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Chevy Colorado ZR2 Real World Review

There have been few vehicles to disrupt the midsize truck scene as much as the 2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2. Looking to dethrone the king of the midsized world, (hello Toyota Tacoma), the ZR2 would be the General’s deepest dive into the off-road world since the Hummer brand. Chevy not only sought to best the Tacoma with more off-road appointments, but do something pretty radical for the segment—offer a diesel engine.

Now, with a couple years under its belt, the ZR2 package is showing great signs of success. In fact, Chevy recently rolled out an even more off-road oriented version called the ZR2 Bison for those looking for a stout overland pickup direct from the factory. After selling our 2008 double cab Tacoma, which you’ve likely seen us build here over the years, we were in the market for a new midsized pickup. Having great experience with the Tacoma in the past, we first turned our attention on the refreshed 3rd generation Tacoma. (You can read that review here.)

Getting the opportunity to test out a 3rd Gen TRD Off-Road Tacoma extensively, we left the platform missing the off-the-line grunt that the second-gen 4.0L V6 offered. Coupled with the automatic transmission, we just were not in love with the new Tacoma’s powertrain. This got us looking at the ZR2 a bit more seriously. While we had spent time with the diesel in a non-ZR2 format previously, we revisited it, along with the new V6 option.

After driving both, we simply enjoyed the pep of the Colorado’s V6, which is very much so complimented by the smooth shifting eight-speed transmission. While the fuel economy of the diesel was hard to turn away from, the added cost coupled with the somewhat sluggish power, allowed the gasser to get the nod.

Over the past eight months, we’ve learned a lot about the ups and downs of the ZR2. Here, we’re highlighting what we’ve uncovered and what’s in the future for this diverse little pickup.

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So, here’s what we ended up with. It’s a 2018 double cab ZR2. There’s only two real modifications done to the truck. The first being the Z Series cap from ARE. With a somewhat compact cabin, we needed a place to safely store our gear. The added roof rails are also handy for toting along larger bed toys and our roof top tent.

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Ridge Grappling

The second upgrade was swapping out the stock treads for a more versatile and taller set of 265/70R17 Nitto Ridge Grapplers on our Colorado ZR2. Our goals was to squeeze on the largest tire we could without modifying the suspension or trimming the fenders. The 265/70R17 Ridge Grapplers equates approximately to a 32x10.50 and has been a great balance of on-and off-road performance.

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We would love to stuff a taller tire on the truck, but it’s not going to happen up front unless we are willing to lift and bump the front suspension. Even then, we will likely need to trim the back side of the front fender. For the small amount of gain a slightly larger tire would net us, it didn’t seem worth the trouble.

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Inside, the Colorado ZR2 is extremely plush for a midsized pickup. All of the touch points are soft and easy to clean. We’ve found the Navigation and cluster assembly easy to use and haven’t had a single hiccup from either. While the backup camera image quality could be a little better, we like the overall easy-to-navigate controls and dials.   

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Go Gas

Churning out 306 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, the Colorado’s 3.6L never feels underpowered. It makes most of those ponies at higher rpm’s, but thanks a 4.61 first gear in the 8L45 eight speed transmission, it feels lively out of the gate. We will say that we enjoyed the torque of the diesel on the models we tested, but the V6 combined with the eight-speed automatic was a better fit for our needs.

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We frequently hit the dirt for work, so we’ve had plenty of time to test out the Eaton ELockers on the ZR2. We love the fact that you can quiet the electronic nannies in two-wheel drive and have the rear locker engaged. For light ‘wheeling, the truck has plenty of go in high-range and is a blast in the sand. Rockcrawling is one area we don’t do much of with this particular pickup, but we’ve used low range with the front locker engaged enough to appreciate its ‘crawling abilities. We’ve always found the lockers quick to engage and disengage and have been impressed with how well the electronic steering works off-road.

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From the factory, you can opt for a bed-mounted spare tire carrier or they’ll strap it under the truck. Spending time off-road quickly made it apparent that the stock tire location was not ideal. At this point, we toss our full-size spare in the bed for longer trips. For daily driving, we haul a small compressor and plug kit with us just in case. A more permeant tire-carrier solution is on the future to-do list.

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Suspension Shortcomings

Chevy did a great job dialing-in the Multimatic DSSV suspension and it’s by far one of the smoothest riding stock trucks we’ve ever owned. Our only complaint is we wish we had a little more travel. This is more so from the front suspension than the back. At 8.6 inches, we find that we often top out the front shocks on the trail. While the valving is excellent, it needs more travel. We’re thinking a set of upper control arms and slightly longer travel coilovers could be the ticket. Sure, you’re paying a premium for these shocks on the ZR2 package, but for our needs, we’d like to see more out of the front suspension.

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The ZR2 has a stout skidplate package from the factory. The only real missing skid is under the gas tank. We’re still not sure how that one slipped by Chevy. Another thing worth mentioning is the fact that the coating on the sliders and frame is holding up fantastic. Though we make sure to frequently rinse the truck after beach outings, living in a coastal area isn’t easy on metal parts.

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Kid Approved

No adult has ever sat in the back of our Colorado. For those with kids of a certain age, we’ll tell you that fitting in two car seats (one forward and one rear facing) is a little tight, but very livable. However, if you’re over six-foot, it’s probably going to be a little tight for your kiddo’s legs.

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The ZR2 is two inches taller and a full 3.5 inches wider than a standard Colorado. This helps create a very impressive stance and excellent ground clearance right out of the box. We love the look, but we will say that the wider stance equates to dirt that frequently finds its way on the side of the truck and behind the door handles. It’s a little annoyance and something we’ve dealt with on similar vehicles like the Ford Raptor.

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Since the ARE shell works great for extra storage, the Colorado has become a nice go-to vehicle for longer trips. As such, we’ve been able to log city and highway fuel economy. As of writing this, our best highway mpg has been 17. Our in-town average is 14.5. That’s a little less than the EPA estimated 16/18.

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One area we think the truck needs a little help is with the stock differential gearing. From the factory, all ZR2’s come with a 3.42:1 ratio. Couple this with our slightly taller tire mod and not-so-aero-friendly front end, and the eight speed will sometimes search more than we’d like. We’re thinking a 4.10 gear would handle what we need and give us room to grow down the line.

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Parting Thoughts

With nearly a year behind the wheel, we can easily say that this truck has been a purchase that we have not regretted. It’s only made a visit to the mothership once for an airbag recalibration recall. Aside from an oil change, it hasn’t required any service. For a stock vehicle, it works impressively well on-road and off. With things like the AEV Bison and companies such as Expedition 1 rolling out new products for the ZR2, we’re excited to see what the aftermarket has in store. For now, we’ll continue to enjoy our pickup as it sits and give you more reports as the build and truck ages.

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Find out more about the Chevy Colorado ZR2!  

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