Colorado ZR2 Test Drive: Chevy's New Pickup Is Off-Road Ready And Then Some

The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is GM’s first attempt in over a decade to create a performance-oriented pickup truck that can tackle all types of road surfaces and conditions. If you like the idea of having a trail-ready pickup truck but don’t want to tinker first with a stock truck, the Colorado ZR2 was designed to be your compromise. It certainly looks the part: The revised front fascia sports a protruding aluminum skid plate. For added visual effect, there’s a non-functional hood scoop. 

But how does it drive? We traveled to Gateway, Colorado, just east of the Utah-Colorado border, to give the Colorado ZR2 a rugged test. 

The first thing you’ll notice is how smoothly the Colorado ZR2 operates, whether on a dirt track or the freeway. Refinement and finesse distinguish the Colorado ZR2 from the moment you set out. It's proficient in rock-crawling and light desert-running, thanks to two electronic locking differentials, hill-descent control with variable speed settings, selectable four-wheel drive, and knobby tires. The deal is sweetened by dampers developed by Canadian engineering and production company Multimatic, which are intended to smooth out the bucking that usually comes with a day of off-roading, and keep the body stable while the wheels rise and lower over varying surfaces.

We first turned on the off-road mode on a Baja-style dirt course set in a valley between the buttes then started slinging the truck sideways around the dirt course’s tight corners — finding minimal intrusion from vehicle stability control. With the traction control off and 4WD High engaged, it's one step from a homologated rally truck. The course was littered with tabletop-style jumps, and no matter how many wheels we had off the ground at once, the landing was a fall, not a crash. The trick to keeping the 2.8-liter diesel Colorado ZR2 moving on the track was left-foot braking ahead of turns; otherwise, there was some lag in getting back up to speed.

Then we hit some rocky trails typical of western Colorado, and followed them to “stairs” meant to test a truck’s ruggedness, rigidity, and muster. There was just enough width to carry the Colorado ZR2 over rocks and between cacti and needly trees, but the Chevy never whimpered. (At no point did we lower tire pressure or perform any modifications.) As one wheel lifted, the Multimatic dampers countered and kept everything in check. We hardly have the experience of a Baja truck driver, although we know a guy: Shannon Campbell, reigning King of the Hammers and rock-crawling guru, who joined us on the day of off-roading. “Everything felt bad-ass,” Campbell told us. “It’s a really capable vehicle.”

Speaking of paved roads, there was an unexpected surprise on the return drive to Gateway: The Colorado ZR2 is actually even more comfortable to drive on-road than an average Colorado. Credit goes, again, to the supernaturally adept dampers, for turning an otherwise wiggly pickup truck fitted with 31-inch mudding tires into a decent highway cruiser. Steering is sharp and on point, and power from either engine is plentiful. What the Multimatic magic can’t solve, however, is the Colorado ZR2’s lack of creature comforts and interior refinement — and brute strength. A Raptor, the Colorado ZR2 is not.

At the end of the day, the Colorado ZR2 makes a solid case as an all-rounder, in a way that purpose-focused trucks like the Jeep Wrangler just don’t. It’s civilized enough to make the haul from the small town to the city and back, with a couple of unplanned stops along the way. We bet the locals from eponymous Colorado would appreciate that. [$40,995; chevrolet.com]

Cheat Sheet: 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

· It’s the Colorado that’s most oriented to the off-road lifestyle.

· As comfortable on the rocks as on the road (seriously).

· Features segment-first dampers that flatten most trail imperfections.

· Powered by turbodiesel torque or a naturally aspirated V-6.

· 8.9 inches of ground clearance.