The mid-size off-road-truck segment has always felt out of balance at the top end, with the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 unevenly matched because they didn't follow the same wide-stance blueprint. Meanwhile, the Ford Ranger Raptor was still floating in the ether as forbidden fruit that was inexplicably excluded from these truck-happy United States.
All that ends now, as the Colorado ZR2 has been upgraded, the Ranger Raptor has been greenlit for these shores, and the Tacoma TRD Pro has finally grown into the truck it always needed to be. All three are crew-cab trucks with a short bed.
Let's see how they match up.
Turbocharged engines are the order of the day with this trio, but all three have taken clearly different paths.
2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2.Michael Simari|Car and Driver
The Colorado is powered by a variant of the turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four that first surfaced in the full-size Silverado 1500. The ZR2's high-output tune is the lightweight of the bunch at 310 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque, but it didn't feel underpowered when we subjected it to an extended off-road flogging across the Nevada desert. The engine is backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission that seemingly makes all the right moves.
Ford's Ranger Raptor is powered by a 3.0-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6, and it makes a class-leading 405 horsepower. Its torque output, on the other hand, is no better than the ZR2's, as it ties the Chevy with 430 pound-feet. This engine is backed by a 10-speed automatic transmission, but we're not sure this is a "more is better" situation, as we've gradually coalesced around the idea that eight is enough when it comes to gear ratios—and not just because of the TV show.
Coming out of left field is the Tacoma's iForce Max hybrid powertrain, which is what you get when you combine a turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four with a powerful electric motor-generator. The combination is good for 326 horsepower and a class-leading 465 pound-feet of torque, and the combined output passes to the wheels through a new eight-speed automatic that replaces last year's unloved six-speed. Last year's six-speed manual is no longer available on the Pro, as the DIY gearbox is incompatible with the hybrid powertrain.
It's not yet clear if horsepower or torque will ultimately carry the day in real-world driving, but the Tacoma's hybrid powertrain should handily win top fuel-economy honors once all three trucks' numbers are revealed, and it alone possesses the hardware needed to support a 2400-watt onboard AC power inverter.
All three trucks are similar in that they have wide-track suspensions consisting of control arms and coil springs up front and a solid axle out back. You'll find 33-inch tires on all of them, with the Ford and Chevy rolling on 17-inch wheels and LT tires, while the Toyota runs on 18-inch rubber that stubbornly lacks the LT designation.
2024 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro.Toyota
The Chevrolet rides on clever and durable Multimatic DSSV shuttle-valve dampers, the nature of which results in remote reservoirs all around. The ZR2 is also the lone contestant that utilizes rear leaf springs, but this year's truck has been greatly improved because the rear shocks are now mounted outboard of the springs and packaged tight against the wheel out of harm's way.
Like its bigger brother, Fox 2.5-inch live-valve adaptive dampers are fitted to the Ranger Raptor, with remote-reservoir rear units that are, like the ZR2, mounted in the inverted position to trim unsprung mass. The Ford's rear axle rides on a new coil-spring setup, and it is located by four trailing links, with a Watts linkage keeping it centered.
The TRD Pro's wide-track stance is a first for this model. Fully three inches broader than the base SR5, we suspect it may eclipse the competition. Fox 2.5-inch dampers are used, but they are QS3 units with three levels of manually adjustable compression damping. The Pro also rides on a new coil-spring rear axle, which is located by four trailing links and centered by a traditional Panhard rod. The rear dampers are not inverted, because Toyota prefers to keep the shafts of the shocks up high away from bouncing rocks. The Pro has one other notable feature the others can't match: Fox IFP hydraulic rear bump stops to cushion hard landings. Neat.
Every truck here uses part-time four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case that enables a driver to select from 2WD High, 4WD High, and 4WD Low as needs dictate. All have skid plates underneath to protect vulnerable components.
The ZR2 offers 10.7 inches of ground clearance, and clearance angles of 38.3 degrees on approach, 25.1 degrees at departure, and 24.6 degrees when breaking over the brow of a hill. There are three off-road drive modes: Off-Road, Terrain, and Baja. Terrain is meant for low-speed work and enables a slick one-pedal off-road crawl feature, while Baja uncorks the exhaust and eases up on the traction and stability control intervention. ZR2 also comes with push-button front and rear differential lockers.
Ford's Ranger Raptor offers a more modest 33.0 degrees of approach clearance, with a healthy 26.4 degrees at departure. Breakover clearance is 24.2 degrees, and maximum ground clearance is also 10.7 inches. The off-road drive modes are Off-Road, Rock Crawl, and Baja, and there's a Trail Control off-road cruise control and a Trail Turn Assist feature that drags the inside rear brake to tighten the turning radius. The part-time four-wheel-drive system has an added 4-Auto setting, too. Like the ZR2, Ranger Raptor has lockable front and rear differentials.
The TRD Pro offers 11.0 inches of maximum ground clearance, best of the bunch by a thin margin. Its approach and departure angles are second-best at 33.8 and 25.7 degrees, respectively, while its breakover angle trails slightly at 23.5 degrees. We can't yet name each of its Terrain Management modes, but we can say they exist. For its part, Toyota says Crawl Control has been made smoother via a new electronic brake booster and rear disc brakes, and the system now operates in both 4-Lo and 4-Hi. As before, the TRD Pro only has a rear differential locker, but it does have a feature the others lack, and that's a push-button front anti-roll-bar disconnect. Toyota says the bar can be disconnected under load and that doing so improves total suspension flex by 10 percent over the current model.
Towing and Hauling
The ZR2 can tow 6000 pounds, which is 1000 more than last year. A two-inch receiver is standard, and 4-pin and 7-pin wiring are supported, with an electronic trailer brake controller mounted on the dash. A 360-degree camera with a hitch ball closeup is available to help when hitching up. On the payload side, ZR2 capacity is a lackluster 1151 pounds.
The Raptor is rated at 5510 pounds, and it too has a built-in 2.0-inch receiver hitch. Payload capacity, at 1411 pounds, is significantly better than the ZR2's. An integrated trailer brake controller will also be on the menu, but we don't yet know if it'll be standard or require the purchase of a trailer tow package. A 360-degree camera is in the offing, and Ford has announced Pro Trailer backup assist for the Ranger in general.
Little is certain when it comes to the TRD Pro's towing and hauling prowess, although the iForce Max crew cab, which describes the TRD Pro (but also other possible trims) is said to be good for 6000 pounds of towing and 1709 pounds of payload. Time will tell, and we're assuming the latter corresponds to a two-wheel-drive truck. Meanwhile, a 2.0-inch receiver hitch is standard. Fully-integrated 4-pin and 7-pin wiring and an electronic trailer brake controller (a Tacoma first) were present on the Pro we examined, and they'll offer trailer backup guidance system, a 360-degree camera, and a unique system that uses extra rooftop sharkfin antennas to support an accessory rearview camera you can mount on your trailer.
The Colorado ZR2's cab is spacious up front but a bit cozy behind, with a bit less rear legroom than we'd like. Most controls are logical, but there are a few oddities, such as headlight controls that only appear on the central touchscreen. That screen measures 11.3 inches, and wireless smartphone mirroring is standard. Generally, the interior materials look unimpressive across the Colorado lineup, but the ZR2 comes across better than the rest of them.
2024 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2.Michael Simari|Car and Driver
Ford newest Ranger cabin is similarly spacious up front, and the rear half should be more agreeable to tall folk because there's over three inches more legroom. We'll have to confirm this with a test sit, but the specs look promising. The central touchscreen is a portrait-oriented monster, surrounded by fewer fixed controls than we like to see. Wireless phone mirroring is optional on Ranger in general, but we're not yet sure if it's standard on Raptor in particular. As for the look and feel of the thing, we're not bowled over by what we've seen so far.
2024 Ford Ranger Raptor.Andi Hedrick|Car and Driver
The Tacoma TRD Pro is also very accommodating up front, with a raised seating position and higher roof than corrects the weird ergonomics of the past. No rear interior dimensions are available, so we'll have to see. But the TRD Pro comes with unique shock-absorbing isometric front seats—they literally have adjustable air over oil shock absorbers built into the seatbacks—that trim more than a half-inch of rear-seat space. The jury is still out here, but off-road front seat ride comfort should be amazing on account of them.
2024 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro.NATHAN LEACH-PROFFER
Meanwhile, the Pro's 14-inch central touchscreen looks compelling, and the physical controls throughout the cabin are both attractive and logical. The seats and dash materials look appealing, too.
Availability and Price
The only one we're certain about is the ZR2 Colorado, which goes for $48,295 to start and is available now. The Ranger Raptor is significantly more expensive at $58,555, which is a full $10-grand more. It'll start hitting the streets in late summer. What about the TRD Pro? It won't be available until spring 2024, so Toyota probably won't commit to pricing until year's end. For reference, the outgoing model goes for $49,890 with an automatic. With all the changes, we expect the TRD Pro to cost significantly more than last year, but it may well undercut the Ranger Raptor by a goodly margin. After all, there's significant headroom between the Ford and Chevy.
Dan Edmunds was born into the world of automobiles, but not how you might think. His father was a retired racing driver who opened Autoresearch, a race-car-building shop, where Dan cut his teeth as a metal fabricator. Engineering school followed, then SCCA Showroom Stock racing, and that combination landed him suspension development jobs at two different automakers. His writing career began when he was picked up by Edmunds.com (no relation) to build a testing department.