Comfort and capability, without the Wrangler's histrionics.
For a long time, the easiest route to owning a factory-backed off-road-ready vehicle was to simply buy a Jeep Wrangler. It's body-on-frame, has locking differentials, its approach and departure angles are excellent, and it's as simple as a wood-burning stove. That's a recipe for off-road success.
But have you ever tried living with a Wrangler? I regularly joke that I look forward to every Wrangler I test… until I've spent about 10 minutes driving it. Between the uncouth ride and the noisy cabin – even in the more refined Wrangler JL – Jeep's iconic off-roader is hard to live with.
And that's why I was so excited to sample an off-road alternative. The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado Colorado ZR2, particularly in the Crew Cab body, takes the inoffensive Colorado and amps it up, resulting in a vehicle that blends the best aspects of the Ford F-150 Raptor and the legendary Wrangler into a package that's more manageable than the former and more versatile than the latter.
Prices for the Colorado ZR2 Crew Cab start at $42,000, while our heavily optioned tester demands $48,300. That starting price is over $14,000 more than the price of the most basic four-door Colorado while the as-tested price is over $20,000 more – blame the ZR2’s disappointing score on those facts.
Contributing to its low rating, the ZR2 features much the same gear as the $37,895 Colorado Z71. There are heated seats, a 3.6-liter V6 with an eight-speed automatic, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and a 4G LTE wifi hotspot. Grabbing the ZR2 adds a host of off-road gear, from locking differentials on both axles, to a two-speed transfer case, to meaty off-road tires. Innovative Multimatic DSSV shocks round out the package.
My test car has all that fun stuff as well as a Midnight Edition package, which consists of several dealer-installed accessories painted gloss black. Spending $3,425 on aesthetics doesn’t do the Colorado ZR2's pricing score any favors, but the black wheels, badges, off-road lighting kit, and black paint look sinister enough to eke out an extra point for design. I'd happily pass on the remaining $1,880 in options, as well, since it included nothing more than a mediocre Bose audio system, a navigation function for the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto-equipped touchscreen, and additional dealer-installed doo-dads. The base ZR2 makes a fine pricing argument if you avoid the tchotchkes that help this off-roader earn such a healthy profit margin.
Take my advice, and you'll end up with a ZR2 that's around the same price as a four-door Wrangler Rubicon, but with more equipment. The Rubicon Unlimited starts at $41,445 but requires option packages to get stuff like an automatic transmission, heated leather seats, and an 8.4-inch infotainment system (although the Rubicon's standard 7.0-inch display is functionally comparable).
A more comparable choice to the ZR2 would be the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, which starts at $42,660 and boasts advanced active safety gear like automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, and lane departure warning at no additional charge.
The Colorado itself is an inoffensive design. Its cleaner, smoother lines are certainly more pleasant than the new Silverado pickup. But the ZR2 treatment amplifies this somewhat anonymous truck into a far more aggressive, purposeful thing.
The dominant feature is the revised front clip, which is far higher and more aggressive, all in the name of increasing the Colorado's approach angle. Combined with the visible underbody protection, the ZR2 has ample amounts of Baja Truck DNA in its face. The hood is unique to the ZR2, too, but it's disappointing that the creases and power bulge aren't really functional.
The front clip impacts the ZR2's profile, as well, but not as much as the flared wheel arches, knobbly Goodyear Wrangler tires, rock rails, and my test truck's “off-road sport bar.” While the wheel arches and Wrangler rubber come standard on the ZR2, that sport bar is part of the $3,425 ZR2 Midnight Edition package, as are the black, 17-inch wheels and black bow-tie badges on this test truck.
Changes in the cabin aren't nearly as extensive. In fact, it's hard to spot any major differences between the ZR2 and any other Colorado. The steering wheel and seats – two items that should be unique or special on a high-performance model like the ZR2 – are from the General Motors parts bin.
If there were unique elements, I might be able to forgive some of the Colorado's many uninspiring plastics. But there aren't any. The ZR2's cabin – like the broader Colorado range – feels cheap, flimsy, and, aside from the rubberized knobs and switches, toy-like.
As pickup trucks go, the Colorado ZR2 acquits itself well. It may share its seats with lesser trucks, but they're comfortable and supportive. The seating position itself is in no way truck like (you sit relatively low in the Colorado's cabin), but it's both pleasant and relaxed. Space in both of the front seats is ample, although the ZR2's lifted ride height does make ingress and egress occasionally challenging, particularly for shorter individuals. My five-foot, three-inch wife tired of having to hop up and into the passenger seat, for example.
The back seat is ample. Two adults can spread out in back thanks to the sizable legroom that comes with the ZR2's crew cab body, although three people would find the amount of shoulder space tight. Like many trucks, the ZR2's rear bench flips up to create a usable cargo area.
Cargo space in the bed, however, can be a problem. Chevy forces ZR2 buyers to choose between the four-door Crew Cab body style or the longer, 6.2-foot bed. If you want the convenience of the Crew Cab, then you're stuck with the 5.1-foot bed. If you want the versatility of the long box, then you're stuck with the Extended Cab and its rear-opening half door.
Credit where it's due, Chevrolet has done a fantastic job with its base content. Every Colorado, from the base model up to the ZR2, gets at least a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that packs both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. In my tester's case, there's an optional nav-enabled 8.0-inch touchscreen, but you might as well save the $495 and rely on your smartphone and the standard setup.
That said, the 8.0-inch display is fine. It relies on an older operating system than what you'll find in the new Silverado, but the graphics are nice enough and the display is plenty responsive. At the same time, it's also an easy infotainment system to learn, although not as easy as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. As is the case with most new Chevy products, a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot comes standard.
In terms of optional gear, the Colorado ZR2 is light on it. The aforementioned 8.0-inch display is one of the few extras available, as is a $500 Bose audio system. As I’ll cover in a bit, there's hardly any active safety gear.
The bulk of the ZR2's mechanical improvements are limited to the suspension and driveline. The powertrain, though, is unchanged. This tester carries a gas-powered 3.6-liter V6 engine, although an excellent diesel-drinking turbocharged 2.8-liter inline-four is also available. Go with the standard petrol engine, and there's 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque – that's plenty for a mid-size truck like this.
The Colorado is eager to get moving and has an abundance of torque throughout the rev range despite its 4,000 rpm peak. Power doesn't taper off at higher engine speeds, either. That said, the Colorado's 3.6-liter doesn't sound as refined or pleasant as some other GM products with this engine. It's occasionally coarse under heavy throttle, although the V6 is quiet enough when simply cruising about town.
Like every other V6-powered Colorado, the ZR2 is only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission. While this isn't one of ZF's excellent items, the Hydra-Matic eight-speed is a peach, managing power well and upshifting and downshifting predictably. Those shifts are smooth and quick, too. That said, as an off-roader, I’d like a better manual option for the eight-speed – the rocker button on the shifter is unengaging and forces the driver’s hands off the wheel.
Instead of paddle shifters, the Colorado ZR2 features a rocker switch on the left side of the console-mounted shift lever. It's a cumbersome interface. When you're on the trail, the last thing you need to do is take your hands off the wheel.
But focusing on the powertrain does a disservice to the excellent work Chevy's suspension engineers have done. Much has been written of the ZR2's Multimatic DSSV – you can read Motor1’s first impressions here – but none of it does them justice. The ZR2 is remarkably compliant on road. In fact, it may be one of the most comfortable trucks this side of an air-suspended Ram 1500.
The ZR2 is composed, lacking the detached and occasionally cumbersome ride of focused off-roaders. It takes turns well, and, even when presented with a mid-corner imperfection, the ZR2 doesn't fall to pieces. That said, its chassis and steering responses are – as expected – numb and aloof. Those big Goodyear Wrangler tires sap feedback as thoroughly as they handle trail work.
There are two reasons for the Colorado's disappointing score. The first focuses purely on how it crashes, which is to say, not well. The Colorado earned just four stars overall in NHTSA testing, including a dismal three-star rating in rollover testing. Performance in IIHS testing is better, with “Good” ratings on all crash tests, although the Colorado failed to achieve a Top Safety Pick rating owing to halogen headlights which the non-profit rated as “poor”. The only active safety systems are forward collision warning, and that doesn't include automatic emergency braking. NHTSA claims lane departure warning is optional, although I can't find it anywhere on Chevy's configurator.
With EPA-estimated fuel economy of 16 miles per gallon city and 18 mpg highway, the Colorado ZR2 is not what I’d call efficient when equipped with its V6 engine. In fact, at just 18 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, it's not especially thrifty with the optional diesel, either. That said, unlike some other high-performance trucks, the Colorado ZR2 is perfectly happy burning 87-octane fuel.
My real-world experience was somewhat worse, as I averaged around a computer-indicated 15 miles per gallon while puttering about southeastern Michigan.