Lately, many automakers have been hopping on the jacked-up off-road pickup truck bandwagon, and General Motors is no exception. The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is their latest effort in a competitive segment where each offering has tried to one-up the other. Ford came into the game fairly early on with the Ford F-150 Raptor (reviewed here), and fills the upper price range with a big posterior and serious 4X4 prowess. Cheaper, more mildly spec’d options are also in the mix, including the likes of the Ram 1500 Rebel (reviewed here) and the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. The Colorado ZR2 will likely do business mainly against the likes of archrival Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro (reviewed here).
With their growing size, the Colorado and Tacoma alike can hardly be called compact trucks nowadays, but they’re the smallest you can get in the market right now. Starting at a base price of $45,840, the ZR2 is the flagship of the Colorado range, and gets an up-level suspension with trick Multimatic DSSV dampers, P265/65R17 all-terrain tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, a spray-on bed liner, fully-lockable front and rear differentials, rocker panel guard bars, and a heavy duty trailering package that makes the ZR2 good for a 3,492 kilogram (7,700 pound) towing capacity. On the test car, the only option equipped was a $795 navigation system, bringing the as-tested price to $46,635.
One of the biggest talking points on the ZR2 lies in its suspension. Multimatic, a Canadian automotive parts supplier who has seen great success in motorsports and builds the Ford GT supercar, has developed the Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve shock absorber. Like traditional dampers, the DSSV units rely on a piston moving about inside a tube filled with oil. In the past, a series of internal discs controlled the amount of oil flow back and forth inside the shock, with a finite amount of oil flow responsible for tuning ride and handling characteristics. The technology has remained more or less consistent over the last century, and does have limitations on the amount of tunability, as well as long term durability.
The DSSV shocks, using spool valves and an internal coil spring, are not susceptible to wear and tear in the same manner, and are much more easily tuned. Engineers can dial in compression and rebound separately, and in the ZR2, the damper is position sensitive, which means different damping behaviour depending on where the suspension is in its travel. Long story short, this means that when cruising on the road, the Colorado ZR2 maintains very good ride quality, but doesn’t sacrifice performance when the going gets tough.
In addition to the great ride on pavement, rolling down a gravel or dirt road in the ZR2 is a real treat – even at higher speeds, much of the impacts on the suspension are filtered out and very little of it makes it into the passenger cabin. Where older style shock absorbers often give up the ghost for handling if tuned for comfort, the DSSV dampers still allow for much better than expected performance in the turns. Highway on and off-ramps can be taken with considerably more speed and confidence than one would expect, despite the fact that the ZR2 is equipped with its big fat all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires.
With 50 millimetres (two inches) and 90 millimetres (3.5 inches) of extra ride height and track width, respectively, the Colorado ZR2 makes use of class-exclusive lockable front and rear differentials. There are cut-outs at the corners of the bumpers to improve approach and departure angles, and the aforementioned 17-inch all-terrain tires are functional while giving the truck a more aggressive look. Tubular rocker panel guards run alongside the cab, and there are skid plates underneath the drivetrain to protect from impacts. On the test truck, there was also the optional bed-mounted spare tire, which is a relocation from the bottom to allow for more ground clearance.
In terms of off-road electronics, there’s a two-speed Autotrac transfer case with control via rotary knob. A hill descent control system allows for drivers to confidently crawl down the steepest of inclines, and there are angle sensors on the gauge cluster that show the amount of pitch and roll that the truck is being subjected to. Hill start assist prevents from sliding backwards when beginning to move up a hill, and as with all Colorados, a full stability and traction control system features rollover mitigation.
Powering the Colorado ZR2 are the same two engine options found in lower trim levels. There’s an available 2.8-litre inline four cylinder Duramax diesel making 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque, but the test truck featured a gasoline 3.6-litre V6 with 308 horsepower at 6,800RPM and 275 lb-ft of torque at 4,000RPM. Gas V6 trucks feature an eight-speed automatic transmission, in which the extra and more closely-packed gear ratios help to improve acceleration and city fuel economy. Diesels make do with a six-speed automatic.
While the overall peak output of the gasoline V6 is impressive, it does lack some low end torque that would ideally be expected in a brute force off-roading pickup truck. While the eight-speed transmission is a welcome improvement, it still takes a considerable amount of revs to get the Colorado ZR2 to move with authority. The large diameter and high rolling resistance all-terrain tires definitely don’t help, and frequent kickdowns will be required for passing, merging, and hilly terrain.
Owing to the extra curb weight and rolling friction of the off-road goodies, the Colorado ZR2 is rated for 15.0L/100KM in the city, and 13.0L/100KM on the highway. Observed economy over a week of testing netted 13.3L/100KM with mostly highway driving. Regular fuel is perfectly acceptable, tank capacity is 79 litres. For capacities, maximum towing is 3,493 kilograms (7,000 pounds) on the test car as-equipped, and bumps up to 3,447 kilograms (7,600 pounds) if equipped with the 2.8-litre diesel. Payload capacity is 702 kilograms (1,548 pounds), or 670 kilograms (1,477 pounds) with the diesel.
Inside, the top off-road spec Colorado is equipped with leather seats with “ZR2” embroidered into the front headrests. Seat comfort is average – the cushions are fairly flat and on par with most pickup trucks. Thigh support is better than the Toyota Tacoma, and the rear seats fold either up or down to accommodate cargo. The interior is fairly well laid out, with no-nonsense easy ergonomics for the climate controls and off-road settings. Chevrolet’s easy-to-use MyLink 4GLTE Wi-Fi hotspot system is standard, and also includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity to complement (or make redundant!) the optional navigation system.
Overall, the 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 makes for a wonderful off-road package right out of the box. Thanks to the design masterpiece Multimatic DSSV dampers, it doesn’t punish you when rolling on hard pavement, yet still rides well on dirt, gravel, and rutted roads. The visual extras give it a pretty badass look, and the Chevy’s suggested retail price for the V6 gas-powered truck comes in a few thousand cheaper than the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. The Toyota doesn’t feature a front locking differential or the DSSV dampers, but does have the availability of a six-speed manual transmission. Bottom line – for those who aren’t willing to deal with the steeper price tag and huge footprint of the Ford F-150 Raptor, the Colorado ZR2 is a very logical and worthy choice.