Chevy Colorado ZR2 pickup: Off-road animal

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — The midsize, off-road pickup wars are on.

Chevrolet on Tuesday introduced its Colorado ZR2, a scenery-eating, wall-climbing shot across the bow of the Toyota Tacoma. With its innovative, Multimatic shocks and class-exclusive, front-and-rear locking differentials, the ZR2 goes head on against the Tacoma TRD Pro, until now the undisputed champ of midsize truck terrors.

With the explosion of the midsize truck segment in recent years, the challenge was inevitable. Toyota had owned the midsize segment until the Colorado and GMC Canyon entered the market followed by the Honda Ridgeline this year. While the GM twins and Honda emphasized their pickups’ comfort and drivability, Tacoma continued as king of the Outback.

But with the ZR2, Colorado wants to change that.

“We assembled a dream team of GM truck enthusiasts in order to bring more off-road technology than any other truck in the class,” said GM North America President Alan Batey in introducing the ZR2 before the Los Angeles Auto Show.”

The ZR2 comes from Chevy’s performance division. Like the ferocious, 650-horsepower Camaro ZL1, which is impressive both on and off the race track, the ZR2 aims to be both an off-road warrior and an on-road dancer.

Chevy claims the key to its dexterity to be its exclusive spool-valve dampers. Developed by supplier Multimatic for Formula One racing, the so-called DSSV shocks were first used on the Camaro Z28 track monster.

“Chevy came to us to bring the wide range of capability that spool-valve technology affords to a truck,” said Michael Guttilla, vice president of Multimatic Sales. “All the technology that made the Z28 a successful track car lends itself to going off-road.”

The shocks — combined with a 3 1/2-inch wider track, 2-inch higher ground clearance, and Tacoma-equivalent, 30-degree front approach angle — transform the Colorado into an off-road animal. At the Los Angeles unveil, journalists were taken over a closed course of moguls, hills and terrain. Most impressive was the ZR2’s locking differentials which enabled the ZR2 to climb a steep, unpredictable grade.

The truck segment has seen off-road performance trucks before in the Tacoma and Ford’s full-size F-150 Raptor. Unlike the Raptor, Chevy does not offer a unique, high-output engine with the ZR2 — but the standard V-6 and diesel option available in other Colorado trucks. Instead of raw power, the ZR2 appeals to extreme off-roaders who want more maneuverability than the big Raptor. The ZR2 was tested extensively through the narrow ridges of the Rubicon and GM’s off-road test facility in Yuma, Arizona.

“It’s amazing what a difference a foot of width makes off-road,” said Mark Dickens, boss of Chevy performance vehicles. “The smaller size of the Colorado is a huge enabler for taking the ZR2 more places, and getting it through tighter spots than you could access with a full-size truck.”

The ZR2 is distinguished by its robust front skid plate, robust, steel-tube rocker panels, black hood bulge and huge, 31-inch tires. It will tow up 5,000 pounds and carry 1,100 lbs. of payload. It was developed by GM after positive response to its ZR2 concept introduced her in LA in 2014.

With the ZR2, “you can go rock crawling on Saturday, desert running on Sunday, and comfortably drive to work on Monday,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president, Global Product Development in a statement. “This truck can do it all, and do it all well.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.