green 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 rear 3/4 in the desert

The 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is the real deal

Want a diesel-powered compact pickup with off-road chops? This is your truck.

Chevy has expanded its lineup of compact Colorado pickups with a juicy off-roader called the ZR2. This highly specialized model is far more than a trim package of decals and big tires. It’s a real-deal, rock-climbing champ and, as such, an outlier in the Chevy stable.

The ZR2 uses the stock Colorado frame and suspension pickup points but rides two inches higher and has a track that’s 3.5 inches wider. The front bumper’s chamfered corners allow the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires to nose into tight off-road situations, and an aluminum skid plate protects the radiator and the engine oil pan. Suspension reinforcements include cast iron control arms, but “what sets the ZR2 apart from any other off-road truck,” claims Chevy ride-and-handling engineer Brad Schreiber, “is the damper system.”

Squat down, peer over the Goodyears and into the ZR2’s wheel wells, and there they are in their gold-toned aluminum beauty: Multimatic DSSV dampers, similar to the ones used by Le Mans endurance race cars. “[During development] we set thresholds for ‘absorbed power,’ ” explains Schreiber, “which is how much energy and acceleration are being transmitted to the driver, and how good the chassis is at absorbing it.” He also notes that the compactly designed Multimatics “reject heat like mad.”

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 splashing through mud
Green 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 driving over rocks
A white 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 on a dirt trail
2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

For a truck that can tiptoe carefully over boulders, blast through sand, and clamber up steep muddy hills with ease, the ZR2 still drives great on-road. It feels like a truck but is smooth and predictable. The 308-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 with eight-speed automatic that’s optional on the regular Colorado is standard here, and the 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel with six-speed automatic, optional on the standard Colorado, is also available. With it, the ZR2 is the only off-road diesel compact pickup sold in America. Like we said, an outlier. We like outliers.

We also like the ZR2’s ability to let you kick up your heels. Select the off-road mode, lock the rear diff with a rocker switch on the center console, dial in rear-wheel drive, and you can do donuts, sending roostertails of mud (or snow) flying. Try that in the family Silverado.

At a starting price of $40,995, the ZR2 is some 20 grand more expensive than a base Colorado, but its specialized engineering and equipment easily justify the cost. GM has not traditionally been a place for people seeking off-road trucks, but the Colorado ZR2 changes that. It also, we predict, establishes a solid foundation for an off-road variant of the next-generation full-size Silverado that will gun for the Ford F-150 Raptor. Maybe you’ll be doing donuts in a Silverado after all.