“The speed limit is 30 mph, but try going 35 mph over that ramp,” said Brad Schreiber, one of the engineers who worked on the ride and handling of the new Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. He was traveling shotgun in his truck. The diesel engine roared, and seconds later there was silence in the cabin as we caught a few inches of air. “Woohoo! That was fun!” I said with a smile on my face as we landed softly. We were in a Baja-style closed course in Gateway, Colorado, about 60 miles southwest of Grand Junction. “You might have not noticed, but in every ramp we’ve caught air,” Schreiber said.
Not only can the Colorado ZR2 jump, but it can also tackle difficult trails. Chevy used the advantage of having a midsize truck to create a model that could rock crawl, run through the desert, and still deliver a decent ride on paved roads. The fact that the ZR2 is narrower than a full-size truck gives it a better advantage in terms of maneuverability, but Chevy needed the capability of a suspension that could support jumping and rock crawling. That’s when Multimatic came in.
As a company that’s known for using damper technology on high-performance cars, Multimatic developed its first application of off-road damping on the Colorado ZR2. Using its Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve technology, which is also used on the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, the ZR2 dampers were changed to provide more piston travel for off-road use. The positional-sensitive damper includes three operational ranges: off-road bump, on-road operating, and off-road rebound range. There are two spool valves that provide compression and rebound damping for regular driving, but the third spool is exclusively tuned to deliver a compression damping during intense off-roading. There’s also a separate housing to increase the oil and nitrogen reservoir capacity, and everything was designed to enhance cooling. The result is a suspension that absorbs the weight and force well when landing after catching some air while also providing a pleasant on-road driving experience and tackling some of the most extreme trails in the country.
And back to that Baja-style off-road course, what impressed me the most was how easy it was to maneuver the Colorado ZR2. When pushing the off-road button, the ABS and the stability and traction control systems do not intervene as much, allowing the ZR2 to easily drift on the dirt. Throttle mapping is also changed in off-road mode, and we really noticed it on the diesel engine, as the torque delivery was more powerful. Also remarkable was feeling the smoothness of the suspension after catching some air; there were a couple of instances where I wasn’t sure if we had jumped because I didn’t feel much difference on the suspension, but Schreiber assured me that we caught air every time.
Although the ZR2 is made for off-road enthusiasts, Chevy knew that most of the time the truck is going to be driven on paved surfaces, so when Multimatic was designing the dampers, they also paid a lot of attention to the on-road driving. After driving a Colorado Z71 and a Colorado ZR2 back to back on the highway, I’m not afraid to say that the ZR2 felt superior. You don’t get the sense that you’re driving an off-road truck, thanks to the quiet and gentle feeling in the cabin.
The ZR2 comes standard with the 3.6-liter V-6 gas engine delivering 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, and it’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Available for an extra charge is the 2.8-liter turbo diesel engine providing 186 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, sending all of that power through a six-speed automatic gearbox. You can only get the Colorado ZR2 with the short wheelbase (128.3 inches), and it’s available in extended cab and crew cab configurations. Extended cab comes with a 6-foot-by-2-inch box, and the 5-foot-by-2-inch box comes with the crew cab. Towing capacity was reduced to 5,000 pounds for both engines, and payload was lowered to 1,100 pounds.
The engineering team was proud to say that the ZR2 went through the Rubicon trail, completing Cadillac Hill in 90 minutes. No assistance was necessary, and all of their prototypes drove on the highway after going through the Rubicon. Helping the ZR2 over the standard Colorado is a 2.0-inch suspension lift, wider front and rear tracks (by 3.5 inches) to improve wheel travel, new cast-iron control arms, and its unique front fascia, which improves the approach angle to 30.0 degrees (compared to 17.6 degrees). Departure and breakover angles are both 23.5 degrees on the ZR2, an improvement over the 22.3 and 19.7 degrees of the regular truck, respectively.
For our off-road drive, we headed to the Bangs Canyon Trailhead, just south of Grand Junction, where we experimented the rock-crawling capabilities of the ZR2. We started by switching the transfer case to 4Low, allowing us to have more torque for extra traction. The ZR2 got through the narrow trail with only minor scratches from the bushes adjacent to us, and the ZR2’s 8.9 inches of ground clearance was enough to get us through without hitting the rocks most of the times, though there were a couple of instances where the rock sliders were useful. As we began climbing different hills, we used hill descent control (HDC) when going down, which allowed us to maintain the vehicle speed without having to worry about braking. Using HDC was easy. The speed can be increased or decreased using the cruise control buttons, and all you’ll have to do is steer the truck down the trail.
Bangs Canyon wasn’t even close to the kind of terrain that the ZR2 went through during its testing phase. We only scraped the skidplate once, and the 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road tires didn’t need to be deflated to 25 psi, which is suggested for off-road use. Chevy said that we were not going to lose any traction, but we would compromise ride quality in the cabin and added that it would be time-consuming to inflate all the tires before we were able to depart back to Gateway. I’m not sure how much of the ride quality was lost by having the tires inflated to the on-road recommended 35 psi, but the Colorado ZR2 still went through the canyon without loosing traction.
Adding to the ZR2’s capabilities are the electronic-locking differentials in the front and rear, making it the only truck in its segment to offer both lockers. They provide the ZR2 with better traction and allow the Colorado to send 100 percent of the torque to one tire (along with the transfer case). With both front and rear differentials locked, we started heading up the stair steps of Tabeguache Trail. The ZR2 slowly climbed each step, and we hardly saw any wheel spin. The ZR2 made it look easy to climb through the steps, and given that the engineering team went to nine different locations to test the truck, we’re sure it can go for more. Locking the front axle can only happen when the rear axle has been locked, and once they are both locked, ABS and HDC are disabled and the steering is somewhat diminished.
Pricing for the Colorado ZR2 starts at $40,995 for the gas engine, and going for the 2.8-liter Duramax diesel will set you back another $3,500. However, there are all kinds of goodies on the ZR2, including an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, four USB ports, and OnStar 4G LTE with built-in Wi-Fi and wireless phone charging. Also standard are the spay-on bedliner, recovery hooks, and a trailering package that includes a trailer hitch and a seven-pin connector. There are a few dealer-installed accessories such as the bed-mounted spare tire carrier that is available for an extra charge, but in reality, the ZR2 is priced competitively. The 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro with a six-speed automatic is available for $42,960, and the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor starts at $49,520. And don’t forget, you are getting those Multimatic dampers that do a great job on- and off-road.
With the right pricing, nice equipment, and great capability, the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is ready to make owners smile while catching some air or tackling rough terrains.