Car Reviews First Tests

2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Gas and Diesel First Test Review

Chevy sets new standard with new off-road pickup

Chevy sets new standard with new off-road pickup

Weekend warriors looking for the ultimate city-friendly, go-anywhere off-road workhorse pickup used to have just one choice—the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. The new 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 might just have those shoppers thinking twice about heading over to their local Toyota dealers.

The Chevy Colorado has been our favorite midsize pickup on the market ever since it won back-to-back Truck of the Year titles in 2015 and 2016. For the 2017 model year, Chevy turns the now-proven Colorado formula up a notch with the trail- and desert-ready Colorado ZR2.

Building on the solid bones of the Colorado Z71, the new Colorado ZR2 gets a long list of serious off-road add-ons, but the heart of the new truck is its suspension system. The ZR2 gets Multimatic’s famed Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) dampers, which, when paired with a 2-inch suspension lift and 3.5-inch-wider track, gives the Colorado ZR2 the ability to run at high speeds in the desert, maximizes articulation while rock crawling, and improves ride quality and performance on the street. Chevy didn’t stop with the DSSV dampers, though. It also adds a locking rear differential, a segment-exclusive locking front differential, a beefed up rear axle and front control arms, additional body armor in the form of rock sliders, aluminum skidplates on the radiator, engine oil pan, and transfer case, and aggressive new front and rear bumpers designed to boost approach and departure angles. Rounding out the add-ons are 17-inch wheels shod with 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires.

Unlike the gas V-6-only Tacoma TRD Pro, there are two powertrains in the Colorado ZR2. A new-for-2017 3.6-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic combination is standard. The new V-6 has 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque and features cylinder deactivation and other fuel-saving tech to help it achieve a class-competitive EPA rating of 16/18/17 mpg (14.7/13.1/13.8 L/100km) city/highway/combined. The optional Duramax 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4 is good for 191 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque and comes mated to a six-speed auto. It’s down on horsepower compared to the V-6, but it makes up for it in both torque and fuel economy—it’s EPA rated at 19/22/20 mpg (12.4/10.7/11.8 L/100km). Towing capacity, no matter the engine, is 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg), and payload is 1,100 pounds (500 kg) for four-door short-bed trucks such as our two testers or 1,164 pounds (528 kg) for extended-cab long-bed ZR2s.

It’s worth mentioning that its primary competitor, the Tacoma TRD Pro, is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 making 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, EPA rated at 17/20/18 mpg (13.8/11.8/13.1 L/100km) with a six-speed manual or 18/23/20 mpg (13.1/10.2/11.8 L/100km) with the six-speed automatic. It’s got between 1,155 and 1,175 pounds (533 kg) of payload capacity depending on transmission and a 3,500-pound (1,587 kg) towing capacity.

At the track, the extra 170 pounds (77 kg) or so of off-road gear slows the Colorado ZR2s down a bit compared to the more street-oriented versions. The gas version is unsurprisingly the better performing of the two, thanks to its horsepower advantage and 223-pound (101-kg) lighter curb weight. The 0–60-mph run takes the V-6 Colorado ZR2 7.1 seconds to complete, and the quarter mile falls in 15.5 seconds at 90.0 mph (145 km/h). We haven’t tested a non-ZR2 Colorado with the V-6 and eight-speed auto, but we have recently tested a nearly identical GMC Canyon Denali 4×4 with the same powertrain. It needed 6.8 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph and 15.2 seconds to finish the quarter mile at 92.8 mph (150 km/h). Given its off-road-oriented tires, the gas-powered Colorado ZR2 did pretty well in braking and handling tests. It managed to finish the 60–0-mph panic stop in 135 feet, and it completed its lap of the figure eight in 29.1 seconds at 0.58 g average.

The diesel-powered Colorado ZR2 was a bit slower at the track. It needed a poky 9.7 seconds to run from 0 to 60 mph, and it finished the quarter mile in 17.2 seconds at 78.4 mph (126 km/h). Compared to our now-departed 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Duramax 4×4 long-termer, the extra off-road bits on the ZR2 amount to a half-second dip in 0–60 performance and a 0.4-second and 1.3-mph (2-km/h) difference in the quarter mile. Still, the Colorado ZR2 Duramax performed relatively well in brake and handling tests; it needed 132 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph, and it managed a 29.5-second lap of the figure eight, averaging 0.55 g.

Despite the Colorado ZR2 V-6 leaving its Duramax-powered brother in the dust at the test track, out in the real world the diesel Colorado is the better drive. With the diesel powerplant, the Colorado ZR2 is eager to surge forward off the line, and it surfs wave after wave of torque. It feels quicker than its numbers would suggest around town and off-road, though passing power is now only borderline acceptable. A tightly geared eight-speed automatic and an extra 20 horsepower or so would be perfection.

The V-6-powered ZR2 isn’t without its faults, either. As we discovered on our off-road adventure through Northeastern Canada earlier this year, the Colorado ZR2’s V-6 makes good power, but the transmission doesn’t want you use to it. As is sadly the case with many GM truck transmissions, the ZR2’s eight-speed wants to keep engine revs low. Unfortunately, the V-6 doesn’t happen to make much power at low rpm, so the end result is a gearbox that’s frequently changing gears in response to the driver’s throttle inputs.

One thing the two ZR2s have in common is how well they handle on the street and how capable they are off-road. On-road, the DSSV dampers are downright magical. They counterintuitively give the Colorado a firm yet forgiving ride with minimal body roll and little to no impact harshness transferred into the cabin. With both versions of the truck featuring light, accurate steering, the ZR2s are actually surprisingly fun to drive on a good, winding back road—a dedicated Sport mode in both versions of the Colorado ZR2 would only improve the experience.

Off-road, the Colorado ZR2 is damn near unstoppable. The Colorado ZR2 is pretty much the perfect trail leader; it’s sized to fit through narrow obstacles with ease, and it’s got both the off-road hardware and the body armor to get itself out of trouble and protect itself from stranding you out in the middle of nowhere. Of the two powertrains, the diesel is again the sweet spot. Its glut of low-end torque combined with four-wheel drive and aggressive off-road tires means the diesel ZR2 always has the traction and power to drive up, over, and through obstacles.

It’s the type of truck that pushes you to explore farther off-road for no other reason than just because you can. On a recent photo shoot, I was fortunate enough to be behind the wheel of the diesel ZR2 when we discovered our normal off-road route through the desert to a particular quarry was washed out and impassable for the pack of less capable pickup trucks in the shoot. I easily pushed the ZR2 through the washout and continued on my way—driving up to the top of sand dunes and miles down random rocky desert washes while looking for an easy way to get the other pickups where they needed to be. I didn’t find one, but I definitely didn’t mind wasting my time searching.

Although the diesel Colorado ZR2 is the better all-round truck both on- and off-road, if going high speeds across the desert is your thing, the gas is the better bet. With the truck’s Off-road mode (standard on both trucks) engaged—it lowers the ABS and stability control threshold and better keeps the engine in its powerband—the gas ZR2 stays on power and gets the pickup going at near triple-digit speeds as the suspension eats up whoops and bumps. The gas ZR2’s extra horsepower also makes it a better drifter if you’re into that sort of thing—which, let’s face it, you are.

Arguably the craziest thing about the new Colorado ZR2 is that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get one. In a day and age where Ford dealers are sticking $20,000 USD markups on Raptors, the Colorado ZR2 V-6 comes remarkably well-equipped for its $42,780 USD starting price, with everything from its off-road hardware to Apple CarPlay software standard. Prices for the Colorado ZR2 Duramax start at a still-reasonable $46,280 USD. Our loaded gas tester stickered for $45,020 USD and didn’t include a single option worth spending extra for save for the $395 USD blue paint (unless you’re really into the bed-mounted spare tire carrier). Our diesel Colorado tester stickered for $47,970 USD; the only option box worth ticking is the full vinyl floor covering, which costs a whopping $0.

We’ll have to wait to get our hands on a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and the coming Jeep Wrangler-based pickup before crowing the Colorado ZR2 midsize off-roader as king, but it’s safe to say Toyota and Jeep have their work cut out for them.

2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 V-6 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Duramax Diesel
BASE PRICE $42,780 $46,280
PRICE AS TESTED $45,020 $47,970
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
ENGINE 3.6L/308-hp/275-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 2.8L/186-hp/369-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,760 lb (57/43%) 4,983 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 128.5 in 128.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 212.4 x 76.7 x 72.2 in 212.4 x 76.7 x 72.2 in
0-60 MPH 7.1 sec 9.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.5 sec @ 90.0 mph 17.2 sec @ 78.4 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 135 ft 132 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.70 g (avg) 0.69 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.1 sec @ 0.58 g (avg) 29.5 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16/18/17 mpg 19/22/20 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/187 kW-hrs/100 miles 199/171 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.15 lb/mile 1.10 lb/mile