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Chevy Colorado ZR2: Diesel in the Desert

Posted in Features on January 9, 2018
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Network Staff

How do you put the 4x4 capabilities of the Chevy Colorado ZR2 to work? What better way than a mid-week romp through the desert! As the SoCal sun rose one nippy November morning, we were loading our gear into the back of the ZR2 with one plan in mind—avoid pavement for 24 hours.

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The Last Chance Canyon trail was our gateway into the desert, marked with a sign recommending four-wheel drive high-clearance vehicles only. The Colorado ZR2 led the procession into the canyon, followed by our ’17 Wrangler and ’17 Tacoma. As the canyon narrowed, we found the sandy wash littered with boulders making for hard, harder, and hardest choices amongst lines.

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Did we mention the ZR2 was powered by a 2.8L Duramax turbodiesel engine? If any of us forgot, we were certainly reminded as the little Chevy rumbled along, stretching the suspension and nimbly wending its way amongst the boulders. As the ZR2 flexed over the rocks, the aluminum skidplate and rock sliders had some near misses but still came away unscathed.

One washed-out grade exiting the wash required us to engage the front and rear electric lockers, which kept both axles spinning at the same speed, and allowed the ZR2 to claw its way out of trouble. The driver of the Wrangler (sporting open differentials and street tires) was definitely jealous as he was forced to use momentum and skidplates to navigate the obstacle.

The canyon eventually opened up and we climbed into the El Paso mountains, giving us a panoramic view of the basin-and-range topography surrounding us as we dug into the food stores, craving a lunch break. What did we hear over the gurgling of our bellies? Air escaping a tire! Some savage piece of rock decided to compromise one of our sidewalls, threatening to make us release a spare tire from its hanger. Thankfully for the spare, our CO2-charged Powertank system came with a plug kit so before the rest of us could finish our sandwiches, we had the offending tire plugged, refilled, and ready to roll.

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The day’s trail led us past mining claims, through the abandoned town of Randsburg, across punishing sections of whoops, and eventually to camp as the sun sank below the desert horizon. The ZR2’s tailgate served as a makeshift kitchen counter for our celebratory bratwurst preparation and subsequent roasting.

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We mentioned basin-and-range topography earlier in the story. Day 1 took us across the “ranges” of the El Paso mountains, but Day 2 started by leading us across a basin, more famously known as a dry lakebed. We deemed this the appropriate place to see how the Colorado ZR2 handled at speed even when burdened with our camping gear. Maybe we weren’t setting land speed records, but the lakebed did offer some opportunities for exciting photographs.

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It is so easy to fall victim to the question of “I wonder where this road goes” when exploring the desert. We were graced with some aerial acrobatics from practicing pilots at a nearby airbase as we again stopped for lunch. The remainder of the journey was spent trying to find the highway before nightfall—a goal we did not accomplish. We would much rather spend the daylight navigating the winding desert two-tracks and getting familiar with the ZR2, than getting back to the city before dinner. Even in the dark, the Chevy led the pack, guiding us through yet another canyon, across another desolate and moonlit lakebed, and eventually to the asphalt. Again, we employed our trusty Powertank system to get the aired-down tires back to highway pressure before debriefing and beginning the less-exciting highway trip home.

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We were impressed with how the little diesel pickup was able to not only cart us through the hills and across the lakebeds, but also crawl and haul when it needed to. The Multimatic shocks were also appreciated in the whoops, sponging up the impacts and saving our backs from trauma. (We watched the Jeep buck and kick like an angry stallion while the ZR2 merely chuckled at the higher-speed bumps).

After 24 hours of desert play, we began dreaming of the first mods we envision fellow off-roaders performing: Ideas of larger 35-inch tires were suggested, a winch-equipped front bumper to boost the approach angle, and additional skidplates were all tossed around. The job is now yours, Four Wheeler fans. Get out there and show us how you’ve configured your Chevy Colorado ZR2!

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