MACHO & CAPABLE
2017 CHEVROLET COLORADO ZR2
“You know, someday this is gonna make a great story,” I thought to myself, upside down and blood rushing to my head.
My head and one arm had easily fit through the small opening, but to follow through with the other arm, I’d had to roll on my side and make like a worm. The window frame, no larger than a manilla envelope, bumped on every rib, before coming abruptly up against the excess ballast I’ve accumulated through too many sedentary hours at the computer. I hung suspended, feeling equal parts idiotic and panic-stricken, until the laws of gravity overcame the resistance of soft matter and I dropped like a birthed calf.
“Oh God, get me outta this without any of my colleagues finding out, and I’ll stop swearing,” I prayed, conveniently overlooking the fact that I’m an avowed atheist.
GM threw down a gauntlet when it introduced the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins into the stagnant mid-size truck segment. It forced competitors to up their game, and consequently there are some excellent new and improved choices on the market. Toyota had a lock on the mid-size performance off-road segment with the Tacoma TRD Pro and Nissan stepped up with an overhaul of its aging Frontier PRO-4x. Two formidable beasts — the Ford F-150 Raptor and the Ram Power Wagon — dominate the full- size market, but an enormous, gasguzzling, desert-racing rock crawler isn’t for everyone.
While GM’s sports cars wearing the ZR badge boast outrageous power and performance, until now the ZR-designated trucks have been scarcely more than appearance packages and nubby tires. The Colorado ZR2 takes it to a whole new level.
Based on the more conventional Colorado, the ZR2 edition boasts a track widened by three and a half inches, a suspension lifted by two inches, class-exclusive front and rear locking differentials, modified front and rear bumpers for better approach and departure angles, and an aggressive blacked-out grille and hood insert. Steel-tube functional rocker protectors keep the body safe from rock damage, while thick aluminum skid plates protect the radiator, oil pan and transfer case. ZR2-exclusive 17-inch aluminum wheels are clad in 31-inch Goodyear off-road rubber. Oh, and there’s now a diesel engine option.
But what really makes the ZR2 noteworthy is the custom suspension setup, developed specifically for this truck. It’s the first off-road shock system designed by Multimatic, a Canadian company renowned for its Formula One racing technology. Instead of the traditional disk-valve setup of most shocks and dampers, the DSSV system’s aluminum housing contains two spool valves, providing greater compression off-roading while still maintaining the compliance of a daily driver.
The ZR2 sure looks the part. Instead of a front bumper, there’s a menacing skid plate, giving it a pur- pose-built, hardcore look. On the roof is a rack of LED lights bright enough to pierce the proverbial black hole. It’s been a head-turner from the get-go, with several guys — and gals — stopping to admire and ask about it.
Behind the ZR2’s blunt snout is a new turbodiesel four-cylinder engine, the only truck in its segment to offer one. With 181 horsepower, it’s no desert racer. But its 369 pound-feet of torque is embarrassing enough to chirp the wheels at a green light. What’s surprising is the ZR2’s decent manners on the highway; off-road sport trucks are notorious for their wafty handling and road noise, but the ZR2’s impressive dampers produce a quiet, comfortable ride.
Thirty bucks will get you a day pass to the Ganaraska Forest, where you can explore the trails to your heart’s content. Well maintained and predominantly sand, they are part of a vast network accessible to 4x4s, ATVs and horseback riders. For the most part, the trails don’t pose much of a challenge. Passing by a small pond, we laugh at the ATV riders plowing through the water, sending up rooster tails of spray.
“That would make a fantastic picture,” I said. “We gotta come back here when we’re done.” Famous last words.
The combination of fine sand and impressive suspension create a cushiony landing after catching air over a small berm. Navigating a 30-degree banked turn with steep dirt walls was no problem for the ZR2, which may as well have yawned.
After several hours of exploring, we headed back to the trailhead and the aforementioned pond. The middle was presumably deeper, so I pointed the truck’s nose across from where we’d seen the ATVs playing. Like choosing the red wire when you should’ve picked the yellow, this was a very bad decision. The flat shallow sand abruptly ended, and the truck performed a sickening nose dive.
“Sweet Christmas,” I said. Or something very much like it.
Slamming on the brakes, I quickly engaged the lockers and hit reverse. Nothing. The truck’s rump was high enough in the air that the rear wheels couldn’t gain traction. To my horror, water was bubbling up in the footwell and the pedals became submerged. I’d broken one of the cardinal rules of off-roading: never enter water without knowing how deep it is. Or was that for diving? Whatever. I could see the water just below the window, and I silently praised the anal retentiveness of GM engineers and their triple door seals.
Climbing in the back, I yelled at my partner, James, to take the wheel. Which led to my unceremonious — and as it turns out, useless — extrusion through the tiny rear window. My extra weight over the rear wheels had absolutely no effect on traction. At this point, James decided to venture out and gauge the pond’s depth. Rolling down the window, he began to climb out.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “Take off your jeans. They’ll get soaked in swamp water and only make this worse.” Finally he saw the wisdom in this, and out the window in his skivvies he went.
Apparently, the truck was perched at the rim of a precipitous drop. In full-on panic mode, and with dusk descending, we suddenly heard an approaching dirt bike. Under different circumstances, the expression on the rider’s face would have been funny.
We’re extremely lucky. Our Samaritan on a KTM returned with two ATVs, whose drivers had just been preparing to leave. A quick yank with a tow strap, and the truck popped out like a cork — filthy, drip- ping, but mercifully running. Parking it on an incline, I opened up the door and watched, stupefied, as the water poured out.
Two runs through the car wash and several hours with the shopvac later, the Colorado ZR2 looked none the worse for wear. Nevertheless, I shamefacedly let GM know of the extent of my stupidity. Fortunately they were pretty understanding. Poop sometimes happens.
Overview: Compact off-roader with enormous capability
Pros: Prodigious off-road performance with good road manners
Cons: No V8 option. Not much space in the cargo bed, but who cares?
Value for money: Not cheap; the diesel is a whacking chunk of change What I would change: Offer a V8 How I would spec it: Exactly as driven
2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2.