Colorado ZR2 Chevy’s Pint-Sized Raptor-Beater Gets Diesel Power
Long ago, I came to the conclusion that no one truck can do everything. Good off-road abilities come at the expense of on-road manners. High-speed desert running comes at the expense of low-speed rock-crawling. Trucks that are optimized for performance often lose the ability to do actual, useful work.
I’ve just been proven wrong.
The truck that changed my mind is Chevrolet’s new 2017 Colorado ZR2, and if I hadn’t driven it myself, I probably wouldn’t believe the words I’m writing. I’d dismiss myself as a shill trying to kiss up to the folks at Chevrolet, who flew me to Gateway, Colorado, to put the new ZR2 through its paces. But I did drive it myself, and while I will admit to having to pinch myself a few times, I really do believe the ZR2 is the truck that can do it all. And as an added bonus, Chevrolet offers it with a diesel engine.
What makes a ZR2 a ZR2?
The ZR2 gets a host of upgrades over the standard Colorado 4×4, and most are pretty obvious: A 2-inch suspension lift, high-clearance front bumpers, and steel-tube rocker panels (which are functional; Chevy says you can drag the truck across a rock without damaging the body, something I couldn’t bring myself to try). Track width is 3.5 inches wider than stock, front and rear, and the control arms are made from cast iron for greater strength. The aluminum skid plate on the front bumper is functional, and there’s another plate to protect the transfer case. The front and rear differentials can be locked using switches in the cab. Like the regular Colorado, the ZR2 is offered with both extended and crew cabs; there’s no long-wheelbase version, so the former comes standard with a 74-inch box and the latter with a 62-inch box.
Chevy has worked hard to give the ZR2 its own look, and they’ve done a great job: The hood, grille and bumpers are unique, as are the 17×8 aluminum wheels, which are shod with 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratecs. All ZR2s come with a full-size spare, and Chevy offers a bed mount as a dealer-installed option.
ZR2’s Secret Weapon: DSSV
If you want to see the four aces up the Colorado’s sleeve, poke your head into the fenderwells—that’s where you’ll find the DSSV shock absorbers developed by Multimatic of Markham, Ontario. The DSSV (Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve) is a specialized spring-loaded valve that replaces the traditional shims in a traditional damper. The DSSV has the unique ability to change its flow rate based on the speed the damper shaft moves. By altering the shape of the orifices through which the oil flows, Mutlimatic can fine-tune the spool valve’s response to varying input speeds. It’s the same sort of thing that electronic suspensions (such as GM’s own Magnetic Ride Control) do, except the DSSV is entirely mechanical.
Multimatic developed the system for racing, and it was later applied to street cars, starting with the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28. Since then, the Aston-Martin One-77, Ford GT, and the Mercedes AMG-GT have adopted DSSV shocks. Road cars that use DSSVs have shocks with two spool valves; one controls compression and the other controls rebound, which allows the two motions to be tuned separately. This gives them a distinct advantage over shim dampers, which effectively have a single valve; changing the compression characteristics also changes rebound characteristics.
The Colorado ZR2 features the first application of DSSV shocks in an off-road truck. At GM’s request, Multimatic developed a unique shock absorber with three spool valves. The first two DSSVs are responsible for compression and rebound damping, as in a roadgoing DSSV shock. But the real magic happens once you get out in the dirt and start pounding the daylights out of your ZR2. As the damper shaft passes a given position—about halfway through its travel—bypass valves in the main body allow oil to flow to the third spool valve, which is optimized for high speed operation over rough terrain. The front shocks also have a shim valve at the bottom of the main damper body to provide a smooth landing should the suspension drop to its full extension—in other words, if you get the truck into the air. And as the photos show, we got the ZR2 into the air. Repeatedly.
Not a one-trick truck
That said, the fact that you can defy gravity in the ZR2 without bending anything important is not the really amazing bit; after all, given the right set of shocks, any truck can be a jumper. No, what sets the ZR2 apart is how well it does everything else—specifically, its on-road ride and handling. Before Chevrolet set me loose on the trophy truck track, I had a long drive in a Colorado Z71 4×4. After our flying adventures, we took the ZR2 out for an even longer drive. Know what? The ZR2, which is obviously the superior truck off-road, is also better on-road. It has a smoother, steadier ride than the Z71, and it spares you the constant bouncing and floating you’ll experience in the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. In addition, the handling is pretty good. I kept ramping up my speed in the curves, and the ZR2 stayed steady and composed. It’s not just good-for-an-off-road truck— it’s good, period.
And if that wasn’t enough, at the end of said on-road drive, Chevrolet directed me and my ZR2 to an off-road trail with deep ruts, steep descents, and a few rock steps to climb up and down. With the transfer case in 4-Lo and the differentials locked, the ZR2 stepped over every obstacle in its path with a minimum of fuss.
Yet, another cool aspect of the ZR2 is that it is still usable as a work truck. Standard equipment includes a spray-in bed liner, trailer hitch, and electric trailer brake controller. The ZR2 maintains a 1,100-lb payload and 5,000-lb towing capacity, not far off the roughly 1,450-lb payload and 7,600-lb towing capacity (the exact numbers vary with configuration) of a regular diesel-powered Colorado 4×4. Like I said: This is the truck that can do it all.
Look, Ma, no spark plugs!
The fact that Chevrolet offers the Colorado ZR2 with a diesel is icing on the proverbial off-road cake. Most low-production specialty trucks like the ZR2 are gas-only, and sure enough, GM does offer it with the 308-hp 3.6L gasoline V6. The optional diesel is the same 2.8L four-cylinder Duramax found in other Colorados, with identical output figures of 186-hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.
So how does the diesel work in the ZR2? Truth be told, it wasn’t at its best on the trophy truck track; the turbo takes a bit too long to start delivering boost when you stomp the pedal, and once it does, you don’t just get some torque; you get all the torque, which sets the tires spinning on loose dirt. But for everything else the ZR2 does, the diesel is, in my opinion, the better choice. It delivers loads of just-off-idle torque for low-speed off-roading and smooth, quiet power for on-road driving.
And let’s not forget fuel economy. The extra off-road kit takes its toll: The diesel ZR2 is EPA-rated at 19 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 20 mpg combined, down quite a bit from the 20/28/23 city/highway/combined figures for the regular 4WD Colorado diesel. But my test truck still delivered around 23 mpg during our on-road drive. Not bad.
Pricing: Not cheap, but not crazy
Pricing for the Colorado ZR2 starts at $40,995 (including a $995 destination charge) for the gas-powered extended cab version; the diesel is priced at $44,495. Crew cab ZR2s are priced at $42,630 with the gas V6 and $46,120 with the Duramax engine. That’s not cheap, I grant you, but when you consider that the least-expensive diesel-powered Colorado 4×4 (LT crew cab short box) runs $40,060, it’s not a huge leap. The ZR2 has no real competitors, but when you compare it on price to the trucks that come the closest, it’s a darn sight cheaper than a Ford F-150 Raptor ($50,560) and not much more expensive than the less-capable Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro ($41,920). (Neither of those trucks are available with a diesel engine, but we won’t hold that against them.)
Bottom-line: The ZR2 is one impressive truck. The Chevy Colorado has long been a favorite of mine. In my experience, it tows and hauls better than other compact and mid-size pickups. Plus, it’s the only one to offer a diesel option. With the ZR2, Chevrolet has given us a good-looking small truck that is good at everything, including high-speed off-roading, low-speed rock-crawling, day-to-day comfort, and light-duty towing and hauling. Apparently, I was wrong—you can have one truck that does it all, provided that one truck is the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. DW