It’s no secret that off-road truck enthusiasts prefer four-wheel-drive pickups, and many of those drivers also favor trucks with standard transmissions. Unfortunately, few automakers still produce manual transmission pickup trucks. But two fan-favorite off-road-oriented 4WD pickup trucks still offer a manual transmission option.
2023 Toyota Tacoma manual transmission
Edmunds lists the pros of the 2023 Toyota Tacoma:
- Rugged off-pavement ability
- Composite truck bed with movable tie-down cleats and a power outlet
- Top-tier V6 can pair with a six-speed manual transmission
The review lists two cons. One relates to the off-road-oriented Tacoma’s height when entering and exiting the truck, and the other to its low steering gear ratio, which helps to control large off-road tires but “can seem slow on pavement.”
Off-road enthusiasts love to customize their trucks. So for 2023, Toyota offers over 30 combinations for the Tacoma, including “two new appearance packages for the SR5 trim level: the SX and Chrome packages,” along with the expected cab types and truck bed configurations and rear-wheel-drive and 4WD options.
The SX package enhances the V6-powered Tacoma SR5’s rugged looks with black accents and trim details, including:
- Black wheels
- Black mirrors
- Black badging
- Black overfenders
- Unique bed graphics
While the SX package adds to the SR5 Tacoma’s robust appearance, the Chrome package softens it somewhat with chrome door handles, polished 18-inch alloy wheels, and a chrome tailgate insert. However, that package is available only on double-cab V6 SR5 Tacoma models with a five-foot truck bed.
Edmunds recommends the 2023 Toyota Tacoma SR5 for general daily driving. But if you’re interested in a capable off-road 4WD pickup truck, the Tacoma TRD Pro is the best Toyota option. The Tacoma TRD Pro features a 3.5-liter V6, a double cab with a five-foot truck bed, 4WD, and the choice of a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.
2023 Jeep Gladiator manual transmission
- “Rugged Jeep character and off-road prowess
- The only convertible truck you can buy
- Offers bigger back seat than other midsize pickups.”
Like the Toyota Tacoma, the Gladiator has an off-road-focused design that makes the steering feel “slow and vague” on the pavement, “particularly on the Rubicon trim.” Other drawbacks Edmunds cites relate to the “jiggly” ride and “subpar fuel economy,” neither of which is surprising for an off-road-optimized 4WD pickup truck.
There are several Jeep Gladiator versions from which to choose, but only two perform best off-road: the Rubicon and the Mojave. The Gladiator Rubicon features enhanced ground clearance and traction suitable to tackle nearly any off-road obstacle, including rocks, ruts, and tree stumps. The Mojave package leans toward higher-speed terrains such as deserts and forested logging roads.
The Rubicon and Mojave Gladiator models feature a gasoline-powered 3.6-liter V6 backed by a six-speed manual transmission. For those opposed to shifting a manual transmission, there’s an optional eight-speed automatic, or choose the 3.0-liter turbo diesel V6 with its own eight-speed automatic.
Are manual transmission pickup trucks better off-road?
Some fans feel that manual transmission pickup trucks provide more power and control when driving off-road. But both transmission types offer some benefits, and each has its weaknesses.
For example, where a manual transmission can provide a superior “feel” for what the drivetrain is doing, there’s the real possibility of ruining the clutch in situations that require substantial power and slow speed.
In contrast, an automatic transmission provides power at slow speeds but might reach a shift point at an inopportune time if not shifted into a gear manually.
Ultimately, the choice is a matter of personal preference, and you should learn to use whichever transmission you choose to the best of your ability.