What comes through the cab is extraordinarily dull—or great—depending on how you feel about engineering.
At highway speeds, the ZR2 is quiet and relaxed. Ask anyone who’s been in an off-road pickup recently and they’ll compare the ride to straddling a paint shaker for the afternoon.
The ZR2 skips the harsh ride for a relaxed atmosphere that’s unafraid of open soda cans in the cupholders or tooth fillings in my mouth. Complemented by the Colorado’s excellent electronic power steering rack—so good that they’ve exported it to worldwide trucks made in Brazil and Thailand—and the ZR2 begs for a road trip to Moab, Utah by way of Detroit and Seattle. Who’s afraid of 26 hours in a truck?
Off road, the ZR2 trades that relaxed feeling for precision under duress. In each of our rides through Grand Junction’s back roads and earthen steps, the Colorado ZR2 took punishment and asked for more.
Most of the ZR2’s best features work away in shocking silence.
The steering and tires are symphonic in their quietly blended excellence. The 3.6-liter V-6 and 8-speed automatic hum in quiet confidence that 308 horsepower provides. Opt for the 2.8-liter turbodiesel and its 279 pound-feet of twist, and its replaced by low-frequency clatter and smoother torque that begs for slow-speed maneuvering.
The ZR2’s quiet confidence inevitably brings attention back to the things you can see, of which, some could use work.
Gas- and diesel-powered versions are setup nearly the same, with only subtle differences in the suspension tuning to mitigate the extra load of a cast-iron lump up front and exhaust treatment in the back. Almost backward, the V-6-equipped Colorado ZR2 feels a little more nervous on the throttle and on the trail. In sand, with all the nanny controls kicked out the window, the V-6 powers and rips through the sand. On the slick rock, the V-6 jumps eagerly up the rocks and necessitates a two-foot driving approach unless you’re willing to smash up a few skid plates.
Nestled in the Colorado’s 4-wheel-select knob is the “Off-road” mode that only the ZR2 provides, which speeds up the throttle response, slows down the gear changes, and changes the traction control settings. On its own, it makes the ZR2 even more eager to throttle up the trail, maybe almost too much. Its best use is on the sand where, when engaged and traction and stability control disengaged, the ZR2 becomes one of the best baja trucks I’ve driven this year.
(Yes, even including that other, bigger guy with a blue oval in its teeth.)
But perhaps the ZR2’s best attribute is the one you almost instantly forget about: its size.
The Colorado ZR2’s smaller size and brilliant suspension meant that on narrow, windy, dusty trails—or getting lost in the red rock brilliance of the American Southwest, it was the best tool for the job. I know that now.
Photos by Nathan Leach-Proffer
Chevrolet provided lodging to Internet Brands Automotive for this first drive review.