FIRST DRIVE: CHEVROLET COLORADO ZR2
Can an Off-road Bruiser be Considered a Street Truck?
Can an Off-road Bruiser be Considered a Street Truck?
“BAJA-READY” IS THE BUZZWORD FOR 4WD TRUCKS THIS YEAR. But if you peel off the stickers and ignore the blacked-out trim, what you’ll find is that some of them are little more than a lightweight shock upgrade and an appearance package. If you really want something that you could conceivably use to chase the Baja 1000, the list of worthy contenders is pretty short.
Here’s the thing about serious racing-inspired trucks: They tend to be hard to live with every day. A lot of drivers might prefer a smaller solution, one that has all of the chops of an off-road racer, but still offers maneuverability and refined comfort for the times you’re not scrambling over rocks and kicking up dust clouds that can be spotted from space.
That’s the bet that Chevy’s making with the new ’17 Colorado ZR2. This truck has serious off-road capability, but it changes personality the moment you transition to pavement. This is a truck you can live with as your daily driver and never feel like you had to compromise.
The new and different parts of the ZR2 are found on the greasy side of the truck. Specifically, the ZR2 has a unique suspension that makes all the difference. This truck is 3.5 inches wider than a standard 4WD Colorado, and it sits 2 inches higher.
The extra width comes from strengthened cast-iron front control arms and special steering knuckles in front, and from a widened rear axle in back.
The springs were also reengineered, and along with Multimatic shocks all the way around, they bump the ZR2 up to 8.6 inches of suspension travel in front and 10 inches in the rear. The Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve) shocks adapt to the workout they’re getting; meaning that if you take a big jump on a trophy truck course as I did several times, they’ll offer a damping curve to use that suspension travel to soak up the big hit at the end. But they have a different damping curve on the pavement, so a rough patch on the road doesn’t feel like you’re driving over boulders.
The shocks are the key to the real appeal of the ZR2. You can slam the truck around on a rock crawl and down a rough trail, but when you drive off the trail and back onto the pavement, it’s like you get a whole different truck. The on-road performance is smooth and tight, with steering response you wouldn’t expect from the big 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road tires. It’s almost enough to make you feel bad for people doomed to squish around in other off-road trucks.
TWO GOOD ENGINE AND DRIVETRAIN OPTIONS
Chevy offers two engine and driveline packages with the ZR2. You can opt for the 3.6L V-6, rated at a healthy 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic that shifts smoothly and doesn’t hunt around much for gears. Or you can get Chevy’s 2.8L Duramax four-cylinder turbo-diesel. This engine is rated at 186 hp and
369 lb-ft of torque. You get a six-speed automatic with this engine, and I’ll argue that it’s the better choice. The torque of the diesel is more than capable of driving the truck with six speeds. You’ll never bog down with this combination.
With either engine, you get an electronically controlled transfer case that offers RWD, automatic AWD, 4HI and 4LO options. Just spin the dial and take your pick. The double-secret part is that if you press the button in the center of the drive controller, it
turns down the stability control to give you a little more room to play in the dirt, without totally defeating the stability and traction controls.
One feature of the ZR2 you won’t find on any other Colorado is the driver-selectable electronic locking front and rear differentials. The less serious
Z71 package offers an automatic locking rear diff only. With the ZR2, you just press a button and you can lock the rear or both diffs at once to get perfect power split to all four wheels.
TOWING AND HAULING CAPABILITY
First and foremost, the ZR2 is a truck, and Chevy’s putting a full tow package in every one, including a dash-mounted integral trailer brake controller and automatic trailer sway control. The ZR2 is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, and you can put 1,100 pounds of payload in the bed.
Speaking of the bed, it’s got a spray-in bedliner as standard equipment, and you get a 60.9-inch bed with the full four-door crew cab, or a 74-inch bed if you choose the extended cab model. If you want to go for the real Baja look, there’s an optional bed-mounted spare tire carrier.
EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR
The ZR2 is far more than an appearance package, but Chevy didn’t neglect the outside, although almost every exterior change on the ZR2 is functional. For example, both the front and rear bumpers were redesigned to offer increased wheel clearance to accommodate the greater suspension travel in articulation. You can also get bash bars or a step as dealer-installed accessories.
The hood is unique to the ZR2, offering a matte finish on the power bulge to reduce glare, along with a custom satin-finish grille. The only chrome on the truck is the Colorado name. Look underneath and you’ll find some serious armor in the aluminum skid plates covering all of the important stuff.
Inside, you’ll be pleased to find a luxurious and comfortable cabin. The front seats are leather trimmed, power adjustable and heated. The seats are comfortable, though you might get tossed around a little in vigorous off-road driving.
The dash is well laid-out, and opting to add the Bose premium stereo and the enhanced Chevy Mylink system with navigation is money well spent because the ZR2 is surprisingly quiet on the road. You won’t hear the wailing of the off-road tires. You won’t even hear appreciable wind noise. The cabin experience of the ZR2 is as civilized as any SUV with a comparable price tag.
When it comes to safety, Chevrolet chose the important stuff and didn’t overdo it.
You’ll get a full set of airbags, of course, and stability and traction controls. You don’t get lane-departure warnings and parking assistants to beep at you when you know what you’re doing, but you do get a nice rear-view camera.
The rest of the safety equipment is all about control. You get hill descent control and hill start assist, rollover mitigation and anti-lock brakes all around. The automatic AWD setting on the ZR2 is great for heavy rain and snow driving.
THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE
You can take it for granted that the ZR2 goes anywhere when it’s off-road. We crawled over rock and went up and down stupid-steep slopes, and even took it on a Baja-style Trophy Truck race course and jumped it a few times. The ZR2 eats that terrain up without any trouble at all.
But as I mentioned before, it’s the on-street performance that really sets the ZR2 apart from other options in this class. When you’re driving around town, the smaller footprint of the Colorado chassis is convenient, nimble and easy to deal with. The ride is smooth, and the steering is quick and predictable. You won’t be beaten to death every time you negotiate a speed bump or enter a driveway.
PRICING AND TRIM LEVELS
The ’17 Chevy Colorado ZR2 with a crew cab starts at $46,120 with the Duramax diesel engine, or $42,620 for the V-6. The extended cab is a little more affordable, with the net price at $40,995 for the V-6 and $44,495 for the diesel.
Specifying the ZR2 is easy, because there’s only one trim level and the option list is short. The Bose stereo is $500, and the navigation is $495. The bed mount for the spare tire is $615. There are some other options, but those are the big ones.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
The Chevy Colorado ZR2 is certainly the best Colorado you can buy. In terms of driving enjoyment, it may be the best all-around truck you can buy this year. For what you’re getting, the price difference with any comparable truck is minimal. I rate the ZR2 as a strong buy for a truck that you can drive every day.