Chevrolet wasn’t about to let Ram and its full-size off-road-extreme 4WD Power Wagon pickup steal all the attention from the bow tie. Chevy could have equipped its full-size Silverado pickup with attributes similar to the Power Wagon, but it knew Ram didn’t have a mid-size with such traits. So instead, Chevy launched its ZR2 Colorado mid-size pickup, which began life as a ZR1, with beefy modifications.
This model isn’t new for Chevy. The ZR2 designation first appeared back in 1994 as an S-10 compact pickup with a higher stance, larger tires, wider rear axle, and special shocks and springs. To the new ZR2, Chevy adds several heavy-duty goodies to make it an extra-capable mid-size pickup.
For starters, the suspension is raised 2 inches for 8.9 inches of ground clearance, while the front and rear tracks are widened 3.5 inches for greater stability. Used for the first time on an off-road vehicle, Multimatic dual-zone dampers (designed for rally-cross racing) offer longer suspension travel (8.6 inches front/10 rear) to negotiate rugged terrain.
However, the major feature Ram has that Chevy didn’t duplicate is an electronically disconnecting front stabilizer sway bar for rocks and uneven terrain that can be disconnected at speeds up to 18 mph at the touch of a button. Aside from that, the ZR2’s front bumper has tapered ends for better tire clearance and a 30-degree approach angle when encountering obstacles. The bumper includes an aluminum skid plate to protect the radiator and engine oil pan, and an additional shield protects the transfer case.
All this rides on 31-inch-tall, 8.75-inch-wide Goodyear Duratrac off-road tires with deep treads for tackling snow, mud and sand. On-road, there is noticeable tire hum because of the knobby tread design.
To make all this work over serious terrain, Chevy includes front and rear locking differentials. And with the AutoTrac transfer case, the ZR2 offers nine drive configurations: 2WD; 2WD, locked rear differential; Auto 4WD; Auto 4WD, locked rear differential; 4WD Hi, locked transfer case; 4WD Hi, locked transfer case and locked rear differential; 4WD Lo, locked transfer case; 4WD Lo, locked transfer case and locked rear differential; and 4WD Lo, locked transfer case, locked front/rear differentials. This gearing is integrated to interact with traction control, stability control and hill-descent control, plus a new “Off-Road Mode,” which, in combination with the traction-control switch, allows all the above to conform to different driving conditions. The mode also alters throttle progression and shift points for better control and responsiveness, says Chevy.
The ZR2 is offered with two engines. A 3.6-liter, 308 hp V6 produces 275 lb.-ft. torque for EPA mileage estimates of 16 city/18 highway mpg with an eight-speed automatic transmission and modified 3.42 rear. This combination carries a tow rating of 5,000 pounds, sufficient for a variety of small ATV trailers or campers. It’s peppy from a standing stop and while passing, but the truck’s 4,734-pound heft can be felt. The other engine is the optional ($3,500) Duramax 2.8-liter I4 turbo-diesel with 181 hp and a whopping 369 lb.-ft. torque for EPA ratings of 19/22 mpg with a six-speed automatic transmission.
A tall 26-inch step-in to the cabin of the tested four-door Crew Cab (Extended Cab also available) reveals rock rails positioned along and slightly below the doors that do just that—prevent rocks from damaging the body. They really don’t help ingress/egress, and they can get pant legs soiled when sliding over them.
Inside, nicely padded leather front seats are semi-supportive, which is what hunters want especially while wearing bulky hunting clothes. Back seats split and fold up against the bulkhead, exposing two storage bins underneath for small items. The rear seats are semi-soft with ample head room and a comfy back angle. If the fronts aren’t racked too far rearward, rear leg room is adequate for two adults on short trips.
A standard 8-inch color touchscreen serves the navigation, rearview camera, and MyLink infotainment and audio systems with a weather app featuring five-day forecasts. As with all GM vehicles, my test Colorado came with 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability. For smartphone users, there’s a convenient console-mounted wireless charging pad.
Back in the 59.25-inch short-box bed, cargo load height is 36 inches; an EZ lift/lower tailgate slowly lowers upon releasing the latch. Multiple tie-downs secure loads in the bed that came standard with a sprayed-in bedliner.
Despite the ZR2’s off-road capabilities, it easily doubles as a daily driver. Over winding roads, the ZR2 exhibits control and poise for a high-stance truck. Off-road, the suspension with the Multimatics easily soaks up harsh terrain.
Now, all this versatility is not inexpensive. With a long list of safety and amenity features, the test ZR2 carried a base price of $41,625. Extra-cost options included $500 for a Bose premium audio system, $495 for MyLink and a delivery of $940. The bottom line was $43,560. Yes, a full-size Silverado may be purchased for about this price. But with its large size and width it can’t get through tight outback spots as easily as the slimmer, smaller ZR2. The ZR2 also received favorable overall government safety ratings of four out of five stars; four each for driver/passenger frontal crash; five stars for front/rear seat side crash and three for rollover.
This rock crawler may not be for everyone. But if your hunting land, cabin or campsite is off the beaten path, you may want to consider the ZR2.