ZR2 - DRIVE IT LIKE YOU STOLE IT
THE PICKUP TRUCK FLEW OFF THE WHOOP just a few metres from where I stood with a clear half metre space under all four tires, then landed ten metres from its launch point, and I swear I heard the driver and passengers' helmets bump the roof of the cab on the rebound just before the haze of dust swept up behind me to join the fresh red Colorado dirt cloud created as the truck sped off to the first chicane.
This was not an off-road race; it was the General Motors (GM) Chevy engineering team for the Colorado ZR2 showing off their tough–as-the-wild-west brand new baby - the off-road edition of the Chevy Colorado – the ZR2.
Before you hardcore trail types flip the page, this isn’t a tale of fancy badging and an extra inch of lift. The ZR2 is to the base Colorado what the Wrangler Rubicon is to the Sport, what Hulk is to Bruce Banner.
This is the creation of some of the off-road engineers from GM’s Hummer program, and a partnership with Canadian sensation suspension firm, Multimatic, whose patented suspension damper Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSV), is the main reason this truck drives head and shoulders above all other off-road competitors as an all-round truck.
Multimatic helped Newman-Haas Racing win 7 of the 19 races, and the driver’s championship in the 2002 CART series, they became mandatory equipment in 5 other major racing series, Red Bull Racing used them to win 4 consecutive Formula 1 titles and roughly half of this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours competitors swear by them.
It was overcast as our jet left Salt Lake City, rising above the clouds on the way to Grand Junction, Colorado. On the ground below the clouds, I knew we were passing our final destination, Gateway, Colorado, just 100 km east of a little place you may have heard of called Moab.
The cynic in me couldn’t get too excited as we drove through the night for an hour and a half after landing in Grand Junction on the way to Gateway. The itinerary said ‘High-speed track activities’ for Day 1, followed by ‘Low Speed’ activities Day 2. A veteran of too many media ride and drive programs, they are a requirement of the job, but usually a yawner until the free booze starts to flow.
Tearing myself away from the buffet breakfast at Gateway Canyons Resort (a writer never turns away a free meal), I was led away to a waiting black Chevy Suburban for a short drive and a terrific surprise. I was informed that on site, Gateway Canyons Resort has an Air Tours helicopter hanger, an Auto Museum, a Driving Experience centre, ... and an off-road trophy truck track.
“You ready?” says Nick Katcherian, a lead development engineer at General Motors. His job is focused on the integration of all the components – essentially how does the vehicle drive. Like me, he has been similarly attired in a helmet and connecting chest harness, which prevents your head from snapping at the neck. “The course is two miles, you’re driving.” Without realizing
it, he had just buckled in and given Kevin McCallister the keys to the ‘Home Alone’ house.
I drove a parade lap to see the course layout. It was a series of chicanes, straights, whoops, sweeping corners and ‘U’ turns. I had arrived on the course on the third day of testing and the corners were a sea of loose dirt, deep ruts and bad lines. Straights were hard packed with washboard sections leading to jumps with recommended speed limits.
We started with all traction and stability controls on in two-wheel drive. The gas engine is 308 hp with an eightspeed transmission. Anyone can drive a trophy course in this setting. Bouncing through corners, the truck never swerved out of control. You can feel the ABS hits in braking toward the corners and essentially nothing happened as I drove out of the corners with the skinny pedal mashed to the firewall. If these were snowy and icy roads, anyone could easily maintain control.
Second was off-road mode which allows a little more yaw, the engine still cuts power out of the corners but this mode does allow the back end to slide out a bit.
Third was traction control off, which the engineers call fun mode. Now the back end slides out the way you expect with dirt flying as you exit the corners. You actually hear the dirt beating against the wheel wells as they claw to find solid earth.
I repeated ‘fun’ mode driving the turbo diesel, which comes with a six-speed transmission and a lot more torque than the gas version.
Most noticeable is the impact of the Canadian designed Multimatic position sensitive suspension system. It smooths out the washboard vibration and the truck settles down quickly after landing the jumps.
This is a good time to mention the trucks durability. These same vehicles were
used in hundreds of kilometres of testing on the Rubicon trial as well as other terrain across the US. After hundreds of laps of amateur drivers pounding the trucks on the trophy truck trail, they still hadn’t had a breakdown.
Day two was low speed testing which consisted of a mild trail ride and a rock crawling segment on hard rock steps. The tires were not aired down, so everything was up to the trucks’ mechanicals. The ride height was sufficient, and when it wasn’t, we made good use of the stock rock sliders and under body armour.
Built-in rear and front locking diffs worked great – as expected. And the electronic switching was intelligently designed. The lockers can only be engaged in four low, the front can only be engaged after the rear. Switching off the rear when both lockers are on, the truck shuts off the front locker first and then the rear.
Driving with good throttle control made the ascent simplistic. And speaking of throttle, the truck also comes with hill descent control. Start your descent at the speed you desire, and then touch the brake or gas to increase or decrease. Or if you’re especially lazy, use the cruise control ‘+’ or ‘-’,
Pressing the engineers about what they would have done differently, now that they have the final product, they revealed
only two things. One is cosmetic, they would have extended the front armour plate closer so the bumper so more people would notice it, and two, they would have loved to extend the travel of the suspension slightly.
Chevy engineers were committed to building a solid off-road platform that most buyers would never need to modify, and they succeeded brilliantly.
When they asked me what off-road features they could engineer into future models, I had a few suggestions. In no particular order, it would be great to have the hard wiring in place to add a winch and LED light bars. For that matter, a winch ready bumper would be awesome. A factory compressor for airing tires up and down - powerful enough to run small air tools, perhaps with air lines running to each wheel well so you could a do all four tires at once, and naturally room in those same wheel wells for 33” tires, without any modifications (I suspect that asking for room for 35’s would be too much – baby steps). After that, our liquorenhanced minds came up with nothing but outrageous ideas.
But perhaps not fruitless. After driving this truck, I know in my bones that the 4WD automotive aftermarket will wet their pants in anticipation, salivating to get their hands on this pick-up. And I will be passing out diapers and hand wipes to see they don’t slow down creating mods and accessories.
It is a chicken and egg scenario though. The aftermarket will expand their offerings if the truck sells well. Enthusiasts will buy the truck if they can modify it to make it their own.
Regardless, this is the vehicle that will push other companies to raise their game, and as consumers we will win, creating more choice in mid-size pickups than we’ve had in a decade and a half. If, and I expect they will, Colorado ZR2’s fly off the dealer showrooms, not only will we see better platforms from current contenders, it may also encourage other manufacturers to release their mid-size pickups in Canada.
Imagine yourself in five years, in search
Fully aired up we crawled up and down the stone steps using the rear and front lockers. The rock sliders and front armour got the occasional workout.
A specially outfitted ZR2 support was ready to lend a winch or make repairs as we lined up the test vehicles for a crawl through the desert.
The Tabegauche Trail was a mild route to the stone steps. But narrow enough to demonstrate the benefits of a mid-sized truck.
Fun mode – no traction control while 4 wheel drifting through high speed corners.
The DSSV suspension settles the truck quickly after launching airs like this.
No issues in full traction control through heavily rutted corners tearing up the trophy truck track.