To say that Jeeps are to off-road travel as trucks are to transporting payload does not rightfully sum up the capabilities of each vehicle. Not only are these descriptions incomplete, but also probably biased. There are many factors when assessing which four-wheeler – truck vs Jeep – is better-suited off-road.
When comparing Jeeps and trucks, you may wonder which is better for off-roading. The answer is either. Adventurers often lean towards one vehicle or the other. However, driving skills and choice of recreation ultimately shape this decision.
After all, off-roading is a broad topic and signifies different things for different people. It can mean deer hunting, 9-hour road trips, mudfests, overlanding, backcountry explorations, or a weekend at the beach. There is a vehicle designed to excel in each of these activities. If you feel overwhelmed by the number of Jeeps vs trucks around, let this guide help you sift through these options objectively.
The Ideal Off-Road 4×4
Determining the perfect off-roading vehicle is no easy feat, especially not with the dizzying number of vehicles in the market. But there is none to blame. As technology progresses, automakers are bound to develop new vehicles left and right. These amazing adventure mobiles include the 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, 2021 Nissan Titan Pro-4X, the upcoming Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, the venerable Jeep fleet (special mention to Wrangler and Gladiator trims), and the best-selling Ford F-Series. And while we do not want the steady flow of mind-blowing vehicles to cease, let us face it – the better the options available, the more things get confusing.
Even when merely choosing between a truck and a Jeep, the same can be said. Up until a few decades ago, trucks being the superior off-roading vehicle over any other consumer automobile has been a no-brainer. But the advent of the Jeep brands seems to have invalidated this distinction. As a result, every off-roader is now confronted by this bittersweet decision-making ruckus.
If you are to make a sound decision on what your next off-roading baby will be, it is essential first to grasp the build and functional differences between Jeeps and trucks. Understanding each vehicle’s structural integrity and intended purpose in stock form will do more than help in choosing which 4×4 to bring along on your outdoor adventures. Furthermore, knowing the lowdowns of your prospective vehicle purchase will enable you to estimate upgrade/mod expenditures accurately.
Jeeps and Trucks, Defined
By design, trucks are payload experts. They have the upper hand in logistics and various forms of work and are characteristically more powerful and progressively steadier than other vehicles. These wheelers are grouped into eight classes, ranging from light-duty, private trucks to heavy-duty, commercial/freight types, and have a weight limit between 8,501 lbs. (3,856 Kg) and 33,000 lbs. (14,969 Kg) or over. Most trucks do not appear to be meant for off-road, although they inherently are. For this article, know that I am referring to the light-duty category (Classes 1 and 2) when referencing trucks.
Conversely, Jeeps have become synonymous with off-roading – although they weren’t always perceived this way. They were first launched as military vehicles and only marketed to end-users beginning in 1945. Structurally, they are smaller and lighter compared to trucks. But it is their setback in size and weight that makes them better suited (not to mention a preferred choice) for tight trails and dirt roads.
Given the capabilities of modern-day vehicles, the sky seems to be the limit to what trucks and Jeeps can do. But out in the wilderness and in the presence of performance-impacting factors (including driving behaviors), this statement may not always be true.
Jeep vs Truck: Pros and Cons
To help you distinguish the better vehicle, this section will cover salient points about off-roading and its other requisites and how well Jeeps and trucks do against each one of them:
You may be surprised to see this item on the list, but it is part of the capabilities a good off-road vehicle should have. Though you’d like to prepare for the worst kinds of terrain when setting out for an adventure, the truth is that you will not always be driving on wooded trails or loose ground. To get to your destination, you will need to cross interstate routes and drive on highways – and this is when your wheeler’s on-road competencies become important.
Since trucks are used commercially to transport heavy loads and goods, you will often see them on the road. Even lightweight trucks like pickups would be a normal sighting, as they are the primary choice for hauling and other chores around the ranch. Meanwhile, people view Jeeps as being mainly for off-road. Sadly, this notion is made worse with the Jeep’s death wobble reputation.
On the merit of these instances alone, you can say that trucks have already won half the battle. However, Jeeps are not entirely without purpose on the road. The brand has grown more popular across North America and other countries as a daily commuter. Jeeps may not be seen doing heavy lifting. But they can carry overlanding equipment and squeeze through heavy traffic – a must for city driving.
Jeeps, especially Wranglers, are inherently convertible vehicles. While standard/base models are often sold half-naked, they can also be purchased with hardtops for more enclosed cabin space. This works well for destination changes – leave the hardtop on for better protection from the elements, or keep the top down if you like to feel the wind on your face. Either way, you can make the most out of the vehicle and turn every adventure into an unforgettable experience.
In the case of trucks, there have been convertible ones prior to the 2020 Jeep Gladiator. The Dodge Dakota is an example – although the fact that it is a drop-top does not make it any more suitable for off-road. This particular truck was called bizarre (for lack of a better term) and appeared to be more matchable for the pavement. If money is not an issue, the 2022 Ford F-150 Convertible may interest you. But if you’re looking for the right balance between flexibility and price, then the Gladiator will be your best bet.
It cannot be denied that trucks beat Jeeps to the finish line regarding fuel efficiency. Historically, trucks have always had good (if not above average) gas mileage, whereas Jeeps are generally known as fuel guzzlers. In several test-ride articles, the Blue Jeans of 4x4s has even put out as low as 13 MPG (18.1 L/100 km, combined) – a far cry from a Class 1/2 truck’s average, which is 25.7 MPG (based on data for EPA’s 2020 Automotive Trends Report). Amusingly, these figures are based on the vehicles being used as daily drivers. I can only imagine what the numbers would look like if drawn from off-road driving!
But things are changing for the Jeep fleet with new-and-improved engines. For instance, equipping the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with an EcoDiesel power mill has increased the trim’s gas mileage by almost 100% while further improving its power and torque outputs. These results mean better fuel economy and enhanced towing efficiency, especially for Jeep Wrangler trucks like the Rubicon.
Jeeps are not exactly recognized for being the safest vehicles around. Case in point, only Wrangler JK models had traction/stability/control features and airbags. Thankfully, recent-year Jeep models and trims are doing better and equip a slew of safety features such as ABS, TPMS, traction control, and seatbelts (among others).
As for trucks, many drivers deem them safer due to their overall sturdier framework – which, in turn, is responsible for their tougher undercarriage and other damage-resistant qualities. Most are fitted with factory bumpers that serve as winch and lighting mounts and as protection from scrapes and bumps. Others have glass windows and a solid rear windshield shielding drivers from low-hanging branches and dirt.
Part of an off-road vehicle’s appeal is its driveability in rough, hilly, or remote areas – and that’s precisely the case for the Jeep. Thanks to its lightweight, compact frame, it can pass through tight, restricted trails and conveniently house aftermarket or custom parts (to make it outdoor-ready). If anything, its only downside is that it does not provide a lot of buffer between you and the outdoors.
Trucks, on the other hand, have massive proportions. While this is supposedly a good thing, it could prevent you from having a pleasant off-roading experience. Too much bulk not only limits the 4×4’s performance in technical terrain or hostile environments but also dampens maneuverability and makes handling more difficult. Lorries and pickups wouldn’t be as much of a pain, as they can be made off-road compatible (if they aren’t already). However, anything larger than a Class 1/2 truck would be a different story altogether.
Depending on the off-road scene, driving vehicles with a shorter wheelbase can be more advantageous than those with a longer wheelbase (and vice-versa). For instance, Jeeps with a shorter wheelbase will do better rock climbing/crawling in Moab than a longer truck. Similarly, a longer wheelbase can come in handy in bumpy or muddy situations.
With other types of terrain and their inclusive obstacles, there is a mixed bag of opinions as to whether a Jeep vs. a truck will perform better. It would be rather conclusive to say that trucks always get the longer end of the stick, as a good-sized wheelbase will mean nothing on the wrong terrain and without intuitive driving skills.
Towing / Lifting Capability
Trucks naturally have bigger towing and load limit capacities than Jeeps, making them great for hauling and doing farm work. This is expected since heavy lifting is a truck’s forte. However, you are probably not looking for a workhorse to carry bags of cement when you go off-roading. Depending on your choice of recreational activity, you may or may not need that deep cargo bed or that extra oomph to get you or a comrade out of sticky situations. Even if you did, you should not be confined to regular trucks – Jeep Wrangler pickups like the Gladiator with truck-like frame and dimensions are available for you to choose from.
While both trucks and Jeeps can be redone, the latter is built for – and therefore, more adept to – renovation. There are many ways to modify the American SUV for style and capacity, and the number of options keeps increasing (all thanks to aftermarket geniuses). From soft tops, lighting, and bumpers to graphics and electroplating, Jeeps can accommodate them all. If a cohesive build is among your biggest considerations, choosing a Jeep over a truck would make a lot of sense.
This is not to say that trucks aren’t custom-friendly. They are. However, only one of two extremes usually happens – either they are refined but still kept in stock form, or they undergo a major overhaul to be more suitable for off-roading. Pickup trucks, for example, require very few add-ons (usually, it boils down to suspension or cosmetic upgrades) since they already have ample storage and are sturdy. Conversely, larger-capacity lorries are maximized for off-road use by converting into trailer homes. Sometimes, they are cut down to size to make handling less taxing and more of an enjoyable experience.
Amenities / Creature Comforts
Choosing to drive a vehicle with nothing but a cup holder and a 12V auxiliary outlet is easier said than done. Many people think that amenities are an unnecessary luxury – until they find themselves driving for hours with no A/C and with backs aching. This realization is exactly why vehicle owners go to lengths to make their rigs as comfortable as possible.
Thankfully, tedious mods are no longer needed to enjoy a decently comfortable ride. Be it a Jeep or truck, vehicles nowadays offer more-than-enough goodies to make all-day/week-long off-roading worthwhile. From premium speakers and carpeted interiors to heated cushion seats and hidden coolers, car makers provide everything you could possibly need to keep snug yet focused and energized. Plus, you can count on the huge aftermarket support in the off chance your vehicle’s factory features do not suffice.
Affordability / Price Point
Owning a Jeep, no matter the trim or production year is not as economical as a truck – either brand-new (unless pitted against Mercedes G-Class) or secondhand. But if you have far-future plans to resell or switch vehicles, Jeeps would be a more practical choice. After all, they undeniably have higher resale values than most trucks. As an occasional adventurer, this may be the least of your concerns. But as a true-blue outdoor enthusiast on a quest to conquer different topographies and riding conditions, it would be good to go for a more saleable vehicle.
Weighing the pros and cons between a Jeep and truck does not end with the list above. You will want to know more about things that cumulatively make a vehicle off-road worthy (if you are mechanically savvy, you can tweak some of these items):
Traction is a vehicle’s ability not to get stuck and is a huge plus when off-roading. Wheelers with 4WD modes can achieve maximum traction, provided the system is paired with locking differentials and a good set of grippy tires. Sadly, most automakers purposefully confuse AWD with 4WD as a marketing strategy, so make sure to test-drive your prospective vehicle to determine which of the two features it has.
Approach, Breakover, and Departure Angles
These are important facets of your vehicle that grant it the ability to overcome obstacles. Approach refers to the angle between your front tires and the lowest point of what’s in front of your vehicle. Breakover pertains to the angle from the bottom of your front or rear tires to where the other tire meets the lowest point on your vehicle. And the third (departure angles) means the exact reverse of approach since it happens in the rear of your Jeep or truck.
The general rule for all three angles is that bigger is better. Without these angle advantages, your 4×4’s ground clearance wouldn’t matter much – unless you fit it with larger tires and taller suspension. On rare occasions, creating more clearance may require swapping stock side rails and bumpers for more off-road compatible variants. If you want to skip the extra work, opt for vehicles with a shorter wheelbase or little to no front/rear overhang (they automatically have better angles).
Gearing helps you make it through very steep inclines and descents and works closely with your vehicle’s engine braking system (EBS). In off-roading, you will need extremely low gearing and a low-range transfer case that allows you to switch between normal and very low gearing whenever needed. It would be nice if your chosen vehicle already had an impressive crawl ratio without you having to adjust the gears. But if not, you have your work cut out for you.
Finally, we arrive at articulation, the wheel’s ability to travel up or down relative to the one opposite it. The higher the level of articulation, the more wheels are in contact with the ground. Although not a requirement for general off-road travel, understanding it is crucial in treading uneven obstacles and romping around off-road parks. And take note – without knowing how to execute a perpendicular line of travel when tackling obstacles, even extreme articulation can only get your vehicle moving so far.
The Best of Both Vehicles
Although not exhaustive, the below list captures some of the Jeeps and truck models found by most car publications to be the crème de la crèmes of 2021 (MSRP included):
|2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon and Mojave||$43,875|
|2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro||$44,075|
|2021 Nissan Titan Pro-4X||$50,390|
|2021 Ram 2500 Power Wagon||$66,945|
|2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon||$38,875|
|2021 Ford Ranger Tremor||$40,955|
|2021 Land Rover Defender||$46,100|
|2021 Ford F-150 Raptor||$64,145|
|2021 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro||$50,470|
|2021 Mercedes Benz G-Class||$131,750|
Special Mentions (2022 Releases):
|2022 Ram 1500 Rebel||$47,850|
|2022 Ram TRX||$72,490|
|2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X||$37,240|
|2022 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2||$41,600|
|2022 GMC Canyon AT4||$38,400|
|2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness||$41,995|
Conclusion – Jeep vs Truck: Which is Better?
With all the considerations detailed in this guide, you should be more than capable of determining which vehicle is better for you. I even threw in a list of top picks that you can do further research on. So whether you are into getting out of deep mud holes, camping in the wild, or driving your 4×4 to lands unknown, it is my sincere hope that you get to finally decide on your next adventure mobile and enjoy every bit of your off-roading experiences – and your new vehicle.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.