Chevrolet Colorado Review & Features

First Drive

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 First Drive

Hard-core off-road truck enthusiasts have never previously paid a great deal of attention to the Chevrolet Colorado, and for good reason. Its Z71 "off-road" package had morphed into little more than stickers plastered on the flanks of the priciest versions of the 4x2 and the 4x4 models, and its low-hanging and difficult-to-remove stiff plastic plow blade of a front air dam proved vulnerable on anything more demanding than a steep driveway.

That all ends now with the introduction of the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, a factory-birthed rock crawler and dune flyer of considerable potential. Picture a midsize pickup version of the Ford Raptor — minus the insane horsepower — and you won't be far off.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

We've Been Here Before, and That's Just Fine
The ZR2 concept is not new. In fact, the old ZR2 predated and inspired the popular Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road package, and one could argue that it pioneered the suspension part of the formula that we see in today's Raptor.

It first appeared in 1994 as a wide-stance off-road suspension package you could add to the otherwise unremarkable Chevrolet S-10 compact pickup. Regular Production Option ZR2, as it was known, hiked the S-10 4x4 3 inches skyward and added abrupt fender flares that housed 31-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A tires. They looked comically huge on that small truck, especially since the tires stood a full 3.9 inches farther apart thanks to wider front wishbones and a wider rear axle. Unique off-road-tuned springs and massive Bilstein monotube shocks made the package a terror in the dirt.

This all sounds eerily familiar looking at the specs of the reintroduced 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. Today's truck stands 2 inches taller than a regular Colorado 4x4, and it rides on 265/65R17 — 31 inches tall in old money — Goodyear all-terrain tires that, like its predecessor, need fender flare extensions because wider upper and lower front suspension wishbones and a broader rear axle spread those Goodyears 3.5 inches farther apart than usual. This heavily revised suspension and its off-road tuned springs deliver just over an inch of extra wheel travel, and its various motions are tamed by special off-road shocks.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Taking Things Several Steps Further, and One or Two Back
Those "special shocks" are significantly more sophisticated than the old truck's Bilsteins. The ZR2's exclusive Multimatic dampers are position-sensitive units that feature two distinct zones of compression damping that allows them to behave differently on road and off. Their guts are comprised of unique spool valves instead of the usual shims to make them more durable and less heat sensitive. And the aluminum bodies and remote reservoirs contain a higher volume of oil in which to more efficiently dissipate said heat.

The old ZR2 made do with a limited-slip rear end, but this new one comes with a driver-selectable electronically locking rear differential like the Tacoma TRD Pro, its closest midsize competitor. And it goes the Toyota one better by having a lockable front differential, too. Switches for both live within easy reach on the existing central control panel that's perched just forward of the Colorado's shifter.

Its front fascia has been radically resculpted to create a healthy 30-degree approach angle at the midpoint of the new aluminum skidplate, and that grows to an unspecified clearance angle far greater than that in front of the tires themselves, which stand naked in the breeze when viewed from the front. Rear departure clearance has been improved as well, thanks to a resculpted rear bumper. Rock rails that double as narrow side steps are tucked up tight against the cab.

But Toyota's Tacoma TRD Off-Road sports an approach angle of 32 degrees, while the TRD Pro can boast 35 degrees. And the ZR2's improved departure clearance comes at the expense of the normal Colorado's low-hanging bumper steps, which have been eliminated here. And its spare tire hangs way down. To fix that you have to buy the optional bed-mounted spare tire rack ($500), which looks cool but takes up a ton of bed space.

And in typical Chevy truck fashion the Colorado ZR2's rear shocks stand vertically inboard of the leaf springs where in rocky terrain they represent two extra points of potential contact astride the central differential housing. Worse yet, these protrude lower than the rear diff itself and put the mounts for those expensive shocks in harm's way just 8.9 inches above the ground. The Tacoma's rear shocks, by contrast, are mounted outboard of the leaf springs in a more protected position near the wheels. The Tacoma's rear differential is its lone low point, and it stands 9.4 inches clear of the terrain. The TRD Pro's low point under the cab is tucked up higher, too, which earns it a 26-degree breakover angle to the ZR2's 23.5 degrees.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Cab and Engine Choices Abound
You won't find the same kind of insane engine like in the Ford Raptor, but that's no deal killer. For one, the ZR2's compact dimensions make it a more likely candidate for narrow trail exploration and expedition-style overlanding. The ZR2's primary competition is the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, not the comparatively humongous Raptor. Both of the ZR2 and TRD Pro fit better on tighter trails (and in suburban garages) because each is almost 8 inches stubbier than an extended-cab Raptor and nearly 20 inches shorter than a crew cab. The Raptor is nearly 10 inches wider than a ZR2 and 11 inches broader than the TRD Pro, and it stands over 6 inches taller than either of them.

The ZR2 has two distinct advantages when compared to the TRD Pro. In addition to the wildly popular crew-cab short-bed combination, you can also choose a less-expensive extended cab with a standard bed, something the lesser TRD Off-Road offers but the TRD Pro does not. Both ZR2s share the same equipment, external dimensions and clearance angles, so the choice boils down to cost and your cab-versus-cargo priorities.

Two well-sorted powertrains are available, both of which perform better than what Toyota is currently offering. The ZR2's standard 3.6-liter direct-injected V6 gasoline engine makes both more power (308 horsepower) and torque (275 pound-feet) than the Toyota's 3.5-liter V6, and it comes with a smart-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission that's a far more willing partner than the Tacoma's six-speed. The Chevy also offers something you can't get in either the TRD Pro or the Raptor: a diesel engine. The 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel makes only 186 hp due to its low-revving nature, but it more than offsets that with 369 lb-ft of torque. Peak grunt arrives at just 2,000 rpm, which means a considerable wallop is available underfoot when it's time to tiptoe over rocky terrain or climb a hill.

Unfortunately, the diesel's considerable torque necessitates the use of a stouter six-speed automatic instead of the eight-speed, and its taller first gear dulls the edge slightly in low range in the form of a 36.4-to-1 crawl ratio. The gas engine and the lower first gear in its eight-speed gearbox team up to produce a more favorable 41.4-to-1 crawl ratio. Still, the diesel was adept at climbing the rocky ledges we tackled during our test drive, and the gearing advantage put the gas engine in a good light, too.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

A Good Daily Driver. Weekends Are Even Better
We experienced the ZR2 in a wide variety of terrain. The suspension smothered the cracks and it breathed smoothly over the undulations of the winding asphalt road sections. Neither too firm nor too soft, the ZR2 felt like it was somehow armed and ready for anything. A vague sense of tension was evident, but it wasn't at all tense. As for the steering, our ZR2 flowed through the various corners with a sense of poise and control that we frankly didn't expect. It's a tad lifeless, though, because the Colorado's electric power-assist steering doesn't communicate with the driver nearly as well as the Tacoma's well-sorted hydraulic-assist system.

And the ZR2 was quiet. The Goodyear rubber didn't emit much more than a low purr, and at a steady cruise it was possible to forget we were driving a diesel. Our 2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 long-term test vehicle was never this hushed even when it was brand-new and had not yet visited any rattle-inducing dirt roads.

We did more than that in this ZR2, though. On a prepared rallycross-style dirt course, the secondary compression damping zone of the Multimatic dampers soaked up deep holes and absorbed the impact of landed jumps without so much as a whimper. They came into play when creeping down rock stairs, too, by preventing the nose from overstroking and smacking the truck's skidplate on the next ledge.

We encountered a bit of rain on the trail, too, and here the Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires proved they might be a weak point. It's hard to know because we were not terribly familiar with the local glop, but the tire tread certainly got packed full of it at one point. The ZR2 has hill descent control, but so does the regular Colorado. We didn't see any uphill crawl control like you'd find on the Tacoma TRD Off-Road and Pro models. But the extra traction provided by the front locker (low range only) was a big plus when climbing a series of rock ledges.

The trail was rough enough to make our ZR2 smack the local scenery once or twice, but there wasn't a TRD Pro along for this bit to tell if it would have cleared. It's possible, because in standard form a Colorado's frame rails are closer to the ground than a Tacoma's — that's why the Colorado's cab feels roomier and its driving position is more agreeable.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Not Cheap, but Can Be Cheaper If You Do Without
Chevrolet is proud of the fact the ZR2 is cheaper than the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. It's technically true, but only in a very narrow sense. The cheapest ZR2 costs $40,940, which indeed undercuts the cheapest TRD Pro by $980. But the TRD Pro comes standard with premium audio and navigation, and you have to spend $995 to add those to your ZR2, which makes it cost a tad more than the cheapest Toyota. And that TRD Pro is a crew cab, not an extended cab, albeit one with a manual transmission — a negative in the minds of some but a huge positive for others because it's a transmission the ZR2 does not offer.

The best comparison is crew cab to crew cab, automatic to automatic. Again, at $42,565 the ZR2 is cheaper, mainly because the base version lacks navigation and premium audio. Add those and you're at $43,560. The comparable TRD Pro costs $43,920, a scant $360 more. But the Toyota begins to look like a bargain when you consider its extra standard equipment: a sunroof, the more sophisticated traction control, a composite bed with a power outlet and moveable tie-down cleats, and a spare tire tucked up so high under the bed there's no reason to buy a space-hogging bed-mounted spare tire bracket. It is worth mentioning, however, that the ZR2 comes with standard rock sliders and the TRD Pro doesn't.

Want the diesel engine? Add another $3,500. For that you get a 3-mpg boost in rated fuel economy. The gasoline ZR2 is rated at 17 mpg combined (16 city/18 highway) while the diesel is rated at 20 mpg combined (19 city/22 highway). The EPA says that could amount to a savings of $750 per year, which means it'd take almost five years to pay off the diesel. That's not too bad, and there are other reasons we like this choice, including drivability and the extra off-road range available from the 21-gallon tank they both share. As for the Tacoma, its gasoline automatic is rated at 20 mpg combined (18 city/23 highway), which means it's rated the same as the ZR2 diesel without the extra $3,500 in upfront cost. We're not sure it'd be that good in real life, though, because the TRD Pro's fuel economy certification is lumped in with other Tacoma 4x4s. The ZR2 was certified separately from the regular Colorado.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Choice Is Good, Which Is Good Because This Is a Good Choice
We still don't have a lot of ZR2 miles under our belt, so we can't wait to get one back home on our familiar roads and trails. Those Multimatic shocks deserve a thorough examination, for one thing. Despite a few potential drawbacks, it's an impressive machine, one that will surely prove to be a lot of fun over the long haul. Its standard engine and transmission bests the competition, and it's available with diesel power. If the Tacoma had that we'd have an even better fight on our hands. The ZR2 is back, and in a big way.

Chevrolet Colorado Review

The Chevrolet Colorado is a tale of two trucks: one built in the mid-2000s and the current truck, now just a few years into its lifecycle. The Colorado available at Chevy dealers today is quite different from its first-generation predecessor. The engines have more guts and the interior is roomier, more refined, and loaded with technology. Older models offered good utility and off-road ability for the time, but tight cabin space and inconsistent build quality plagued the Colorado. In general, a midsize truck like the Colorado should appeal to you if you want something that's more affordable and easier to park than a full-size truck.

Current Chevrolet Colorado
The Chevrolet Colorado is a midsize pickup truck offered in extended-cab and crew-cab body styles. There are two bed lengths available and five trim levels: Base, Work Truck, LT, Z71 and ZR2.

For a no-nonsense truck, Base and Work Truck models hit the spot, with the Base available only as an extended cab with the long bed. Features include a 200-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, air-conditioning, vinyl upholstery and flooring, front bucket seats and a rearview camera. Four-wheel drive is optional. The Work Truck is equipped similarly but offers extended-cab jump seats, cloth upholstery and carpeting. It's also available as a crew cab. The main difference is that the Work Truck can be had with more optional features including a 3.6-liter V6 (308 hp) or a 2.8-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder (181 hp).

Other notable Work Truck options include cruise control, the app-based MyLink system with Bluetooth connectivity, a 7-inch display screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. Most of these items and more come standard on the LT, which also includes 17-inch alloy wheels, an 8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio and USB ports. The Z71 sits atop the heap and comes with all-terrain tires, an off-road-oriented suspension, added safety features, heated front seats and a Bose audio system, among other features.

In reviews, we've praised the Colorado's optional engines. The V6 provides quick acceleration, and the diesel four-cylinder returns the best fuel economy and has plenty of low-end torque for towing. Properly equipped, V6 models can pull up to 7,000 pounds. The turbocharged four-cylinder can tow up to 7,700 pounds.

We also like how the Colorado is stable and handles well around turns. It's comfortable and quiet, even on long drives and even with an empty cargo bed. Although the Colorado is built to handle off-highway stuff, the low nose and front airdam — which Chevy claims aids aerodynamic efficiency and fuel economy — significantly hampers the Colorado's ability to crawl steeper objects and angles. You can remove it, but not without some hassle and not without voiding a warranty.

There is a solution, however. Serious off-roaders can go with the new Colorado ZR2 model. A rival to Toyota's Tacoma TRD Pro, the ZR2 comes with a sophisticated suspension, big all-terrain tires, a choice of a V6 or diesel engine, front and rear electronic locking differentials, and wider dimensions. With a ZR2, you'll be prepared to venture deep into the backcountry.

Used Chevrolet Colorado Models
The current Chevrolet Colorado debuted for the 2015 model year after a three-year hiatus. Significantly redesigned from the ground up, today's Colorado is larger, more fuel-efficient and more tech-laden than its predecessor.

In 2015, the Colorado offered just the four- and six-cylinder gas engines; the diesel four-cylinder didn't arrive until 2016. That year also brought Apple CarPlay smartphone integration and an enhanced driver information display for LT and Z71 models. For 2017, the V6 got a slight bump in horsepower, up from 305 to 308, and an eight-speed automatic transmission instead of the previous six-speed auto.

Before the current model's reintroduction, the first-generation Colorado debuted in 2004 as a replacement for the smaller, outdated S-10 pickup and continued until 2012. Like most of its contemporaries, the Colorado was more midsize than compact, and as such it offered a reasonable amount of hauling capability without requiring an upgrade to a more expensive, less maneuverable full-size truck.

From the start, it was available in standard-cab, extended-cab and crew-cab configurations. Standard cabs seat up to three on their bench seat. Extended-cab models technically seat five, though adults won't be happy in the tiny, forward-facing jump seats. Crew cabs seat up to six, though the relatively narrow cab makes three-across seating quite snug for adults.

Initially, there were three main trim levels: the base level Work, midlevel LS and luxury-equipped LT. The LS was replaced for 2009 with the similar VL, and the following year the midlevel trim was dropped, leaving just the Work and LT versions. Work models were pretty basic as expected, while springing for the LT meant perks such as upgraded materials, full power accessories, a better stereo, satellite radio and even leather upholstery.

Until 2007, the Colorado was powered by a 2.8-liter inline-four with 175 horsepower or a 3.5-liter inline-five that made 220 hp. For 2007, those engines grew to 2.9 liters with 185 hp and 3.7 liters with 242 hp, respectively. A 5.3-liter V8 rated at 300 hp became optional in 2009.

The V8 was clearly the most capable engine available, but it was also the most inefficient. Although the four-cylinder version could have a five-speed manual, chances are most Colorados you come across will have the four-speed automatic that was optional on the four-cylinder and standard on the other engines.

The Colorado could be equipped with either a two-wheel-drive or a four-wheel-drive system with a dual-range transfer case. There were also several suspension options, including the Z85 heavy-duty and Z71 off-road packages as well as the street-oriented ZQ8, which featured a lowered, performance-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels and cosmetic modifications.

Our reviews of the Chevrolet Colorado were lukewarm at best. The truck was capable, but its cabin accommodations and overall build quality always fell short when compared to more refined trucks from Nissan and Toyota. An affordable price made it appealing to budget-minded truck buyers, but the Colorado (and its GMC Canyon twin) suffered from lackluster four- and five-cylinder engines, an abundance of cheap cabin plastics, and a general lack of refinement.

Chevrolet Colorado Cars for Sale

2017 Chevrolet Colorado LT
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2017 Chevrolet Colorado Z71
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2017 Chevrolet Colorado LT
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2017 Chevrolet Colorado Work Truck
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