2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Review: First Drive

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It's possible this might be a case of bad timing, or maybe it won't matter: Just as pickup truck sales are slowing down, the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is debuting as one of the most impressive four-wheel-drive pickups we've seen in a while. The new ZR2 joins top-tier off-roaders such as the Ford F-150 Raptor and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro (the latter with or without Crawl Control).

We had the chance to take the newest mid-size 4x4 on the high-altitude trails and dirt roads of the Colorado high country, about an hour outside of Grand Junction. Before our driving impressions, a quick refresher.

What It Is

It's been a long time since Chevy (or GM) has had a serious off-road player in the pickup class. In our opinion, the last GM off-roader worth anything was the Hummer H3T.

The Colorado ZR2 uses the same frame and suspension strategy used in the standard Colorado Z71 off-road trim level but incorporates stronger, longer upper and lower control arms in front — the latter formed out of cast iron. Track width is increased by more than 3 inches in both the front and rear axles, with stronger and longer tubes and half-shafts making up the added length. ZR2s have a taller stance thanks to a 2-inch suspension lift and 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac all-terrain tires (the same tires offered on the Colorado Trail Boss). Additionally, the ZR2 will be offered only with extended cabs (with the 6.5-foot bed) and shorter-wheelbase crew cabs (with the 5.5-foot bed) with a choice of the V-6 gas (eight-speed transmission) or inline-four-cylinder turbo-diesel engines (currently only offered with the six-speed transmission).

Specific equipment for the ZR2 include front and rear selectable electronically locking differentials, a trailer brake controller, a two-speed transfer case (with a unique Off-Road mode), 17-inch aluminum wheels, a full-size spare with matching rim, rock slider body protection, and unique front and rear bumpers that offer improved approach and departure angles. But we should warn you: The difference in the ZR2's personality and performance goes far beyond a list of extra or different parts and technologies. There's something about the way it all works together that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. If you simply looked at a parts list, you would be greatly undervaluing the total.v

We've already reported about this pickup when it debuted as a concept truck at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show, and we also wrote about its Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve shock absorbers, the ZR2's most impressive piece of technology. But that's still only part of the story. The most remarkable pieces of the puzzle are how well all the upgrades work together to make it what will likely be a top mid-size performer on pavement, over extreme trails and blasting around a dirt track.

On Pavement

During our time with the Colorado ZR2, we drove several variations of crew-cab and extended-cab models equipped with both engines on mountain highways and higher speed freeways. The performance of the truck feels identical to a regular Colorado. We even recorded 25.4 mpg combined for the diesel engine and about 19.8 mpg for the gas during our 100-mile jaunts to and from airports and on 4x4 trails. But steering feel, ride and handling dynamics were a huge improvement over any other mid-size pickup we've driven.

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The DSSV shock absorbers quieted and smoothed the road, even when the truck went over expansion joints or broken tarmac. Whether the pavement was coarse or rubble, the Goodyear Duratrac tires remained smooth and somber. Combined with the all-wheel-drive capability (Auto mode) of the new transfer case, we found ourselves pushing the mid-size pickup truck in ways we never would have dreamed — and don't forget this truck has a 2-inch suspension lift. Going into corners about 10 mph faster than we normally do became our new standard.

Low-Speed 4x4

During our multitrail tour outside Grand Junction, in and out of Colorado National Monument, we navigated narrow, twisting, rutted four-wheel-drive trails recently subjected to heavy rains. To call portions of our hill climbs "greasy" is an understatement for the slop the tires had to spin and dig through. But this is where the ZR2 showed versatility and poise. The transfer case has four settings — two-wheel drive, Auto (AWD), 4-High and 4-Low. You also can run the rear locking differential in 2WD (a huge advantage in places like those we were exploring), Auto and in 4-Low, multiplying the number of escape choices you have when nasty confronting obstacles.

Finally, when in 4-Low with the rear locking differential engaged, you also can engage the front locking differential to give you true 4WD. That means you can climb out of just about anything except a deep, porcelain bathtub — the tractive force was impressive to watch as slimy, clay-packed tires clawed and navigated over rocks and ledges and through ruts. Likewise, we saw the ZR2 navigate up stacked rock ledges, called stair steps, clawing its way up each level with relative ease.

The tapered front bumper, interestingly, made getting the front tire treads on the rock ledges a much easier proposition than with wider, conventional bumpers. Also, when sliding down those same stairs, balancing the brake and throttle pedals, the rear bumper's glancing blows on the ledges were soft and smooth. We should note the Colorado ZR2 bumpers are different than standard Colorado bumpers. The ZR2 sports bumpers with tapered ends because the corner-notched step cutouts of the regular Colorado would decrease the ZR2's departure angles. We also like the fact that GM Accessories will offer a spare tire carrier for the bed of the ZR2 to allow customers to move the spare from under the truck to the bed. In fact, buyers can purchase the spare carrier and tire for the bed and keep the original spare under the bed, allowing customers to have two spares.

High-Speed Fun

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We had the chance to wallop the new ZR2 on a 1-mile dirt racecourse designed to train Baja-style racers how to go fast in the dirt. We weren't racing, but we did benefit from the 17 corners, four jumps and two high-speed decreasing-radius banked turns. The course allowed us to compare both 2WD and 4WD modes, and the accompanying set of traction controls.

We found ourselves experimenting with the Off-Road mode operated via a button on the transfer case. We found that it impressively allowed for about twice as much wheelspin when engaged in 2WD. We instantly became a drifting expert around each wide corner. On one lap, we held down the traction control button for five seconds and found we were doing more driving sideways, pointed into each corner, than when we were flooring it down the straightaways. On subsequent laps, we used the Auto setting, which provided tremendous amounts of four-wheel dirt spinning during which the 4-High setting had us plowing through sand and ruts like a trophy truck through the Baja desert.

We got the tires off the ground a few times, but were pleasantly surprised when harsh hits into the bump stops we expected never happened. We chalked that up to the DSSV shocks once again, with their magical abilities. Even over the nasty chops and wheel-spinning grooves of previous racers, our ZR2 stayed planted without any of the punishing or harsh inputs those types of quick hits typically communicate to the frame and to the driver. After our multilap time behind the wheel (we wore helmets and head-restraint devices), we checked the temperature of the shocks and found them to be cool — not the slightest bit heated from all the high-speed impacts.

Bottom Line

There is plenty to like about the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 — it's impossible to emphasize what a stunning value this pickup represents. Still, this could be the right truck for the right class, but just at the wrong time. We have no doubt there will be a hearty crowd of truck buyers who will be shocked by how good it is. But are there enough of those buyers to make this a sales success?

We'd guess that the shocks alone cost $1,000, maybe more. So, with a starting price around $41,000 for the extended-cab V-6 ZR2 and less than $44,000 for the crew cab, we think there's plenty of performance and value here. Maybe enough for the ZR2 to become the new champion of rock and ruts.

Cars.com photos by Matt Avery and Mark Williams

 

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Comments

Looks odd for some reason. Like a lifter truck with small tires.

Are the front and rear lockers Eaton e-lockers?

Here we go, the liberal media likes this truck, so no matter what the Tacoma TRD Pro that can outperform and is a better value than this will lose a head to head contest because of buttons and a smooth car ride!

Pathetic!

"Here we go, the liberal media likes this truck"

When did this site become "liberal media"?

A Ford Craptor what? A Tacoma TRD Pro who? Sorry there is a new dog in it town, the ZR2! It cost less, and is way more off road capable. Open front diffs are for mall crawlers and street queens like the Craptor and TRD Pro!

This should be titled, Last Drive. Its for sure a third place off-roader.

You know the ZR2 is good if Nitro is calling it 3rd place, everything that clown says is 100% opposite. Thanks for say the ZR2 is #1 Nitro! Glade you finally came around and admitted GM is #1.

Looks good. Too bad there's no video. I'm not so sure what to make of that crazy 'multimatic dynamic' name.

Wish it had better headlights. D5S bi-projector [low beams], while retaining the high beams.
Wish it had the 10 speed automatic.
Wish it had a twin-turbo [regular fuel] 3.0 V6.
Wish it had bigger front brakes.
And to offset the weight of the front brakes, use a forged aluminum lower control arm. {the slow diesel doesn't need bigger brakes, so it can retain the cast iron control arm}

When they first said they were going to come out with the ZR2, I could buy a CC short bed 4wd Collie for $32K, now cannot touch one for under $36k...a Z71 was $35K in 20115 just think a diesel ZR2 cc short bed with a few options will hit $50K.... need to reduce the manufacturing/overhead cost/profit on all of them.

can get $10K off any oof the full size trucks right now with out even asking for a discount...

biggest beef? Price

North of 40k these trucks do not sell! The whole mid size marketplace is too high-priced, except the entry models from Nissan and Chevy. Less than five percent of truck sales.

I'd prefer a stripped 4x4 half ton with the right shocks and wheels/tires. It would be a lot less than 40k.

If the wheel wells were not square, you could fit 33s rather than 31s. Sad

Mike you can fit 33's as shown and said here:


http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2017/05/video-gm-customizes-2017-chevrolet-colorado-zr2-as-chase-vehicle.html

The configurator is live.

Diesel, short box, crew, Canjon red, pickup bed tie downs, interior pkg, and tire carrier.

$49,445.00

And you don't get the 8 speed or performance exhaust.

With just the V6 $46,390.00

There is no V8.

And you could go over $50k if you added the lights.

How GMA built theirs: "Our final tally before taxes, title and other fees rung in at $51,115 with extra goodies at the optional 4-cylinder diesel engine."

How GMA built theirs: "Our final tally before taxes, title and other fees rung in at $51,115 with extra goodies at the optional 4-cylinder diesel engine."

I'd expect huge $ off in a few months, at list it's just too much $ for most buyers outside of the guys who will only buy GM. If the #s are available I'll bet Toyota sells many more Tacoma TRDPros. For $50K a stripper Raptor is a better value that will keep way better residual value down the road. If you can find one that is...won't be an issue finding these in a few weeks.

If you can find one that is...won't be an issue finding these in a few weeks. Posted by: DudlyDoRight

@Dudly
Do they call you Dudly at home, or is it just Dud? Sorry, could not resist.

Actually, you're getting into crystal-ball territory with that prediction. Too soon to tell.

My viewpoint is all about price. These trucks like the Raptor and the other store-bought hot rod off roaders, they are just too much money, especially for something that you'll only use off road a tiny fraction of the time. I see an awful lot of "off road" trucks in the parking lot at the grocery store.

@papajim--I don't care about price.

I don't know who DudlyDoRight is but it is his right to drive whatever makes him happy just as much as its your right to drive around a V-8 half ton Silverado single cab base model with an empty bed. Just because one wants a zr2 doesn't mean they cannot use it to go to the grocery store. If givent the choice would rather drive to the mall in a zr2 than my S-10 to the place I buy mulch from than put it my my CRV. Maybe I don't want to only go offroad and I use my truck for other things besides offroading and hauling. That is the reason I kept my old S-10 when I bought a new truck was for the hauling away of stuff that I didn't want to do in a nicer newer vehicle. It is just as environmental to keep an older vehicle running and in good condition than to keep buying the latest vehicle. Takes a lot of energy to make vehicle. Being thrifty and practical is being good stewards of your finances and helps prevent global warming.

Is Don your real name?

Yeah paps isnt making much sense, the world doesnt revolve around Papas views, what is expensive and not used much for an off roader for some is, too much for others. BTW papa did you see that oil is on the rise?

just too much money, especially for something that you'll only use off road a tiny fraction of the time. I see an awful lot of "off road" trucks in the parking lot at the grocery store.
Posted by: papajim | May 15, 2017 12:41:47 PM

This is a liberal argument liberals use to say people don't need trucks. People use their "off-road package" trucks for more than going off-road and use their trucks for more than just hauling. Why is this a problem for you? If you are seeing too many trucks at the mall, maybe you spend too much time at the mall and need to get out in the country more.

This truck is awesome period.

My viewpoint is all about..."off road" trucks in the parking lot at the grocery store.
Posted by: papajim | May 15, 2017 12:41:47 PM

Papjim lives in sunny San Diego or Florida or wherever he lives and therefore he hates off-road trucks. When he sees them at the grocery store he turns up his nose to them. He thinks you should drive a Prius to the store.

You guys are taking papajim's comments out of context. Papajim can afford to drive any truck. He is right in that the truck is too expensive for what you get. But step up and buy one and prove papajim wrong or just keep blogging about how great it is on the internet and prove him right.

@Ken, you are right, I keep forgetting he is retired living the life but doesnt want to spend money on a grocery getter

I agree with papajim. Too much money for a small grocery getter. And it won't interest the Big Baller luxury business owner buyers because its not a high-end full-size luxury vehicle like the Raptor.

I am not a GM guy but this is a nice truck. I wish that some people here didn't feel the need to insult every other brand on every article regardless of subject.

Johnny Doe, from what I have heard the Torsen differential in the Raptor is widely considered to be superior to the solid locking one that this truck seems to have. And, except for size I feel sure that any comparison would find the Raptor to be superior except for fuel economy and how it fits on tight trails. That said, I do like the size and fuel economy of this truck for my use and don't need the capability of the Raptor.

"from what I have heard the Torsen differential in the Raptor is widely considered to be superior"

Yeah superior junk!

http://www.fordraptorforum.com/f39/torsen-front-axle-problems-anyone-else-19867/index31.html

Zr2 tailpipes are already getting damaged on the first drives.

"When did this site become "liberal media"?"

@Walt - when ever oxi sees a truck that is better than his Tacoma.

The step bar in pic # 12; it seems bent already or is it just the usual off shaky GOVT motor design?...LOL

They had to remove the bumper steps because they were getting damaged in testing. Told ya. There's no replacement for the Ford manstep placement. Ford manstep coming to a 2019 Silverado near you.

Step bar.. lol.. typical Ford guy... Those are rock sliders... At least read the post instead of jumping to the forum and spilling your biased bologna....

BTW papa did you see that oil is on the rise?
Posted by: Nitro | May 15, 2017 2:05:43 PM

@Nitro

I just returned from a 2000 mile trip in the Silverado. Gas in places like Mississippi and Alabama was under 2.00 per gallon, the cheapest I've seen since early 2009.

Pump gasoline usually tracks crude oil pretty closely in the wholesale markets. In other words, I think you need to check your facts. Gas is dirt cheap.

Nitro, Stop with your gas is rising liberal fear-mongering. You are as bad as Jeff S.

This is the Third Week of Continued Falling Gas Prices.

Source: AAA May 15,2017

If the wheel wells were not square, you could fit 33s rather than 31s. Sad
Posted by: Mike | May 15, 2017 11:09:40 AM

Yes but then it would have sad looking rainbow wheel wells.

A 1" body lift will allow a 2017 ZR2 to clear 33" tires.

Sad how the Ford fan girlies have to attack Chevy's new entry into the off road segment. I guess when you have just the same 2 old truck designs with nothing new on the horizon, you have to defend Ford.

"When did this site become 'liberal media'?"

Since the idiots decided to be whinging crybabies that reflexively hate anything they don't agree with, no matter how banal. Can't say anything good about GM, since apparently that simple act is tantamount to some felonious social act...

What was that laughable garbage about intolerant liberals again...?

A Ford Craptor what? A Tacoma TRD Pro who? Sorry there is a new dog in it town, the ZR2! It cost less, and is way more off road capable. Open front diffs are for mall crawlers and street queens like the Craptor and TRD Pro!
Posted by: johnny doe | May 15, 2017 9:46:28 AM

Greta,
The Raptor has a torque sensing front diff which is a very effective design. There probably isn't a locker on the market that would last in the IFS with the Raptors ginormous torque and hp. The mid size trucks are more off road friendly IMHO because of their size. I'd take an old ZR2 S-10 or Ranger and modify it if I really wanted a true off road truck. $45,000-$55,000 "off roader"? Not very likely for 99%. Getting your truck muddy doesn't make one much more "hardcore" than the mall crawler crowd. To each their own.

I agree that most Tundra Pros are not taken off road. I had the TRD supercharger installed on mine and actually have been to the drag strip. It's to expensive to put in the woods. I've got a 05 Chevy Z-71 extended cab and a 02 Tacoma regular cab 4 wheel drive I use for that.

This truck isn't intended to compete with the TrdPro or Raptor. It is intended to help stop the bottom from falling out from under GM's non selling full size trucks. With this little gem sitting in the showroom for $53,000 GM feels it will be easier to steer customers into the $53,000 full size trucks that have $12,000 off. Any idiot knows that $41,000 is less than $53,000......Maybe even johnny......Okay, maybe not.



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