Colorado ZR2 Duramax: The Best Factory Package Ever?

Last year Chevrolet re-introduced their compact pickup, the Colorado (or Canyon in GMC form).  We were excited to see that Chevrolet fulfilled their promise to offer a diesel-version.  The stout 2.8L inline 4-cylinder engine was torquey down low and made all the right noises.  We came away from our test drives impressed, though worried there was not enough differentiation to purchase the Colorado versus the larger Ram 1500.  However, with the Chevrolet ZR2 edition being available in diesel, Chevrolet has completely changed the game.


The Z71 package has been the traditional Chevrolet “off road” package.  This includes things like heavier duty shocks and different interior trims along with Z71 badging. Outside of that, there isn’t much that differentiates the Z71 package from the standard configuration 4×4 Colorados.

The ZR2 couldn’t be any more different.   Right out of the gate Chevrolet equipped the ZR2 with something that no other factory configuration had before it: “Multimatic” DSSV shocks.  This type of suspension is typically an expensive aftermarket upgrade, reserved for serious off-roaders or racing applications.  Unlike traditional shocks, DSSV shocks can be finely tuned specifically for their application – most shocks have more than a 10% variation between shocks, while DSSV shocks vary between 1-3%.  In the ZR2 case, they are tuned with a two-stage valve that offers stiff initial response but a lot of travel and absorption when big impacts occur – like when the truck lands after getting some air time.  On the road, though, the ride remains firm and easy to control.

DSSV Shocks have never been factory equipped on a pickup before.

Along with the improved damping the upgraded suspension provides a significant lift, over 2″, compared to the standard ZR1 configuration.  Other ZR2 only upgrades include:

  • ZR2 exclusive front lower bumper with improved entry angle
  • Full front and rear skid plates
  • ZR2 exclusive hood with engine scoop
  • FRONT and REAR fully locking differentials
  • Tubular Rock-Guards
  • ZR2 Exclusive Wheels & Tires
  • In-Dash Approach & Descent Angle Gauges

The front and rear lockers, both electronically controlled by switches in the center console, are where this truck really shows the seriousness in which it approaches going off road.  Unlike open differentials, which allow the right and left side wheel rotate at different rates, a locking differential locks them both together so they always spin at the same rate.  Normally, on road, this would be a bad thing – wheels need to turn at different rates in order to allow the car to turn!  However, off road, front and rear locking differentials means that the truck could have two wheels in the air and still crawl its way up whatever is in its way.


ZR2 Locking Differential Switches

As we said in the beginning, what brings this truck to our attention is the inclusion of the optional 2.8L Duramax turbodiesel.  The Colorado/Canyon is the only mid-size pickup available with a diesel engine but has competition in the full size category from the Ram 1500 and soon F150 diesel models.  However, neither the Ram nor the Ford offer their respective “Rebel” or “Raptor” aggressive, off-road focused models in diesel form.  This leaves the ZR2 as the only factory diesel powered “off-road pickup”, and the only one with DSSV suspension.

Some Downsides

Equipping a truck for maximum off-road performance does create some disadvantages for day-to-day use.  The first hiccup is, predictably, the price tag.  The ZR2 package increases the MSRP by $5,800, which actually seems like a great deal considering all the extra equipment the ZR2 comes with.  However, adding the ZR2 package also removes the ability to choose the long bed – the ZR2 is only available as a short bed (as of this writing).  Towing is also reduced – a standard Colorado with the diesel and tow package is rated for 7,700 lbs. Towing.  However, the ZR2 is only rated for 5,000 lbs.  The DSSV based suspension isn’t designed for towing. Another downside is the fuel mileage – the taller suspension, wider body, off-road bumper and wider, more aggressive tires increase wind and road resistance, which will eat a few MPGs on average. 

Small Nits

Outside of the downsides listed above, we have a few other small “nits” to complain about.  The first is that the special ZR2 rear bumper removes the very useful (and much advertised) foot step that is built into the edges of the Colorado/Canyon standard bumper.  The second has to do with the front bumper, which removes the provision for fog lights.  A light bar is optional, but, we think having front facing fog lights would be a nice addition too.  Another small nit, which may be a bigger nit or none at all for you – the rocker guards are attached to body sheet metal, not the frame.  These are designed to protect the body of the truck in case a rock impacts the chassis between the wheels.  Having them attached to body metal instead of the frame could make them weaker.

This useful step is built into the bumper on standard trims, but missing on the ZR2.


The ZR2 is no doubt a very attractive package.  The body kit alone stands out against a sea of similarly designed mid and full size trucks.  The ZR2 backs up that body kit with some serious equipment, like the first-ever DSSV shocks and dual locking differentials – stuff usually reserved for the extreme off-road aftermarket.  However, these items come at a price both at purchase and during day-to-day use.  Is the ZR2 right for you?  If you are a frequent off-roader, certainly, but, if you spend your days on the road and/or tow heavier loads the ZR2 package may not fit your needs as well.

Some great ZR2 Videos Below:

While titled a “Fuel Economy Video”, has an excellent walk around tour of a white ZR2.

  1. Is the zr2 the same as the gmc all terrain


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