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A white 2023 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison is shown from the front at an angle during a 2023 Chevy Colorado vs 2023 Ford Ranger comparison.

Battle of the Trail Trims: Chevy Colorado and Ford Ranger Go Off-Road

When you spend every day behind the wheel of your truck, tracing familiar routes, and falling into a routine, it can be easy to forget just how capable these brawny modern pickups can be. While it might not be for everyone, off-roading gives drivers a chance to test not only their own limits, but the limits of the vehicle itself. Sure, most drivers will spend a lot more time on paved surfaces than navigating ditches, clawing through mud, and scaling sheer rock faces, but it’s always nice to know that your vehicle can double as a source of excitement in addition to its regular duty as a daily driver. Automakers have made it easier than ever for drivers to embrace the off-road lifestyle, introducing a number of off-road trims and packages that turn some of the industry’s most beloved models into true adventure vehicles.

For example, take the Chevy Colorado and Ford Ranger. These midsize pickups have developed a loyal following among a certain set of the driving public, but the brands have upped the ante with a number of intriguing off-road offerings as of late. So who takes the off-road crown in the battle between the 2023 Chevy Colorado vs 2023 Ford Ranger? Let’s take a closer look at each model’s available off-road trims and packages and see how they stack up.

Chevy Colorado

Chevy isn’t messing around when it comes to off-road trims for the Colorado. In fact, more than half of the pickup’s available 2023 trim packages feature some sort of off-road focus, which means there are plenty of options if you’re looking to build the off-road rig of your dreams. The Trail Boss is the third model up the Colorado’s trim ladder, slotting in just above the WT and LT models. Starting at $37,000, the Trail Boss kicks off the Colorado’s off-road trims in style with a turbocharged version of the pickup’s lone 2.7-liter inline-four engine. In the WT and LT models, the engine produces a respectable 237 horsepower, but a little tweaking and tuning with the turbo means an upgrade to 310 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque to play with on the Trail Boss and Z71 trims. Four-wheel drive comes standard, which would be par for the course until you look at Ford Ranger (more on that later). While the 18-inch gloss back wheels might not add to the pickup’s off-road credentials, the Goodyear Wrangler Territory all-terrain tires certainly do.

As any experienced off-roader knows, ground clearance is key when you’re navigating challenging, obstacle-strewn trails. This is why the Trail Boss’ off-road suspension, featuring a two-inch lift and an extra 1.5 inches of front suspension travel over the WT and LT models, is so important to the equation. Width can also be an important factor when trying to maintain traction, so we appreciate Chevy widening the Colorado Trail Boss’ track by three inches. The pickup also has more aggressive approach and departure angles than the base offerings, and sees a automatic locking rear differential, black recovery hooks, and Chevy’s Hill Descent Control system thrown in for good measure.

A red 2023 Chevy Colorado Trail Boss is shown from the front at an angle.

The Chevy Colorado Z71 splits the difference between off-road performance and real-world comfort and convenience, giving drivers a well-rounded option that offers the best of both worlds. While the trim lacks the impressive off-road suspension found on some of the Colorado’s other off-road models, it does share the Turbo Plus engine with the Trail Boss, giving drivers plenty of power while keeping things economical, with a fuel efficiency rating of 21 mpg combined with four-wheel drive. Of course, four-wheel drive is standard equipment for Z71, as is the limited-slip rear differential, Hill Descent Control system, and the same drive mode selector from the Trail Boss.

Those who enjoy some convenience in their off-road excursions will appreciate the truck’s 120-volt box-mounted power outlet, which allows drivers to bring along all those gadgets and accessories that make a long day on the trail just a little bit easier. The trim gets a relatively modest one-inch suspension lift and no extra width, but the two recovery hooks and twin-tube off-road-tuned shocks hint at the model’s off-road prowess. The Z71 also comes with an impressive suite of interior upgrades, from red and black Evotex upholstery and a heated steering wheel to heated and ventilated front seats, a power sunroof, Bose audio system and available adaptive cruise control.

Those in the market for the most off-road-ready Colorado should take a closer look at the ZR2 model. Combining the best aspects of the Trail Boss and Z71 trims, the ZR2’s centerpiece is an even higher output version of the 2.7-liter engine that produces 310 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque. With overhauled front and rear bumpers that provide exceptional ground clearance, a three-inch suspension lift, three-inch-wider track, and four-wheel drive, the ZR2 is ready for whatever you can throw at it, tackling even the toughest off-road trails without breaking a sweat, even if the driver starts to get a little clammy at the sight of a steep rock face. A Multimatic suspension with spool valve shocks provides a comfortable ride both on-road and off, while front and rear locking differentials and 33-inch mud-terrain tires ensure maximum traction no matter what type of conditions you run across.

Skid plates and steel rock rails keep all those precious underbody components safe from dings, dents and other damage, and a Baja drive mode lets you live out your desert racing dreams every time you step behind the wheel. If you really want to feel the sand in your teeth, add the Desert Boss Special Edition package, which sees the Colorado graced with everything you’ll need for a day of dune-bashing, including a winch, sport bar, 40-inch light bar, 17-inch beadlock capable wheels, and an accessory power distribution box that can accommodate crucial off-road equipment like air compressors. Starting at $49,000, Chevy has packed the ZR2 with plenty of style and convenience upgrades that go a long way toward justifying the price, like an in-vehicle trailer app, striking yellow seatbelts, 11-inch digital instrument display, eight-way power driver’s seats, spray-in bedliner, LED headlights, heated side mirrors, and the brand’s StowFlex/EZ-Lift and Lower tailgate.

While that wraps it up for the Colorado’s 2023 off-road trims, there’s an exciting addition on the horizon in the form of the 2024 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison. Developed in collaboration with the off-road and overlanding experts at American Expedition Vehicles, this top-tier version of the ZR2 trim is packed with a raft of off-road components and accessories that make the Bison a force to be reckoned with. A heavy-duty front bumper, fender flares, and 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels paired with 35-inch tires immediately set the trim apart, as does its towering height with the pickup measuring in 1.5-inches higher than the regular ZR2. Five boron skid plates protect the radiator, steering, transmission, transfer case, fuel tank, and differential, which might technically mean that the ZR2 Bison should be classified as a tank instead of a midsize pickup. It’s an intriguing take on a fan-favorite, but we’ll have to wait for next year to try it out for ourselves. We’ll also have to wait for a price on this trim level, but Car and Driver predicts it will cost around $60,000.

Ford Ranger

Rather than offering full-fledged off-road models like the Colorado, the Ranger’s offerings boil down to three optional equipment packages, starting with the FX2 and FX4. The FX2 package itself is priced at $595, which seems quite reasonable, but also requires the purchase of the XL101A package at $1,135, so the true FX2 package cost is $1,730, bringing the least expensive Ranger FX2 to $32,365. The FX2 package is also reserved for rear-wheel drive Ranger models, which is a bit strange considering that a two-wheel drive vehicle wouldn’t exactly be our first choice for off-roading. Don’t get us wrong, we’re happy to see the package make the cut, as any driver can benefit from the added skid plates, off-road suspension, locking differentials and redesigned bumper. But given the RWD limitation, it’s edging dangerously close to a sort of automotive cosplay.

Reserved for four-wheel drive Ranger models, the FX4 package makes more sense, adding a decent suite of off-road equipment that increases the ride height by 0.8 inches and nixing the pickup’s front air dam as a means of improving the Ranger’s approach angle, but it doesn’t come cheap at $1,295. Like the FX2, the FX4 package also requires upgrading to the XL 101A package, a total of a $3,525 price increase. Add the fact that the Ranger’s 4WD models tend to cost around $4,000 more than the RWD versions, and you’re looking at a serious investment of $36,710 for the least expensive FX4 you can get. The FX4 does have one cool trick up its sleeve when compared to the FX2, and it all boils down to technology. The FX4 package adds a widget to the gauge cluster’s driver information screen that displays all the metrics most relevant to off-roading, including pitch, roll, and yaw. The package also includes Ford’s Trail Control and Terrain Management systems, which can go a long way in ensuring off-road success. Trail Control comes in handy when descending steep grades, automatically engaging the brakes for a safe, controlled ride, while the Terrain Management System allows drivers to tweak the truck’s engine performance, throttle response, and suspension settings with four different driving modes including Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, and Sand.

A white 2023 Ford Ranger Tremor is shown from the front at an angle.

Then there’s the Tremor off-road package. Limited to the upper-end Lariat and XLT trims, these packages also require drivers to opt for the Ranger’s Super Crew configuration with four-wheel drive. From extra ground clearance and improved approach, departure, and breakover angles to off-road Fox shocks, 32-inch all-terrain tires, underbody protection, tow hooks, and more, the Tremor package is the Ranger at its most rugged. For a starting MSRP of $45,005, drivers will also get access to off-road tuned suspension that includes front springs and new multi-leaf rear springs that improve the pickup’s rear suspension travel by 8.1 inches. Like the FX4 package, the Tremor comes with Ford’s Terrain Management and Trail Control systems, as well as new hoop steps that make climbing into the lifted cab just a little bit easier.

Like the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison, Ford is also cooking up an even more off-road capable Ranger for 2024: the Ranger Raptor. Like the F-150 Raptor, this package takes the Ranger to a whole new level of off-road prowess. For $56,960, you get a larger 3.0L EcoBoost V6 producing 405 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque, full-time four-wheel drive, electronic locking front and rear axles, plus standard and advanced towing packages.

While there’s nothing wrong with relying on optional equipment packages as a way of building out an off-roader, the current lack of a dedicated off-road trim seems to suggest that Ford hasn’t been quite as committed to the market as some of its competitors. Ford might have been too reliant on its full-size off-road pickups to pick up the slack. Chevy, on the other hand, has pulled out all the stops when it comes to the 2023 Colorado. It will be interesting to check back next year to see how the Colorado ZR2 Bison and Ranger Raptor face off, but for current offerings, with four off-road trims available few midsize pickups can match the sheer versatility of the Colorado. From the economical Trail Boss to the burly-yet-comfortable Z71 and full-featured ZR2, the 2023 Chevy Colorado is the pickup to beat when you’re looking for off-road