If there has ever been a more debatable topic among off-road enthusiasts than Jeeps vs trucks, we would sure like to hear about it. About the only thing truck and Jeep fanatics can agree upon is that both vehicle types have both pros and cons when it comes to off-road performance. Of course, this has been an age-old conflict going back to the glory days of the Jeep brand, when pickup trucks were still built for utilitarian purposes only, and Jeep had a clear edge. But with the addition of trim levels in trucks specifically designed for off-road conditions, the debate rages on as fierce as ever.
In case you are late to the party, Ram and Ford have upped the ante in the off-road segment of the industry with the TRX and Raptor line, respectively. Now Chevy has tipped the scale in favor of trucks with the upcoming release of the 2022 Chevy Silverado 1500 ZR2. So is it about time we crowned pickup trucks as the dominant off-road vehicle of choice, or are Jeeps still tops?
It goes without saying that the key capabilities of off-road vehicles are such obvious choices as ground clearance, low gearing, and horsepower. Now, while horsepower is an important factor in off-road conditions, just as critical is torque. The higher the torque number, the more likely your Jeep or truck will be able to pull you out of a mud hole or up a steep incline. Of course, torque is all but moot if your ride doesn’t have sufficient tires to grip the ground.
So, do any of the top contenders in the field stand out from the rest in ground clearance? While the Raptor provides an impressive 12 inches of ground clearance in the latest model, the Gladiator offers 11.6 inches, and the Ram TRX provides 11.8 inches. This is hardly enough difference to make much difference when crawling up a rocky hill. By the way, the ZR2 comes in at 11.2 inches of ground clearance.
The mighty V8 is the obvious choice when choosing a powertrain for a vehicle with strong off-road capacities. Of course, you can also offer a superior V6 that will still prove to be a great choice. A fine example is the Raptor, which sports a 3.5-liter V6 with 450 horsepower and an equally impressive 510 lb-ft of torque. The 6.2-liter V8 under the hood of the ZR2 is just as impressive with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The upcoming Jeep Wrangler 392 will include a 6.4-liter Hemi with 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque.
Wheelbase and Other Factors
One of the main differences between trucks and Jeeps is the size of the wheelbase. Generally speaking, trucks have a much longer wheelbase than Jeep models, and this could be a disadvantage to the truck. In a situation such as rock climbing, Jeeps with a shorter wheelbase have a distinct advantage. However, in a situation that calls for climbing through sandy terrain, the truck and its longer wheelbase have a slight edge.
Trucks are also typically heavier than Jeep models, which is helpful in many situations and hurtful in other tasks. However, when it comes to off-road performance, the consensus is lighter is better. There are a few things to consider when discussing weight and off-roading. For example, lighter vehicles are able to crawl over obstacles more easily than heavier rides.
It is also easier to control a lighter vehicle over rough terrain than a heavier vehicle. Even those who boast off-road driving skills will have an easier time maneuvering a Jeep through a rock gauntlet. Lastly, lighter vehicles tend to have a lower center of gravity than their heavier truck counterparts, which is important as it reduces the odds of a rollover while engaging in off-road activities.
Regardless of how much ground clearance a vehicle has, the underside is vulnerable to damage should it be left unprotected. Should a jagged edge of a rock or other sharp object puncture your gas tank or transfer case, you are not going anywhere. While Jeep has always been equipped with undercarriage protection, off-road trim trucks like the 2022 Silverado 1500 ZR2 come well equipped with skid plates that help protect the undercarriage components.
Trucks Are Closing the Gap
Jeeps have long boasted off-road performance, and it’s a common reason enthusiasts choose Jeeps for their off-road adventures. Truck enthusiasts used to brag about horsepower, towing capacity, and payload. While those are all still very important features of pickup trucks, certain trims now boast extraordinary off-road chops.
For example, the Raptor was explicitly built for Baja-style off-road racing and is respected for its capabilities. However, when the 2022 Silverado ZR2 hits the market, it will undoubtedly shake up the segment with its off-road capabilities. For example, the ZR2 trim will have a unique skid package, front and rear e-lockers, and off-road suspension calibrations. These off-road features aren’t found exclusively on the Silverado model; all off-road trim level trucks offer several features and options that make them beasts in off-road conditions.
One drawback that Jeeps have is the fact that they tend to be a little less comfortable when not being driven in off-road conditions. This is because Jeeps are recreational vehicles at heart, and as such, they don’t offer the comfort you find in a pickup truck. Now, there was a time when Jeeps were luxury models compared to trucks, as the sole function of a truck was to be a workhorse, but this has changed drastically over the years.
As far as considerations beyond off-road capabilities, trucks once again have the edge. In terms of towing capacities and payload, trucks are tops and will likely remain in that position for the foreseeable future. Jeep does compete in this segment with the Gladiator, but it is relatively new to the market and has yet to really make its mark in the industry. Plus, its capability is pretty much average for the segment, not outstanding.
Which to Choose?
When all of the dust has finally settled, there isn’t really a clear winner in the off-road segment of the industry when comparing Jeeps and pickup trucks. When you write down the pros and cons of the various models, there will be both good and bad aspects of all models discussed so far. There are certainly advantages to owning a Jeep if you are an off-road enthusiast, just as there are several advantages to owning a truck for the same purpose.
That said, there will be a substantial argument about which brand is best for off-road driving. Without a doubt, there are Jeep enthusiasts out there who will swear by their brand no matter what. However, just as there are Jeep fans, there will be drivers who swear by everything Ford manufactures, and you can bet they will argue the Raptor is top dog and king of the hill.
Up until now, fans of the Chevy Silverado probably never had much to talk about when the conversation turned to off-road capabilities. While the Silverado has always been a hugely popular truck for work and commuting considerations, nobody really thought of it as an off-road game-changer, but with the addition of the ZR2 trim, that has changed. So it will be quite interesting to see how people feel about the all-new ZR2 trim a year or two down the road when we all get the chance to see just how well it performs both on the street and especially on the unpaved, rough, and tough roads where off-road enthusiasts feel at home.