Tacoma Who?

The Chevy Colorado ZR2 Is a Muscular, Veritable Competitor to the Toyota Tacoma


October 1, 2018 Cars By Photo by CHEVY
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Chevrolet’s Colorado ZR2 is a sporty, aggressively-styled, versatile and premium trim mid-size truck. It transitions from being a jaunty, all-terrain off-roader to quick, smooth and confident on-road performance without complaint. The ZR2 has redefined the mid-size truck segment for U.S. manufacturers. It has provided a veritable American competitor to the iconic midsize truck, the Toyota Tacoma.

The Good: The ZR2 has a muscular, sporty, and stylish exterior. It is outfitted for serious off-roading while delivering nimble on-road handling. Multimatic DSSV shocks provide a smooth ride come what may. There are ample customization options. It does offer 4G LTE wifi.

Who It’s For: The active truck enthusiast who wants to leave the pavement behind, but needs a truck to function on pavement five days per week. This person can afford to splurge, but can’t quite afford to splurge on an F-150 Raptor.

Watch Out For: Poor gas mileage. Superficial dealer options that can get pricey. Chevy’s heavy hand with the badging and detailing. Given the price point, more than double that of the base Colorado, it could use a power upgrade.

Alternatives: We should see other aggressive, premium and off-road capable, mid-sized trucks such as the Ford Ranger Raptor in the near future. But, right now, the competition is limited to:

• Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro ($42,660, base)

• Ford Ranger Lariat ($33,305, base)

Verdict: I’d prefer a little more sand in the pants on the power front, given the sticker price and the atrocious gas mileage. But, it will be hard to top the Colorado ZR2’s coolness and versatility, until some other options hit the American mid-sized market.

Review: Chevy branded the Colorado ZR2 as a “segment of one.” That’s largely true. Ram abandoned the mid-sized segment altogether. Ford has waded back in with the new Ranger but has yet to offer a comparable performance version. The one real competitor in the mid-sized (but still quite large) off-roader segment is the Toyota Tacoma. With the ZR2’s chiseled exterior and better on-road dynamics, there may not be much of a competition.

Appearance is everything in car buying. The ZR2 looks cool. Multiple people told me that unprompted over a week while driving it. It was a smash hit on Instagram, by my account’s standards. The base Colorado holds its manhood cheap before it. It is almost, but not quite, too cool. Keep in mind that Chevy is liberal with its badging and decals. Even modest accessorization could push the ZR2 from “aggressive and shark-like” to “someone is totally vaping in there.”

The ZR2 is built to be an off-roader, a Jeep Wrangler of the truck world if you will. It has an off-road chassis, skid plates, rock sliders, a factory installed lift and tapered front end for better obstacle clearance. Multimatic DSSV shocks eliminate off-road and on-road bone jarring. Large, accessible switches lock the front and rear differentials, more accessible than the small 4WD knob to the left of the steering wheel. It’s capable enough for people who want to leave the pavement. It looks the part for people who want to cruise the pavement.

It drives well on the road, where most car-reviewing takes place. The ZR2 is quick and nimble by truck standards in every-day driving. The eight-speed automatic is smooth and geared for performance. I got caught out in too high a gear once in a week’s worth of driving. It felt smooth, even on craggy Detroit-area roads. Road visibility was adequate.

Cracks do show when you push the ZR2 to road driving limits. The acceleration delivers a great 7 or 8. When you floor it to go to 11, it stays at 7.5. Tight corners bring out some truck-like handling. The ZR2 felt squirrelly and tippy on the highway and in a rainstorm. It was hard to see over the hood or off the passenger side while parking. My strategy for getting the ZR2 into a standard space was to go a foot farther than I thought I should and pray.

The interior is comfortable. It doesn’t have the same cavernous feel as the full-sized Silverado but the crew cab was spacious enough. The leather seats felt cushy and supportive. Oddly for an American truck, the cup holders felt small, more can-sized than Big Gulp. The short bed felt voluminous enough for most cargo needs. The factory suspension lift can complicate everyday use — entry and exit required hopping. I had to extricate my son from his car seat because it was too high for my wife to do so.

The ZR2 juxtaposed high- and low-tech features oddly. My tester had remote keyless entry and a detached physical key to enter into an already worn looking ignition. I shifted into park with a dated, palm-sized shifter, then had the truck display remind me not to forget whatever was in the rear seat, either a yoga mat or a 12-month old. The ZR2 is 4G LTE wifi equipped, so the 2018 badass can still stop, drop, and handle some work stuff mid-rock climb.

Gearing the car not to sip fuel makes for better driving. But, as one would anticipate, the gas mileage disappoints. The EPA rates the ZR2 at only 16/18 mpg. I scraped 15 mpg in real driving, after a long highway stint.

The ZR2 offers a robust base to build your custom truck from. However, your money may go farther in the aftermarket. My tester had the “Midnight Special Edition” package. That was $3,425 for black paint, black aluminum wheels, a sport bar ($1145 on its own), and a black bow tie. It also had the “Premium Interior Package” for $750. This was the “Interior Illumination Package,” whatever that meant, and all-weather floor liners that were ill-fitting and showed major wear on a truck with less than 5,000 miles. Toss in an additional $135 for just the highly polished exhaust tip, and include your untoward joke here.

Paradigms don’t change overnight. Tacoma fans won’t abandon their trusty premium steeds en masse. But, the ZR2 drives better and, even before the upcoming “Bison” edition goes on sale, looks better. You may catch some wandering eyes when their TRD Pros are out of eyeshot.

What Others Are Saying:

• “It’s a weird feeling hopping into such an aggressive-looking off-road machine and having it drive like a finely-tuned performance crossover, but that’s really how the ZR2 feels on asphalt.” – Brian Silvestro, Road and Track

• “It was the perfect spot to see how much we could throw at the Colorado ZR2. Turn the dial to four-wheel drive, lock the differentials and the Colorado ZR2 was ready to climb any hill or power through any trail we could find.” – Marc Carter, The Torque Report

• “The tippy-toed stance—along with reshaped front and rear bumpers—deliver eye-opening approach, breakover, and departure angles that let the Chevy pretend it’s a Jeep Wrangler with a bed out back.” – Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive

2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Key Specs

Engine: 3.6L-liter V6; 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4
Transmission: 8-speed automatic; 6-speed automatic
Horsepower: 308; 191
Torque: 278 lb-ft; 369 lb-ft
Weight: 4,745 pounds
0-60: 7.1 seconds
Fuel Economy: 16 city mpg / 18 highway mpg

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Tyler Duffy is Gear Patrol's Detroit-based Motoring Staff Writer. He has a black belt in toddler wrangling. He kindly requests that you not bring up Michigan football.

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