You can count the number of new trucks specifically outfitted for off-road high performance on one hand. Yet with the release of the new Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, following the debut of the new Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro earlier this year, things have gotten a lot more interesting in this specialized segment of the truck market.

Odds are owners of the 4WD-only ZR2 and TRD Pro are going to encounter each other on the same stretches of sand, dirt and rock. Both have unique-to-model suspensions with specially tuned off-road shocks. Both have more expansive four-wheel-drive systems and underbody protection than what's offered in the regular versions of these trucks. Both have good looks and upscale tech features. And both are around the same price. The ZR2 comes to market facing a big challenge: How do you go up against a rival that has been the top name in small-truck off-roading for decades? Offer a different driving feel, plenty of versatility and gear that the Tacoma doesn’t.

Flying Fast and Crawling Slow

At the heart of what makes the ZR2 stand out from the rest of the Colorado line is the work that has been done by Multimatic Engineering. Unlike shock design in other off-road-biased trucks, where development starts with off-road racing and endurance tests, Multimatic began with extensive Formula One and other track experience and translated it to off-road use. While that may seem counter-intuitive for a truck, following this route allows suspension tuning to start with precision, accuracy and control. And as is the case with off-road racing, track racing also manages extreme heat caused by severe use. Multimatic took their initial on-road shock design seen in the Z/28 and added an off-road-only function allowing for excellent control at speed when in the dirt.

We tested the ZR2 both on- and off-road, starting our evaluation on a Baja-style closed dirt course. This is where we got our first taste of the Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) shocks at work. On this course, we drove at higher speeds through hard turns and over jumps, and what became immediately apparent was how smooth and predictable the truck felt when landing. After coming down from a jump, the ZR2 didn’t hit hard, and there was no side-to-side movement; the truck set in place and landings were very well controlled. The truck also felt stable, thanks to its 3.5-inch-wider track that features a wider rear axle and the Multimatic-designed front control arms, which are wider than the standard units and are made from cast iron versus steel in the regular Colorado.

Our next off-road evaluation was at lower speeds, on the Bangs Canyon trail network, near Grand Junction, Colorado. This is where much of the rest of the ZR2's off-road gear came into play. Starting with a technical two-track trail, we crawled the ZR2 over rocks and around obstacles, the truck's rocker panels and skidplates protecting the midsize pickup from surprises along the way. We weren't anticipating the level of mud and slicker-than-usual rock brought on by the unexpected rainstorm that hit while we were on the trail. The 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac all terrain tires proved capable on the trail, even at their on-road tire pressures, turning through gooey mud. The ZR2's suspension is two inches higher than in the standard Colorado, and there are 8.6 inches of travel in front and 10 in back, big pluses in the dirt. We spent most of our time on the trail in low range, and there were a couple of spots where having the additional help of front and rear lockers kept the ZR2 from getting stuck. While the majority of our off-roading was behind the wheel of a gas-powered ZR2, opting for the diesel gives you the effortless torque that chugging along at low speeds on a trail practically begs for.

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Highway Riding

The precision of the DSSV shocks makes the on-road experience quite pleasant. The regular Colorado's ride is already comfortable and smooth; what the DSSV shocks contribute is more predictability in turns and therefore more confidence. It also felt like there was less body roll than with other Colorados we've driven. There are two engines available: the 308-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 with an 8-speed automatic or the 186-horsepower 2.8-liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel with 369 lb-ft of torque and a 6-speed auto, the same engines as in the regular Colorado. Keep in mind that the ZR2 weighs about 500 pounds more than the regular 4WD Colorado, so it isn't quite as fast off the line, but it's not a huge difference.

There were also plenty of niceties in the cabin. Our truck had Apple CarPlay compatibility, wireless charging, heated power leather seats, 7-speaker Bose stereo, wi-fi, and navigation. Tilt and telescope adjustment of the steering wheel is manual, and the truck is still key start instead of pushbutton.

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Pricing and Preference

Spending some time in the dirt and on the road confirms that there's a lot more to the ZR2 than the good looks of the raised stance, modified bumpers, unique hood and grille, and rugged wheel and tire package. When the ZR2 goes on sale in the upcoming weeks, it promises to be a real contender for the Tacoma TRD Pro. ZR2 pricing starts at $40,995 for the extended cab with the V6. Compared to a similarly equipped Tacoma TRD Pro (crew cab, V6, automatic transmission), the ZR2 is $42,620 to the TRD Pro's $43,720. If you want the diesel in the ZR2, that'll add $3,500 to the bottom line with either cab.

When it comes to choosing an off-road-biased midsize pickup, there are two intriguing contenders that have arrived in the last few months. If you want a manual transmission, Crawl Control and the time-tested Toyota reputation, the new Tacoma TRD Pro is the truck for you. If you want front and rear lockers, the option of an extended cab, the sharp ride and handling that comes with the DSSV shocks, and an available diesel, look to the ZR2.


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