Chevrolet has known few more potent letter combinations than ZR, and the next chapter of the badge’s legend is set to be written by a Corvette that we expect will pack somewhere north of 700 horsepower. In the history of less-than-full-size General Motors trucks, however, those letters have mostly adorned models that amounted to little more than aggressive tires and some extra visual swagger. But the latest ZR is a Colorado pickup that packs a whole lot more.
The bar for special off-road versions of modern trucks has been set by the Ford F-150 Raptor—and set high enough that a truck has to jump to clear it. So, in the vein of the Raptor, the Colorado ZR2 is more than a lift kit (although it does sit two inches higher than a Colorado with the Z71 off-road package) and bigger tires (taller by an inch, at 31). It had better be, given a base price of $40,995, or $6930 more than a Z71 4×4.
Stretching the Arms
Like Ford’s Raptor, when compared with its more pedestrian lineup mates, the ZR2 gets a new front suspension with taller springs, longer shocks, and longer cast-iron control arms for greater travel. The leaf springs out back are revised to match the height of the front suspension, and the live rear axle is wider to equal the increased front track. The frame is tweaked to accommodate the upgraded suspension, with mounting points relocated and damper anchor points reinforced. Two skid plates are fitted; one stretches from the radiator to the back of the oil pan, while the other protects the transfer case. Electronically controlled locking differentials are fitted front and rear, although the former can be locked only when the two-speed transfer case is shifted to low range.
The ZR2’s dampers employ a trick—and expensive—spool-valve design that allows for greater versatility in how they respond to varying impact speeds at different points in its travel. These dampers are supplied by Multimatic, the Canadian company that also builds the Ford GT and manufactures the ZR2’s control arms. Run a finger along the top of the Chevy’s lower one and you’ll feel a small “ZR2” cast into the piece, proof that it’s not a standard Colorado fitment.
Aesthetically, there are new bumpers front and rear, a bulging hood, and slightly wider plastic trim around the wheel wells. It ventures beyond the usual ZR-truck makeover and looks great, and it highlights the current Colorado’s attractive design, with its upswept greenhouse and beefy fender flares imparting a rough-and-ready look even without the ZR2 flourishes.
That’s Not a Rap’
What the ZR2 doesn’t have is more power. While the regular Colorado’s base engine, a gas inline-four, isn’t available in the off-road special, neither the four-cylinder turbo-diesel nor the gas V-6 that are offered see an extra horsepower or pound-foot. The former is rated at 186 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, while the latter makes 308 and 275.
So, no, the ZR2 isn’t the desert-pounding, high-speed thriller that is the 450-hp, twin-turbo Raptor. The Ford, however, starts at $50,560, some 25 percent more money than the ZR2. Not that the Chevy can’t do the pre-runner shuffle. It can—and well. We drove both gas and diesel trucks around a course in Gateway, Colorado, that is otherwise used for a trophy-truck driving school, with a variety of jumps, lumps, and silt beds. In this sort of environment, you need to bully the Colorado through turns more than you do the Raptor, with heavier inputs required to unsettle it, but it takes the abuse with a shrug, and the dampers keep the tires in contact with the dirt no matter what sort of shenanigans the driver tries.
The gas V-6 is more flexible and yields a truck that is 250 pounds lighter than the diesel. In our testing of regular Colorados, an example with the six hit 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds, while a similarly-spec’d diesel needed 9.2. The diesel acquits itself quite well in higher-speed stuff if you drive with two feet to keep the turbo spooled, but it’s more work and less fun. Neither engine, though, provides the same supersize tossability as the Raptor, wherein the driver/puppeteer directs the front axle with the steering wheel and aims the rear with the throttle.
But if the ZR2 has an advantage other than price, it’s on rocks and technical trails. The truck has a 30-degree approach angle enabled by its reshaped front bumper, while maximum departures and the breakover angle are both 23.5 degrees. Its wieldier size and standard rock sliders—sturdy rocker-panel reinforcements designed to protect the body while grinding over obstacles—are a boon during such driving. And this is where the diesel shines, as its torque makes the ZR2 a one-pedal drive when the transfer case is shifted into low range. The ZR2 does get hill-descent control, but the diesel doesn’t need it. The truck gets jumpy if you’re not careful with your accelerator inputs, but it feels like it will grind forward over anything. With the V-6, the torque hit is less immediate but also more forgiving. And with the differentials locked, both get the job done. The development team tells us the ZR2 conquered the Rubicon Trail, ascending the notorious Cadillac Hill in less than half of the time the old Hummer H3 needed.
Gotta Drive On-Road to Go Off
For all of their forgiveness off-road, the spool-valve dampers perform their most surprising trick on pavement. While commuting to and from trailheads or to the office, the ZR2 is so stable and composed that we almost wished for some of the Raptor’s compliance to remind us what sort of beast we were driving. Other crawlers, such as the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota Tacoma, don’t begin to compare in terms of livability. Add to that the Colorado’s faithful, responsive steering and a firm brake pedal that might be the best in the truck world, and you have an unexpectedly civilized way to escape civilization altogether.
Of course, daily drivability isn’t the main selling point. What matters more is that this Colorado is a potent crawler, a capable desert runner, and the Chevy truck division’s best ever application of the letters Z and R.“” ""