The Alpha Colorado ZR2: Leveling Up Chevrolet's Capable Off-Road Truck
The explosion of the midsize truck market in the past few years has been an absolute win for enthusiasts. What formerly was a segment of mostly a few stagnant designs, has since become a competitive space for both American and Japanese manufacturers. While Toyota’s Tacoma is still the truck to beat, the Colorado and Ranger are both providing compelling options, and Nissan’s new Frontier looks promising, recently breathing new life into a nearly forgotten name.
Interestingly, this revival has coincided with a renewed interest in outdoors automotive adventuring for many Americans. Overlanding, once a niche segment of enthusiasts, has become a household word in the general automotive lexicon. OEMs are releasing halo models that gear more towards true off-road performance, previously only possible with aftermarket attention.
The midsize truck market has slotted in as an affordable entry point for the hobby, with easier financial access than the full size models, but with platforms ready to be specialized into whatever the owner desires, be it traditional 4x4 performance, or as an overland-prepped vehicle.
The Right Truck for the Right Purpose
The owner of this Colorado ZR2, Gabe, had his eye on Chevy’s entrant into the 4x4 performance space as soon as they were released. Out of college, the ZR2 was out of his price range though, and he purchased Honda’s rereleased Passport AWD. As one of the first owners of the platform, he made a concerted effort to modify the crossover for increased off-road performance. Unfortunately, he quickly found the limits, and without considerably more aftermarket support, his off-road dreams for the SUV weren’t going to happen.
Almost by accident, he stumbled onto this first year ZR2 at a dealership. With the mileage, and right set of options, this one had depreciated enough that it made sense to trade in the Honda. Whereas some might have been content with the massively improved capabilities of the stock ZR2 over the modified Passport, Gabe was not. The transformation began almost immediately.
Fitting 37" Tires on the ZR2
One of Gabe’s goals for the ZR2 was to run 37” tires. The Chevy was equipped with a 4” BDS suspension lift to start. The system was designed to take full advantage of the ZR2's Multimatic DSSV coilovers and rear shocks, this new system further improves the trucks already stout off-road capability while maintaining its on-road comfort and handling characteristics. This system, however, was really designed for 35” tires at its limit.
By adding the Peak Suspension ZR2 Coilover Conversion Trail Kit, Gabe was able to get an additional two inches of ride height, while still keeping the ZR2’s DSSV coilovers. This kit allows the owner to select a custom rate and then adjust the threaded collar to your desired ride height from 0" - 2.25" of lift as well as a rear add-a-leaf to provide 1.0"-1.5" and 700lbs load capacity depending on weight.
The Colorado currently rolls on 37x12.50x17 Nitto Ridge Grapplers with bronze Dirty Life wheels (a colorway admittedly inspired by popular desert running brand Kibbetech). Through a lot of trial and error, and many trimming sessions, the 37” inch rubber fits with the confines of the stock fenders, an impressive win for the Colorado ZR2, or any midsize truck.
Even with the massive increase in size, the Nitto Ridge Grapplers are easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. The hybrid mud and all-terrain design strikes a balance that works perfectly for the combined commuting and desert-style trail running that Gabe enjoys.
With the increased weight and larger tire diameter, the ZR2 received a few supporting mods to improve drivability. Gabe installed a Nitrogears 4.56 regear to help the transmission with the rolling resistance, and added BDS upgraded tie rods to strengthen the entire system. Although he is not building the truck for traditional on-road performance, a Trifecta Elite tune was completed to give the truck some additional horsepower to offset the larger tires.
On the exterior, Gabe has allowed the aggressive design of the ZR2 to speak for itself. A set of Akkon headlights provide some illumination improvement and light output, while a combination of off-road LEDs give him the ability to keep the adventure going when the sun goes down.
Gabe's favorite modification to the truck, so far, is the RSI SmartCap bed cover. Featuring a unique steel construction, the cap looks more rugged than traditional fiberglass covers, and goes a long way to give the truck overland-adjacent aesthetics while also providing a lot of usable storage space. Plus, securing the 37” spare in the rear is a huge advantage.
Looking to the future, Gabe plans to focus on power input and additional protection for the ZR2’s body. He has his eye on the AEV Highmark fenders, which would give a much healthier amount of clearance for the 37” Ridge Grapplers. His adventuring has left plenty of mementos in the gloss black paint, so some type of wrap or protective coating is in the cards, but until then, he’ll wear his stripes with pride.