I'm taking the Chevy Colorado ZR2 on its ultimate test
In a few months, I’ll take the Tacoma fighter on a seven-day adventure like no other.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
I looked over at my navigator, Rebecca Donaghe, as we circled around a rock formation known as Cougar Buttes in the high desert outside of Lucerne, California. She had a jeweler's loupe firmly planted against her eye, looking at a topographical map of the area.
"OK," she said, not looking up from the map. "Drive another .1 kilometer and stop. We should be at the checkpoint."
We were out practicing for the 2017 Rebelle Rally, in which we'll forgo pavement for dirt all the way from Squaw Valley in Northern California to the Glamis Dunes near the Mexican border. Our seven-day adventure will be navigated with just a compass and a map, as the Rebelle Rally doesn't allow GPS, cell phones, or chase crews.
The ZR2 has a few advantages over the stock Colorado. It's got a wider track for more stability and a two-inch lift, plus better geometry, differentials and suspension. It recently was the only stock mid-size pick-up truck with enough chutzpah to enter the 500-plus mile Vegas to Reno off-road race, where it finished in just under 19 hours with no more damage than a few flat tires. It was a strong showing, indeed.
However, I'll be testing the ZR2's mettle over seven days in a different kind of off-road challenge. The Rebelle Rally, like the Gazelle Rally I have run in Morocco, is not a race for speed, but a contest of navigational accuracy, careful driving and dedicated teamwork. Each day of the all-female rally consists of plotting a series of checkpoints on a map using latitude and longitude information and then finding those checkpoints the old-fashioned way. Sounds easy, right?
Wrong. If it were easy, everyone would do it. You see, not all checkpoints are created equally. Green checkpoints, marked by a green flag, are the only ones printed on the map and are designed to keep competitors moving in the correct general direction. Blue checkpoints are more difficult to find and are marked by a smaller blue flag or, more often, a blue stake. Black checkpoints are the most difficult as they are not marked at all. Competitors must triangulate using the visible features around them and their compass and map to determine their exact location.
It's nearly impossible to get every checkpoint, so competitors must decide which checkpoints are worth trying for. At the end of the rally, she with the most points wins.
Ever since I first drove the ZR2, I knew this was the truck I wanted to drive in this year's rally. Not only is it a continuation of our Chevrolet story after our almost-win last year in a Total Chaos prepped 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, but the ZR2's many off-road goodies make it a great choice for the rally and a serious contender for the Bone Stock award, given to the manufacturer whose completely stock truck finishes the highest in the rally.
Why I'm stoked
Two words here: front locker. The ZR2 is the only pick-up truck beside the Ram Power Wagon to come stock not only with a rear differential locker, but a front differential locker as well. As we learned last year, checkpoints can be on the top of steep, boulder-strewn slopes. Having the front and rear locked so that all four wheels turn regardless of how much traction they have will be an asset in getting these kinds of checkpoints.
I'm also excited for the 369 pound-feet of torque produced by the 2.8-liter Duramax diesel. It's down on horsepower compared to the gas-powered engine, but most of the Rebelle Rally isn't about speed (more on that in a bit). The diesel should be good for an extra 2 miles per gallon as well, which will be helpful on the marathon leg, where we eschew the base camp for a night of open-desert camping and no chance to refuel.
And of course there are the Multimatic shocks. The spool-valve technology is some kind of engineering magic that keeps the ZR2 controlled and steady on the dirt. They are soft enough to soak up the whoops, and the rebound is quick enough so that direction changes are possible even after all four wheels leave the ground. The Rebelle Rally isn't about speed per say, but last year we did put the pedal to the metal to make a checkpoint before the time cutoff. The Multimatic shocks should be very helpful if we need to go flat out again this year.
Why I'm worried
Even though the small 31-inch Goodyear Duratracs have done everything I have asked them to do so far, I haven't driven them in really soft and deep sand yet. My beloved BF Goodrich KO2 tires from last year were both wider and had a larger sidewall, all the better to motivate us through the dunes of Glamis. It's always necessary to air down tires in the dunes, but without any aftermarket beadlock wheels I can only deflate them to 15 psi or so without fear of the tire coming off the wheel. If I had my way I'd go down to 10 psi for an even larger footprint.
Dune driving also requires momentum, and that may be tough to eke out of the 181 horsepower diesel engine. As a driver I will have to keep my foot in it, pushing through any fear I may have about traversing dunes that can easily reach 300 feet in height.
Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is off to the Rebelle Rally
Rebecca and I could potentially win two trophies this year: The Bone Stock award for Chevrolet and a podium finish overall for us. But while winning is always a goal, first and foremost we want to have fun and run our best possible rally. For me, that means taking care of the truck and making sure Rebecca has all that she needs to do her job. For Rebecca that means accurate plotting of latitude and longitude points on the map and precise compass readings.
As for our aforementioned practice session? We were spot on. Rebelle Rally, we are coming for you.
The Rebelle Rally takes place October 12-21. You can follow along right here on Roadshow or check out the live updates with tracking at www.rebellerally.com.