It is the not-so-distant future – perhaps next decade, or 2026, or maybe six months from now – and the apocalypse is here. For a more specific scenario, let’s say the Colorado River has finally run dry. Lake Mead has evaporated. You find yourself trapped in Las Vegas, which is in crisis; the lack of water and leadership has created a power vacuum. The only thing that punctuates the void is chaos.

In our hypothetical disaster, one thing is clear: You need to leave. The safest place left is Reno, Nevada, a city whose thirst is slaked with the mighty Lake Tahoe, but the sole paved road between here and there, US-95, is heavily blockaded and riddled with marauders. The only remaining path will force you to traverse the unforgiving high desert of the Sierra Nevada, and you only have three days of supplies.

In short, you will be driving like your life depends on it.

Luckily, there is a Chevrolet dealership nearby, with a 2023 Colorado ZR2 right on the showroom floor. If my test drive of this redesigned truck is any indication, you could outrun Mad Max Rockatansky himself across the entire state of Nevada in this thing. You’re gonna be just fine, and you’ll even have cooled seats.

Quick Stats 2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Engine: Turbocharged 2.7-liter I4
Output: 310 Horsepower / 430 Pound-Feet
Ground Clearance: 10.7 Inches
Towing Capacity: 6,000 Pounds
Base Price: $46,800 + $1,495 Destination

Gallery: 2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2: First Drive

Multima(g)ic DSSV

The new ZR2’s magic isn’t really under the hood. It’s mildly quicker than the rest of the lineup with 310 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque – roughly 40 more lb-ft of grunt than the Z71 – but it uses the same turbocharged 2.7-liter I4 turbo paired to the same eight-speed automatic transmission as the rest of the model line. The power difference over the Z71 and Trail Boss variants of the Colorado come solely from tuning.

A deeper dive into its chassis reveals some of the ZR2’s potential off-road prowess, however, thanks to a 3.0-inch lift over the base model (giving the ZR2 a staggering 10.7 inches of ground clearance). Looking at the truck reveals some visible crawling chops thanks to a set of factory rock sliders. It has a slightly widened track over other trims at 66.3 inches, and has a fantastic 38.3-degree approach angle – nearly eight degrees more than the Colorado Trail Boss and nine more than the Z71 – thanks to a full chassis redesign for this generation, which moved the front axle over three inches forward to help shorten the front overhang.

This still barely scratches the surface of what the ZR2 can accomplish.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Photo Credit: Victoria Scott /

The secret ingredient in the ZR2 are its Multimatic DSSV dampers, which the ZR2 was specifically modified to accommodate for. These dampers, developed originally for high-speed, high-heat on-track performance in applications such as the Camaro Z/28, Aston Martin Vulcan, and Ford GT, are unique to the ZR2 trim.

Instead of using a traditional shock piston and shims to adjust pressure at speed, Multimatic uses spool valves. These valves slide open and closed at different rates depending on speed and pressure, which causes oil to flow through ports inside the damper body. This allows for precise tuning in shock response across the entire gamut of suspension compression. Their design is lower heat – and therefore higher-endurance and much lower wear – than a traditional shock design, as well.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

In the ZR2, the sets of spool valves themselves are arranged in a distributed manner throughout the shock body that allows for on-road, off-road, and extreme off-road driving to all have appropriate valving. They also offer an extra inch of travel in front and two inches of travel in the rear versus the previous generation of the Colorado ZR2.

There are no gimmicks here; Chevrolet simply forgot to let the accountants babysit the engineers during development, and they raided the top shelf for the ZR2’s suspension. This setup – paired with a set of specially-developed Goodyear M/T 33-inch tires – is what makes the Colorado ZR2 a factory-built Mad Max interceptor.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Chad Hall's race-ready Colorado ZR2.

Daily Driver

To showcase the ZR2, Chevy tossed a bunch of journalists and me some brand new Colorado ZR2s, then told us to follow legendary off-road racer Chad Hall as we gunned it through the desert from Las Vegas to Reno. We’d be following the Best In The Desert off-road race route, across BLM and Forest Services dirt roads, for over 400 miles – conveniently for my testing, the same route that I’d take in the Colorado River–pocalypse.

Chad would be driving his lightly-modified Colorado ZR2 race truck (which shares around 93 percent of its components with the road-going ZR2) in lead position. I did not have a map, so the only way to follow him was to keep up.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

We first had to drive paved roads to the start line of the course, which was great; the ZR2 is shockingly pleasant on paved roads. Road noise is nonexistent for an M/T tire. The turbo-four pulls smoothly, and shifts are quick and unobtrusive. Steering is sharp and there is no dead space on-center.

The classy-looking infotainment system is well-integrated into the cabin, with no hesitation between different menus (although yes, headlight controls are still in the touchscreen, just as in lower-trim Colorados). Wireless phone charging and Apple CarPlay kept my music blasting through the Bose sound system. The seats are comfy, heated, and ventilated. In short, before society collapses, the ZR2 will be an exceedingly pleasant daily driver.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Not-So-Daily-Driver, or Driving Like Your Life Depends On it

I have a decently extensive background off-roading. I lived in a van for the better part of a year, mostly by dispersed camping in remote locations. I’ve reviewed a lot of off-road focused trucks. I’ve followed the Rebelle Rally for days on end. I have never driven at this pace, though.

On the first day, my apocalypse survival skills were looking lousy at best. I blew two tires in the span of a few hours thanks to some rocks I never even saw coming; I simply couldn’t read terrain at Chad Hall pace. Every time I stepped out of the truck, my steering wheel was slick with sweat and it took me ten minutes to regain normal conversational abilities. The truck was handling everything fine – indeed, the Chevy engineer who rode shotgun was encouraging me to drive harder – but reviewing it required a presence of mind I couldn’t have while I was desperately trying to keep an eye on Chad’s dust trail.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Photo Credit: Victoria Scott /

By the second day, I began to approach something resembling a rhythm. The ZR2 truly gets better the faster you drive it; it is the off-road version of a high-strung supercar that’s most communicative and confident when pushed to its limits. I began to read terrain further out and slowly build up confidence.

Despite its wider track and lanky height – the ZR2 measures almost 82 inches tall – it feels vastly more controllable than any full-size ever could. If a Ford F-150 Raptor is a muscle truck, this is a pony truck; what the ZR2 lacks in raw power, it makes up for with agility in spades. I still had it in four-wheel-drive, but I was getting comfortable flinging it into corners.

Not all our crew was this lucky; someone smashed a rear axle off a boulder at 45 mph. Here was the driving-for-your-life part of our journey made clear: the ZR2 gets better the braver you drive, but physics still apply to even the most overbuilt of off-roaders. Pick a wrong line, and you’ll be walking the next couple hundred miles. At this speed, the difference between right and wrong became a blur.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Photo Credit: Victoria Scott /

On The Third Day, He Created Free Bird

On the third and final day of our journey, only 90 or so miles of dirt separated Gabbs, Nevada, from Reno. Ninety miles seemed like nothing after the 200-odd clicks of dirt we’d already covered, so I embraced the life-or-death approach. If this was the apocalypse, fretting about rocks wasn’t going to help me arrive faster, after all.

I let Chad get a couple miles ahead so I had some breathing room, put Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Free Bird” on the stereo, kept the ZR2 in two-wheel-drive with Baja mode – which almost entirely turns off the traction control – and then, finally, I put my foot down.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Photo Credit: Victoria Scott /

And I was rewarded. 60 miles an hour down dirt roads using brake and throttle to steer is one hell of an experience, made better by a truck that handled it perfectly. I maxed out suspension travel once in that entire time, and it was when I caught air off one sandy dune and landed poorly on the next. The truck didn’t unsettle, and I still have all my vertebrae – a net win. The ZR2, despite my pedal-to-metal driving, never even felt close to out of control; the shocks transfer weight better and more communicatively on dirt than some cars do on pavement. Getting it sideways felt like its natural state.

It was, in short, the Free Bird off-roadin’ moment every red-blooded American grows up dreaming of. But I can’t recommend that you do this under normal circumstances; I doubt my abilities (and luck) to dodge rocks could have lasted another day, and if I hadn’t had someone pre-running to ensure there were no other people on the dirt, I would never drive that fast, period. I doubt most buyers will ever hit these outer boundaries of ability.

But… if the world’s ending anyway, definitely put on some Skynyrd and live a little.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Photo Credit: Victoria Scott /

The Rapture

The Colorado ZR2 has all the on-road poise, handling, and NVH of much more mild-mannered trucks; at its price point of $48,295, it actually makes a reasonable daily driver choice if the 62-inch bed and 6,000-pound towing capacity are enough for your hauling capabilities. Even after three days of pedal-pounding desert duty, I wasn’t even sore; it’s just that comfortable. It will perform mundane pickup duty well.

Just know that it’s meant for so much more than the mundane. This truck is meant for extraordinary moments. If the apocalypse arrives, I know what pickup I’m driving.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Engine Turbocharged 2.7-liter I4
Output 310 Horsepower / 430 Pound-Feet
Transmission Eight-Speed Automatic
Drive Type Four-Wheel Drive
Efficiency 17 City / 19 Highway / 18 Combined
Weight 5,298 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Towing 6,000 Pounds
Payload 1,151 Pounds
Base Price $30,695 + $1,495 Destination
Trim Base Price $48,295
As-Tested Price $51,000 (est)
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