Taking you places where only fools would otherwise attempt to go

By Jim Prueter

(August 5, 2018) With last year’s debut of Chevrolet’s hardcore go-anywhere Colorado ZR2, off-road enthusiasts now have an alternative choice to the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro that’s currently the only legitimate alternative to the Ford Raptor, which is much larger, less agile and significantly more expensive, or Jeep Wrangler, which isn’t a pickup truck.

Rather than taking the milder Z71 off-road packaged Colorado to an independent specialty shop to up-fit it with extensive and expensive hardcore aftermarket body and suspension modifications and equipment, buyers can now opt for the factory-built ZR2. The ZR2 is basically an eye-catching, rock-and-boulder crawling, jacked-up, rutted-trail-capable truck straight off the assembly line Wentzville, Mo.

The ZR2 comes standard with four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. I tested an attractive Cajun Red (add $495) short box crew cab ZR2 optioned with the 2.8-Liter Duramax Turbo Diesel four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic transmission ($3,500). A 308-hp 3.6-liter V-6 with an eight-speed automatic is standard. The ZR2 can also be had in an extended cab configuration.

While we appreciated the towing, off-road torque and fuel economy benefits afforded with the Duramax Diesel, we found the highly noticeable turbo lag and lack of horsepower, along with the steep price a deal breaker for our taste. We think the right decision is to save the extra $3,500 and opt for the V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission.

My weeklong testing of the ZR2 found me at the extremely challenging Butcher Jones State Park off-road trails in central Arizona. Once there, we quickly forgot about the Tacoma TRD Pro we’ve previously tested here. We found the ZR2 actually more comparable to the mighty Ford F-150 Raptor, except in this case, bigger didn’t necessarily translate into better.

With its overall shorter length and 10-inch narrower dimensions, the ZR2 was much easier to maneuver and “squeeze” through narrow and twisty trails without collecting “Arizona pin striping,” courtesy of native creosote brush, desert ironwood trees and cacti.

In addition to its preferable size is its unique Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) damper technology, found on all four corners of the truck. You and I would commonly know them as shock absorbers. Without all the boring engineering speak, know that these dampers are unlike what you’ve got on your current car or truck, given their specific tuning for off-road use with mathematically predictable Multimaic Specfinder software designed by suspension engineers.

What’s even more unique about the DSSV set up is the ability to also remove the bouncy and jouncy nature associated with driving a truck, affording a comfortable, relaxing ride. Whether on or off road, the suspension feels more like the ride you’ll experience in a sports sedan. These are the same shocks used on ultra-high performance vehicles like the Ford GT, certain performance Chevrolet Camaros and the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT. These shocks are not available aftermarket and are their first application on a truck.

There are other differences between the ZR2 and a standard Colorado. It’s front and rear track has been widened by 3.5-inches along with a suspension lifted by two inches, bringing the ground clearance to nine inches.

Hitting the rough and rugged stuff at Butcher Jones did not disappoint, revealing a capability I’ve only experienced in a Jeep Wrangler, and in most places the larger Raptor or Range Rover. Like the Raptor, the long, wide, deep sand dry riverbeds were handled with a breeze. Ditto for steep, boulder strewn and rutted inclines and declines that required the ZR2’s low-range four-wheel drive, hill descent control “off-road mode” and 31-inch Goodyear DuraTrac tires on 17-inch rims. The ZR2 designers also clipped the bumpers below the headlights, baring the massive tires to improve approach angles while protecting the truck’s body from damage.

There’s an aluminum skid plate that protects the ZR2's radiator and oil pan. Another shield protects the transfer case from damage as we banged rocks and small boulders and scraped and crawled our way through the rugged, articulating desert. Steel tubes guard the lower sides, while the rear bumpers ditch the regular Colorado's outboard steps, improving departure angles.

If all this capability isn’t enough, ZR2 engineers included the “Off-Road Mode,” a single push button that enhances the throttle and shift points while backing off electronic traction control and stability control for thrilling, advanced desert-driving capability.

Our ZR2 even included the option to relocate the full-sized spare tire from underneath the truck and mounted it in the cargo bed that adds to improved departure angles. It does, however, severely restrict what you can haul. 

Know that it’s a big step up to get into the cabin and running boards are not an option. Once inside there’s a nicely appointed cabin with numerous advanced technology and operational functions including the MyLink eight-inch touchscreen, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, wireless device charging, rear seat occupant reminder, Teen Driver application, a premium Bose audio system and Apple CarPlay. 

A spray-in bed liner, an easy lift and lower tailgate, heated seats and remote start are also appreciated inclusions. There were, however, some glaring omissions including the inability to get blind-spot detection and smart entry with pushbutton start. Yes, you still need to insert a key into the ignition and twist it.

Although, as impressive as the ZR2 is off-road, we know most of the accrued miles will be racked up on paved surfaces, most likely commuting to and from work. And while the off-road DuraTrac tires do make a fair bit of noise on the pavement, we appreciated how pleasant and smooth driving it is for all-around use.

Our ZR2 had a base price of $42,995, including the destination charge and, with options, checked in at $51,030. Further. For overall on-road or even extreme off-road capabilities, the ZR2 delivers all that’s promised by its intense capability and muscular appearance. The ZR2 is a huge enabler, taking you places few could access with almost every other vehicle.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $42,995
Price as Tested: $51,030
Powertrain: 2.8-Liter 186-hp 4-cyl turbo diesel with six-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 19-mpg City – 22-mpg Highway 20-mpg Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: Overall 4 out of 5 star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and “Good” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Competes With:
Ford Raptor
Jeep Wrangler
Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Fab Features
Superb off-road capabilities
Impressive ride quality both on and off-road
Choice of Gas or Diesel powered engines