Off-Road Yin Yang
The Tao of Trucks
Most of us would love a comfy commuter, a sports car for spirited driving, and a 4x4 to conquer the trails. But budgets and space don’t typically allow for so many vehicles. If you are the type of enthusiast who would rather spend the day in the mud than on the track, all while driving home after your adventures with a smile on your face, then you will want to find a ride that will get you out as much as possible on the weekends while dutifully delivering you to your weekday grind. After owning both, I contend that the Jeep JL Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon and the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 are the two top choices.
The Jeep JL Unlimited Rubicon
Freedom, fun, and capability define all Wranglers. If you hate being trapped indoors, the Jeep JL is for you. It promises a relaxing ride through the summer sun, heading toward the beach or hiking trail. With the help of your friends or a hoist, it’s easy to go topless, pull the doors off, and enjoy the weather as you cruise. It is even easier–and strangely even more gratifying–to remove the Freedom Panels and toss them in the back before heading home from work. It offers a somewhat stiff and noisy ride, but the Rubicon’s leather interior and upgraded Alpine stereo make driving much more comfortable. Having heated seats and a heated steering wheel are a plus. Overall, the JL Wrangler strikes a nice balance between an open-air and plush-interior drive not found anywhere else. The freedom to change your experience at will is a fun option to have.
Off-road the Wrangler is still king. Sport and Sahara trims can tackle most of what weekend warriors will throw at them. Even more capable is the Rubicon model, which I’ve put through its paces on local trails. With the lockers engaged and sway bar disconnected, it feels like enough throttle and careful steering will get you over anything. Remember that Super Bowl commercial a few years back? That’s not hyperbole. The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon can literally go just about anywhere. The BF Goodrich KO2s are a little rough on the road and lack the grip you would need for any real cornering. But they come to life when clawing through dirt, sand, and snow. Road manners are improved over the old JK model but still are not great, and wind noise is still persistent, but these are compromises you make for ruggedness.
The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
As for the Chevy Colorado ZR2, it excels in practicality, versatility, and driving dynamics. Pretend the Jeep Gladiator doesn’t exist for a moment. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get a Wrangler with a bed? Chevy made one! Like the JL, the ZR2 has selectable four wheel drive, front and rear locking differentials, and tons of traction thanks to its Goodyear Duratracs. Unlike the JL, this truck is much more utilitarian. The infotainment is okay, the dash layout is okay, the plastics are okay. Also unlike the JL, this truck has a real glove box, a large center console, and substantial storage under and behind the rear seats. Speaking of which, there is much more passenger space in the crew cab model than in the Wrangler Unlimited. Family hauling and Home Depot runs are covered. Did I mention it has a bed?
The Chevy really excels in driving dynamics. While it is not a dedicated rock crawler like the Wrangler, its longer wheelbase and wider track make it much easier to drive with speed. Due to its more stable platform and stronger powertrain, the ZR2 can have different fun than the Jeep--donuts anyone? I like to refer to this version of the Colorado as the Toyota 86 of trucks. It’s not fast or flashy, but it handles amazingly well for what it is, making for a rewarding drive. This is thanks to the shiny, gold Multimatic DSSV shocks, which are worth their weight in said substance. Through engineering magic, they manage to tame all the whoops and rocks you will encounter off-road and let you rotate through corners on-road with way more composure than any other stock pickup. The ZR2 is the most fun mid-size truck to drive and is one of the most agreeable, too. NVH levels are nearly nonexistent compared to the JL Wrangler--even with the hard top. Roadtripping is not as epic, but commuting is much more enjoyable.
The Way is Yours
When considering which vehicle to buy, it is important to consider the unique traits of each, matching them to your preferences. If you’re a “Jeep Hair Don’t Care” kind of driver, the Jeep JL Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon might be a great daily driver to enjoy bringing to work or the ORV park. If you prefer the comfort and convenience of a truck and want a more balanced approach to performance driving on dirt and pavement, the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 might be for you. Like the yin yang symbol, each 4x4 is more than the sum of its parts.
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.