By on May 15, 2017

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

3.6-liter V6, DOHC, direct injection (308 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm; 275 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)

2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4, DOHC (186 horsepower @ 3,400 rpm; 369 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic (V6), six-speed automatic (diesel) with four-wheel drive

16 city / 18 highway / 17 combined (EPA Rating, MPG, V6)

19 city / 22 highway / 20 combined (EPA Rating, MPG, Diesel)

Base Price: $40,940

Price As Tested: $41,935

Pricing includes $940 destination charge.

In the first installment of the Jurassic Park franchise, we’re introduced to the vicious raptors — a breed of dinosaurs who tear, smash, and maul their way through the storyline (and more than a few characters). By the time we see them in the most recent installment of the series, Chris Pratt has managed to tame them to a certain degree, creating creatures that obey a few commands but will still rip his face off if given the opportunity.

Chevrolet had a 2017 F-150 Raptor on hand at its launch of the Colorado ZR2. Hammering its loud pedal, the beast ripped across the hot Colorado asphalt, its psychotic twin-turbo exhaust note sounding like Marilyn Manson screaming obscenities into a vacuum cleaner hose. Backing off to 7/10ths, it struck me that the Raptor and ZR2 bear more than a passing resemblance to those fictional silver-screen scoundrels.

Let’s be clear: the Raptor in a class by itself. With 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque ready to deploy at the wiggle of your right toe, the black sheep of the F-150 family will gleefully tear your head off, stuff it into a box, and show it to its friends. The Raptor can — like an early morning Trump tweetstorm — be surprising, powerful, and alarming. Price and power differences scupper the argument that the Raptor and ZR2 are direct competitors. Still, given their off-road raison d’etre, comparisons are inevitable. The ZR2, then, incorporates a few of the Raptor’s tricks — plus a whole host of its own.

What separates a ZR2 from its mundane brothers? Well, unlike the lame-duck Z71, this ZR2 is far more than a paint-n-stickers package. Beefy 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires wrap exclusive 17×8-inch aluminum rims, which — along with unique hubs — help widen the front and rear track widths by 3.5 inches over a standard Colorado. Chevrolet has jacked the suspension 2 inches skyward and hove a brace of locking differentials underneath the ZR2.

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2

The ZR2’s main party trick is its deployment of Multimatic’s Spool-Valve Damper technology. Multimatic, you may recall, is the Canadian outfit building the Ford GT. It also supplied the dampers found on Chevy’s own Camaro Z/28 and have, at certain points during its history, supplied dampers for F1 teams including during Red Bull’s savage dominance of the sport in the early 2010s. Fair to say, then, Multimatic is not a low-cost supplier. This is encouraging, given GM’s past penchant for cutting pennies until we scream.

Slicing through the marketing chaff, these DSSV dampers replace the traditional piston and shim setup found in most shocks with a pair of spool valves. Spool valves have been used to control fluid in hydraulic systems for decades but have only recently been deployed in dampers, such as the aforementioned F1 and Z/28 applications.

This explains the presence of gold bling on the ZR2’s dampers at all four corners. This extra real estate moves the spool valves which control the normal on-road operating range into a separate chamber in the middle of the damper. A third spool valve resides on the shaft in the main body of the damper and is tasked with handling extreme compression events such as those which occur during gnarly off road maneuvers. The chamber furthest outboard on the damper is a reservoir full of nitrogen. Compared to the Fox shocks on the Raptor, which are tasked with managing all aspects of gonzo off-road action and on-pavement civility, the ZR2’s dampers are essentially (and expensively) designed to provide the best of both worlds.

Multimatic Dampers, ZR2 Multimatic Dampers, ZR2

Chevy could’ve gone to a mainstream company like Fox or Bilstein and called it a day. That they didn’t speaks to the commitment of the ZR2 development team. It’s always encouraging to learn that true gearheads toiled on the development of a performance vehicle, be it of the racetrack or off-road variety. Suiting up to lap a fast dirt track frequented by Trophy Trucks in a gas-powered ZR2, Nick Katcherian, a Lead Development Engineer at the General, jumped in and rode shotgun.

The track featured a good mix of short straights, long sweeping turns, and jumps that could easily be taken at 40 mph. With all the electronic nannies turned on, the ZR2 treated me with kid gloves, reining in the power and dousing any attempt at lurid powerslides in the turns. After a lap of StabiliTraking our way through the dirt, a quick punch of the ZR2-specific “Off-Road Mode” button altered the throttle progression and changed the eight-speed automatic’s shift calibrations.

This mode woke up the ZR2 and eliminated the feeling that the truck’s throttle was set in wet cement. A further, longer jab of the traction control button backs off the t/c and was my preferred mode for high speed running, as it allows for tail-out action and a snappy throttle. It’s a three-step system: nannies on, nannies partly off, nannies mostly off. A complicated button dance (think up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-A-B-start complexity) makes all the nannies go away completely.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

The DSSV dampers proved their worth, landing 40 mph all-wheels-off-the-ground jumps without shaking loose any of my fillings. As I slid around a fast left-hander, Nick explained the leeway his ZR2 team was afforded by GM, allowing them the freedom to work together and have a bit of fun as a relatively small team without being hindered by the traditional miles of General Motors red tape.

Nowhere was this devil-may-care attitude more on display than on a rocky trail in the wilds of Colorado. Every event like this has a support vehicle, but few see fit to hack apart an example of the very vehicle being demonstrated for the purpose of affixing a utility service bed where a perfectly good truck box once resided.

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2

“We just went ahead and did it,” a GM engineer told me as I examined the support truck’s custom welds. Tossing a one-inch body lift on the thing allowed for meatier 33-inch tires, and one-off electrical work permitted an extra battery to help out with a winch and compressor. It was a bleedingly cool addition, putting an exclamation point on the gearhead level of the folks working on the ZR2 program.

On the rocky Bangs Canyon trail, the ZR2 showed off its aggressive approach, breakover, and departure angles by dispatching rock maneuvers with ease. In fact, viewed from the front, the ZR2 appears to be made solely of Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires, as the development team hacked off the standard Colorado’s lower front fascia to expose nearly the entire front tread to terra firma. This allows for a 30-degree approach angle, the same as a Raptor. A Wrangler Rubicon, it must be noted, has a 42-degree approach angle.

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2

The ZR2’s rock sliders, tough metal bars protecting the rocker panels, allow the driver to slide over rocks like a skater boardsliding a handrail without causing damage to the truck. They spoke to me but once on the trail. Shifting to four-low and locking both the front and rear diffs, the ZR2 used its 10 inches of rear suspension travel to traverse its way up and down a broad and rocky staircase. It was easy to modulate the throttle during these exercises, with the off-road systems allowing just the right amount of slip. Sightlines were clearer than a pair of Topshop jeans and it was easy to place all four tires. The addition of an around-view camera system would be welcome.

I was driving a ZR2 equipped with the 308 hp, 3.6-liter DOHC V6, but the truck ahead was a 186 hp Duramax diesel example. Shod with the same 31-inch tires and 2-inch suspension lift, the diesel nevertheless seemed to suffer from a worse departure angle than its gas-powered brother, owing to its sewer cannon of a tailpipe which dinged itself on some rocks on a couple of occasions where mine did not. This, coupled with the diesel’s $3,500 price tag, cemented my preference for the V6.

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2

The sole option on our $40,000 extended cab ZR2 test truck was a $995 audio system. Freight brought the as-tested total to $41,935. Along for the ride were all manner of creature comforts such as remote start, heated seats, and a sliding rear window. The extended cab configuration provided Yao Ming levels of legroom for front seat riders but the rear seat space, despite the presence of seats and safety belts, is a cargo only affair. Get the crew cab if you plan to take the family off-road.

The ZR2’s interior is largely a carbon copy of the standard-issue Colorado, with the exception of ZR2-specific rocker switches for the front and rear lockers, plus a secondary function on the four-wheel drive knob for Off Road Mode.

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2

While the ZR2 does look the part with its unique hood, butch fender flares, and aggro approach angle, it lacks a visceral visual punch. I may be in the minority with my proclivity for obnoxious styling choices but the ZR2 could use a bit of additional flair. When asked at dinner about the Lawrence Welk-level of bling when compared to certain other off-road warriors, a GM honcho said they would put money on the eventual appearance of special editions. Good. Make mine lime green.

Returning to town from the trailhead, the DSSV dampers earned their keep, providing a smooth on-road ride over Rim Rock Drive and past the towering snuff-colored rock monoliths which make up the Colorado National Monument. An indicated 21.8 miles per gallon was recorded on the 80-mile journey back to civilization. Try doing that in a Raptor.

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2

Yes, the Raptor is a bigger, more powerful, and vastly more expensive truck, so direct comparisons are ill-advised at best. Nevertheless, the ZR2 team has done a great job of imbuing the Colorado with sufficient off-road chops to at least be worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation. Yes, the Raptor is better … but I’m not sure it is $15,000 better.

If the Raptor is a clever girl, then the ZR2 – with its manageable size, off-road capability, trick suspension, and daily livability – is arguably a cleverer girl. For many urban cowboys and weekend warriors, that’ll be more than enough to sign on the dotted line.

[Images: © 2017 Matthew Guy; General Motors]

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40 Comments on “2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 First Drive Review – Cleverer Girl...”

  • avatar

    For what you get, the V6 variant is genuinely interesting to me. They addressed the most glaring issue with the truck (droopy shnoz) and gave it not one but TWO locking diffs in the axles (thatIsMyFetish.jpg). I don’t care quite as much for the fancy dampers, that just sounds like expensive replacement parts in the future. In a perfect world I would “downgrade” to Z71 suspension, keep the front treatment and lockers, and pay a bit less.

    • 0 avatar


      How do you think this compares capability wise to a Frontier Pro-4X? I’m sure the ZR2 is more capable but is it ten grand more capable?

      • 0 avatar

        I think the question becomes one of what is the likely envelope within which the truck will even be used? I’ll be the first to admit, I could probably get by just fine without my 4Runner’s rear locker 99% of the time, but then again it’s a crucial piece of hardware every now and then in a pinch. Will most buyers really use that Multimatic suspension setup to blow through fire roads at 60+ mph? Not likely. Will the ‘typical’ buyer for one of these find themselves in a place where the Pro-4X’s rear locker is inadequate and a front locker comes into play? Unlikely. Realistically, the Colorado’s better clearance and chopped front bumper and Duratrac tires are the most noticeable/usable improvement, but the Nissan buyer is just a set of all terrain tires away from evening the traction field, same goes for lifts, aftermarket bumpers, etc that would probably still undercut the ZR2’s price by a few thousand (but none of that would be warrantied).

        So in short, no. For how most people would use them there is not an appreciable difference in capability, but I think it’s really cool that GM made this thing and certainly people buy more than what they’ll really need/use all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

        Aside from price, my bigger motivator to get the Frontier would be to get that lusty VQ40 paired with a stick shift. They’re a ton of fun to drive IMO, even on pavement.

        • 0 avatar
          Jerry Denim

          Second that for the Nissan. I was just in the market for an off-road capable mid-sized truck and I settled on the Pro-4X after deciding that I just couldn’t justify the extra cash for the ZR2. (Or the TRD Pro for that matter) Don’t get me wrong, the ZR2 is a sharp looking truck and I like the less obnoxious, more nimble, trail and parking deck-sized, baby-Raptor concept. The fancy shocks on the ZR2, the redesigned front fasica, the wider stance, the extra ground clearance and the standard rock sliders are all admirable and genuinely useful features that add utility and value to the ZR2 over the standard 4wd Colorado. However I think the current real world difference in market price between the ZR2 and a comparably equipped Pro-4X is closer to $12,000 from my research. I was able to get my 2017 Pro-4X last week for $4,000 below it’s 35K sticker price while my intel indicates both ZR2s and TRD Pros are currently selling for well over the sticker price. With the $12,000 or more I saved buying a Pro-4X (crew cab) I can buy sliders, new front and rear bumpers, lights, a winch, and new suspension and still have $6000 left over. So echoing HubCap, yeah the ZR2 looks quite a bit more capable than a Fronty Pro-4X, but it sure ain’t 12 grand more capable. The Pro-4X has more torque, bigger tires and whole lot of standard goodies tucked into the trim package that give it a hell of a lot more bang for the buck than it’s mid-sized flagship competitors. In a world where I had unlimited cash I would buy the ZR2 over the ridiculously large, obnoxious and thirsty Ford Raptor and I would definitely pick the ZR2 over both the Taco TRD Pro and the Frontier Pro-4X, but I only got so much of the green stuff. Nissan is where its at for guys like me.

    • 0 avatar

      @gtemnykh – from what I’ve read, the design of the Multimatic’s Spool-Valve Dampers markedly reduce heat fade. Shim style shocks are more prone to fade.

      I have not read any recommendations anywhere for the need to rebuild shocks on the Raptor or the ZR2. you’d probably have to do some serious hardcore off-roading to need to rebuild or replace shocks.

  • avatar
    That guy

    Just to clarify, the 21.8mpg highway trip was done in the 3.6L version? If so, I’m seriously interested. I was considering a regular Z71, but this would be a much cooler and more capable daily and it’s not all that much more expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      Matthew Guy

      Yes, the indicated 21.8mpg was in a 3.6L extended cab. It was an 81.3 mile drive combining rural road driving and highway speeds. Thanks for reading, man; I appreciate it.

  • avatar

    How do you go from 28 mpg highway in a regular Colorado to 22 mpg in this thing for the diesel?

    • 0 avatar

      You weren’t expecting a huge drop in fuel economy? Are we looking at the same truck? 22 is good for what it is.

      • 0 avatar

        No the fuel economy shouldn’t drop that much. It tells me GM refused to use the proper gear set. In the real world, from my experience automakers (GM especially) uses gear sets that are too tall. Theoretically the taller (or lower number) should get better fuel economy. And in a strict laboratory test they will.
        Americans do not drive that way, and I bet the rest of the world doesn’t either.

        Example my H2 came from factory with 4.10 gears and 315/70-17 tires my average mpg being 11.6.
        4.10 with 37/12.5-17 resulted in mpg of 10.5.
        4.88 gear set change with same 37/12.5-17 aside from making the truck more street friendly has averaged 12.4 MPG. This is better than the factory setup and I get to have bigger tires.

        The reason for the poor gear set by GM could possibly be a limitation of the axle. The H3 for example had a factory gear set of 4.56, the front axle can not accept steeper gears. Have to do a dana 44 IFS swap or SFA.

        • 0 avatar

          With a 4-speed auto, yes you would be correct. But these trucks have more gears and better gear ratios.

          Axle ratios have less effect on fuel economy in the era of 6 and 8-speed transmissions. 3.42 is a nice middle ground for these trucks. The V6 gets extra help with from the 8-speed’s 4.62 1st gear. The 2.8 Duramax is matched up with the 6L50, which still has a 4.06 first gear ratio. I don’t believe 3.73 or 4.10 gears would improve the fuel economy with the stock ZR2 tire size.

          I believe that the primary sources of the fuel economy drop are due to:
          1.) Greater tire weight and rolling resistance of the GY DuraTracs penalizing both city and highway MPG.
          2.) New parasitic drivetrain losses from the upgraded 4WD system.
          3.) Greater aerodynamic drag due to the notches in the front corners for improved approach angles, reducing highway MPG.

          The fuel economy numbers are still quite good for a midsize truck built to handle harsh off-road conditions.

  • avatar

    “…few see fit to hack apart an example of the very vehicle being demonstrated for the purpose of affixing a utility service bed…”

    Hack apart? Nowhere near that complicated. It’s done all the time out here in the get-your-hands-dirty working world, and pickups are built so as to make it a straightforward job.

    • 0 avatar

      True that.

      This review made me want a ZR2 with a utility bed.

      That would make me the envy of many of my neighbors – but then New Mexico is not quite like the rest of the country.

  • avatar

    Very nice review. Thank you. I’m concerned about the rims. Alloy rims
    tend to crack under heavy usage – unless they are forged, which I doubt
    these are – so steelies are much to be preffered for serious off roading.
    Otherwise, I’d give strong consideration to this truck were I in the
    market for a new 4wd.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    As a general note, turns out that raptors were more like giant carnivorous chickens than the bald lizards in Jurassic Park.

    • 0 avatar

      Correct. It was noted that they deliberately made the raptors in Jurassic Park quite a bit bigger than their real-world (fossilized) counterparts so that they would be a much more menacing adversary.

  • avatar

    Excellent review, thanks! That sharp-looking Colorado support vehicle makes me wish Chevy offered a Colo chassis cab; I imagine a lot of businesses who don’t quite need the Silvy’s bulk would be glad for the choice, just as a market emerged for the Transit Connect and other small vans.

  • avatar

    Great review, Matt. I prefer driving reviews to focus on driving impressions, and not get bogged down in mechanical details, option packaging, etc.

    Mark, this needs an editor to clean up the last 1% so Matt’s work can really shine.

  • avatar

    “its psychotic twin-turbo exhaust note sounding like Marilyn Manson screaming obscenities into a vacuum cleaner hose.”

    I disagree with every ounce of my existence. The Raptor is the weakest sounding 450hp thing that’s ever existed. (skip to 49 seconds). It’s a cross between yard equipment and a Q50 3.0T.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Good to see a very capable competitor for the Tacoma in the off road arena, the Z71 wasn’t cutting it there.

    At $42K this is quite an expensive toy but probably compares favorably to the Tacoma TRD Pro. $46K for the diesel just boggles my mind, though.

    I’d like to see someone qualified do a thorough comparison of how a $36K Tacoma TRD Off-Road performs against this ZR2. The ZR2 is obviously more capable, but I’d love to see under just what circumstances and obstacles the lower grade Tacoma is finally stopped while the ZR2 makes it through. See if the extra $6K is worth it to a prospective buyer.

    • 0 avatar

      I find truck reviews and the comments interesting to read because of the variety of ways that people can use trucks; and with the way I use vehicles I can’t relate to any of it. It’s a different world for me. Sometimes I wonder if I am a misplaced country mouse – it does look like fun.

      With that out of the way, I’m guessing that like cars, it isn’t necessarily that a less expensive truck can’t accomplish most of the same tasks, it’s that those tasks can be easier and more comfortable in a more expensive truck. For example, there isn’t much you can do with 400hp sedan that you can’t do with a 300hp sedan, but those things are easier and accomplished with more margin for error (or I guess less, depending on how you look at it).

      Whether that is worth the cost depends on how much inconvenience you can live with.

      • 0 avatar

        @burgersandbeer – if you took a stock Colorado and a ZR2 off road, even shod with identical tires, the ZR2 will get you further down the trail and get you there faster. The differences are much more than levels of luxury.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    Positive reviews? With press cars and tropical vacations and off road adventures on the company’s dime? What happened?

  • avatar

    $43,920 for comparable Tacoma TRD Pro.
    Diesel Tacoma not available at any price.

    By the time there is payback on the diesel Colorado you are far out of warranty and at risk of expensive emissions component failure.

    Do I irrationally prefer the diesel? Sure. V6 gas is the better choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Which is why deleting emissions equipment is so popular and why gliders are a very popular option in the semi-truck world. Buy a semi-truck without an engine, install a pre-emission controlled engine and transmission, enjoy a more reliable, fuel efficient truck.

  • avatar

    Not being familiar with transaction or even list prices for trucks of varying capability, my initial reaction to this was $42k sounded like a good deal. Maybe that’s because of how Matt went on and on about the dampers.

    • 0 avatar

      In the current marketplace it’s honestly not a bad price, considering how much hardware they’ve thrown at it. However ‘street’ prices might make the gap larger than the difference in MSRP between this ZR2 and lesser Z71 Colorado might suggest. Sure you could get a very decent fullsize crew cab at this price point, but I’d say this is specialized/modified enough to make the comparison unfair.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Sure, buy this truck. It will get you to work and back easily and in comfort. When you want to go off-roading fire up your old $3000 YJ that’s sitting beside your garage covered in bird-dirt and dust and acid rain and have a blast. Drive it there; whale upon it; drive it home. Job done and you still have a pristine ZR2.

    No one takes new trucks off-road.

  • avatar

    “Psychotic twin-turbo exhaust note sounding like Marilyn Manson screaming obscenities into a vacuum cleaner hose.”

    I literally sat there and thought this over for about 5 minutes and got nothin’ as to what that would sound like. Probably not like an engine though.

    • 0 avatar

      Hearing the new Raptors is a very underwhelming experience(very memorable). As long as you don’t have to hear it, it’s a great truck. The sound is literally offputting enough to be a reason not to buy the truck.

      Whoever decided that it needed an audible exhaust note is a satanist.

      I know I sound rabidly anti-Ford, to that I say hear it for yourself.

      • 0 avatar

        Hummer – I’m not impressed by the sound of any V6. The F150 Ecoboost I had as a loaner had an underwhelming noise i.e. no real difference than my Wife’s Sienna but the power was impressive.

        • 0 avatar

          The 60v6 OHV engines can have a really nice and deep sound if done right, at least I think.

          Yes while the others may not be much to listen to they certainly make up for it with power. The difference between the regular ecoboost and the raptor is that Ford tries to keep the regular ecoboost quiet, which makes it much more livable.

  • avatar

    I can’t wait for the new Ranger-based Raptor Junior…

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