I Almost Killed a 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2—But It Refused to Die

An off-road excursion nearly ended in disaster, but Chevy's ZR2 showed why it's the midsize truck to beat.

The plan seemed simple enough: go off-roading in the 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. Chevy’s trail-worthy truck has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and since you can’t review something like this without actually putting it to the test, I set aside a day to take the ZR2 up to an off-road park just north of Los Angeles called Rowher Flats. The park is run by the state, the truck is ludicrously capable, and my friend (a fellow automotive scribe) was along for the ride. Simple.

Even better, there had been some rare rain in Southern California over the past few days. With rain comes mud and with mud comes mud bogging, one of the most delightful paths to off-road nirvana. And so when I finally pulled off the pavement, I sought out the deepest, dirtiest, muddiest patch of earth in the park and flogged this 4,745 pound blue beast with insouciant regard. If the ZR2 is as good as everyone claims it to be, I figured, it should be able to withstand me.

Sam Bendall

Look at all that suspension travel 

The Colorado ZR2 Is Made for This

This kind of moderate speed test over rough terrain is also an ideal test of the ZR2’s suspension and drivetrain. It practically begs to tossed into such an environment with its sloped front bumper, robust skid plate, and meaty 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires on 17-inch aluminum rims. Coupled with 8.6 inches of suspension travel in the front and 10 inches in the rear, the ZR2 looks like it could crawl over a Miata in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405 during rush hour.

Pushing the ZR2 hard and fast through the muddy slop, I could hear the 308-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 revving and sending power to the wheels that needed it as we charged forward. The truck seemed totally unfazed and in control—it reminded me of those strongman competitions you’ll come across at 2 a.m. on ESPN2 where some 380-pound Norwegian dude appears to effortlessly drag a tree trunk the length of a football field. I felt like a spectator, despite sitting in the driver’s seat.

The Colorado ZR2's secret weapon lies is its suspension; specifically, the advanced Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) dampers. These units mechanically adjust the flow of the fluid in the shock to hit the ideal compression and rebound curves in the real time. The front ones offer six different profiles, while the rear have four, resulting in a suspension system that can actively adapt to the terrain and absorb everything from pavement imperfections to hard landings after brief flights...as I quickly found out.

Manuel Carrillo III

Colorado ZR2 is unfazed even when airborne

The terrain in front of us vanished, replaced by the blue and white of the sky as the truck took flight off a large bump. That one second in the air seemed like 10—but what I expected to be a violent landing was merely a mild jolt, as the trick suspension system did its job.  How is this still going? I wondered. But the ZR2 had delivered another solid punch to the ground, standing victorious with its muscles flexed like Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston.

Testus Interruptus in the ZR2

With the Chevy Colorado having proven itself in the mud, it was to see how the truck handled the rest of the park. I pointed out to one of the many hilltops around us: “Let’s go climb that damn mountain.” 

Sam Bendall

The calm before the storm 

Standing at the base of a 30-degree hill ascending more than 100 feet into the sky, I put the truck into four-low, visualized my line up the grade, and started up. Just like in the mud, I could feel the ZR2 claw and grip its way forward, the suspension constantly adjusting to maximize traction while the chassis flexed ever so slightly over the changing terrain. Hill after hill, the Colorado could do no wrong. Nothing could stop us—until disaster struck.

Just as we were climbing the highest peak of the day, the cabin lights and screens flickered and the engine began to lose power. Within moments, it cut out entirely—bringing us to an unceremonious standstill. (Mercifully, on a flat section of the trail.) I put the ZR2 in park, cycled the ignition—and was greeted by the telltale electric click of a dead battery.

We were on top of a high ridge in the middle of the day on a Tuesday with no one else in the entire park. We had no food, little water, and zero cell service. All that could be heard around us was the whipping of the wind across the valley below...and the damn click

Opening the hood, the engine bay looked like a massive chocolate cake—a real here’s your problem, pal moment—and we started putting two and two together. “There’s a lot of mud in the engine bay,” my friend said. “It’s possible all that caked mud has killed the alternator and it’s been operating on the battery for a while." Since the Colorado ZR2 was brand new, we figured the battery would have some natural recharging properties in it—enough to possibly kick over the motor and enable us to get back to a location where we could call for help.

Colorado ZR2 Won't Go Out Without a Fight

After a slow, harrowing, backwards descent, the ZR2 started up, running off the battery (and on borrowed time) again.  When the ground was flat, we opened up the 3.6 liter for all it had.

Sam Bendall

Waiting for the new battery in the ZR2 to naturally recharge even a little

It was barely enough. A few minutes later, the ZR2 died again. But at least we were off that ridge, back on a main road, and that much closer to the park’s entrance. Better yet, we had cell service again. After waiting another 15 minutes for the battery to find another burst of energy, my friend jumped behind the wheel and drove the flatlining ZR2 like a rally truck back to the staging area.

Sam Bendall 

You carried me this far buddy, let me help you the last 4 percent of the way. 

Back at the entrance, we met a kind stranger in a Jeep Grand Cherokee who offered to jump our rig. If we could “top off” the battery’s charge, we figured, we could make one last cannonball run down to the highway, where GM’s tow service could collect the crippled truck. 

We were about...76 percent correct. The truck coaxed every bit of power out of the battery to keep itself going in that dying sprint—infotainment screen flickering, warning lights flashing, engine pulsing—but in the end, it died before we made it out. Luckily, gravity was on our side: My friend shifted the ZR2 into neutral, I gave a helpful push, and we rolled the final 24 percent of the way.

Sam Bendall

Hoping a little electrical "top off" would give our electric blue beast the necessary juice to get us to the highway.  

The day was over, and it had been anything but simple. The sun was setting behind the mountains as we waited for our Lyft driver and the flatbed truck from GM. I sat on a rock and stared at the Kinetic Blue ZR2—which was actually more brown now, thanks to a coat of dried mud. It still looked stunning, and I was still impressed. A major component had failed, yet the truck had clung to life and gotten us back safely.

Manuel Carrillo III

Waiting for a Lyft and admiring this remarkable machine in the process.  

Some of you might think that it failed, or that it didn’t live up to the hype. I'd disagree. Thanks to its advanced suspension, and the handling dynamics on pavement and dirt alike, he Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 ranks among the best midsize pickups on the market today,. It’s a truly formidable vehicle—despite a slightly-underwhelming engine, admittedly—and its unwillingness to stay dead shows it can be a trusted partner on adventures...even when things start to go wrong.