Chevy Colorado ZR2: High Performance Off-Roader

By Sue Mead, July 15th, 2017

Trucks are hot and pickups that have the power and the chops to go fast, plus the engineering and body dynamics to go slow over rough and rocky terrain, are hotter than ever.

Chevy says its all-new 2017 Colorado ZR2 is in a "Class of One," -- and it is. Competitors, such as the Ford Raptor and Ram Rebel are full-size trucks, and Toyota's midsize Tacoma TRD is capable of extreme rock crawl, but does not have as much power on tap as the ZR2.

Chevrolet added the high-performance, off-road ZR2 trim level to the popular midsize Colorado lineup for 2017. The new truck targets off-road, desert-running, and rock-crawling enthusiasts shopping the compact pickup segment that starts at $40,995. This Colorado variant is available as a four-wheel-drive only in either an extended or crew cab (including long or short beds respectively).

The standard powertrain is GM's 3.6-liter V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It gets 308 horsepower with 275 lb.-ft. of torque and an estimated fuel economy of 17/24 mpg city/highway.

Optional is a 2.8L I-4 turbodiesel engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that produces 181 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque, and which promises to deliver an estimated fuel economy of 20/28 mpg city/highway. Maximum payload capacity is 1,548 pounds, while the maximum tow rating is 7,600 pounds for the 2.8L diesel powertrain and 7,000 pounds for the V-6.

The ZR2 is slightly wider than its Colorado sibling, with front and rear tracks that have grown by 3.5 inches for stability and 2 inches greater suspension travel. The desert runner features a more aggressive-looking grille and hood combination, with a hood bulge that communicates power.

We drove both the gasoline and diesel models on a ride and drive of close to 150 miles, with on-road motoring on tight and twisty byways in Colorado, along a slow-speed off-road course, and on a high-speed closed-loop "Baja" track set up with bumps, jumps, and tight corners. We liked each powertrain and appreciated the diesel's quiet ride and low-end torque, but concentrated our drive on the 3.6-liter V-6.

Key standard features that add to its prowess as an off-road performer are class-exclusive front and rear locking electronic differentials, Autotrac transfer case, and 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires mounted on unique ZR2 17x8-inch alloy wheels; of note, there is a full-sized Duratrac spare on a ZR2 wheel.

Other off-road, all-terrain features include new cast-iron control arms, off-road rocker protection, modified front and rear bumpers for off-road obstacle clearance, off-road mode technology, a 3.42:1 rear axle, a transfer case shield, plus an aluminum skidplate to protect the radiator and engine oil pan.

Our favorite technology is the truck's exclusive Multimatic Dynamic Suspension and its Spool Valve (DSSV) dampers. This gives it the ability to stretch upwards into the air over bumps and jumps and still land softly and under control.

Some of the standard Colorado features in common with the ZR2 include: tow/haul mode, trailering package with hitch and 7-pin connector, integrated trailer brake controller, locking EZ Lift and Lower tailgate, recovery hooks, spray-on bedliner, rear vision camera, remote keyless entry and remote start, automatic cruise control, electric rear window defogger, sliding rear window, and heated driver and passenger front seats and rear seats with underseat storage.

Technology in the ZR2 designed to impress urban explorers as well as backcountry enthusiasts includes wireless phone charging, OnStar 4G LTE with built-in Wi-Fi, and four USB ports (one on the instrument panel, one in the center console, and two in the rear of the center console). Also onboard is a six-speaker audio system with Chevrolet MyLink Radio, navigation and an 8-inch diagonal color touchscreen, AM/FM stereo with seek-and-scan and a digital clock, Bluetooth streaming audio for music and select phones, and voice-activated technology for radio and phone featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

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