Mini Truck Vs. Side-by-Side UTVs – Which Should I Buy?

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Maybe you’ve heard of Japanese mini trucks and that they can make good alternatives to UTVs, but you’re still confused about the best way to choose between a mini truck and a side-by-side UTV?

Mini trucks and side-by-side UTVs, both come under the umbrella of off-road vehicles in the US. These are four-wheeled, 4WD vehicles that can often carry loads as well as two or more passengers, but both types have their own specifications, their own advantages, and disadvantages.

So, how do you decide between getting a Japanese mini truck or getting a side-by-side UTV?

Japanese mini trucks

As the name suggests, these are small, lightweight trucks. Usually, they are in a pickup style, but you can also get van and crew cab variants, in addition to pickups with tipping dump beds as well. So you have a lot of different body options, which is why mini trucks can be used for lots of different purposes. In Japan, they are known as kei trucks, which literally means light trucks and can go on the road, but in the US they are only sold for off-road use. That said, the construction, amenities, and safety features are much more like you would find in an on-road vehicle. This is why many people find the best way to understand them is by imagining a full-size pickup that has simply been miniaturized.

With their many body types and configurations, Japanese mini trucks have a myriad of different uses. From municipalities that want a fleet of dump bed mini trucks with snow plows, to hunters who love the khaki green Jumbo cab, to mom and pop ranchers who love having a comfortable, enclosed cab to strap the grandkids in to go around their property. There are just so many different uses.

And, on top of all, this, these mini trucks are made by famous names like Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Suzuki and Daihatsu – names that are well known for their quality and reliability.

Side-by-Side UTVs

Side-by-side UTVs are most often used as recreational vehicles, although there are many businesses that use them on larger properties, such as college campuses and airports.

Like the Japanese mini trucks, they usually can carry 2 to 4 people and have 4WD systems and chunky off-road tires. However, unlike the mini trucks, their construction is usually more primitive (not automotive quality), they often do not have fully-weather proof cabs, they don’t have safety equipment a mini truck has as standard, and they cannot match the mini trucks for standard equipment – even if the buyer adds in all the optional equipment that is available.

UTVs are made by famous names like John Deere, CanAm, Kawasaki, and Kubota. However whereas the mini trucks are made by companies that are famous for their on-road automotive products, the UTV manufacturers are often famous in the agricultural equipment field, which probably explains why they are often more “rough-and-ready” and not as polished as the mini truck alternatives.

Now, let’s get into a more detailed comparison between the mini trucks and side-by-side UTVs. 

Facts And Figures About UTVs And Japanese Mini Trucks

What about gas mileage?

With fuel prices have been so high over the summer of 2022, people have been paying more attention to fuel economy for their main vehicles, but the same applies to your UTV or mini truck.

The gas mileage of side-by-side UTV is around 12 to 25 miles per gallon, but this fuel economy may vary depending on your driving. 

On the other hand, the typical fuel economy of a new Japanese mini truck is 30 to 40 miles per gallon, which is clearly significantly better. If this vehicle is going to be with you for 10 years, for example, then the amount of fuel saved by going for the mini truck is clearly going to make a difference of many thousands of dollars compared to the cost of fueling a UTV for the same mileage in the same time period.

It is vital to keep this in mind when you are purchasing the vehicle because the decision has to be about more than the headline sticker price – you have to look at the lifetime cost.

Which Is Legally Allowed To Run Off-Road Or On-Road?

UTVs and Japanese mini trucks are very similar in this regard. Under Federal Law, they are sold for off-road use only. They do not meet the Federal US standards for on-road vehicles. That said, many states will allow either of these types of vehicles on certain roads under certain conditions.

Similarly, if you want to take your mini truck or UTV off-road on a trail, then states will have different requirements regarding tags, etc. However, if you have a large property, like a ranch, then you can pretty much do whatever you like, as this is your own land.

Both mini trucks and UTVs are excellent off-road vehicles. Although mini trucks are built for on-road use in Japan, when you are shopping for one in the US you can easily find many which are lifted and have larger off-road tires, which makes them excellent off-road vehicles.

Which Is More Comfortable And Practical?

Mini trucks are the obvious choice of those who want all-weather comfort due to their closed cab design. The cabs are completely weatherproof and are fitted with air conditioners, heaters, stereos, cup holders, proper adjustable seats, and more – equipment which is either extra-cost options on the UTV or which UTV makers don’t even offer.

Not only that but their proper automotive-grade suspension and chassis design mean that they give a much more comfortable ride – and on top of this, they have a much quieter engine. You may think you’re not making this choice based on luxury, but that’s not what this is about. This is about getting jobs done, and the last thing you want when you need to get work done is a tool that is tiring you out, bouncing you (and your back) around, so that you get to the end of the day much more tired just because of the vehicle you chose.

Going out at 5 AM to work around the ranch in the middle of winter is hard work. But it doesn’t have to be made harder because your vehicle isn’t comfortable.

Instead, UTV does not give you comfort in harsh weather, but this does not mean it will not run in severe climatic conditions. It remains functional in any weather, but it really is much more basic and harsh compared with the Japanese mini truck.

Which Has The Highest Top Speed?

This is more clear-cut in the UTV’s favor: If it is the pure dirt-in-your-face-grass-in-your-teeth off-road speed that you are after, then a lot of UTVs can be pretty quick – 40 or 50 miles per hour.

Mini trucks are interesting in that they are originally sold for on-road use in Japan, where their top speed is around 80 MPH. But since they are sold for off-road use only in the US, this is limited to 25 miles per hour in the US. 

So, if you’re looking for something to blast around the trails at the weekend, then the extra off-road speed and visceral experience of the UTV is going to work better for you. But if you’re wanting an off-road vehicle to get jobs done, or simply don’t fancy the idea of being bounced around a few inches above the ground with gravel pinging off your helmet, then the Japanese mini truck is still going to be the better choice.

What About Pricing?

On the face of it, new Japanese mini trucks and UTVs don’t seem to be that far apart in pricing, with the mini trucks having a small edge. But you have to look more carefully to see what’s really going on.

First of all, remember what we already discussed above about the many thousands of dollars extra that the UTV is going to cost you in fuel bills over the years.

The other hidden cost of the UTV is that in order to try to get the level of equipment anywhere near that of the mini truck, you’re going to have to add thousands of dollars in optional equipment and upgrades. And even then, your UTV will still not be able to match the mini truck, as there are some things that aren’t even available as options on your UTV.

Take these into consideration, and suddenly the small gap between the mini truck and UTV pricing becomes very large – many thousands of dollars. And if you want to compare prices, the best thing to do is to check out the mini trucks for sale here along with the details of their specs and see how they stack up against typical UTVs..

The Bottom Line

Japanese mini trucks and traditional side-by-side UTVs are head-to-head in the US off-road vehicle market, but which one should you choose?

If you have read this far, the answer should be pretty clear: If you’re looking for a toy to blast around the trails at high speed for fun at the weekend, then the UTV is going to fit your needs best.

But for any other job, you’re going to find that there’s a mini truck that does everything you need and does it with a much higher degree of comfort, for a much better price, with much lower fuel costs.

The choice is yours!

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