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.

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