The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado has carved out a nice niche for itself in the mid-size pickup market without taking anything away from its larger Silverado sibling. Chevy is building on that success by offering the high-performance off-road ZR2 package, smaller, slightly less potent alternative to the Ford Raptor. However, being smaller and less expensive doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer big thrills as Micah Muzio discovers in this Video Review and Road Test of the 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2.

2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Transcript

The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is a rock-crawling, trail-blasting, dirt goblin spawn from Chevrolet's mid-sized Colorado pickup truck. The ZR2 has been meticulously modified for an unpaved world. It has electronic locking differentials front and rear, the bumpers have been altered for improved off-road clearance.

There's underbody protection for the rocker panels, radiator, oil pan and transfer case. You can swap the standard carpet for easy to clean vinyl floor at no cost. And rubber meets whatever via 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler dirt track off-road tires mounted on 17-inch aluminum wheels. And a dealer-installed tire carrier can be mounted in the bed for redundancy and style points.

Unsurprisingly, the off-road tires make a fair bit of noise on pavement. Consider that motivation to avoid pavement. Most impressive is the ZR2 suspension. In addition to cast-iron control arms, a 2-inch higher ride and a 3.5-inch wider track, the suspension’s movements are damped by Multimatic DSSV dampers. Without diving down a technical rabbit hole, the Multimatic dampers replace the piston and shims found in traditional shocks with spool valves offering superior reliability, tunability and performance on- or off-road. For perspective, my first exposure to Multimatic DSSV dampers was in the Camaro ZL1 1LE. It's kind of cool to see that technology applied to an off-road pickup truck.

So, all the pieces are in place for a top-shelf off-roader. Let's see what two days driving “Zulu Romeo Deuce” can teach us. We just arrived at our first off-road location. I'd like to point your attention to the gauge cluster. There are two things that are vexing me right now. One is the check engine light, the other is that even if you go through the process of turning off Stabilitrak, it will still reactivate. Which means the kind of fun sideways shenanigans you would hope to do in an off-road truck aren't possible if you can't use that power-on oversteer. As I turn and floor it, Stabilitrak says no. I am making the truck dusty, you know that is a form of fun, yeah.

Making my way around I'm doing a lap, I'm doing a lap. Okay, so after a little bit of messing about on the playa here, I've discovered that the ZR2 can be fun when you pick up the speed. So, if you do parking lot style slow-speed donuts not a great jam. But if you pick it up a little bit you can brake into corners and get the truck to rotate and that's kind of fun. And I will point out that with its small form factor, you can squeeze between bushes and all sorts of fun stuff.

Alright, Day One taught us that the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 can be fun and fast but in our case that fun included complications. Of course, as soon as we'd wrapped, the check engine light magically disappeared as for the unwanted Stabilitrak intervention our contact at Chevy suggested my rally-inspired left-foot braking might be the culprit. Undeterred, we marched onward to Day Two.

Though I love driving fast and sideways, my hope is that the ZR2 is better suited to traditional off-road, you know, trails, rocks, articulation. Ah crud, the ZR2 rides more firmly than I would have expected. If you go bouncing through some whoops, you will notice. I have noticed there's a ton of bumper and ground clearance. In fact, I haven't scraped yet, which means I might not be trying hard enough. I just scraped. I guess I am trying hard enough.

Despite being a midsize, the turning circle on the ZR2 is not great, so if you need to backtrack on a trail and do a U-turn, it's going be Austin Powers-style. Mostly though, I'm impressed with the way the ZR2 claws its way out of rock-strewn hills. Its small enough that you can choose the smart path, but also capable enough to handle the dumb one. I will say that slow-speed rock climbs are the right application for the diesel engine. There's so much torque the only question is whether the tires have enough grip for the surface. So far the answer is yes.

 If you have a passion for dirt, the Colorado ZR2 is a clearly capable choice but there are others. The iconic Jeep Wrangler is one and the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is another. At the same time, even though it's a larger truck and costs at least $10,000 more, comparisons to the Ford Raptor are inescapable. If driving as fast as possible across the desert is your goal, the infinitely-driftable Baja-ready Raptor remains to go-to choice. Even so, there are some very good reasons to choose the Colorado ZR2. As a mid-sizer, the Colorado slips through gaps that would confound a full-size pickup. That manageable form factor also makes domestic life much more enjoyable. Speaking of size, the ZR2 is offered as an extended cab with a six-foot bed or an optional crew cab with a 5-foot bed. If you have more friends than stuff, choose the crew cab.

Considering its off-road technology, the ZR2’s $41,000 base price including destination charges is a relative bargain. For that sum, you get six airbags, MyLink infotainment with an 8-inch screen, a trailering package with integrated brake controller and Teen Driver feature that lets parents customize vehicle behavior for inexperienced drivers—because not every teenager will make the kind of smart mature decisions that I do. Yeah, responsibility.

If you want the towing and fuel economy benefits of a diesel and an off-road package, there aren't many choices. The diesel ZR2’s superior range also addresses range anxiety when exploring true desolation. That said, for driving quickly, the 3.6-liter gasoline engine is the right choice. The 2.8-liter diesel is rich in torque, but it is not quick.

For transmission duty, the diesel uses a 6-speed automatic while the gasoline engine sports an 8-speed. Interestingly the gas and diesel engines are both rated to haul 5,000 pounds, though I'm guessing the diesel’s nearly 100 lb-ft advantage makes that load more bearable.

Alright, the check engine light is off, my left foot is well clear of the brake and the rear differential is electronically locked. Let's see if I can slide this thing. Saints be praised, the ZR2, she slides. Whee. The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 might not replace my favorite domesticated trophy truck, but it is still a very fun, effective, right-size tool for off-roading. For those occasions where you absolutely, positively need to flee the city, the ZR2 is a brilliant ride.

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