Comparison shopping: Colorado, Gladiator, Tacoma

spectre6000

Observer
In software engineering, there's a thing called "Rubber Ducky Debugging". Look it up for an explanation; that's essentially what this is. I've given this a lot of thought, and this is in large part an organization of my thoughts. Anyone finding themselves in a similar situation and disposition to mine may find it informative. I'd like some feedback, but I get that it's a long read for the medium.

I'm in the market for a new mid-size truck and doing preliminary research. My criteria are capability off road and in poor conditions, smaller is better, diesel is nice, camper top/topper/whatever they're called is a must, and I intend to run it into the ground and back (500K miles is the target minimum). The viable candidates as I see them are the Chevy Colorado ZR2 (probably with the Bison package), the Jeep gladiator, and the Toyota Tacoma. I've owned at least one of each of these makes, and had positive experiences with all of them. Having watched the market reasonably close for the past few years, I've been impressed with where Chevy has taken the Colorado, where it came from, etc. It started in a third world market, was adapted for the Australian market, then adapted again for the American market. Same with the engine. Coming from and succeeding in such difficult markets bodes very well. That also helps with the age of the platform in terms of teething. I don't super like that some of the Americanizing was to make it quieter (and likely more fragile as a result), but I do like that they paid special attention to cold and altitude (I live in the mountains). I recently finished my tour of the "Big 3", and I'm a Chevy guy. My wife's Jeep certainly hasn't been trouble free, but it's worth the cost of entry for what it is, and since the FCA merger it seems like they're really stepped up their game. The Gladiator is a flawed beast to be sure, but it makes up for it in a number of ways. It's a very new platform, but when you break it down and realize that the front half has some years on it in the form of the Wrangler and the back half in the form of the Ram 1500, it's proven enough for my comfort. Finally, I've had good experiences with my Toyotas, and I've wanted a Tacoma since "the Top Gear episode". That said, they've gotten fat and happy in the #1 slot owning the market, and I'm saddened that Toyota has neglected the Tacoma so badly. Even Consumer Reports, who a few years ago you'd be forgiven for thinking they were sleeping with a Toyota on the side, has demoted the Tacoma to the last place position in the mid-size truck market (the Frontier was not on the list at all, but that's hardly a surprise), only giving it an "Average" rating for the one thing (reliability) it's supposed to be good at. I kept the Tacoma in the running because it has such a solid reputation, but there are a lot of people out there who like pineapple on their pizza, so reputations only go so far.

I researched each of the platforms from the perspective of aftermarket and forum activity. The Colorado seems to be coming along in the former, and is reasonably healthy in the latter. The Jeep will clearly own the aftermarket situation, but the forums are very light still in many regards; give it time. Tacoma wins both handily at the moment. One thing I was looking for on the forums was the sort of degree of problems I could expect. The Jeep engine section on the primary forum I found had literally 13 threads. Given how new it is and that the greasy bits are all shared with the Wrangler, I can't say that's entirely surprising, but it is a little. Coloradofans.com seems to be the most active forum for that platform, and there are certainly issues, but I honestly expect there to be some. Forums are where people go to troubleshoot but mostly complain about these things, and there were some things with past models that appear to have been mostly dealt with, but nothing all that deep or dire. The Tacoma situation was genuinely surprising (I wasn't yet aware of the drop in quality), and there was even a sticky intended to talk people down off talk of Lemon Lawsuits and Magnusson Moss Act suits! Lots of people unhappy over there for a brand built on reliability. Trying to pass it through the filter of unmet expectations only really takes you so far... It's a tough pill to swallow.

From a design perspective for me personally, the Colorado and the Gladiator both have impressive drivetrains. You swap a solid axle with sway bar disconnect and lower transfer case gearing for IFS and a more sophisticated suspension and drivetrain, not to mention the diesel (I'll be buying before the diesel Gladiator hits the market). I'll be using the truck as a DD, so the longer wheelbase cum reduced break over angle is not ideal, but hardly a deal killer any more than the lack of articulation in the IFS. I wish the Colorado had a sunroof like the Tacoma, but the removable top of the Gladiator does me no good as I'm too fair skinned and bald to really be able to use it... I guess the Toyota wins in the sunroof category. Tacoma and Gladiator also have manual options where the Colorado doesn't. The Bison package is pretty impressive in that the skid plates you get are light weight, strong, crash tested (this is huge), and when you add them all up I'm pretty confident you're coming out way ahead in both price and quality compared to the aftermarket. I'm surprised Chevrolet let such a thing happen, but glad they did.

I went and tested them all out last weekend. The Gladiator was first (order was based on proximity), and its a well designed vehicle that clearly understands its target audience. Hat tip to Jeep. It's a well designed truck, and I didn't notice anything that would cause it to lose points for fit and finish. The points loss is in the price category. Far and away the most expensive option, especially when you consider they have zero incentive or interest to budge on price. My wife doesn't like the look of it either (and I understand why), but what are you going to do? The Tacoma was next. They had a pair of FJ40s on the showroom floor, and that gave me good feels (I used to own and thoroughly enjoyed a '74). The Tacoma often gets dinged for ergonomics, but the gripe is that it's made for a Japanese sized frame. I'm 5'6" and not at all overweight, so I figured that was me and was surprised and disappointed that I couldn't operate the clutch without hitting my knee on the steering wheel and couldn't do anything at all about it. At this point, I had been considering the C-channel frame (the other two are fully boxed), the drum brakes in the rear (say what you will, that's lazy to the point of insult), and the straw that broke the camel's back was the fact that the engine wasn't happy until you had it around 3K+ RPM! When the salesman said that's where it likes to be, I thought he was joking, but it seriously needs revs to not bog down. That is not how a truck engine is supposed to work... Tacoma's officially out of the running; I gave it more than a fair shake.
 

spectre6000

Observer
The last truck I saw was the Colorado. There was one dealer in the Denver area with both a diesel and a Bison (none had a diesel Bison). I looked the Bison over very closely. I had very high hopes, and the Colorado was a solid #1 choice going into the visit to the dealership. Generally speaking, Chevy has a reputation for poor fit and finish, and I'm sorry to say it did not disappoint on that front. There was noticeable bed liner overspray. The bed is made of three panels; the sides and the floor. They are joined in a way that's difficult to describe. I'm not sure it's a fault, a flaw, or a feature, but I don't understand what they've done. Looking at an unlined bed, there is a 3/8" or so gap between the each of the panels with a bead of goop over all but the last inch or so, which has some sharp exposed corners. The most surprising thing though was that the lines of goop (adhesive or seam sealer, unsure) were not the same between the trucks. Most had a zig zag pattern to them that sort of looked like a weld under the bed liner, but one was just a straight extruded line. It's like there's a Monday/Friday shift dynamic going on and they're done by hand... I've been told variably that it's a soft adhesive that allows for bed flex (never heard of this) and that it's seam sealer because they're welded together after paint or something (also dubious). It stood out, but I don't know what to make of it, and aside from the corners at the end of the bed I can't add or take points for it. There was also a number and variety of holes in the bed. The salesman said they were for drainage, but that doesn't hold up to even slightest scrutiny; they appear to be a manufacturing relic. An odd one given that everyone else seems to have figured out how to make a bed without a bunch of extra holes in the floor... Maybe there's a purpose I don't know about, but it's hard to fathom. Moving inside the truck, the special Bison package contoured floor mats were contoured to being pinched in the doors. This is almost assuredly the dealer's fault though. There was a noticeable gouge in the dash plastic just above the instrument cluster as well; could be poor finish, could be lot abuse. Can't say save that the context is stacking up. When I looked in the engine compartment of the diesel, there was a random plastic clip lying in a crevice on the top of the radiator support. I eventually tracked it down to being the same as the clips inside the gasket attached to the hood where it meets the radiator support, though that gasket had all its clips. I surmised it fell out during assembly, and the person on the line grabbed a new seal without being able, or maybe without bothering, to track down the missing clip. I guess if something similar were to happen in such a way that it could cause harm, it would have happened early or I would likely find it during my initial inspection (I'm very thorough). The last fit and finish concern actually happened well after the fact. I'm researching things to death between now and when I'm ready to buy, and I found a thread on another forum (though I see the same person is on this forum as well) where the guy removed the fender flares on his Bison to install a snorkel, and he found that when AEV installed the flares, they just drilled bare holes, sanded back any burrs (including the surrounding paint), and then slapped the flares on. That's a huge finish concern... Like, 0 day paint shop visit level concern...

It's certainly not all negative though with the Colorado. It's definitely a good looking truck, and nice to be in. I've never been in a vehicle with an HVAC fan that strong, and thumbing through the manual shows that it has a lot of very well engineered features that are clearly intended to make living with it on a daily basis very pleasant and convenient. The diesel engine drove exactly how I feel a truck should. Torque down low where it's needed to get work done, a pleasant grumble, enough pep to get out of its own way (if I want to drive fast, there are other vehicles available to me for that purpose), and the best fuel economy in the class. I was a bit confused about what to expect from the suspension based on reports from the automotive literati; some said it was like a luxury car, others like a sport car. It was definitely the latter. Maybe a luxury sport car. Definitely not the smooth ride some were making it out to be though. In fact, the truck on the whole reminded me of my ca. 2002 BMW 330i with all the sporty options (the M3 was 2 door only in that period). About the same level of features and equipment with a similar road feel (I only drove it around a few low speed city roads, no corners that didn't have stoplights). The seats weren't quite as supportive as I'd like, but the t-grip style shift handle was in the perfect position to reset my hand on with my elbow on the center arm rest. The seat has a surprising amount of adjustability, and I don't recall how much was in the steering wheel, but it was also adjustable. It'd be hard not to get really comfortable in that seat, even, or maybe especially, on long drives.

I think the Colorado is still a clear favorite, but the issues I've seen are definitely concerning. The order I started out with is retained, but the distance between the #1 and #2 slot got much closer. I want to say I expect better on such an expensive truck, but it's essentially the same price my wife's JKUR was, and she ended up painting POR15 on the frame as a preventative measure because the paint had been rubbed through (we suspect when the frames were stacked on a train car between Dana and the Toledo plant). I feel like the AEV conversion paint issue is quite a bit more severe though... The bed liner overspray came off with a fingernail, the clip didn't hurt anything, and the rest can be chalked up to the dealer and/or public... What I've seen and learned on the fit and finish front are not encouraging, but maybe my expectations are too high. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and I see things and look places most people don't...
 

Buliwyf

Viking with a Hammer
The only people that can afford the Gladiator, are all on Welfare. Wait until it comes down to real pricing and people see what bugs it has. Hopefully they hired a new welder.

The Taco has a car engine, no guts left, bruises your nugget, and is old as dirt. Wait until Toyota comes out with a new one worthy of the name.

As you noticed, the GM is built worse than a Russian car. Go look at another one. It'll have even more weird loose stuff. The classic GM dash rattle, isn't the dash, it's junk just tossed in because $50/hr, isn't enough pay for unskilled labor. At least wait until they fix their current issues with frames, air bags (fairly certain this ones fixed), transmissions, crooked beds, and bodies. But swiss cheese beds made out of multiple pieces are popular with the Fords as well. I added two massive drain holes at the front of the bed before Rhino lining any truck bed, which also seals those gaps.

I recommend giving your bank information to a stripper, so your account will get locked and you won't be stuck with any of the above vehicles.
 

04Ram2500Hemi

Observer
We recently bought my wife a Colorado ZR2 with the gas motor, and it seems like a good little truck. At 6’8” I fit comfortably in the front seats (you can’t say that about the Tacoma or the Gladiator) and it’s fairly zippy for a V6. I think it’s going to be a good little truck. I think the Bison is overpriced for what you get, but that seems like a pattern with AEV from the factory (look at the Prospector and Prospector XL prices). I think the skid plates and the Raised Air Intake for the Colorado is nice, but I’m not sold on the bumpers, flares, or the wheels.
 

nickw

Adventurer
I recommend giving your bank information to a stripper, so your account will get locked and you won't be stuck with any of the above vehicles.
I was going to post something but I got nothing on this, pure gold...LOL...
 

Tex68w

Beach Bum
If a loaded out Gladiator Rubicon were $45-50K and not $60K then they'd likely sell a lot of them. I too wanted to like the ZR2 but in typical GM fashion it had a lot of crappy materials and build QC, I don't see that changing. The 3rd Gen Tacoma has been a major let down and it has scared a lot of long time loyal guys away from the brand which is a shame. I'd look at a Ranger, but I'd wait for the diesel.
 

MOguy

Explorer
I am a Jeep TJ guy. People are having far more issues with the newer Wranglers than I ever remember people have with any TJ or YJ. I know the new Wranglers are capable but I would never consider one, esp the first year of a new model. I had an Acadia Denali and it was such a POS I won't even consider another GM product at this point. I know my one experience is not worth anything really but that Acadia sucked so bad that is has left a permanent scare in my brain and my wallet.

For me the decision is easy and would take less time than it does to say the word Toyota.
 
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js9234

Observer
They're all pretty offroad capable from the factory with the Gladiator leading by a pretty good margin. Reliability and longevity? Who knows. I would probably put Toyota last on this part because of the new unproven engine with quite a few complaints. The Colorado is nice but lacks aftermarket support. The Gladiator has, for the most part, the same drivetrain as the JL and been out for a while to get most bugs worked out. If the Gladiator was priced a little more reasonable I would say it is the clear winner. I guess it comes down to what matters most for you. Aftermarket support - Gladiator, Reliability - no winner in my mind, Price - possibly Toyota unless you add Bison package, Coolness factor - Gladiator. Have you looked into payloads and towing specs? Does that matter to you? If the Toyota still had the proven 4.0 I would lean towards that but I believe it's only in the 4Runner now. In the forums, I've read more issues with the new Tacomas and Colorados than I have Gladiators. But it's all what you pay attention to and notice most and they've been out longer.
 

MOguy

Explorer
They're all pretty offroad capable from the factory with the Gladiator leading by a pretty good margin. Reliability and longevity? Who knows. I would probably put Toyota last on this part because of the new unproven engine with quite a few complaints. The Colorado is nice but lacks aftermarket support. The Gladiator has, for the most part, the same drivetrain as the JL and been out for a while to get most bugs worked out. If the Gladiator was priced a little more reasonable I would say it is the clear winner. I guess it comes down to what matters most for you. Aftermarket support - Gladiator, Reliability - no winner in my mind, Price - possibly Toyota unless you add Bison package, Coolness factor - Gladiator. Have you looked into payloads and towing specs? Does that matter to you? If the Toyota still had the proven 4.0 I would lean towards that but I believe it's only in the 4Runner now. In the forums, I've read more issues with the new Tacomas and Colorados than I have Gladiators. But it's all what you pay attention to and notice most and they've been out longer.

I didn't realize they had changed the engine, when did that happen?
 

MOguy

Explorer
If I remember correctly 2016 or possibly 2017 was the first year of the new 3.5. Lots of complaints about it so far that I've read.
I had the first year of the 4.0 in the 4Runner and it let me done. After that they seemed to get it squared away.

I guess I have to change my choice to:

D: none of the above but if forced to choose I say Jeep only because I am a Jeep guy and I suppose that is what is expected of me.

-OR-

Find a newer Taco wit the 4.0.
 
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