2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2: The On Road Review
The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 has been hailed for being the best small pickup for tackling off road trails, crawling over rocky terrain, jumping sand dunes, and blasting through mud, dirt, and snow. While this truck was optimized for superb off road capability by Chevrolet's performance engineers, this little pickup can also carve corners and handle surprisingly well on the road. While the off road capability is nice, let's face it, this truck is still going to be riding on a paved road most of the time. So, like any ordinary vehicle, daily practicality and comfort are important on the list of must haves for this vehicle.
For the past 6 months of owning a ZR2 myself, I may not have had the opportunity to travel to an off road trail yet, but have had to opportunity to put the truck through its paces
through daily driving. While most people that look at the truck think it simply has a lift and revised bumper design, they're wrong, as this truck has its own unique suspension setup that sets it apart from every other trim Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Whatever you knew about how the other trims performed, you can pickup and throw away, as it is totally different in the ZR2.
What differentiates the ZR2, apart from new bumpers improving approach and departure angles, are big upgrades to the suspension setup. Compared to Z71 Colorados, the ZR2 has a 3.5 inch wider track, a 2 inch lift, and 31 inch tires. Adding to the performance are multimatic, DSSV shocks developed by F1 special for Chevrolet. Multimatic shocks take advantage of spool valve technology to help keep a smooth, planted ride. While typically
featured on race cars, the engineering is amped up making these shocks quite massive. They look like two shocks in one, and from a more basic standpoint, that's kinda what they are. The shocks can handle hard bumps and jumps off road, so on the road, speed bumps and small to large pavement defects can be easily ignored unlike in a conventional vehicle. This truck can handle it with ease, and the ride still remains smooth for a truck! The shocks also keep the truck planted, reducing body roll in cornering. It helps make this lil' truck fun to toss through the corners. Kinda surprising considering it rides on a leaf suspension in the rear.
While the suspension is fantastic, the steering is soft with plenty of understeer, as expected on most trucks. The differentials can also be locked (front and rear), so this truck has the capability to pull you out of some of the toughest ditches you may encounter off the road. While helpful, I typically leave the truck in rear wheel drive for most journeys.
The 3.6L (gas) V6 provides plenty of power with 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque mated to an 8 speed automatic transmission. While shifts can be fast, the trans can be a bit rough upshifting and downshifting in the lower 1st and 2nd gears on occasion. Its nothing jarring, all you hear a faint "clunck" and feel a slight jutter whenever it occurs, so it isn't too unsettling. I have noticed it occurs more after the vehicle has been sitting for a while out in the cold, so perhaps temperature and sitting has something to do with it.
While I haven't had the opportunity to drive the 1.4L 4-cyclinder duramax diesel that pumps out 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, I have heard its great for rock crawling, but not so much for acceleration in comparison to the gas propelled V6. Towing is limited to 5000 lbs in both engine setups, so it comes down to what you prefer more, a diesel great for rock crawling or a V-6 better for carving corners. I am slightly disappointed, as it appears a small block V-8 could actually fit under the hood. There's quite a bit of spare room in there with the V-6, although for cost purposes, I can see why G.M. opted out.
While the ZR2 can handle whatever you throw at it, its a very functional truck for daily driving. As mentioned, its fun to drive, and with the standard heated leather seats, its quite comfortable for long trips. I took the ZR2 on a 9 hour drive to Detroit for NAIAS this year and
was pleased at how comfortable the seats were. The bose stereo is a great option for anyone who loves listening to music, and the apple carplay/android auto integration works great, despite rare glitches. The 4G-LTE wifi also comes in handy on long trips. There is a wireless charging port, but I can't get it to work with my iPhone X.
For those seeking technology, you may want to search elsewhere. The connectivity in the cabin is great, but the ZR2 has no active safety features, just a backup camera with guide lines. Most of the technology is featured in the suspension design, so if you love driving, like I do, the truck is fun, but if performance isn't your cup of tea and you want a vehicle that has all the driving aids, you won't find it here.
Cargo Space is ample, with a deep center console, under seat storage in the rear (if you get a crew cab model), and the bed has plenty of space for whatever you are hauling, as long as
its not too big. The interior materials could be better, there is a lot of hard plastic, but for most trips, its not a bother to me and nothing looks out of place.
Having a truck that can perform off road certainly has its pros and cons on the road. It may drive and handle well, although the fact that there are no air damns and 3/4 of the front wheels are exposed at all times to provide 30 degree approach angles, the truck does face quite a bit of air resistance on the highway, so it can get a bit noisy inside. The beefy tires also add noise in the cabin at higher speeds, but on local roads, noise levels are not bad.
Speaking of the tires, they tend to shoot dirt and debris up all over the vehicle as you drive, especially in the winter when the road is covered in salt or brine. This is due to the suspension being slightly wider and the all terrain tires that grab and simultaneously shoot debris back on the vehicle if the roadway is not clean and dry.
If the roads are nasty, the door handles get coated in grime. It can be frustrating, but it comes with the territory. The truck looks great dirty (hey, it's made to handle extreme off roading), but if you're a clean freak like me, you will be washing your truck A LOT. Mud flaps are not yet available (many owners are frustrated by this), but Chevrolet is supposedly developing them, so that will hopefully solve the problem.
While the rocker guards (or rock sliders if you prefer) provide great protection for the rockers when off roading, they also protect the vehicle in parking lots. They stick out further than the doors, so anyone opening their doors into you will hit the the slider before the body of the vehicle. Just watch out if the guards are dirty, as you will easily dirty up your pants!
Where the truck shines is the ability for it to tackle whatever is thrown at it, which can be very helpful in a bad winter storm. Due to its off road capability, its not a problem if roads are not plowed after a big winter storm. Shift into 4-Wheel Drive High or Low, as needed, and you can get through what most cars cannot. Get stuck, and those locking differentials with help your wheels find enough grip to get you going again. New Jersey recently dealt with a nor-easter that brought 18 inches of snow, bringing down trees and power lines across my town. Many roads were not plowed with more than a foot of snow on them. While not even my father's 2018 Traverse could tackle this depth, the ZR2 plowed through it like it was nothing. It really came in handy. (See photo above)
Build Quality Confidential
Getting down to build quality, the ZR2 exceeds my expectations and has exactly what I look for on a vehicle, mostly bolts or screws, extremely limited use of pop clips. Front and rear bumpers are held on with torx screws, same goes for the splash shields. Since this is a ZR2, there is a beefy skid plate under the front of the vehicle, protecting the underside of the oil pan and transmission, held on by bolts. (Check out the Build Quality Confidential page for breakdown of how I rank build quality)
I have had the opportunity to work on newer Colorados before at the shop, and am also pleased with the build quality of the doors and inside door panels. Oil changes are also easy, as the Colorado is high enough off the ground for you to access the oil pan underneath without lifting the truck up. You may need a step stool to reach the drop filter located on the driver side of the vehicle though if you aren't very tall.
Consumer reports expects less than average reliability on the Colorado, so make sure you keep up with the maintenance outlined in the owner's manual to maximize life of the vehicle. As mentioned, the transmission can be a bit "searchy" in the lower gears, so keep your ears peeled for any odd noises when you drive. This may not be a Toyota, but in recent years, GM's vehicles have had greatly improved reliability in comparison to past models. The Colorado will last if you take good care of it, so don't cheap out on your truck!
As mentioned, I am very pleased with build quality, so look at the photos below for a more detailed look. I love my truck and would definitely buy it again. It's capable, fun to drive, has all the features I, personally, desire in a vehicle, and it can tackle nearly anything you throw at it! If you're interested in purchasing, definitely take a test drive, as it feels totally different from all other Colorado and Canyon models.