Off-Road Test: The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

The 2018 Chevy Colorado ZR2 is ready to rock crawl right from the showroom floor. Our contributor took it for an off-road test drive for this review.

Off-Road Testing The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Testing the Chevy Colorado ZR2 near Grand Junction, Colo.

Flying through the air, with a full race helmet and HANS Device restricting my head movements, I had to ask myself; how did I get here?

I was in the remote mountains of Western Colorado. More specifically, on a purpose-built, Baja-style racetrack, designed to test and teach driving skills in trophy trucks. But I wasn’t in a souped-up, custom off-road trophy truck. I was testing the Colorado ZR2, a truck you can buy this spring off your local Chevrolet dealer’s lot.

Off-Road Testing The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
We have liftoff!

Chevrolet invited me to Colorado to get some seat time in its new performance off-road mid-size pickup, the ZR2. It’s an up-fitted version of the Colorado pickup.

Chevy Colorado ZR2: First Impressions

The Chevy Colorado takes aim squarely at the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. Much like the TRD Pro, the Colorado comes from the factory with significant upgrades.

Given the limited number of midsize pickup options available in the US, this one, ready for serious off-road use right from the showroom floor, should raise eyebrows.

Off-Road Testing The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

And it looks the part. With aggressive lines and functional upgrades to front and rear bumpers that greatly improve entry and departure angles, it looks downright mean.

But go under the sheet metal and ZR2 has a lot of off-road tricks up its sleeve. Its prowess comes from front and rear Eaton ELocker lockable differentials, front aluminum skid plates, stainless steel rock sliders, hill descent control, and 31” Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires.

Off-Road Testing The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

The ZR2 offers up a rock-clearing 8.9″ of ground clearance, with a 1 1/2″ lift and 1/2″ larger tire than the stock Colorado.

This is a versatile machine though, and in driving, it shined in a WIDE range of off-road situations. And while it really impressed off the tarmac, this truck is snappy and responsive on-road too.

But the one new feature on the ZR2 that sets the truck apart from the competition is the Multimatic DSSV dampers.

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Superlative Suspension

This is Chevy’s first off-road application of Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSV) damper technology.

The DSSV technology was first used by Chevy in the Z/28 Camaro in 2016. It employs spool valves for increased ride and handling performance both on- and off-road.

Off-Road Testing The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

This suspension technology has raised the bar. It works equally well on- and off-road. It truly shines in tight paved corners and at speed off-road.

The DSSV dampers provided smooth, controlled and soft landings off big obstacles at speed. We really did get the truck airborne. The most impressive thing to me was the instant control you had once landing. The truck didn’t bobble and sway like many soft off-road race suspensions.

Chevy Colorado ZR2 rock crawling

On the trail going slow, the dampers worked well to absorb the harsh hits as you rolled over rocks and obstacles. But it did feel a bit stiff. The key to this suspension tech is that it does all that off-road, while also providing a sporty responsive on-road feel not typical in such an off-road-capable truck.

Chevy Colorado ZR2: Off-Road Test Drive

I was able to drive this truck on a high-speed Baja-style off-road course, a typical moderate off-road trail, a rock-crawling area, and on a wide variety of paved roads.

The versatility of this truck is what is most impressive. Its looks lead you to believe it’s a pre-runner style off-road machine, which it is. But it is also an impressive low-speed rock crawler and one of the best-handling on-road trucks I’ve ever driven.

Chevy Colorado ZR2 test drive

The development team at Chevrolet went to great lengths to make sure this truck is capable over a wide variety of terrain. They tested it in such places as the Rubicon Trail, Hell’s Revenge, Poison Spider Mesa, and the Tail of the Dragon.

Those and many other locations around the country, as well as a variety of specialized test facilities, truly prepared this truck to perform wherever your adventures take you.

ZR2 Powertrain, Options, Pricing

There are two big decisions to make when purchasing a ZR2: which engine option and which cab/bed configuration best suit your needs. These configurations also drive price, which begins at about $41,000.

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There are two powertrain options. First, a 3.6L V6 (308 hp/275 lb-ft /16-18 mpg) with 8-speed automatic.

The Duramax 2.8L 4-cyl diesel (186 hp/369 lb-ft/19-22 mpg) with 6-speed automatic is a $3,500 upgrade. It includes an exhaust brake but comes at a 250-pound weight penalty. With over 84 miles of spirited driving on a wide variety of terrain, I managed to see 26.2 MPG from the Duramax with the crew cab configuration.

You can choose between an extended cab (two door with small suicide back doors) with a 6’2” box or the four-door crew cab with a 5’2” box.

Chevy Colorado ZR2 review

I’d probably purchase this truck in the extended cab 6’2” bed configuration with the Duramax diesel. That would allow me to sleep in the bed of the truck, haul more outdoor gear, and set me back a little over $45,000, with nearly all the options boxes checked. I’d probably also get the rubber floor option instead of the standard carpet, as it is incredibly easy to clean and provides more sound and temperature insulation.

The 1,100-lb. load capacity and 5,000-lb. towing capacity of the ZR2 best the competition and provide plenty of capability to haul loads of adventure gear. I found the build quality to be exceptional throughout the vehicle, with the body, bed, and frame being an incredibly solid unit — very little flex. The interior is surprisingly well-designed with quality materials throughout. You even get heated leather seats as standard on the ZR2.

ZR2 Flaws

The new ZR2 is sure to be a top contender in the US mid-size pickup market. But it isn’t perfect. I found a few of the ergonomics to be a bit off.

There really isn’t much of a dead pedal. This leaves you constantly searching for a comfortable place for your left foot. I also found the front seats to be a bit flat in the lower cushion, with not much leg support, especially without an angle adjustment option on the lower seat.

Chevy Colorado ZR2 test drive

While off-road driving, I found it difficult to figure out exactly where the front corners of the vehicle were, due to the aggressively sloped hood. Some of the computer functions on the ZR2 also seem a bit slow, as it takes a few seconds to engage/disengage 4wd low, and for the descent control to engage once you’ve started rolling down a hill.

ZR2: Who It’s For

I’d buy the ZR2 for its off-road prowess, on-road manners, diesel fuel economy, and build quality.

It was impressive to watch the trucks go unfazed as all manner of journalist thoroughly thrash on Chevrolet’s demo fleet. The attention to detail, like the incredibly comfortable door and center armrests, make a good truck on paper into a truly great pickup.

If you’re looking for a new way to get you and your gear to that remote adventure, while also having a great daily driver, I’d suggest taking a hard look at the new Chevy Colorado ZR2.

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