December 10, 2023

Colorado ZR2 provides far more punch than what you pay

Chevy’s mid-size performance pickup can do it all

The 2023 Colorado ZR2 in Nitro Yellow looks and behaves like an off-road warrior.

Like many people who consider getting a full-size pickup, I love the look, the style, and the big performance, but once I have one sitting in my driveway (unable to fit it into my garage) I think twice about what my heart wants and what my mind knows to be true – you don’t really need all that truck.

Each time I find myself testing a mid-size pickup, whether it’s a Toyota Tacoma, a Ram Dakota or a Ford Ranger, I also find myself reaffirming the fact that a mid-size pickup checks every box I have for my daily lifestyle – plus a few extras, including fitting into the garage.

I recently tested the 2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Crew Cab. Like its competitors, it is not only the right size for most people who may want a pickup, but it is also the right price for most people who may not be making six-figure salaries.

The 2023 Chevrolet Colorado comes in Work Truck (WT), LT, Trail Boss, Z71, and ZR2 trim levels. A Desert Boss Special Edition version of the Colorado ZR2 is also available. Base prices range from the low $30,000s to the high $40,000s. With a base price below $50K, the Colorado ZR2 will provide reliable transit, big thrills and it won’t break the bank.


On the outside, the Colorado ZR2 delivers an extreme style that is handsome while projecting a go-anywhere off-road attitude. Chiseled in all the right places, especially around those huge wheel wells, the ZR2 gets a 3-inch lift over the base model, giving it an impressive 10.7-inch ground clearance. ZR2s are only available in a crew-cab style equipped with a short bed that can hold 41.9 cubic feet of cargo.

Right away you will notice the set of factory rock sliders and a noticeably wider 66.3-inch track over the other trims. Due to a full chassis redesign for this generation that moved the front axle more than 3 inches forward to shorten the front overhang, this ZR2 has a crazy 38.3-degree approach angle – nearly eight degrees more than the Colorado Trail Boss and nine more than the Z71.

My tester featured a bold Nitro Yellow Metallic paint ($395) that did as much for getting noticed as it did for brightening up my block during the testing week. Pushing the off-road vibe even further were the black-pipe rocker panel protectors, 17-inch cast aluminum wheels, and red recovery hooks. This is a great-looking pickup that’s athletic and stylish.


The Colorado ZR2 is a performance truck with standard four-wheel drive that gobbles up off-road miles as easily as it glides over the pavement. Featuring a 131.4-inch wheelbase and a curb weight of 4,940 pounds, this ZR2 has a max payload of 1,310 pounds, and a max trailering capacity of 6,000 pounds.

The 2.7-liter 4-cylinder turbo High Output powerplant under the hood is not going to blow anyone away. Offering 310 horsepower and 430 lb.-ft. of torque, and mated to a solid performing eight-speed automatic transmission, the ZR2 is quicker than the rest of the Colorado lineup. However, the special sauce for its performance is less under the hood and more in its tuning.

Maybe the biggest gripe I had about the ZR2 was its lackluster fuel economy numbers at 17 City/21 Highway/19 Combined. While this is not necessarily a selling point for this size pickup, there are many more areas that make up for it.


Inside, the cabin interior is simple with familiar round air vents at each end of the dashboard, an 8-inch digital instrumentation panel, and an 11.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system as the centerpiece. My tester had a wireless charging pad and several charging ports.

As part of a ZR2 Convenience Package III ($1,490), my tester featured Jet Black perforated, heated and ventilated leather-appointed seats with 8-way power adjustments. Seating is firm and supportive, a key if you plan to take the ZR2 off-road.

My passengers found the Colorado’s back seat to be quite comfortable with just enough legroom. You can flip the rear seat cushion up to reveal useful under-seat storage. Overall, the storage space is adequate, with door-panel bins and an unnecessarily narrow center console.

The Bed

Colorado’s cargo bed measures just over 5 feet long, and it includes eight cargo tie-down hooks and a tailgate offering a middle load position for hauling longer items. Chevy says the tailgate supports up to 500 pounds when set in the middle position. The CornerStep bumpers make it easier to climb into the bed or access items when necessary.

Upgrades for the short bed include added cargo tie-downs, a spray-in bedliner, LED cargo-bed lighting, and a 110-volt power outlet. An EZ-Lift and lower tailgate is available, along with remote tailgate locking.

While I wish the Colorado ZR2 was getting better fuel economy, it’s definitely getting better mpg than the full-size versions out there. For a 4WD, off-road warrior like the ZR2, a base price of $46,800 gets you in the door. My tester had an additional $4,400 in options and landed at $52,630 to take it home. It’s still a lot for a mid-size pickup, but ZR2 can do everything you need it to – and much more – including fitting into your garage at night.

• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations and vehicles.