Chevrolet took the wraps off its newest performance pickup truck at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show in dramatic fashion Tuesday, revealing to a gaggle of journalists the reemergence of the ZR2 nameplate and quite possibly the most off-road capable vehicle in the Chevy portfolio: the Colorado ZR2.
Many might not remember the ZR2 off-road package offered by GM decades ago on the Chevy S-10 pickup or GMC S-10 Blazer SUV, but it was one of the first noteworthy off-road packages offered by a major manufacturer on a truck.
GM's resurrection of the ZR2 name puts it on steroids, making the new pickup platform a contender for the most capable factory off-roader around.
The ZR2 comes with a host of changes, not the least of which is an impressive new position-sensitive set of shock absorbers. The aluminum-cased Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve dampers use two spool valves (as opposed to conventional deflected discs) to deal with normal on- and off-road compression and rebound events, as well as the more harsh and high-speed impacts commonly experienced when doing serious desert running.
Beyond the new shock technology, the ZR2 also offers a 2-inch taller suspension to better house the new 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac tires. The front suspension sits 3.5 inches wider to accommodate wider lower control arms. In the rear, spacers give the rear axle the same amount of extra track width.
Both front and rear bumpers are unique, each with specifically designed cutouts to deliver the maximum amount of approach and departure angle — offering as much as 30 degrees in front and 26 degrees in back. Designers eliminated the signature corner bumper steps because they decreased the trail worthiness of the mid-size pickup by several rock-scraping degrees.
The ZR2 also has more skid plating than any other Colorado and will benefit from adventure-oriented accessories such as a bed-mounted spare tire carrier and sturdy side-mounted rock rails, which make this capable trail beast into an even more competent and prepared rock climber. Additionally, the new ZR2 will be just one of two factory pickups available with front and rear electronic locking differentials (the other being the Ram 2500 Power Wagon) to provide incredible, true four-wheel drive.
The transfer case also has been upgraded, offering both two-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, 4WD High and 4WD Low options. The transfer case has an added push-button Off-Road mode on the transfer case dial, which allows the driver to engage the rear locking differential in any one of those four traction settings as well as engage the front locking differential when in low range. Furthermore, the Off-Road mode changes many of the traction and stability control calibrations to allow for better tire grip on different types of surfaces (such as snow, mud and sand). The number of traction permutations with all these settings is mind-boggling.
Engine choices for ZR2 are the 3.6-liter V-6 gas engine and the turbo-diesel 2.8-liter inline four-cylinder with more torque. It's worth noting — and not unexpected — that the ZR2 has a slightly lower tow rating at 5,000 pounds and a little less payload capability at 1,100 pounds than other equivalent Colorados.
Gary Klein, the ZR2's lead chassis engineer, took Cars.com Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays for a ride on a rugged, makeshift test course complete with staggered 12-inch bumps; multiwave ruts and bumps; a moderate jump ramp; a 40-foot-high, 30-degree hill climb and corresponding descent; and two off-camber frame twisters.
"The drive was too short to gather any substantive impressions but those dampers sucked up the impacts incredibly well, more than I expected," Mays said. "Over the rapid succession of uneven bumps, the suspension quelled the bounce quite well. ... I kept bracing myself for the hard impacts and they never came ... and to prove what locking differentials can do, we pulled ourselves up a massively steep hill climb where only one front wheel had traction [the other three were on rollers]. True to its hardware, it clawed itself right up."
The new Colorado ZR2 will go on sale later next summer as a 2017 model, with pricing announced closer to the pickup's on-sale date. Chevrolet says it will not limit production of the new ZR2 to special-edition status, making only a certain number of the vehicles per year. We're told GM is running the Wentzville, Mo., production facility in a way that allows it to build as many of the off-roaders as it likes.
Of course, final pricing will determine the success of this new Colorado. But if the look and parts list are any indication, this will get a lot of attention from both mid-size and half-ton buyers.
We have to give GM credit for keeping the actual look of the truck close to the look of the concept we saw at the 2014 L.A. auto show. At the time, we had hoped GM wouldn't change a thing, but moving away from King Shocks to the new DSSV technology could turn out to be the best thing that has happened to the mid-size pickup. We hope to be driving this truck in the first few months of 2017, so stay tuned.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears