2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2 review: A rough-and-tumble midsize truck
This Bowtie pickup is showing its age, but it's still a decent, sensible and capable steed.
The Chevrolet Colorado is an oldie but a goodie. Yeah, this midsize truck feels outdated, but despite a few deficits here and there it remains a solid option in a segment rife with less-than-stellar competitors. If you need enhanced off-road capability or the open-bed hauling convenience only a pickup truck can offer, but don't want or need a full-size rig, this Chevy is a decent choice.
To keep things fresh, the Colorado received a few enhancements for 2021. Mainline models gain a reworked -- and arguably more handsome -- front end, an 8-inch infotainment screen is standard on the LT trim and higher and 17-inch wheels are now included at no extra charge. The off-road-ready ZR2 model features similar improvements, though its face is noticeably more aggressive, looking somewhat like the boxy Silverado 1500's prow, for better or worse. Finally, three new exterior colors are available across the range including Cherry Red Tintcoat, which is what you see here.
What sets the ZR2 apart from lesser Colorados is its off-road hardware. The suspension benefits from a 2-inch lift and the track, both front and rear, is 3.5 inches wider. Keeping things under control while bombing through the desert, clambering over boulders or just cruising your local Home Depot parking lot is a set of Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve dampers. These shocks help manage the Colorado ZR2's starchy springs, which deliver a firm on-road ride. While the truck laughs at pothole impacts and large bumps, you feel practically every expansion joint on the highway. Its Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires are mounted on stylish, multicolor 17-inch wheels and should provide ample grip while trail-bashing, even if they broadcast plenty of noise on pavement.
The Colorado is offered with three different engines, two of which are available in the ZR2. This example features the 3.6-liter gasoline V6, which cranks out 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. For all you compression-ignition aficionados out there, a 2.8-liter Duramax diesel is offered. Lower-trim Colorados can be had with a four-cylinder gasoline engine, though it's probably best to avoid this malnourished option. Matched to a quick-witted and polished eight-speed automatic transmission, the V6 has no trouble moving this midsize truck with reasonable authority. The turbocharged Ford Ranger may have more low-end grunt and a Honda Ridgeline's V6 might be smoother, but this Chevy's engine gets the job done with little fanfare.
The Colorado may be more maneuverable than a full-size truck, but it's no more efficient. As it sits, this example is rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg highway. Combined, it should return 17 mpg, a figure I topped by about 0.4 mpg in real-world driving. It's always great when you can exceed a vehicle's combined fuel-economy rating without even trying, though this Chevy should probably be more efficient than it is. I mean, a Silverado 1500 TrailBoss with the top-dog 6.2-liter V8 has the same combined fuel economy score and it even beats the Colorado on the highway, returning an advertised 19 mpg. What's the point of getting a midsize truck if a traditional half-ton is more economical?
If you tow or haul significant loads on the reg, you'll probably also want a burlier truck than this Chevy. The Colorado ZR2's maximum payload rating is just 1,350 pounds and it can only drag up to 5,000 pounds. The Ranger and Jeep Gladiator's peak figures easily eclipse the Chevy's -- hell, the car-based Ridgeline can haul 233 pounds more, even if its towing capacity is the same. It is worth noting, however, that non-ZR2 Colorados are more capable. Their maximum payload rating is a more-competitive 1,550 pounds and they can tow up to 7,700 pounds when fitted with the diesel engine.
When it's time to go trail-bashing, the ZR2 has a leg up over all of its midsize rivals except, perhaps, the Gladiator. Locking differentials front and rear help it get out of tough situations. It's also graced with plenty of underbody shielding and other features like hill-descent control. Rock rails along each sill are great for protecting the body from jagged terrain, though coupled with that elevated ride height they make getting into and out of this truck challenging if you don't want to soil your pant legs with dirt or mud. A pair of bright red recovery hooks punctuates the ZR2's front end and is at the ready should you get in too deep while off-roading.
The ZR2 is available with a variety of appearance-enhancing options groups, but if additional capability is what you crave, consider the $5,750 Bison package. This upgrade turns an already capable truck into a real mountain goat. It gets you a bunch of kit from American Expedition Vehicles including a special front bumper with provisions to mount a winch, boron-steel skid plates for added underbody protection, unique fender flares, special 17-inch wheels and more.
The Chevy Colorado's fundamentals are mostly impressive, but its interior and tech are what bely its advanced age. For better or worse, this truck's interior is basically the same as it was five or six years ago, which means you get plenty of so-so hard plastics and leather that feels more like vinyl than anything shucked off a living creature. The dashboard's overall layout is also as conservative as a Southern Baptist, with no frills or interesting design flourishes to be had. The advantage of this simple, honest layout, however, is that all the secondary buttons and knobs are easy to reach and see, with the climate controls being mounted up high and the seat-heater switches in an obvious place.
The Colorado is comfortable, with the front chairs adjusting nicely to accommodate taller folks, even if the cushions are quite flat. The crew-cab body's rear bench seat is a bit on the upright side, par for the midsize-truck course, but it can fit a couple of 6-foot-tall adults without much trouble. The lower cushions also flip up, revealing a storage cubby for stashing things away from prying eyes.
Like its overall interior design, this truck's tech is behind the times. Sure, my tester's 8-inch dashboard screen is nice enough, home to a speedy and clean infotainment system that's a pleasure to use, but integrated navigation costs an additional $995, even on the high-end ZR2 model. Fortunately, if you don't feel like shelling out an extra grand of hard-earned scratch, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are ready, willing and standard across the board.
But no matter how much you spend, you cannot get push-button start in this truck. Instead, every Colorado comes with an old-fashioned stick-and-twist key. For you kids that aren't familiar, you take a thin piece of metal, jab it into a receptacle on the steering column and turn it to fire the engine up. Similarly, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane centering are not offered, but at least keyless entry is available on even the most-basic Work Truck model, and you can get the Colorado with remote start.
Speaking of money, a base, rear-wheel-drive version of this truck with the four-cylinder engine starts at 26 grand and change. With many more features and a crew-cab body, the Colorado ZR2 tested here checks out for a much-steeper $44,890, including $1,195 in destination fees. The sole option padding that figure is the paint job, which costs $495.
The Chevy Colorado's gray hairs are certainly showing, but despite its age, this truck remains a good option -- one I prefer in some ways to the Ranger and Gladiator. For general-purpose use, the Honda Ridgeline is still the best all-around midsize pickup in my humble opinion, but if you want something with more rugged looks and a lot more off-road capability, the ZR2 could fit the bill.