Test Drive

2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Test Drive Review: It Begs To Play Dirty

And you have no choice but to oblige.

There’s no point in denying the fact I wasn't much of an off-road enthusiast. Until now. I can thank the 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 for introducing me to the endless pleasures of spewing mud and other assorted pieces of earth in multiple directions. Mud slides are incredible and so are all-terrain tires and skid plates. I totally get this whole off-road thing now. From the moment I was handed the keys to the Colorado ZR2, I wanted nothing more than to drive it to its off-road limits and get it dirty. I had an entire week to make this happen.

Problem was, I was in one of the flattest areas of the United States, second only to tornado prone Kansas. An alternative to canyons and rocky hillsides had to be found. Fortunately, there was multiple inches of snow on the ground and I found myself begging for more. I knew this rig could handle the harsh January winter with absolute ease. But no more snow fell. Instead, the exact opposite happened; it warmed up and everything turned to slush and mud. You know where this is going. Chevrolet launched its Colorado ZR2 only last year and already it's become a solid sales success, making up 10 percent of all 2017 Colorado sales.

Compared to the Colorado with the Z71 off-road package, the ZR2 stands two inches taller and wears a set of massive 31-inch tires (instead of the Z71's 30-inchers) that cover 17-inch aluminum wheels. Don’t think for a second the ZR2 package consists of just those bigger tires because you’d be dead wrong.

It also received a new front suspension with taller springs and longer shocks. The rear leaf springs are adjusted to match the taller front end. The front track was also increased and the live rear axle was widened as well. Even the truck’s frame was altered to handle the newly upgraded suspension. Looking at the ZR2 from the front, you’ll quickly notice one of two aluminum skid plates; the first is located from the radiator to the rear oil pan, and the second covers the two-speed electronic transfer case. There’s also that blatantly obvious hood bulge, new front and rear bumpers and plastic trim covering the wheel wells. The ZR2 looks the part. If it reminds you of a miniature Ford F-150 Raptor, then great. No point in denying that.

At the moment, the ZR2 has no direct competitor on sale. However, Toyota just unveiled an updated Tacoma TRD Pro, and the overseas only (for now) Ford Ranger Raptor has made its first online appearance. Point being is that a turnkey hardcore off-road pickup truck is no longer limited to the full-size Raptor. The ZR2’s dimensions, in my opinion, are ideal for most everyone’s needs. Today’s mid-size pickup is still plenty big, especially if you opt for the Crew Cab. If you prefer a smaller rear passenger compartment and a larger bed, an Extended Cab, long box configuration is also available here. My truck was a Crew Cab short box, making it an ideal family hauler if necessary.

The bed still measures just over five-feet in length, exactly one foot shorter than the longer version. Unless you’re regularly moving around large, extended objects to construction sites or for serious home improvement projects, the short box is the way to go. It’ll easily fit all of your outdoor camping gear for those obligatory adventures. One of the more interesting things Chevrolet did with the ZR2 is offering the turbo 2.8-liter four-cylinder diesel engine, rated at 186 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. This is a $3,500 option that I didn’t get a chance to sample, but I know has a few drawbacks compared to the gas V6. For starters, it’s slower, and this will matter to you on the highway.

While the V6 goes from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 6.1 seconds, the diesel requires 9.2 seconds for the task. The V6 is also lighter by around 250 pounds. Yes, the diesel does provide that additional torque, but on a day-to-day basis, the V6 is probably the way to go for most. However, the ZR2’s V6 is the exact same one found in non-ZR2 Colorados, and considering the ZR2 ain’t exactly cheap, I was surprised Chevy didn't increase output, even slightly. An eight-speed automatic transmission is paired to the V6 while a six-speed auto is matched to the diesel. Taking this rig off-road, the V6 handled its job just fine but I still feel a few more horses would have made for some extra fun and further justify the price tag.

When behaving yourself on pavement, the ZR2 V6 returns 16/18 mpg and a combined 17 mpg. Truck interiors have come a zillion miles since the segment’s Spartan beginnings, and the ZR2 is another fine example. Its dashboard design is very nice overall and the 8-inch color touchscreen has the Chevrolet MyLink connectivity system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I liked having a backup camera more than ever given my limited experience in pickups. There’s also wireless charging on the center console. What’s so nice about the Colorado's cabin is how easy it is to live with. I didn’t feel like I was driving a pickup truck but rather an SUV or crossover. If you’re an old school truck guy, accept that times change.

Covered in black leather, the heated seats are comfortable enough, though some additional support would be nice. I also think it’d be cool to see a return to vinyl seats, or some other faux leather, to help reduce the price. Vinyl is still easy to clean, like leather, because you’re going to track in lots of caked mud. I speak from experience. But if there’s an issue regarding the cabin, it’s this: Too. Much. Cheap. Plastic. The old GM is gone, right? I thought so too. For a truck that has a base price of $41,000, there should be soft touch plastics throughout. My left arm was screaming for more comfortable padding on the door, but had to settle for basic plastic.

Despite these misgivings, the ZR2, without question, is best experienced in its natural outdoor habitat. I can attest to this. It’s not that I never previously respected off-roading, I simply hadn’t done it enough to fully “get it.” Life is different now, courtesy of this truck. Taking the ZR2 to what I hoped would be an empty field used locally by some fellow off-roaders and dog walkers, I engaged the 4WD and let her rip through the already hallowed out dirt paths. Because of the warming temperature, the ground had become a soft and muddy mess. Perfect. Not once did the ZR2 hesitate at it fought its way through mud, slush, and probably some dog crap. When doing a few hard turns the truck consistently felt solid and planted.

Sure, I could have possibly tipped over if I pushed things enough, but the ZR2 is well prepared to prevent that scenario thanks to the front and rear electronically controlled locking differentials and Multimatic shocks, among other things. Above all, I did not want to return the ZR2 at week’s end, and that's not something I can say for all press cars, but I still have one negative to address: price. As already mentioned, the 2018 Chevrolet Colorado begins at $41,785 without any extras. My truck came with the Cajun Red exterior paint ($495) and chrome recovery hooks ($200), ringing up the total to $42,480, including destination. It’s a lot of money for a truck that begins at $21,000.

Then again, the ZR2’s base price is nearly $10k less than the Ford Raptor’s starting point. Something to keep in mind. Price and interior materials aside, the 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is ridiculous amounts of fun capable of fueling an off-road addiction. Consider me now incurable.

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