines also offer some important performance advantages for off-roaders, specifically. First, diesel trucks are renowned for their massive torque. Torque is king for off-roaders because it is what you feel when you step on the accelerator pedal. Horsepower only comes into play at higher speeds, which you will rarely see out on the trail. That torque is also delivered much lower in the rev range, so you can access it without having to wind the engine out. Second, diesel engines are much more efficient than gasoline engines. We all like paying less for fuel, but this is really important when your adventures take you far from a gas station. Diesel trucks can simply go further without being tied to civilization.
#1 – AM General Hummer H1
The Hummer H1 is a monster of an off-road vehicle––which shouldn’t come as a surprise since it is effectively just the military’s HMMWV made road-legal. The military version uses a 6.5L V8 diesel, and it’s a solid option, but we recommend looking for a 2006 Hummer Alpha with its 6.6L turbo-diesel. That engine ups the power output to 300 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque, making it more liveable. Because this is a military vehicle designed to go anywhere, the Hummer H1 has several performance features that you won’t see on many other models. The 16 inches of ground clearance is made possible because all of the drivetrain components are tucked up inside the body––not great for interior space, but amazing for getting over the toughest obstacles. The fully-independent suspension even uses portal axles to eliminate the usual “pumpkin” under the truck.
#2 – Jeep Gladiator Mojave
Jumping from used trucks to new trucks, there is no better diesel off-roader currently for sale than the Jeep Gladiator Mojave. The 3.6L V6 turbo-diesel engine produces an impressive 442 lb-ft of torque, giving this midsize truck some remarkable acceleration off the line even if it doesn’t have the top end of a gasoline vehicle. In fact, a Gladiator with the diesel engine can hit 60 mph over a second faster than one with the V6. The diesel engine is also available in the Gladiator Rubicon, but we prefer the Mojave because it provides extra ground clearance and reinforced suspension. This provides a more versatile package that can tackle a wider range of off-road scenarios. However, if rock crawling is your thing, you might favor the locking differentials and swaybar disconnect of the Rubicon instead.
#3 – Chevy Colorado ZR2
Although the fully-redesigned 2023 Chevy Colorado dropped its diesel engine option in favor of a 2.7L turbo-four, you might still be able to find a new 2022 Colorado ZR2 diesel. Even if you can’t, this model was introduced back in 2017, so there are plenty of recent used examples available. While the Colorado ZR2 was primarily sold with a 3.6L gasoline V6, we prefer the 2.8L Duramax turbo-diesel. The diesel engine provides 369 lb-ft of torque, which puts the Colorado a bit behind the Gladiator, but Chevy’s truck makes up for it in other ways. For instance, the Colorado ZR2 offers locking front and rear differentials plus Multimatic DSV shocks, giving it the best of both the Mojave and the Rubicon. While its ground clearance and approach angle may not be quite as good as the Gladiator’s, the Colorado ZR2 is a more liveable truck in daily driving.
#4 – Ford F-250 Tremor
One of the biggest mysteries of off-road diesel trucks is why Ram has never offered its incredible Power Wagon with its equally-incredible Cummins diesel engine. Fortunately, Ford offers something nearly as good with the F-250 Tremor diesel. The 6.7L Power Stroke V8 turbo-diesel provides an incredible 475 hp and 1,050 lb-ft of torque (that’s a full 200 lb-ft more than the Cummins would if it was an option), and Ford didn’t skimp on the performance features needed to make full use of that power off-road. Included in the Tremor package are 35-inch all-terrain tires, a rear locking differential and front limited-slip differential, skid plates, and a leveling kit. It’s not quite at the level of the Power Wagon, but most drivers will never be able to hit the limits of this three-quarter-ton diesel off-roader.
#5 – Chevy Silverado 1500 Trail Boss
If you want a full-size diesel truck to take off-road, your options are more limited than you might think. In fact, your only real option is the Chevy Silverado 1500 Trail Boss. The Ford F-150 never received a diesel version of anything more capable than the FX4, and the Ram 1500 Rebel diesel doesn’t actually have that many off-road features. Fortunately, the Silverado 1500 Trail Boss diesel is a pretty solid truck. It received an updated engine for 2023, now producing 305 hp and 495 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful diesel half-ton ever sold. When it comes to off-road features, you won’t be disappointed with its two-inch suspension lift, locking rear differential, 32-inch all-terrain tires, and bright red tow hooks. The LT Trail Boss and Custom Trail Boss are identical in terms of performance, so which one you choose depends on how much comfort and convenience you demand from your off-road truck.
We Need More Off-Road Diesel Trucks
The good news is that there are still some good off-road diesel trucks for sale. The bad news is that the list is shrinking quickly, and manufacturers don’t seem interested in giving us more. There are several models currently on the market that could easily offer a diesel, especially vehicles like the Chevy Silverado ZR2 and Ram Power Wagon, both of which already have diesel options in other trims. A number of other capable trucks, such as the Ford Ranger, offer diesels in overseas markets but have never brought them here. Hopefully, truck manufacturers will realize the possibilities and put a few more off-road diesel trucks on the market for us to enjoy.