- The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is one of the best choices for an off-road diesel vehicle.
- Diesel engines provide massive torque, which is a huge benefit for off-roading.
- Diesel engines are more fuel-efficient
- Modern advancements like ultra low sulfur diesel help reduce the emissions of diesel engines.
- For serious off-roading, you want skid plates, all-terrain tires, and long-travel suspension.
If you’re looking for the best diesel for offroading, you’ve come to the right place. This article will break down the best options and where they excel.
The best off-road diesel is the Chevy Colorado ZR2. This midsize pickup has a locking rear differential, underbody armor, and high-performance suspension, making it ready for serious off-road use. Other off-road diesel options from GMC and Ram also deliver performance with diesel low-end torque.
From the deserts of Moab to the Rocky Mountains, I’ve driven to some pretty cool places off road. I love pushing vehicles to their limits and finding trucks that are built for true off-road capability.
Best Off-Road Diesels
Diesel trucks offer the best towing and hauling on the road, and they can also be incredibly capable off-road. If you’re looking for the best diesel for off-roading, you’ve come to the right place. This article lists some of the most capable and powerful off-road-ready diesel trucks and SUVs you can buy right now.
Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
The Colorado ZR2 is Chevy’s off-road diesel performance-oriented midsize pickup that packs in incredible technology and solid performance features for serious off-road driving.
With the power and design to conquer difficult terrain, this off-road diesel truck is an incredible machine for leaving the beaten path far behind and exploring rugged areas.
Engine and Powertrain
This off-road pickup can be purchased with a Duramax 2.8L turbo-diesel engine that delivers 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.
With this engine selected, the Colorado ZR2 gets decent on-road diesel fuel efficiency with 18 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. It is also rated to tow 7,700 lbs, which is an impressive figure for a midsize truck like this one.
These diesel engines come paired with a capable six-speed automatic transmission. An electronic two-speed transfer case that lets you easily select between high and low gearing ranges and shift into 4WD on the go.
With the ZR2 package, you get tons of upgrades that cater to off-road diesel driving capability. With improved ground clearance, underbody protection, all-terrain tires, and advanced drivetrain options, this truck is built for getting you far from pavement.
This aggressive truck has the looks for going off-road, but it also delivers on performance. The ZR2 off-road suspension offers impressive damping and articulation so you can tackle rough trails.
The biggest upgrade is probably the rear electronic locking differentials. A locking rear differential is a game-changer when it comes to off-road capability, and it’s awesome to see it included on this package. So many trucks marketed for off-roading look tough, but don’t really have the off-road equipment for difficult driving.
This off-road diesel truck has a fantastic array of underbody protection, with a front skid plate, transfer case protector, and rock sliders standard. You also have options to add even more protection if you’re venturing onto seriously rocky trails.
You can opt for up to a 48mm factory-installed lift on this truck to get even more ground clearance.
If you’re looking for the ultimate off-road pickup truck, you can upgrade to the Colorado ZR2 Bison for even more capability.
Ford Super-Duty F250 Tremor
This full-size off-road diesel pickup from Ford is massively capable, ready for off-road riding or hauling big loads, it packs in tons of power and
Not everyone needs a gigantic Super-Duty off-roader, but if you need the power and towing capability of a big truck, but still want to be able to head out far from pavement.
Engine and Powertrain
With the Super-Duty F250, you can opt for the 6.7L High Output Power Stroke Diesel Engine. Ford’s 6.7L PowerStroke is legendary for its strength and durability, so you can count on this powerhouse to keep hauling the heaviest loads.
The numbers on this massive off-road diesel are mind-blowing. With 500 horsepower and an outrageous 1,200 lb-ft of torque, this engine has power for anything you can imagine.
The Tremor off-road package for the F250 Super-Duty is a huge upgrade that delivers a lot of off-road capability.
The F250 Tremor comes with massive 35” all-terrain tires that are ready for serious rock-crawling. This also gives you a boost in ground clearance, which is a big bonus for this long-wheelbase truck.
Another big upgrade is in the front and rear differentials. You get a limited slip diff in the front, and a locking rear differential. These upgraded front and rear differentials go a long way toward making this a truly capable off-roader.
Additional features for off-roading include a rock crawl mode, trail control mode, water fording vent tubes, high-performance off-road suspension, and low range gearing for steep climbs.
All together, this off-road diesel delivers power to haul anything and capability to go anywhere.
GMC Canyon AT4
The GMC Canyon AT4 is another compact pickup from GM that combines diesel engine low-end torque with impressive off-road features. This pickup truck looks aggressive and off-road ready, and its features and design deliver real-world off-road performance.
Engine and Powertrain
You have the option to buy the Canyon AT4 with a gas 4-cylinder, a gas 6-cylinder, or a 2.8L Duramax Turbo Diesel Engine option. When you pick the off road diesel package, you get 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.
On the road, fuel economy matters, and this off-road diesel truck delivers, getting 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.
While the horsepower of this engine seems low, it really packs a punch with its low-end torque. When you are off-road, torque matters a lot more for getting you up and over difficult obstacles.
The Canyon AT4 gives you an impressive off-road package. With upgraded off-road long travel suspension, built-in underbelly protection, and an advanced 4WD system, you’ll be ready to tackle tough trails with ease.
The low-end torque of the diesel engine shines when you take this truck off-road. It’s easy to crawl up steep slopes and over boulders without needing to use momentum.
This truck has surprisingly good approach, breakover, and departure angles for a pickup truck. Combined with the included front and mid skid plates, this gives you a lot of confidence traversing difficult, rocky terrain.
You have the option to equip this truck with an electronic locking rear differential to really bring the off-road capability to the next level.
Ram 2500 Power Wagon
Engine and Powertrain
Equipped with the legendary 6.7L Cummins turbo-diesel engine this truck delivers serious towing power. It gives you 400 horsepower and 1,075 lb-ft torque.
The 8-speed automatic transmission is exceptionally smooth shifting and great performance on and off-road.
The Ram 2500 is a big truck, and isn’t going to be the best choice for everyone. The long wheelbase will limit you in some off-road scenarios, but it will be a benefit in some places.
The diesel low-end torque of this Cummins engine is one of the best features for off-road. It’s easy to crawl slowly up big obstacles, over logs, or up steep slopes.
With an electronic, shift-on-the-fly transfer case, it’s easy to switch into 4WD while you’re driving.
The off-road equipment package gets you alloy beadlock capable wheels, off-road tires, and steel rock rails.
GMC Yukon AT4
The GMC Yukon AT4 is the only SUV on this list, but it packs in some pretty impressive performance. When you opt for the 3.0L Duramax turbo-diesel engine, you get powerful towing capacity and awesome off-road capability.
Engine and Powertrain
The diesel fuel option for the Yukon is a 3.0L Duramax turbo-diesel engine that delivers 277 horsepower and a whopping 460 lb-ft of earth-moving torque. Fully equipped, this gives you an impressive towing capacity of 8,400 lbs. This diesel engine also delivers good fuel efficiency, getting 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
This powerful diesel engine is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission that delivers consistent smooth shifting.
The Yukon is equipped with an electronic two-speed transfer case that lets you easily switch between 2-Hi, auto, 4-Hi, and 4-Lo at the push of a button.
The Yukon is packed with advanced features that make it especially well-equipped for off-road driving. The vehicle lets you select different terrain modes with a sport mode, off-road mode, and a tow/haul mode. The intelligent drive system will optimize traction control, stability, and powertrain settings to deliver the best performance for each scenario.
The Active Response 4WD system is an incredible piece of technology that makes tackling difficult terrain simple. It automatically senses wheel slip and delivers the optimum power to each wheel to keep you moving.
While the Yukon doesn’t have an electronic locking rear differential, the 4WD system uses ABS braking to control power to each wheel, and delivers incredible traction for climbing steep obstacles.
You also get hill start assist, which is useful for off-road trails, and hill descent control. The hill descent control lets you pick the descent speed, and then automatically uses automatic braking for all four wheels to smoothly control your descending speed so you only have to worry about steering down the trail.
The AT4 package adds even more capability for off-road driving. It gives you aluminum wheels with Goodyear all-terrain tires. You also get upgraded horizontal bright red tow hooks.
The AT4 has improved ground clearance, and the adjustable air suspension lets you bump up the ride height 2” for even more clearance.
The redesigned front-end has built in skid plates and provides a 32-degree approach angle so you can attack obstacles with confidence.
Why Diesel Engines for Off-Road?
All of the vehicles on this list are available in both a gasoline and diesel option, so why should you opt for a diesel engine for an off-road truck? Diesel engines offer much better low-end torque, which is a huge advantage during off-roading.
Diesel engines are much more common in other countries around the world than in the United States, and for good reason. Diesels are more efficient than gasoline engines, and with correct maintenance, they can last a lot longer.
There are also some disadvantages to diesel trucks for off-roading. Here are a few downsides to consider:
- Diesel engines are significantly heavier than gas engines.
- Maintaining a diesel truck is typically more expensive.
- Diesel fuel typically costs more per gallon, though improved fuel-efficiency can offset this difference.
- Repairs are more expensive for diesels.
Off-Road Fuel for Diesel Engines
If you’re searching the internet for off-road diesel vehicles, you may have come across sites talking about off-road diesel fuel. The terminology may be confusing, so it’s important to understand the difference between diesel fuels.
Off-road diesel fuel is chemically identical to regular diesel, but it is dyed red to distinguish it from normal fuel. Rather than being intended for off-roading use, this dyed fuel is exempt from standard on-road fuel taxes and is meant for use away from public roadways such as agricultural or industrial use.
Although the terminology is confusing, you shouldn’t use this tax-free fuel in your off-road vehicle. Red diesel isn’t for off-roading.
About THE AUTHOR
Corey has been off-roading all his life, starting from a very young age on ATV's and dirt bikes. As he's grown older, his interests have focused more on larger off-roading vehicles like Jeeps and Toyotas. He lives for the slow and calculated crawl up (or down) steep terrain.Read More About Corey Brooks