While the Toyota TRD Pro enthusiasts have been a loyal following, no other truck in recent memory has had more anticipation in our viewership than the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. Maybe it’s the return of the ZR2 badge, maybe its the genuine off-road capability, or maybe its the pride of something special coming back to the Bowtie.
Regardless of why, we too anticipated our first test drive in the new off-road king of the trail from Chevrolet. The day came in of all places, Colorado where Chevrolet had set up on-road driving opportunities in addition to a challenging rock strewn crawling trail in the mountains and a high-speed course complete with jumps.
Getting ahead of ourselves a bit, the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 differs from the more sedate Z71 off-road pickup in a number of substantial ways both in hardware and in visuals. From the curb you can see a unique face with its own grille and bumper design.
The bumper itself is raised up and cut away from the tires, giving them a free and open grip to tall forward obstacles like mailboxes, golf carts and yes rock faces. A massive aluminum skid plate is also visible from up front since there is now gas saving plastic air dam hanging low.
Other notable visuals here are the unique hood with the raised center section and black graphic. If you get the Duramax diesel engine the emblem for it will be up there on the side of it. At the back the rear bumper is unique too, losing the step feature to be better long lived for departure scrapes. In the bed of all our test trucks also was the dealer accessory spare tire mount.
Powering the test trucks I drove was both the 3.6 liter V6 engine with its new for 2017 8-speed automatic transmission. This year the engine is good for a class topping 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque.
If torque is your thing you’ll want the 2.8 liter four-cylinder Duramax turbodiesel with its 369 pound-feet of twist. Through a six-speed automatic it offers up 181 horsepower and significantly more in the way of fuel economy over the V6.
The first outing for us in the ZR2 was the rock crawling course Bangs Canyon just outside of Grand Junction Colorado. Here, of the two engines I preferred the DuraMax diesel because of its low-end torque and easy crawling idle. You just ever so slightly roll into the throttle and it just goes.
To make all this possible is a completely different suspension and final drive bits. There’s an overall lift of 2-inches and a 3.5-inch wider track. The suspension is considerably beefed up with cast iron control arms at the front and a unique rear axle housing. The axle is wider but most important, the low hanging shock mounts are from the Silverado HD series trucks so they are extra stout to handle getting dragged along.
On the rock crawling course, the ZR2 was child’s play with its front and rear locking differentials with a 3.42:1 ratio. While they aren’t always necessary, having them made this excursion on the wet rock faces all to easy even for the relative amateur that I am at it, let alone a pro.
Most important to talk about are the Multimatic DSSV dampers with multiple valve chambers. They look very expensive and I am sure they are, Chevrolet representatives were coy about that when asked. The good news is they do the job.
Making them stand out is their unique valving for different sections of their stroke. This means rebound and compress reactions are different out here on the rocks than they are on a high speed trophy course where the curves and behavior you want are different.
They accommodate in spades. Jumping and hitting high speed events, they kept the truck remarkably stable and settled it quickly upon landing such that you could get onto the next move without waiting for it. The ride was soft and compliant here as you would expect.
In this activity having driven both engines, I thought the 3.6 liter V6 was the better choice for this as it was able to spin up and power out of curves a lot faster than the diesel and get tail happy more often. With the traction control nannies turned off, this truck is fun as hell at speed make no mistake.
But there is the real world however as no matter how much off-roading you really do or not, most of the time you will need to live on the paved streets and highways of every day live getting to and from. Here, the DSSV dampers pay off again with their on-road tuning mode.
Driving the Colorado ZR2 on the highway at 65 mph feels much like in a standard Colorado Z71. It has a slightly softer suspension but the stability is in no way harmed by the off-road capability added to this truck.
The wider track offsets the 2-inch lift in terms of roll stability for the most part. It’s the dampers which have a very roadworthy valve set for this mode of operation that makes it more livable every day frankly than any other truck you can compare it to. You don’t pay for your off-road prowess with a vehicle that sucks to drive in the real world. Period.
The trucks we test drove here with both extended cab and crew cabs, gas V6 and diesel engines ranged from $42,000 to $46,000 on average, making them very comparable to the closest competitor Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro in price.
Here however you get lots of choices, powertrain and cab in addition to other various options outside of its better all-around attitude toward fun and life. Bravo Chevrolet. Now it’s Ford’s turn at the mat.