When Ford (F) came out with the Raptor seven years ago, it seemed like a small passion project meant only for off-road and Baja-racing enthusiasts. Flash forward to today, and it’s a hot-selling, highly-desired truck for more than just off-roaders. Like many other auto reporters, I’m a big fan of its capabilities as well.
But if you’re looking for a non-full size pickup version of that bonkers truck, you don’t really have any options. Toyota (TM) would argue the Tacoma TRD Pro would come close. Heck, there aren’t many full-size pickup rivals to the Raptor at this point either, although Ram’s Rebel TRX concept (FCAU) is something to keep an eye on.
But back to the main point at hand. Chevrolet (GM) may be seeing an opportunity—and that’s why it’s taken it’s solid Colorado mid-size pickup, tweaked it and bolted on some very interesting off-road parts and created the Colorado ZR2. Is this the mini-Raptor we’ve been looking for (or at least until Ford releases its mid-size Ranger Raptor equivalent)?
Chevy takes a Colorado Z71 and gives it a wider track (3.5”), a 2” lift over the standard model, strategically placed skid plates, and removes some of the body work to give it a more aggressive approach for tackling off-road obstacles. In addition to the body work, Chevy adds its Autotrac 4-wheel drive system, but this time with front and rear electronic-locking differentials—which Chevy says is a class exclusive. The truck is shod with big 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac knobby tires.
But what really gets enthusiasts’ ears perked up is the ZR2’s suspension system. Chevy’s using Multimatic’s Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSV) dampers (Yes, it’s a mouthful). Normally seen on race cars and Chevy’s own Camaro Z28, the dampers here use spool valves to dynamically adjust firmness depending on the amount of force being applied to the valve. Basically on paved roads the shocks will be compliant and soft, but when the shocks come under a big load (like jagged rocks when driving off the beaten path) the shocks will tighten up. Chevy says this gives drivers the best of both worlds in terms of comfort and performance.
Behind the wheel
Taking in the ZR2, it is a bad-ass looking truck. I’ve always liked the Colorado body, but it’s even better in ZR2 off-road form. The removal of the front bumper with a wider track and exposed skid-plate give the truck a mean look, and the huge knobby tires with 2-inch lift make the ZR2 look like it means business.
Driving around town, if you closed your eyes you wouldn’t believe you were in a pick-up. The big knobby tires felt like normal radials on the pavement, and the DSSV damper system gave a compliant, comfortable ride. Taking the ZR2 on the highway, there was no real sound penalty from those big tires. This is a huge difference than driving Toyota’s TRD Pro line, where on-road comfort and refinement is lacking somewhat.
We took the ZR2 on some dirt-and-gravel roads in upstate New York, and the tires and suspension system gave great traction in both 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive modes. Unfortunately we were not able to test these tires and the DSSV system on a true off-road course.
Our ZR2 was outfitted with Chevy’s 3.6L V6 putting out 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. We did not opt for the optional engine, a 2.8-liter inline-four Duramax turbo-diesel, outputting a healthy 369 lb-ft of torque.
The V-6 proved more than capable pushing around the 4,670-pound ZR2. Pickup was good, and the engine felt peppy off the line, delivering a 0-60mph time in the mid-six second range. The penalty you pay with the V-6 is fuel economy, coming in at an EPA estimated 16 city, 18 highway.
The interior was very well-appointed for a pickup truck, with leather seating all around with power lumbar for driver and passenger and Chevy’s very responsive and easy to use MyLink touchscreen system. In fact, near the armrest is a wireless charging pad that worked flawlessly with my Samsung smartphone (and now those lucky enough to have the iPhone X). We had the crew cab which was nicely appointed, but would be a little tight transporting adult-size passengers.
We had the ZR2 crew cab with short box and that was fine for hauling some things around town. But I would opt for the longer box which adds more versatility (and the ability to transport mountain and road bikes without having to turn the wheels inward like we had to).
A glaring omission for the ZR2 is high-tech safety features. The ZR2 (and Colorado for that matter) are not up-to-date on features like front-collision avoidance systems and adaptive or radar cruise control. These features are not new, but they are game-changers when compared to vehicles that have them. For instance Ford offers these features as options on the F-150, and Chevy only has forward collision alert as an option on the full-size Silverado.
As a general proposition I have a hard time recommending vehicles that don’t at least offer the option for these features, in addition to something like lane-keep assist. But, given that this is a specialty type of vehicle, most of its buyers are not going to be totally dissuaded by the lack of these features.
Wrapping it up
The Colorado ZR2 is a great off-roader and all-around performer for those seeking an active lifestyle—or just looking the part (sorry, we know it’s true). But – it’s not the mid-size Raptor many are looking for, and that’s not a bad thing. It has many of its attributes, like genuine off-road capability and aggressive looks, minus the massive high-output engine and size. But our test truck came in at $43,560, around $11K cheaper than a supercrew Raptor. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
In short I would buy the ZR2 if I were looking for the best bang-for-your-buck off-road pickup. Now if Chevy would update some of those safety features, I would be signing the those papers right now.
Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter here.