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Long-Rumored 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Takes an Official Bow in Los Angeles

Posted in News on November 16, 2016
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Chevrolet finally pulled the wraps off the open-secret (and much anticipated) Colorado ZR2 tonight, officially confirming the existence of a second off-road midsize pickup for the 2017 model year. Arriving just in time to do battle with the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, the ZR2 also marks a return of the legendary Chevrolet nameplate, which first appeared on the S-10 pickup in the mid-1990s. In fact, some claim the success of that first widebody ZR2 is what inspired Toyota to trot out its TRD-branded Tacoma off-roaders, and if that’s so, this truck marks the return of a true original.

Chevrolet claims the Colorado ZR2 reinvents the off-road pickup market in the same way the 2015 Colorado did for midsize pickups. Taking a quick look at the spec sheet suggests that claim may not be unfounded. With a 2-inch suspension lift and 3.5-inch increase in front and rear track, the Colorado boasts aggressive proportions unmatched by anything in the segment. Indeed, the Tacoma TRD Pro’s suspension lift is only 1 inch, and it rides on a 1-inch-wider track. By comparison, the wider hips and higher stance of the ZR2 give it a decidedly Raptor-esque appearance.

That appearance is going to be the first thing most people notice when Colorado-spotting. The ZR2 finally does away with the Colorado’s intrusive, low-hanging front air dam, replacing it with a high-clearance front bumper that improves approach angles. Around back, a redesigned rear end does the same for departure angles, while added ground clearance and functional steel-tube rocker protectors aid with breakover. ZR2-specific 17x8-inch aluminum wheels come wrapped with Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires measuring 31 inches. The most surprising styling touch is the bed-mounted spare tire carrier, a feature we weren’t expecting to make the jump from the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show’s ZR2 concept. It looks very cool, although we hope an underbody carrier will also be available for when cargo is more important than looks.

In many ways, the ZR2 might be considered a smaller, cheaper Raptor rival, rather than a foe for the TRD Pro. The suspension on the ZR2 is stuffed with high technology, including unique shock absorbers that use Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSV) technology, from supplier Multimatic. The Colorado ZR2 marks the first off-road application of DSSV, which is more commonly found on Formula One racing cars and on-road track stars like the bygone Chevrolet Camaro Z/28. We’ll get an up-close with the shock machinery soon, but suffice it to say, they pack a lot of punch in their high-tech wrappers, and they might even offer greater response and control than anything in the off-road market today, including the Raptor. The widened track is thanks to cast-iron control arms, offering greater durability and suspension travel than on the regular Colorado.

Further compelling the Raptor-ZR2 comparison is the midsize truck’s off-road technology. The two-speed transfercase can be set in one of nine different modes, each with a distinct off-road mission. Two-wheel-drive operation is available with and without a locked rear differential, meaning lurid, dirty powerslides should be a snap. The same can be said of Auto 4WD, for a little added control. 4WD Hi locks the transfer case, with or without a locked rear differential, and 4WD Lo does the same with lower gearing and the option of an unlocked rear diff, locked rear diff, or locked front and rear diffs, as would be appreciated in low-speed, technical rock crawling.

Chevy offers both gas and diesel powertrains on its off-roader, with either a 308hp, 275–lb-ft 3.6L gas V-6 or the well-regarded 2.8L Duramax I-4, making 181 hp and 269 lb-ft. Furthermore, the stability and traction control systems are optimized for each transfercase mode, with a dedicated Off-Road Mode button providing precise calibrations for the electronic nannies.

As on most off-roaders, towing capacity dips compared to the conventional Colorado. Whereas a standard Colorado gasser can handle up to 7,000 pounds and a diesel up to 7,700, the ZR2’s trailer rating is a still-reasonable 5,000 pounds. Up to 1,100 pounds of payload can come along for the ride, enough for a pair of motocross bikes and a weekend’s worth of camping gear. However, it must be said that a Tacoma TRD Pro can handle more weight in both categories, with a towing rating of 6,400 pounds and a maximum payload of 1,175. Off-road enthusiasts who occasionally haul large-ish trailers would be better served by either the Taco or the larger F-150 Raptor.

Chevrolet sees the 2017 Colorado ZR2 as a sweet-spot offering in the pickup marketplace, giving more off-road technology and capability than other midsizers, but with lighter weight, greater efficiency, and improved maneuverability compared to fullsize off-road pickups. It remains to be seen whether those claims are true, but we’re excited to find out when the Colorado ZR2 goes on sale, hopefully near the beginning of next year.

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