This is probably far too long overall, seeing how the review part is very short. It's inclusive of what other vehicles I looked at and my decision making process, with the idea of being as informative as possible. It's a bit dry, as I do a lot of technical writing for work so my personal style dies on longform. I wanted it to flow better but struggled with that as I did this in Notepad . Thanks for reading if you do!
Old Ride and What I Wanted/Needed
I was driving a 2001 Dodge Dakota QC 4.7/auto 2WD, 235k+. At some point I needed a newer truck, and it was coming sooner rather than later. There’s what is now annual flooding in the area, so ground clearance/4wd is nice. Lockers/some sort of traction device for any mud (in-laws property), the beach and the possibility of visiting parks camping/overlanding. Decent power to weight ratio, room for 3 people, decent economy, a bed for house stuff, and towing with a possibility of a trailer in the future. Good AC, ventilated seats, not too crazy cost, garage parking (important for hurricane season) were also important considerations.
I settled on the seats (heated only), but the ZR2 fit the rest of this pretty well (mpg is meh as well). Sticker on mine (Shadow Gray, nav, Bose) was $44,990 with destination. I wasn’t planning on getting one until after the new year (purchased in Nov 2019), but the price was right and it had the color and options I wanted. I had the dealer add the GM floor liners (which are nice) and wheel locks (not that would stop anyone around Houston, but cheap peace of mind), and most important to me, the LED bed lighting, which isn’t as bright as it could be but is very useful and I like it overall. It ties into the OEM cargo light switch, which I really like as I am big on OEM parts/integration. I tried to add the Keyless Entry Pad (can be put anywhere), but they messed up the install and I’ve never gotten around to getting it taken care of (thanks COVID).
I contacted the dealer through the website. They were great - sent a couple texts, agreed on price, and date when ready to be picked up. A couple days later the wife dropped me at IAH, dealer picked me up at DFW International, fed me, tossed me the keys to do a ride and drive, I gave it a look over, handed it back for final prep, did the paperwork (all electronic actually) in the meantime, grabbed some Starbucks, and drove home. Nice and easy. I didn’t add any additional warranty things, no GAP, etc. Out the door (including TX 6.25% tax) was under $40k and the financed amount was $30k. Not bad at all for ~$45k truck. And honestly more in line with I think it’s worth versus MSRP.
General ZR2 Info
The ZR2 is the best equipped off road Colorado/Canyon model, or of any GM model really. It’s available as an extended cab 6' bed or crew cab 5' only – the crew/6’ combo is not available. It's also the only way to get an extended cab diesel. It's available with both the gas 3.6L V6/8spd auto or I4 diesel 2.8L/6spd auto. It gets the standard 3.42 GM Twins gearing as well as an integrated trailer brake, and tow/haul mode for the V6 or an exhaust brake with the diesel.
The specs are all available online, but the rundown of mechanical upgrades is - 3.5" track increase with upgraded upper/lower control arms and spindles, stronger/longer CVs and tierods, a wider rear axle, 2" lift, front and rear electronic lockers, Off Road mode, aluminum front skid, crap t-case skid, cab mounted (ugh) rock rails, 17” ZR2 specific wheels with 265/65R17 Goodyear Duratracs (and full size ZR2 wheel/tire), and the DSSV shocks. The t-case is the standard 4Auto/4H/4L (2.72:1)/2H. Gear spread on the V6 (308hp/275lb-ft) and 8spd 8L45 is 6.98 (4.61:1 – 0.66:1) for a 42.88:1 crawl ratio. The diesel I4 (181hp/369lb-ft) and 6L50 is 6.06 (4.06:1 to 0.67:1) with a 37.77 crawl ratio.
ZR2 Front Suspension
The Bison package can be added, which brings different logos, wheel moldings, wheels, a winch capable front bumper with fog lights, a rear bumper with bedside departure protection, full skids (trans/t-case, fuel tank, rear diff), and a lot less payload (sub 1k).
Exterior-wise the ZR2 has a specific cutout front bumper, unique grill, hood, wheel moldings, and rear bumper missing the access steps. Both bumpers are designed with higher clearance in mind, but the tow standard hitch limits departure angle. It has a tow hitch which is 7700lb rated, 4/7 trailer plugs as well as a bedliner with the ZR2 logo. The ZR2 is actually limited to 5k towing and the payload varies from ~975lbs (Bison) to 1353 (ZR2 regular cab). My crew cab is rated 1260 - no driver or passenger, so that must be taken into account. Payload on mine is a bit light but okay. Sub-1k payloads are not okay IMO.
Inside it has remote start, a heated steering wheel and leather seats (8 way driver, 4 passenger) with ZR2 embroidered headrests, integrated brake controller, a phone charging pad, heated mirrors, and rear manual sliding window with defogger. There are multiple of options for adding black wheels, a light bar, etc., but the only real options are the Bose stereo and nav.
There are a number of minor year to year changes that may be important to a buyer (both ZR2 and standard twins are affected by this). Aside from colors and the 2021 fascia change, some ZR2 specific (or not) changes are listed below:
- 2017 - initial year
- 2018 – add heated mirrors, rear window defogger, 2 coil wireless charging pad
- 2019 – Bison option package created. Update to drivers 6-way power seat and seat base cushion (material shape/amount), 3 coil phone charger pad, HD backup camera, new IP digital display, new infotainment center display, and the exterior bowties are now blacked out vs gold. Added heated steering wheel. Mid-year changes (post-March/April? 19 builds) include upgrading the transmission fluid to eliminate transmission shudder in the 8spd. Also (and importantly to the ZR2 and to frustrate me in particular) the rear diff drain was removed, the breathers for the rear axle (terminated in DS frame rail, next to fuel filler), transfer case, and transmission breather (both terminated underhood w/front axle breather – still underhood btw) were changed to much shorter Z71 pieces, and the airbag software was updated to be less sensitive off road. The axle breather now terminates above the diff and the trans/t-case terminate in the trans tunnel. I have a June build so the extended breathers are not on my truck. Much to my annoyance, the glovebox soft open lanyard was removed (except on Denali models) as well.
- 2020 – Addition of power tailgate lock, *possible change to short front axle breather (no proof), and midyear/late 4 piston floating to 2 piston sliding front calipers (or was a 2021 change, but I’ve seen a 2020 Bison this way). Do you need 4 piston floating calipers on a truck? Maybe not, but was nice to have!
- 2021 - new fascia, new infotainment model
2009-12 Colorado/Canyon/Hummer Crew 4x4 5.3 Z71/All Terrain/H3T Adventure
- Pros: V8! Nicely equipped, makes good sounds. H3T also comes with front/rear e-lockers
- Cons: Interior is pretty GM-ish, little aftermarket and looks worse than my '98 Camaro did IMO. 4L60E. RESALE - These things are expensive at ~$20 under 100k mi and the H3T is another 5-10k on top of that.
2000-04, 08-11 Dakota QuadCab 4x4/TRX
- Pros: 5.9/4.7 V8! Wasn’t looking for the 5.2L, which is fine but would rather the 5.9L. Nicely equipped, makes good sounds, no aftermarket. Have a history with these trucks, so know all the good and bad.
- Cons: All the MB and Cerberus era Dodge nonsense.
Any Fullsize. $25k+ for over 100k in Crew 4x4 form, less than 10 years old. NOPE!
Colorado/Canyon Z71/Trail Runner/All Terrain V6 and Diesel (also ZR2)
- Pros: Cheaper (but not really), better V6 mpg, diesel mpg. Much better towing (7k+) and slightly better payload (couple hundred lbs max). TR gets Duratracs and ZR2 rock rails.
- Cons: Not really cheaper (other models only $1-2k less compared to what I paid for the ZR2), no selectable rear locker, diesel emissions issues, meh aftermarket, no room for bigger tires, shares rest of common problems with the ZR2. Diesel ZR2 was too slow, common emission issues, laggy throttle, low passing power, couldn’t get one for the option price differential ($3.5k), as all were $4.5k+ more than my truck. If I lived at altitude I’d probably be driving one though.
Chevy/GMC Fullsize Twins Trail Boss/SLT/AT4 3.0L/6.2L
- Pros: More interior and bed space, inline 6 diesel action (only on AT4, not Trail Boss), 10spd, ventilated seats, Pacific blue paint.
- Cons: FS truck prices - even on sale for what I wanted was in the $50k range ($60s sticker). Full size maneveurability, no selectable locker, interior needs refreshed
Dodge Ram 1500 Rebel Crew 4x4 Hemi/Ecodiesel (wasn't quite out yet)
- Pros: Different looks without being too over the top, selectable rear locker, RAMBOX (I love this), 12" monster screen w/good software. Hemi has good power, diesel wasn't on the market yet
- Cons: Same as FS GM twins on price and being FS. Payload under 1k lbs not uncommon, also no ventilated seats on the Rebel. And FCA-ness
Dodge Ram 2500 Power Wagon
- Pros: Same as 1500, but now F/R lockers and a winch. Hemi 6.4/ZF 8spd is a great combo
- Cons: TF is this sub-1500lb payload with any options (~1100lbs on trucks I looked at)? How can you reasonably say it can tow 10,350lbs. Stupid.
Ford F-250 Tremor:
- Wasn't out yet, but a 7.3L gasser version with an actual payload (well over 2k) and tow rating (15k) would have been one to add to the list. I do really hate the Ford chime though. It's like nails on a chalkboard for whatever reason.
Ford Ranger FX4
- Pros: 2.3T/10spd is a treat. Love the seats and interior is decent, but pretty much the same as the GM twins in quality. Selectable rear locker and adaptive cruise, etc safety things available.
- Cons: Absolutely terrible suspension tuning – a floaty jiggly disaster. Why in the world is the rear bench not split? Such a basic design flaw. Tiny tank (18 gal). Prices were well above similarly equipped GM twins. Why pay more for this?
Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 3.6 (Ecodiesel not out yet, neither was the Mohave)
- Pros: Off road capability, all sorts of accessories, 33”s no problem, infotainment center, nice interior
- Cons: Price, removable top (paying for something I won’t use), lol payload - low with the V6 and sub-1k lbs w/diesel), street manners, especially on the highway, lethargic, no 4Auto (option now w/V6), more FCA-ness.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Hemi
- Pros: Hemi, Jeep-ness, off road capability
- Cons: FCA-ness, no outside bed (duh), wife hates SUVs
Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Crew 3.5/auto
- Pros: Resale, Toyota-ness, MTS/CRAWL, selectable rear locker, all the accessories! Easier to add larger tires
- Cons: terrible engine/trans programing - like an angry couple staying together for the kids, seats are low and awkward, meh OEM tires, initial costs (not much off sticker), no 4A. DRUM BRAKES.
Finally, A Review?
As mentioned, mine is a 2019 Shadow Gray Crew Cab with Bose and nav. COVID jacked up some of my plans, such as upgrading the breathers for one – not going into the dealer to chat and no one wants to spend time with me figuring out part numbers over the phone. Otherwise, all I’ve done is detail it and tint. For the tint, it has Llumar FormulaOne Pinnacle ceramic at 30% all around and Llumar Air 80% clear on the windshield. I really like the tint, especially the windshield tint! Here’s the list of stuff I did and used for detailing:
- McKee’s 37 Xtreme Iron Remover
- Chemical Guys Citrus Wash and Gloss wash (via Gilmour Foamaster gun, no pressure washer so no foam cannon)
- Nanoskin Fine Clay mitt w/Nanoskin Glide Spray Lubricant
- Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo
- Klasse All-in-One Coat
- Klasse High Gloss Glaze Sealant x2 coats
- Turtle Wax Ice Seal N Shine x3 coats
- Sonax BSD
- P&S Beadmaker
Detailing and Results
I did all five wheels as well. A bit crazy, but it’s new and I wanted it to look good. The Beadmaker I wouldn’t do again, the truck needs a sheeting effect, the panels are too flat to allow the beading to roll off. It beads and stays put which just lets it dry in place. I did pretty much the same to my wife’s car without the beadmaker and the water seems to run off a lot better.
After one year, I had over eighteen thou…I mean I had 7950mi on it. The pandemic caused me to go WFH in mid-March, and I've only driven ~750mi since then. Prior to the pandemic, with a long trip and my stop and go commute, I was getting 18.65 mpg. It has bests of 25.5mpg at 25mi, 24.3mpg at 50mi, and 20.5 at 450mi per the dash. Now with only the shorter trips, it’s gone down a bit.
The first oil change was done at 2250mi (AC Delco filter + 6qts 5W-30 Pennzoil Platinum Pure Plus Dexos1 Gen2) for an early break-in change (58% on the monitor) and my second at 7620 (24%).
Not a lot driving time, but some initial impressions.
I like the looks as it’s a bit different than the standard Colorado, but still handsome without being super aggressive like most FS trucks. I’m not a fan of the hood (a bit too much bro-truck) and I’d like to swap for a standard hood. Overall it blends in, which is what I want. It is easy to catch your pant legs on the rock rails upon exit, and they're not really steps, so the wife and kid tend to have to hop in.
Plain and functional. Coming from an early 2000s era truck it’s like a luxo barge, but it’s really not at all. It’s fairly basic and while not nearly as out of date as the Nissan, the Ranger interior is a bit nicer in some ways, mainly the dash and seats. I like the infotainment interface, and it seems to work very well – quick, seamless, Apple Carplay works fine. The Bose is decent, but not outstanding. It is required for the nav, which I wanted. You can get the Bose sans nav, however.
The cluster is plain, but I do like the newer IP digital center stack vs the older one. The wheel is good, nice thickness, leather wrapped. The controls were pretty easy for me to get used to quickly, which was nice as I didn’t really take any time to play before I headed back when I picked it up. I like the switches in the center stack, the charging pad is small for a lot of modern phones but my 6S is useless with this anyways and it can always be swapped to a lower model cubby. The 4x4 knob could be elsewhere, as it’s a bit like the headlight switch. I haven’t messed that interaction up (yet?).
The AC works great and I just leave it on auto. The steering wheel and seats heaters warm up quickly. The radio antenna doesn’t seem to have the range of my Dakota even though it’s higher (rear cab mount).
The seats are great to both me and the wife, but we’re not larger people (~6’/160 and 5’2”/very petite). There’s plenty of leg room in the back for our preteen kid and the seats are set up a bit, so there is somewhat less headroom back there. I don’t keep anything in the truck - tie downs is it. Storage is okay – the front door panels are kinda funky shaped, the water bottle holder is pretty useless. The center cup holders are fine, the front bin is great for my phone, and the little hole in the dash between the heated seat buttons is a great place for my wallet. There’s cupholders in the rear armrest (maybe not on the Toyota or Ranger? I forget) and the door panels back there aren’t much better. Under rear seat storage is good as the jack is behind the passenger rear seat so it doesn’t waste space underneath.
It’s quiet, though the Duratracs are new, so that could change. The ride is stiff and controlled, but not harsh. It feels great on smooth roads and maintains a feeling of being planted even on some of the horror-show roads in the Houston area. There is little sway – it just rolls a bit and sets in corners. It has a nice planted feel and the stability control will let you play some before it intervenes, which is nice. It feels "sporty" not just for a truck but also for a 4x4. The Duratracs give up long before the suspension. The roll is likely the tires, as the sidewalls are pretty soft and are P-metric versus the LT version. An RWD/AWD version of a Colorado with DSSVs set up only for handling (Z28 style) could be a great sport truck IMO. It has decent steering feel for an electric assist and is well weighted. The brakes grab high on the pedal with good feel and don’t need a lot of pressure to haul it down. The accelerator is a bit touchy right off but then is smooth and fairly linear after. A bit softer tip-in would be nice, however, as it still catches me on occasion.
LOL I don’t even know. We just haven’t gone anywhere. I used 4A when it was really slick in the rain once just to do it and to use the t-case for once. I accidently engaged the rear locker at a light (disengaged before it turned green) because RTFM is for idiots I guess. I did drive it into a very muddy bar ditch back in my hometown last year -didn’t even need 4wd let alone the rear locker - just a judicious application of throttle to drive along it and eventually up out of it. The Duratracs work well apparently.
Things NOT done
Weight is the enemy, especially with payload and unfortunately most add-ons are steel (bumpers, skids). I was going to do bumpers (CBI AL or Expedition-One front, AEV rear), fog lights wired to OEM switch, CBI AL skids, shock skids from wherever, a BakFlip MX4 tri-fold bed cover BakBox2 collapsing toolbox, tailgate seal, and 255/80R17s or 275/75R17s with the AEM trim kit, which is different from the full HighMark kit. A dropside tray from MITS or Norweld would be great on the wishlist lol.
Gearing changes require a tune on the 19+ trucks instead of an inline adapter as on the 17-18s, so to me the 4.10s (4.56 is also available) is out (bye-bye warranty). I also thought it’d be possible to swap in recovered Denali seats with ventilation to the OEM controls, but it doesn’t let you add individual items, the whole truck control system would be ported to a Denali (so no locker controls, etc). Thanks GM!
Stuff I don't like
Some repeats from above, but the short breathers, the nixed drain plug, the 6-7-8 ratios (6-7 is closer ratio than 7-8), trans manual controls are max gear, not actual gear (if you put it in 2nd, that’s as high as it goes, but it still starts in 1st), 3.42s (should be 3.73s), high bedsides, chipping paint at the hood blister (known stupid issue from the faux scoop rubbing the hood, requires hood repaint), no TPMS in the spare (PITA as I do five tire rotations), the factory jack is barely capable of getting the truck high enough so a lot of people use a wood block or bottle jack instead, the headlights are meh (better than the Dakota!), t-case skid plate is LOfuckingLame, fenders aren't designed for 33”s, payload isn't ~1500, towing isn't 6k, silly requirement to plug in a phone to use Apple CP to start (can unplug and continue via BT though), phone charger pad is too small for most phones, goofy door pockets, no USB-C, my paint had a couple very dumb flaws in it from the factory, condensation in my rear cam and passenger taillight (common), 21 gal tank (Dakota is 24), leaky non-rebuildable (to date) DSSVs for some (not me as of yet!), above software nonsense, the V6 alternator is just above crank centerline so it's ripe for submersion (diesel's is mounted up high so no worrie there), some have killed the e-rack too from the same (possible worth looking in to sealing the connection better), cheapening out on stuff over time listed above (very on brand, GM). At this price point, push button start, dual zone AC, ventilated seats could be standard or in a luxury package. Wouldn’t mind some safety nannies – auto cruise, etc.
Nice cantilevered t-case skid you got there...
On the transmission, 6th is 1:1, 7th 0.85, 8th is 0.66. This makes TX highway speeds a shifty mess as 8th is too tall for the V6 (at 75+, it’s fine at 60-75) with the 3.42s, AT tires, and the more brick-like shape with the 2” lift and bumper cutouts. The engine can carry it, but it’s quick to upshift instead of lug, so all the sudden 18-19mpg goes to 14-15. A bit shorter 8th, closer 7th (at least bringing the rpms down more at upshift), and/or 3.73s in the axles would most likely fix this. The diesel holds gears (all the torque) perhaps making it the only other saving grace it has aside from economy.
Stuff I like
Pretty much everything. The bitching is just me being very particular about what I want and how I think things should be done. I do really like the truck, but like everything it could be better! I love the DSSVs!!!!!!!!!!! The V6 is mostly great (but bring on the 2.7T!), it’s quiet inside, the infotainment system, seats, suspension/driving dynamics, 4A, lockers, and Duratracs.
Do it Again? Next vehicle?
We don’t make plans anymore, as things could change rapidly for either us these days. Could be here one day, could be on another continent the next, but sure, if it came to it I’d replace it with the same thing for now. Assuming life things stay as they are, I’d very much consider the next gen 23/24 model, especially with the 2.7T. Or a FS EV, or a Rivian, or...
*edited to add 2019 year changes - drivers power seat update to 6way and alternator and electric power steering info in Stuff I Don't Like