By Costa Mouzouris, Driving.ca - The engineers at Chevrolet are a sneaky bunch. They needed an excuse to get out of the office and have some off-road fun, so they conceived a plan that allowed them to participate in several off-road rallies across the U.S., and on the company's dime, no less. They disguised these thinly veiled recreational diversions as "engineering tests" and headed out to renowned off-road parks and trails across the States, where they proceeded to cross deserts, climb rocks, wade through deep mud, plow through sand dunes and snake along tight, technical trails. Their excuse was the 2017 Colorado ZR2.
These tests were done in conjunction with Multimatic, the automotive engineering firm based in Markham, Ontario, which helped develop the ZR2's suspension components, and it's the resulting DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) suspension that contributes significantly to the ZR2's off-road ability.
Perhaps best known lately for manufacturing the Ford GT, Multimatic also builds suspension dampers mostly for motorsports applications, which can be found in cars competing in Formula One, DTM, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indy Lights, and the list goes on. Chevy's first collaboration with Multimatic came with the 2014 Camaro Z/28.
Peek under the ZR2's fenders and you'll see blue and gold anodized, aluminum-bodied shock absorbers that resemble premium aftermarket items rather than OEM parts. These shocks incorporate Multimatic's DSSV damping technology, which features position-sensitive damping that varies the damping rate depending on how far the wheels travel, while external reservoirs enhance cooling. Barring any external damage, the shocks are designed to last the life of the vehicle.
You can't just bolt on a set of Multimatics to a regular Colorado though, because new control arms provide more wheel travel. Wheel track has also been widened by 8.8 centimetres, while ride height has increased by 5 cm.
Other off-road-enhancing features include electrically locking differentials, 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac tires on 17-inch wheels and an abundant application of skid plates to protect the undercarriage. The added off-road equipment has dropped payload by about 300 to 1,100 pounds (135 to 500 kilograms), while towing capacity is 5,000 lbs (2,268 kg).
Visually the ZR2's most striking feature is the front bumper, which has cut-outs that expose the front tires, giving the pickup an aggressive stance, while providing additional clearance when rock climbing.
Powertrains are shared with other Colorado models (except the base 2.5-litre gasoline four). The standard engine in the $44,215US ZR2 is the 3.6-L V6 that claims 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic. For an additional $4,090US, you can get the 2.8-L turbodiesel four, which claims 181 hp and 369 lb-ft and powers the wheels through a six-speed auto. Initial numbers put combined fuel consumption at 13 L/100 km for the gasoline engine and 10.7 L for the diesel.
Despite the added ride height, it's easy to climb into the cab, where you'll find the familiar Colorado cockpit, the biggest difference being the added buttons in the centre stack that lock the differentials. Interior amenities include heated front seats, wireless phone charging, an eight-inch touch-screen infotainment system with MyLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 4G LTE on-board Wi-Fi, a rear-view camera, and sliding rear window.
Other standard features include keyless entry, automatic cruise control, a spray-on bed liner, damped tailgate operation, a full-sized spare mounted on a matching aluminum wheel, and a trailer package that includes a hitch, seven-pin connector and a trailer-brake controller.
Since the emphasis is on off-road driving, our test drive includes a high-speed closed course that emulates desert racing, and an off-road loop that takes us to Bangs Canyon and the Tabegauche Trail just outside of Grand Junction, where we perform some serious low-speed rock crawling.
The high-speed course is laid out on sand and hard-packed dirt, and includes tight bends, higher-speed sweepers, and several jumps. Approaching one of the jumps at about 70 km/h launches the ZR2 into the air, with all four wheels dangling from the chassis. Anticipating a hard landing I brace for a body-jolting impact only to be greeted by a surprisingly cushy touchdown. The added suspension travel combines with the shocks' position-sensitive damping to soak up the landings without bottoming, while allowing excellent straight-line stability upon touchdown. Even higher speeds over these jumps result in equally soft landings, a true testament to all of the engineers' "testing" done before the ZR2 hit production.
The rock-crawling portion of the test drive is equally impressive, especially since our hosts did not drop tire pressures from standard for convenience. With the transfer case switched to 4 Low and both differentials locked, the ZR2 treads effortlessly over some impressive geological features, including rather tall stone steps. While it's impressive to see pictures of trucks driving over obstacles with one wheel high in the air, the truth is that this is more a demonstration of electronic torque management than actual off-road capability. The ZR2 negotiates the extreme step course without ever getting a wheel in the air.
Aside from its taller stance, there are no concessions made in ride quality on the road. The ZR2 is remarkably composed and quiet, with only a faint howl coming from the aggressively treaded tires.
The collaboration between Chevy and Multimatic has proven that you really don't have to give up everyday comfort to be able to take serious weekend forays deep into the woods. It's also smaller and capable of squeezing into tighter spaces than the full-sized Ford Raptor.
Of course, if you're not serious about off roading, you really don't need the ZR2; you can spec the Z71 with the V6 or the diesel (starting at about $37,000) and save several thousand dollars. But if you spend weekends on the trails with your off-roading buddies, the ZR2 can climb rocks and handle the toughest trails along with the most capable competition, and even among modified custom jobs, right off the showroom floor.