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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.

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