Chevrolet Colorado: Desert warrior


Chevy’s take on Ford’s Raptor range is the ZR2 Colorado and we find that it’s a worthy competitor

Chevrolet Colorado: Desert warrior
The ZR2 delivers a great ride on-road and excellent ride and control off-road

 

The 2010 Ford SVT Raptor has a lot to answer for and we should all be thankful for it. This factory-built pre-runner was the precursor to the current F150 Raptor from Ford Performance and was the inspiration for the Ranger Raptor that was developed here in Australia. Not only has it spawned a small family of Raptors but competing auto manufacturers couldn’t ignore the success of this high-performance road pick-up truck and we’ve seen a few similar themed vehicles from other companies.

The Blue Oval’s chief protagonists in Detroit, General Motors, took note of the Raptor’s sales and developed its own version wearing a Chevrolet Bowtie badge, but rather than apply it to the full-size truck as per the Ford F150, it chose the mid-size Chevy Colorado to receive the makeover. This makes it a prime competitor to the Ranger Raptor, so we thought we’d use the chance of a trip to the USA to drive one.

The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 follows the Raptor’s lead in being a pick-up with superior off road capability to the regular model and that added capability is directed toward higher speed rough road travel rather than, say, low speed rock crawling or mud running. Think desert racing and the pre-runner vehicles used by race teams and you’re on the right track.

Suspension focus

The key to superior vehicle control when traversing the roughest terrain at speed is high quality suspension. Check out the online videos of Trophy Trucks smashing across the deserts of the US and Mexico and you’ll see what a well set up suspension system is capable off.

Look closer and you’ll find that the suspension on these trucks costs around $10K per corner and the shocks are so huge and complex that they would never fit in to a production car. Companies like King and Fox make applications for production cars but they are far simpler, smaller and considerably cheaper than the competition units. In fact, Ford Performance uses Fox suspension in both of its Raptor vehicles.

The shock absorbers in the ZR2 were also developed in motorsport but it’s not the kind of racing that you would expect to have anything to do with getting dirty. The DSSV Spool Valve shocks in the ZR2 are descendants of those used in Formula 1 cars less than 10 years ago and have more recently been found in top-end, road-going sports cars.

Chevrolet worked with the company that makes DSSV dampeners, Multimatic Engineering, to re-engineer the technology for off- road applications and the Colorado is the first vehicle we’ve seen them on. If the rumours are true, we’ll soon see them on an off-road-focused Silverado full-size truck sometime as well.

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High-level control

The Chevrolet Colorado is not the same truck as our Holden Colorado. It’s made in the US for the US market while ours is made in Thailand for Asian and other markets.

They might share some styling and design elements and the basic, ladder frame, leaf sprung, live axle rear and IFS construction, but they are built on a different chassis and the US model is slightly bigger all around. So don’t expect to go out and buy a set of DSSV shocks for your Holden and bolt them right in, although we’d tip that they wouldn’t be far off.

HSV tells us that it looked at the DSSVs for the Sportscat but elected not to fit them for it, "…felt the Supashocks delivered the best balance of performance and comfort, especially as a key program driver (in addition to off-road competency) was to also offer an outstanding on-road drive experience."

That said, the DSSVs in the ZR2 deliver a great ride on-road and excellent ride and control off-road. Unlike the Fox suspension in the Ranger Raptor, which is soft and supple on the road, the Multimatics are taught and firm to give flat cornering and a nice on road ride. Then when you get off the highway, they cope with bumps and jumps with the confidence of a desert racer, soaking up any jolts and maintaining composure across the most arduous terrain. The faster you drive on them the better they feel. It’s almost like they are taunting the driver to go harder with an, ‘Is that all you’ve got?’ attitude.


Read about another big Chevy, the Silverado, here


To say the suspension package in the ZR2 gives the driver the best of both worlds when driving on- and off-road sounds too good to be true, but it delivers on this promise and doesn’t disappoint.

To help get the job done the ZR2’s suspension gains 50mm in height over that of a standard Colorado. It also features an 89mm wider wheel track and locking differentials front and rear. Tyre size is up over stock too but the 31-inch (78.7cm) Goodyear Wranglers could be taller for added clearance over the 255mm available and to fill those pumped ’guards.

There’s also extra underbody protection in the form of metal skid plates plus chunky rock sliders to protect the sills.

The ZR2 comes equipped with the Autotrac transfer case which offers two-wheel drive (rear), Auto 4x4, 4x4-high range and 4x4-low range. With the Auto 4x4 mode you can leave the vehicle in4x4 over all terrain, which is great on gravel roads and sandy tracks. We did however find that it could be slow to lock the drive to both axles, allowing unwanted tyre slip and locked 4x4-high was the best for desert travel. An off-road button optimises the chassis electronics, throttle and transmission settings for off-road driving.

Under the bonnet

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As opposed to our Holden Colorado here or its local Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger competitors in the home market, the Chevy Colorado is available with a choice of petrol or diesel engines in the USA and both are offered in ZR2 spec. The diesel engine option is the 2.8-liter Duramax that we Australians are familiar with, while the petrol engine as fitted to our test vehicle is a 230kW 3.6-liter V6.

The V6 is punchy, but no powerhouse, and matches well to the GM eight-speed auto. As expected it is nowhere near as economical as the Duramax and our week-long mix of on- and off-highway travel netted 16.6L/100km travelled.

Interestingly, Chevrolet only quotes 12.8L/100km highway mileage for the diesel ZR2 where we have achieved far better from a Holden Colorado LTZ back home, but you must take in the ZR2’s higher ride height, extra frontal area and heavier, off-road focused tyres into consideration.

Chevrolet really ups the ante in the looks department for the ZR2 with its aggressive stance and body kit, including shortened front bumper, bonnet bulge, blacked out grille, black alloy wheels and sports bar with LED driving lights. One piece of kit that is a nice idea but not really well executed is the bed-mounted spare wheel and tyre, which massively limits your cargo space and is mounted too far forward in the bed for ease of access should you need it.

The interior feels just that little bit bigger than our Holden Colorado and the centre stack and connectivity would be familiar to most modern Holden drivers. The ZR2 is well appointed with leather seats, a quality sound system and all the features you expect of a high end truck. And with a starting price of US$40,390 (A$55,629), the ZR2 is a high end truck.

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The Colorado ZR2 would be a worthy competitor to the Ranger Raptor and begs the question of Holden when is it going to give us a better performing ute in Australia? Sure there’s the Holden Colorado-based Sportscat from HSV, but a full factory-built vehicle would be more appealing. And we all know that Holden needs something to light a fire under its new vehicle sales. The Raptor might have the edge over the ZR2 in dealing with outright desert dashing, but the Chevy would better the Ford in off-road dynamics and handling, thus giving it a broader spread of performance.

 

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