(Photo: Christian Lantry, Cars.com)
The 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is an off-road beast with midsize dimensions — a rarity among pickups that’s ripe for a loyal following.
The Colorado ZR2’s dimensions give it a smaller footprint than serious off-road trucks, which are mostly full-sizers (think Ford F-150 Raptor or Ram 1500 Rebel). Though it’s a few inches wider than lesser Colorado variants, the ZR2 is some 5 to 10 inches narrower than the full-size off-roaders. It’s a bit wider than the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, however.
The form has function. Developed at parent company General Motors’ Arizona proving grounds, the ZR2’s suspension employs softer tuning, taller coil springs in front and longer leaf springs in back.
With a 2-inch suspension lift, 3.5-inch wider track and clipped bumpers below the headlights, the ZR2 bares its tires — 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac off-roaders — when viewed from the front.
Gone is the lower air dam that shaves ground clearance in other Colorado variants, even with the milder Z71 off-road package. An aluminum skid plate protects the ZR2’s radiator and oil pan. Another shield protects the transfer case. Steel tubes guard the lower sides, while the rear bumpers ditch the regular Colorado’s outboard steps.
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You can even relocate the full-size spare tire from underneath the truck to an optional bed-mounted carrier to improve departure angles. All told, it’s an impressive visual display — the sort that looks like an aftermarket kit, or something in the vein of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ erstwhile Ram Runner conversion, more than a factory package.
The big news is the sophisticated shock absorbers, which have three spool valves apiece to control compression and rebound for on- and off-road situations. It’s the same technology that once did time in the track-focused Camaro Z/28, and it works well. There was impressive wheel travel off-road, with outstanding cabin isolation in everything from rock crawls to sand- and dirt-road runs.
Electronic locking differentials on both axles help, too, forcing equal rotation for tractionless wheels — a key provision when one or more of them leaves the ground. You can even lock the rear axle in 2-wheel drive.
GM pegs ground clearance in the ZR2 at 8.9 inches, up 0.5 to 0.8 inch versus other variants, including the Z71. A dual-range, locking transfer case includes a 4-wheel-drive Auto mode alongside the traditional rear-drive and 4-wheel-drive high and low speeds. You also get hill descent control and "off-road mode." The latter calibrates various systems to allow more wheel slip, which suits many off-road situations.
The standard engine is a 3.6-liter gasoline V-6, with 308 horsepower. The ZR2 offers an optional 2.8-liter 4-cylinder diesel with 181 horsepower. Both engines are competent in the low-rpm, high-load situations typical of off-roading.
Typical of diesels, the Colorado’s 2.8-liter example packs all its heat at low rpm. Accelerator response is tepid, however, and the engine runs out of breath once you get past midrange rpm. General Motors pairs the diesel with a 6-speed automatic — a shame, as the 8-speed’s extra ratios might have kept revs lower to linger in the engine’s sweet spot more often.
The slow-ratio steering makes corners a deliberate, high-effort process, with immediate understeer if you try to take them fast. But body roll is unexpectedly limited; the ZR2 corners impressively flat.
Maximum towing capacity for the ZR2 is 5,000 pounds, short of both the regular Colorado’s 7,700-pound max and the Tacoma TRD Pro’s 6,400 pounds with a trailer package. The ZR2’s 1,100-pound payload is also short of other Colorados’ 1,574-pound max, but it’s in line with the TRD Pro.
The ZR2’s interior has low-gloss finishes but plenty of hard, cheap plastics in areas such as the upper doors, where your arms and elbows land. The 8-inch dashboard touchscreen — an upgrade over lesser 7- or 4.2-inch units — includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; a backup camera is standard. Our test car’s optional navigation system had swipe and pinch map functionality, though neither action seemed particularly fast.
Chevrolet touts segment-leading off-road technology in the ZR2, whose price starts north of $40,000. It slots above the less hardcore Z71 to cap off the Colorado lineup, which starts in the low $20,000s for a rear-drive 4-cylinder model.
The ZR2 is unquestionably an off-road beast. It ultimately edged out the Tacoma TRD Pro in our off-road comparison.
What stands out
Suspension: Outstanding for off-roading.
Engines: A V-6 and V-8 that are low revving.
Interior: Materials could be better.
2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
What? An off-road version of the popular midsize pickup.
When? On sale now.
Where? Made in Wentzville, Mo.
What makes it go? Base engine is a 3.6-liter V-6 producing 308 horsepower.
How thirsty? 24 miles per gallon the highway, 17 mpg in the city and 19 mpg overall.
How big? 17.7 feet for the extended cab, long box.
How much? Starts at $41,155, including delivery fee.
Overall? The ZR2 is better off-road than its chief competitor, Toyota’s Tacoma TRD Pro. Shoppers will have to decide whether that’s enough to overcome a few pesky limitations.