Midsize pickup trucks may be the ideal vehicle if you are as much an off-road enthusiast as I am. Their smaller profile and tighter wheelbase help them handle tighter drops than larger full-size trucks. Plus, pickups tend to have a more organic integration of the 4X4 drivetrain than most SUVs, making them more of a natural for developing an off-road platform. One of the best midsize trucks is the 2021 Chevy Colorado, which won the Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Award for its vehicle class in 2020.
Now, even if you don’t live near the Rocky Mountains but still want to get high on off-roading, then Chevy has two great models of the Colorado that are purpose-built for the trail. The 2021 Chevy Colorado Z71 is an excellent pickup truck for someone new to the sport of trail running, while the 2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2 is the ultimate in an off-road midsize pickup truck with everything you could want and need to challenge the most rugged trails out there. Unlike so many other trucks out there that advertise themselves as off-road-ready but are, in fact, just packages on an existing truck, these two models of the 2021 Colorado were built from the ground up with a design for the trail.
When It Comes to an Off-Road Truck, It Starts at the Bottom
The keys to making a successful off-road vehicle are the drivetrain, suspension system, and ground clearance. The 2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2 and Z71 check all the boxes in this regard. Each is equipped with a special suspension system that is designed specifically for off-road conditions you are going to have to face when you take your Chevy truck out onto the trail.
The Colorado Z71 has a specialized off-road suspension system with an under-body transfer case shield to protect the transfer case from rocks and other debris you may encounter while taking this truck off the road. The Colorado ZR2 takes it a step up with Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve damper technology, referred to as DSSV. This is the first time this type of suspension system has been used for an off-road vehicle, and the goal is to give the Colorado ZR2 as smooth a ride as possible, so your passengers don’t soil your truck’s interior upholstery. The ZR2 also has a transfer case shield as part of the suspension system.
The Z71 has an automatic locking rear differential, in this case, an Eaton Locker, which kicks in if the system detects a difference in wheel speed of about 100 RPM. This will lock so the wheels can turn in unison to improve traction. The ZR2 offers front and rear electronic locking differentials to perform the same function. However, the ZR2 locking front and rear differentials are driver-selectable, allowing you greater control over off-road performance. Both models also have Hill Descent Control, which uses the truck’s antilock braking system to provide better control when going downhill without having to rely on the brake pedal. Electronic Traction Control will also come in handy whether you are traversing a challenging trail or simply dealing with inclement weather on the highway.
Chevy offers the Z71 with rear-wheel drive, but if you are serious about off-roading, then the only choice is a 4X4 drivetrain. The 2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2 and Z71 feature an Autotrac 2-speed transfer case as part of the four-wheel drive system. This allows you to shift from 2 wheels to 4 wheels electronically, although the system will also do this automatically if it detects changes in road conditions. While this four-wheel drive will cut into the fuel economy of your truck, the difference is slight and is more than made up for by the enhanced off-road performance.
Both the Z71 and ZR2 give you plenty of ground clearance. The Z71 has a full 8.2 inches of ground clearance, as well as a 74.3-inch width and 128.3-inch wheelbase, giving the Colorado Z71 a solid stance. The ZR2 is even higher and wider, with 10-inches of ground clearance, a slightly longer 128.5-inch wheelbase, and a much wider 76.7-inches of vehicle width. Both Colorado models ride on 17-inch wheels, with the ZR2 sporting 265/65R17 Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires. These Goodyear tires feature an aggressive tread design that has been manufactured to provide greater traction in off-road conditions.
Powertrains to Hit the Ground Running
When you want to go off-roading, you know you are going to need an engine that gives you the power to get your truck through the trail. Chevy offers the 2021 Colorado ZR2 and Z71 with a choice of two engines that are truly exceptional. The standard engine is a 3.6-liter V6 gas engine that can produce up to 308 horsepower and generate up to 275 lb-ft of torque. This engine has a dual overhead camshaft design and utilizes direct fuel injection and variable valve timing to increase efficient performance with an eye toward boosting overall horsepower, enhancing the truck’s acceleration.
If you’d prefer an engine with more torque to increase your off-road performance, you can opt for the available 2.8-liter Duramax Turbo-Diesel 4-cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. This can produce up to 181 horsepower and generate up to 369 lb-ft of torque. Its four cylinders are arranged in a dual overhead camshaft like the gas engine, and it also uses direct injection for improved performance.
The gas engine comes equipped with an 8-speed automatic transmission. This has a Tow/Haul mode that can raise transmission upshift points, so you have greater acceleration when using your truck to tow a trailer. It also increases downshift points when towing to utilize engine compression to slow your Colorado, so you don’t have to rely on the brakes as much. This is similar to the Powertrain Grade Braking on this transmission, which also uses the engine and transmission when going downhill to reduce wear and tear on your brakes.
Special Off-Road Features
One other way to really set an off-road truck apart from its competitors is the amount of specialized features and equipment that come standard or are available as options. Both the ZR2 and Z71 come with plenty of these that you could fill a few pages just listing all of them. For example, the Z71 has fog lamps, black recovery hooks, and a fully boxed frame to provide greater durability. Chevy also offers such optional equipment as performance front and mid skid plates, black rocker guards to protect the undercarriage of the Z71, as well as off-road assist steps to make it easier to enter and exit your truck when you’re out on the trail.
The ZR2 also has plenty of specialized equipment, like a fully boxed frame, fog lamps, red recovery hooks, and off-road rocker panels for better protection from rocks, logs, and other debris. You can also choose from a whole host of AEV skid plates to improve the already exceptional protection of the Colorado ZR2’s undercarriage. Chevy even offers an engine block heater on both the Z71 and ZR2 if you want to keep the engine warm in subzero conditions.
Priced to Move On and Off the Road
The amazing thing about the 2021 Chevy Colorado Z71 and ZR2 is their very affordable pricing. The Z71 model has a base MSRP of $35,500, although buying one with a 4X4 drivetrain will boost that slightly to $37,695. The ZR2 starts at an MSRP of $41,600, which represents the cost of the added equipment as well as the higher clearance and wider stance of this model. Chevy gives you the option of choosing the configuration you desire on this truck. Both the ZR2 and Z71 come with either an Extended Cab with a long payload box and a Crew Cab with a short payload box. In addition, you can get the Z71 with a Crew Cab and a long payload box if that is your preference.
Trucking Up to Colorado
Whether you choose the ZR2 or the Z71, when you get a 2021 Chevy Colorado, you are getting a truck built to handle whatever nature can dish out. The ZR2 and Z71 are truly built to handle the trail, whether you’re in Colorado or anywhere else in the country. Unlike those other trucks, the ZR2 and Z71 truly are off-road warriors. Do you really want to risk it all traversing a boulder or fording a riverbed on one of those other pretenders? Get a 2021 Chevy Colorado ZR2 or Z71 and let someone else find out the answer to that question.