Chevy Answers the Call of the Wild With a Diesel-Powered Colorado ZR2

Chevy Colorado ZR2

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2 | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

If the brilliantly executed Duramax diesel-powered Z71 Chevrolet Colorado didn’t have our vote as a front runner in the mid-size pickup segment, then it certainly does now. By blending the agility of a mid-size pickup with “the most off-road technology of any vehicle in its segment,” Chevy has taken the already competent Colorado and made it a hardcore mud-rock-sand-snow monster.

The entire undercarriage of this truck has been redesigned for increased clearance, and class-exclusive features include a pair of front and rear electronic locking differentials, a diesel engine upgrade option, and Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSVTM) damper setup.

Off-road Chevy pickup truck

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2 poses at its debut in Los Angeles | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This is no show truck either; it’s the real thing, says Mark Reuss, executive vice president of Global Product Development for Chevy: “Our engineers have been incredibly successful developing Corvette and Camaro performance variants with broad performance envelopes,” he says. “The ZR2 applies that same philosophy to off-road performance. You can go rock crawling on Saturday, desert running on Sunday, and comfortably drive to work on Monday. This truck can do it all, and do it all well.”

By turning to Ontario-based suspension specialists Multimatic Inc., Chevy was able to make the first volume production off-road vehicle with Multimatic DSSV damper technology in history. Unlike traditional dampers, Multimatic’s design utilizes spool valves for increased precision and quality control, allowing what GM calls “enhanced ride and handling performance both on- and off-road.”

These dampers are position-sensitive, utilize dual spool valves for both compression and rebound damping, and during off-road use, a third, piston-mounted valve provides additional compression damping. Meanwhile, the dampers out front feature a separate rebound valve that engages when the suspension approaches full extension, and offer six tuning curves for the front, as opposed to four at the rear.

Mid-size pickup

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2 sits pretty in LA | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Since consumer interest in the 2014 concept version was overwhelmingly positive, a lot of the original design touches were incorporated into the production model, which isn’t something you see too often in the auto world. This means the ZR2 has a much more aggressive profile, with its 2-inch lift allowing greater ground clearance, and standard steel-tube rocker protectors to protect you from things like tree stumps and fire hydrants. Those exclusive 17-by-8-inch alloy wheels come wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac Kevlar tires for increased traction and curb-side malice, and since both the front and rear track have been widened by 3.5 inches, the ZR2 seems to have all the right flares in the appropriate places.

Out front, the bumper of the ZR2 features a steeply raked undercarriage for increased clearance, and comes equipped with an aluminum skid plate to cover the radiator and engine oil pan, with another transfer case shield protecting other precious drivetrain components. Atop all this sits a re-sculpted grille and hood, complete with black inserts and an aggressive look, while a bed-mounted spare tire accessory option out back encourages additional terrain leeway and bragging rights.

DSSVTM dampers

The ZR2’s DSSVTM dampers | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The Colorado ZR2 also serves as home to what GM calls “the most sophisticated four-wheel drive system in the segment,” and it all starts with a class-exclusive set of electronic-locking differentials both out front and in the rear. These crucial drivetrain components come attached to an AutoTrac transfer case, which offers a staggering nine different drive settings, and serves up unparalleled mid-size pickup prowess.

The truck will also be the only off-road-focused production truck in America to offer the choice of gas or diesel engines. While the all-new 3.6-liter V6 and its class-exclusive Hydra-Matic 8-speed automatic gearbox come complete with 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, it’s the turbo-diesel upgrade that has our vote. GM’s Duramax diesel may only be a 2.8-liter four-cylinder that generates 181 horsepower, but it puts down a ton of twist, with 369 pound-feet of torque being the magic number. The best part is that even with all of these 4×4 upgrades, the ZR2 Colorado can tow up to 5,000 pounds or 1,100 pounds of payload, something that typically gets downgraded on performance pickups.

Takeaways on Chevy’s decision to make a “mini Raptor alternative” are extremely favorable. While pricing will likely be close to fifty grand (our Z71 Duramax test mule came in at $41,905), we feel that there’s been a void in the mid-size pickup truck segment, and that the turbo-diesel ZR2 should plug the gap nicely.