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2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Review

Posted in Features on June 2, 2017
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Photographers: Courtesy of Manufacturer

Most Chevy S10 and Colorado enthusiasts remember the ZR2 package from yesteryear. While it had some off-road appointments, it fell a little short compared to the competition, such as the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road. Thankfully, the 2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2 is the off-road package we have all been waiting for.

With the all-new ZR2, you are getting not one, but two selectable locking differentials, a cutting-edge suspension, and the ability to hang the truck loose in the dirt. By “hang the truck loose” we mean turn-off the mandatory electronic nannies, lock the rear locker in two-wheel drive, and proceed to blast around a dirt berm sideways like a crazed hillbilly with the law on your tail. Yes. This ZR2 is like no other Colorado ever produced.

We suspect this is what happens when you shut down a brand built around going off-road (anyone remember Hummer?) and move those engineers over to the midsized truck branch. From the shocks to the lower control arms, the Colorado ZR2 is a completely different animal from the base version. In fact, the ZR2 is a full 3 1/2 inches wider and 2 inches taller than the standard Colorado. With an available 2.8L Duramax diesel engine, the ZR2 is one of the most fuel efficient and off-road capable truck platforms ever produced. Without question it is the most trail-savvy pickup we have seen come out of the GM stable in years, maybe ever.

To find out if the ZR2 performs as good as it reads on paper, we got behind the wheel in beautiful Gateway, Colorado. We got a chance to test out the truck on Colorado back roads, hit the trail, crawl rocks . . . oh, and air out the pickup on a test track! To find out how it all shook out, read on.

The ZR2 is available with either the standard 3.6L V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, or a 2.8L Duramax diesel backed by a six-speed automatic. The diesel pumps out 186 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, while the gasser throws down 308 hp and 275 lb-ft. Driving both, we found the gas engine feels more responsive and sprightly on the highway. In the dirt, however, the diesel’s torque-rich engine felt smoother and more usable. The one off-road exception would be the high-speed desert, where the gasser’s higher rpm range made the truck shred the rough terrain more easily.
We would not call the ZR2’s 8.6 inches of front and 10 inches of rear suspension travel extreme, but it is incredibly dialed. This is thanks to the Multimatic DSSV shock absorbers. What’s unique about the shocks is that unlike a traditional shock absorber, which uses shim stacks on either side of the piston to control fluid, these use spool valves—three, to be exact. The position-sensitive absorbers are paired with a spring-over solid rear axle and coil-over-strut IFS configuration.
Smooth. That’s the best way to describe the Colorado’s on-road ride. Having driven the standard Colorado previously, we will say that the ZR2 rides significantly better. Again, much of this has to do with the well-tuned suspension system. For those looking to use the ZR2 for more than just hauling people, you will be glad to know the truck is designed to tow up to 5,000 pounds and carry up to 1,100 pounds of payload.
Aside from a bit of seat stitching and switch assortment, the ZR2’s interior is largely similar to the higher-trimmed Colorado trucks. We were stoked to find out you can option the ZR2 with a vinyl floor, so you won’t have to worry about a trashed carpet after a few wheeling trips.
The front bumper, designed to increase the approach angle, is another part specifically made for the ZR2. We found it very effective on the trail. If you do miss your mark, a bevy of skidplates and real rocker guards are there to keep the truck intact.
When you hear about company’s testing vehicles off-road, images of a graded dirt road might pop up. Chevy took its R&D homework seriously and wheeled a stock ZR2 across the Rubicon Trail and on multiple trails in Moab, Utah, and mixed it up in one of our favorite southern wheeling destinations, Windrock Park in Tennessee. To show us how the underbelly faired, Chevy flipped the tester on its side for us to get a closer look.
Electronic steering is the major go-to for many manufacturers because it increases the power and efficiency of the engine. This was one area we were curious to test with the front locker engaged. To our surprise, the electronic steering had no trouble guiding the fully locked ZR2 in the rocks.
The fact that you can disable the electronic controls so you can slide the truck sideways in two-wheel drive with the rear locker engaged in incredible. While we don’t suggest jumping your new ZR2, we “tested” the suspension limits more than once. We were blown away by how solid and nimble the 128-inch wheelbase felt and how rattle-free it was over harsh terrain.
The large wheelwells gives us hope that the aftermarket will support this platform, and putting larger-than-stock tires on won’t require much lift. We are told a 33-inch-tall tire is an easy fit as it sits (265/75R17 is stock), but we would love to shoehorn some 35s on.

Final Thoughts

The fact that Chevy is willing to make such a capable off-road pickup is extremely exciting to us. Sure, the starting price of $40,995 is a little hard to swallow, but it’s only $35 more than the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. The fact that you are getting a front selectable locker, rocker guards, and an arguably nicer interior for only 35 bucks more is pretty impressive. That it’s the only midsized truck available with a front selectable locker and diesel engine option puts it a notch above in our books. Speaking of options, the ZR2 is only available with as Crew Cab short bed or Extended Cab long box. You can also have a bed-mounted spare and a few other dealer add-ons.

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