With the nice weather Arizona is having, this is a good time to get an off-road vehicle and go exploring. Here we have two of the more popular choices, starting with the Jeep Gladiator truck. Its base price is $34K, but this was loaded up with everything, so it cost far more.

Our first option was the Rubicon pack. This gives you larger 17-inch wheels with 33-inch tires, performance Fox shocks, skid plates, electric sway bars, tow hooks and heavy-duty Dana locking front and rear axles. Now the price will climb to $44K. But wait, there’s more! Add leather trim, stereo, navigation, bed liner, bed cover and removable hardtop.

Yes, even more, as we replaced the standard V6 gas engine with the new diesel motor. Horsepower is only 260, but it cranks a massive 440 pound-feet of torque at only 1,400 rpm for fantastic pulling ability. Fuel economy is claimed to be 21/27 mpg. This diesel will set you back $4K, and with all the options just listed the total tab for our Jeep was a whopping $67,130!

On the positive side, this fully equipped Gladiator is an impressive machine on or off the pavement. The hill climbing ability with that diesel engine is just fantastic. The real fuel economy was 21/24 mpg compared to the base gas V6 engine we drove last year at 17/21. This means it is going to take a lot of driving to see any real fuel cost savings to pay that extra $4K fee for the diesel though.

Everyone was impressed with this Gladiator, but a few balked at the price. It used to be most Jeeps were affordable for working class Americans. But at these prices, it seems more a toy for the rich. Used ones are not very cheap either. But if you want to play, you have to pay.

For those with less money, Toyota comes to the rescue with the 4Runner. Critics say this is an outdated rig, and yes, not much has changed in nearly two decades. It has an old-fashioned five-speed automatic transmission and not-so-modern noisy six-cylinder, 270-horsepower engine. But these are proven components that are near bullet proof and seem to last forever. It is not uncommon to see these 4Runners with 300K miles on the clock and still running strong.

With a base price of $36K and fully loaded tab of $42K, it’s affordable. The fuel economy rating is 15/18 mpg, which we verified. That figure isn’t impressive by today’s standards, but overall reliability is. So was the off-road performance, where this vehicle is really at home. It is also made in the Japanese factory, so build quality is there.

So we have two nice off-road choices here, take your pick.

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Chad Haire, of Phoenix, test-drives vehicles for this feature.

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