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Video | Here’s Why the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Is the Coolest Midsize Truck

I recently had the chance to spend a weekend driving a Chevy Colorado ZR2, which is a midsize pickup that’s a lot cooler than all the other midsize pickups. There are a few reasons why I make this bold claim — especially bold in the face of the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro — but I believe in the end you will agree with me, or possibly not. Those are your two options.

I rented the Colorado ZR2 through Turo, which is a service that lets you rent other peoples’ interesting cars instead of normal, dull, everyday rental cars. I rented it in Seattle, and I drove it around Seattle for a few days, and — shockingly — it did not rain. It didn’t even sprinkle. It was nice, and sunny, and beautiful, and my Colorado ZR2 was also all these things, except for “sunny,” which is not something a car can be.

So let’s discuss why I think this thing is so cool. If I were to wager a guess, I’d say the main thing that drew me in was the styling. All these off-roader pickups have cool chunky tires, but the Colorado takes things a bit further with a lift kit and, my personal favorite, a big light bar over the bed that reminds me of cool off-road trucks from the 1980s. They’ve managed to really make this look cool, and it enhances the look of the ZR2.

But it isn’t just the styling. The ZR2 also has a lot of off-roady benefits over the standard Colorado, including a widened overall track, a shaved front bumper for a better approach angle, a jacked-up suspension, off-roader tires, skid plates and two locking differentials. Frankly, between the styling and all the off-road goodies, the entire package is pretty compelling.

But here’s where it gets even more compelling: The ZR2 I drove had a diesel engine, which made it a little more intriguing than a Tacoma TRD Pro and Toyota’s standard-fare 3.5-liter V6. The ZR2’s turbodiesel 4-cylinder makes just 181 horsepower, yes, but it also boasts a shocking 369 lb-ft of torque — enough to pull an amazing 7,000 pounds, which places it into full-size truck territory. Maybe more impressive is the fact that fuel economy gets as high as 29 miles per gallon in the city, which is better than what you’d get in a Ford Escape. And the Colorado is no compact crossover; it’s an aggressive, capable off-roader truck!

Is it actually any good off-road? I’m not sure. Turo regulations don’t let you off-road your rented vehicles — and even if they did, I didn’t really have time to leave Seattle and hit some trails. But let’s be honest: The vast majority of people who buy these trucks will use them on the road, and the Colorado ZR2 shined in normal driving. The suspension is surprisingly smooth, and the truck is shockingly good at everything most people like about crossovers. It’s not small, but it also isn’t huge, which makes it both parkable and drivable in a city. The interior is simple, but GM’s MyLink system brings Apple CarPlay and various other modern features, which makes it feel reasonably modern.

This, of course, is a big deal to most potential Colorado ZR2 owners, because I think the vast majority of people who own this truck will only occasionally bring it off-road; mostly, they just want something that looks tough and aggressive, but actually works well on their daily commutes. And, surprisingly, the ZR2 is that: Despite the brawny appearance, it drives like a traditional crossover, and it’s totally usable in most driving situations. I think commuting in this thing would be exactly like commuting in a RAV4, except with a couple extra feet in back.

Interestingly, I find the diesel engine to be both the truck’s weakest link and its strongest selling point, depending on your perspective. I personally didn’t like it, because the truck is rather slow with the diesel. Yes, it’s got a lot of torque, but that doesn’t do much to help acceleration — and a 181-hp 4-cylinder just isn’t that much engine for a pickup truck in 2018. I also found it a bit noisy — not excessively so, but more than a gasoline engine. However, if you tow a lot, this is the engine to get. And it also dramatically helps fuel economy — so much so that I’d probably get the diesel anyway, despite my acceleration objections, if I were using the truck to commute.

So what’s the bottom line on the ZR2? It looks cool, it has a lot of cool off-roady bits, it’s shockingly capable, it drives well, and it has a fuel-efficient — if maybe a slightly dull — powertrain. It’s a very nice all-around vehicle, and you should certainly seriously consider one if you’re interested in a midsize truck.

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  1. My 2017 GMC Canyon with 3.6 gas long bed 4×4 gets 25mpg in city. DB cat back exhaust and K&N CAI help.

  2. This person didn’t do their homework and quickly wrote this up. the ZR2 doesn’t get anywhere near 29 MPG let alone in the city. The regular Colorado with the deisel does get 29mpg on the highway. Hey autotrader, let me know if you need a better reviewer, one that actually knows about vehicles.

  3. GM really needs to ditch the square wheel arches. They looked cool when the rest of the trucks’ bodies were square, however with modern styling they look downright awful.

    • On the small trucks they look a bit weird but I think they look amazing on the big Sierra/ Silverado. I like that they try to pay homage to their classic truck designs.

  4. My guess for the reasoning that the pocket on the seat back is only on the passenger side is not only for cost cutting, but also because it’s their for the driver. Sitting in the driver’s seat, it is easier to reach behind the passenger seat than the driver’s.

  5. So, you keep repeating that it can tow over 7000 lbs.  The only trouble is that…it can’t.  All ZR2 are limited to 5000 lbs, diesel or gas. 

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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