Colorado ZR2 ma­cho, ca­pa­ble

Road Test: 2017 Chevro­let Colorado ZR2

Northumberland Today - - DRIVING - LES­LEY WIM­BUSH DRIV­ING.CA

“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, gas-guz­zling, 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 blacked­out grille and hood in­sert. Steel­tube 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 pur­pose-built, hard­core look. On the roof is a rack of LED lights bright enough to pierce the prover­bial black hole. It’s been a head­turner 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, drip­ping, 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 shop-vac 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.

DRIV­ING.CA

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