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2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Chevrolet Colorado, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Chevrolet Colorado Review

Although Chevy had been fairly vocal about the capabilities of the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 off-road package, we were still skeptical as we arrived in western Colorado for its media introduction. We expected something more than a combination of lift kit, special wheels and tires, and some decals, which such off-road editions often are; but we certainly hadn’t unleashed our imaginations sufficiently to prepare us for just how accomplished the ZR2 is off the pavement.

Marketers at General Motor’s bow-tie division want us to think of the Colorado ZR2 as a segment of one. Someone over at Toyota might take issue with that, pointing out that the Tacoma TRD Pro is no slouch. Marketing, however, is all about hair-splitting and spin. Let Chevy have its day, we say. Not to mention the Chevy sports a few unique goodies that do put some daylight between it and any current off-road contender.

A $2,000-or-more base-price advantage over the TRD Pro should also help Colorado ZR2 in any nose-to-nose comparison shopping. At the end of the day, though, it boils down to what you like, and there’s plenty to like about this Chevy. See the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado models for sale near you

My Fair Lady

Deconstructing the differences between the regular Colorado and the Colorado ZR2 is a detailed exercise. Yes, the ZR2 package builds on the regular Colorado, but the end result is a markedly different vehicle. It’s not quite a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation, but it is an Eliza Doolittle-like shift in appearance, stature, temperament and proficiency.

Because the ZR2 package encompasses so many different areas all in the name of increasing off-road competence, in some areas styling differences are as much about upgrading off-road capability as they are about enhancing the truck’s looks, blurring the line between form and function.

Lethal Weapon

Drivetrains motivating all four wheels are commonplace across vehicle segments. Sedans, crossovers and even minivans offer AWD. Trucks and SUVs with 4×4 capability are legion, but capability isn’t always competence. What sets the Colorado ZR2 apart from many other 4WD offerings — and even from the 4WD regular Colorado, for that matter — is the comprehensiveness of its off-roading approach. In the right hands, it can go just about anywhere a 4-wheel passenger vehicle can.

From something as basic as the front/rear track (wheels on the same axle), which engineers made 3.5 inches wider than that of the regular Colorado, to lifting the suspension by 2 inches, the off-road enhancements begin from the bottom up. Skid plates protect the radiator, engine oil pan and transfer case. Steel-tube rocker protectors span the distance between the front and rear wheel wells, guarding the lower body sides against damage.

Not only have the tweaks to the front end, including a more dynamic grille and hood, provided a bolder look, but forming the front bumper around the new grille provides a greater angle of approach. Combining that with the raised suspension and relocating the spare tire inside the cargo bed (a $615 option) offers additional ground clearance to a total of 8.9 inches. A reshaped rear bumper contributes to increasing the angle of departure.

Among the ZR2’s segment-firsts are the Camaro Z28-inspired dampers. Chevy tapped the Canadian company Multimatic to create a totally new off-roading damper. Known for high-performance dampers, like the ones in the Z28, as well as a variety of motorsport vehicles, Multimatic devised a long-travel spool-valve damper specifically for the Colorado ZR2. Without wading too deep into the weeds, these revolutionary dampers are engineered to provide a comfy on-pavement ride while delivering tremendous control in off-roading situations.

Another segment-first are the front/rear electronic-locking differentials. The rear locker can be engaged independently, but it must be locked before engaging the front locker.

Trading Places

Also setting Colorado ZR2 apart from other midsize trucks is the choice between a 186-horsepower 2.8-liter 4-cylinder Duramax turbodiesel or a 308-hp 3.6-liter V6. A 6-speed automatic transmission comes with the diesel, while the V6 gets an 8-speed automatic tranny. For serious off roaders, the diesel, with its 369 lb-ft of torque, is better suited to the more severe rock crawling. The diesel gets the nod for mileage as well. Government estimates rate the diesel at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. Those numbers drop to 16 mpg city/18 mpg hwy for the V6.

The Right Stuff

The buy-in for the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is $40,995, including destination fee. What you get for that is an Extended Cab/short cargo box configuration with the 3.6-liter engine. Upgrading to the 4-door Crew Cab adds $1,625 to the bottom line. Opting for the 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel engine will set you back $3,500.

Included in the starting price are 17-in alloy wheels, 31-in Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road rubber, a tow/haul mode, a trailering package, an integrated trailer brake controller, a spray-on bedliner, a locking tailgate, a rear sliding window, leather seating, heated front seats, wireless phone charging, four USB ports, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, remote engine start, cruise control, air conditioning, a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity with voice recognition, OnStar telematics with 4G LTE Wi-Fi capability, and a 6-speaker audio system with MyLink Radio and Navigation, an 8-in color touchscreen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability.

The Great Escape

Our day — two half days, actually — of driving incorporated a wide range of experiences, which included traditional off-roading, moderate rock crawling, highway and even some time on a trophy-truck-driving school track. We found the ZR2 to be an overachiever off the pavement, yet remarkably comfy and civilized when confined to the asphalt. All the bragging and self congratulations we heard from the product folks about the all-new Multimatic dampers wasn’t just public-relations claptrap. They really do manage to deliver impressive ride quality on the road and surprising stability off-pavement.

Bottom line: The Colorado ZR2 is no poser.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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  1. Very interesting. I have never considered the GMC brand. I believed that it will be strong enough with the ZR2 crew cab diesel against the RAM 1500 diesel or the TITAN also Diesel. Will see deal from all 3 brands for the finish line.

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