A Long-Weekend Date Day in the Colorado ZR2

An empty holiday Monday in the summer means one thing. Time to get some work done around the house. Especially if I happen to have the handyman’s best friend: a compact pickup. But just when I was ready to get to the yard work, a wrench was thrown in the works. It’s sunny and hot, which are two things that are surprisingly rare on the eastern coast of Nova Scotia. Which means that it’s time for a day of fun and a trip to the beach with my wife and the dog.

The ZR2 is Chevrolet’s off-road ready pickup. The changes are substantial, compared with the base trim ‘Rado. Changes you just might notice include, a 3.5-inch wider track and the massively bulging front and rear fenders to go with it. Or the 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac tires that are clearly designed to be taken off-road, and that fit nicely under a two-inch lift that gives the ZR2 more wheel travel and better clearance over rocks and other obstacles you’re likely to find on the trail.

Chevrolet has even made some big additions to the driveline to make the ZR2 more capable. Like electronically locking differentials both front and rear that work with the low-range locking transfer case to make sure you’re getting power to all four tires. And an off-road button that changes the traction control response, ABS, throttle, and gear shifts to give you better control off-road.

All of those extra features were bouncing around in my brain when I got the ZR2 to the edge of the beach. I moved the gearshift to neutral to engage 4Lo, I locked both diffs, and I punched the off-road button. Ready for whatever was coming my way, I eased out onto the sand. And promptly buried the truck to nearly the axles. But I’ll get back to that.

It was going to be a combination day of yard work, the beach, and off-roading. Which means I was up far too early getting ready for the day. First up was a truck challenge. I needed some mulch. Somewhere around 700 lbs of it. At 1,100 lbs, the ZR2 loses about 450 lbs of payload capacity to the regular Colorado. Blame that on the beefy off-road front bumper that limits the grille opening. I was worried that the soft sidewalls of the tall Duratracs and the soft springs and shocks would let the ZR2 wallow and roll with a bed-load of stuff, but it’s not the case. The ZR2 doesn’t seem to notice the extra weight in the bed. Unloading is a little more difficult, though. The extra two-inches of height makes the step up into the bed more of a jump.

By then it was getting hot, and it was time to head for that beach. The South Shore of Nova Scotia is home to the 1.5 mile long Crescent Beach. It’s one of the only beaches in the country you can drive on. But it’s about an hour’s drive from the city.

On the highway, the ZR2’s Multimatic dampers and the tall Duratrac tires aren’t exactly at home. The tires have a noticeable rumble at highway speeds, especially when you’re in a turn. And the optional cat-back exhaust on this truck makes the 3.6L V6 sound great when you’re accelerating but it drones on the highway. Turn up the Bose stereo a bit and you won’t notice the extra noise after a few minutes.

The tires let the truck move around more than the passenger-car style tires most trucks use, and the soft dampers mean that you’re always moving up and down at least a little. The ride never quite settles out. But it’s never intrusive, and since it’s never jarring, it is more comfortable than the ride of other compact trucks like Toyota’s Tacoma.

So back to the beach. I have all of the off-road aids turned on, the off-road dash display turned on, and I’m ready to roll. The near end of the beach is a little crowded, with plenty of cars and trucks, so I’m thinking this might be a bit of overkill. Regardless, I start the drive to the other end of the beach.

It’s handling the bumpy sand well. I’m rolling over ruts left behind by the tides, and I’m crushing some impressively large but abandoned sand castles. It’s even smoother than the ride on pavement. But I drive past the best spot for us to set up and I need to turn around.

And that’s when I turn into a soft spot. Not enough speed, a bad line, and a bit too much throttle to correct it and the self-cleaning Duratracs do just that. They have the ability to fling an impressive amount of sand, and when they do I feel the truck drop. I’ve gotten myself stuck on the beach in a purpose-built off-road truck.

I let my wife and the pupper out to enjoy the sand while I try and figure out how to fix things. First up was a check of the tide chart, because I really don’t want to have to call GM and tell them their truck is floating to Europe. Fortunately, it’s just started to recede.

It was a bit of a false alarm. All I needed to do was spend about 30-seconds kicking out the sand from behind the tires. Then let 4Lo and a touch of gas pull me out. Lesson learned about beach driving: Watch your line, and easy on the loud pedal. And don’t panic and make it worse like I almost did.

If you look at my beach photos, you’ll notice it’s not exactly sunny. That’s what a trip to the beach around here entails. Stifling heat and sun inland, fog on the coast. But at least it’s cool. A few hours of fog and waves and it’s time to start heading back home. But the day isn’t done yet. We stop to grab some sandwiches for lunch and then follow the coast heading back to the city. This road is windy and narrow, with no shoulder. It is also, of course, full of cyclists. The extra 3.5-inches of width means that I need to leave a little more space for them. So I’m slowing down more. Combine that with the blare of the optional exhaust and I’m feeling like I’m being a little too aggressive. So my apologies to the few dozen cyclists I passed.

Getting closer to the city, a series of old logging roads take you back to some beautiful hidden lakes. They’re a great spot to watch the sunset, and the roads are exactly what the ZR2 was meant for. Rutted, bumpy, jumpy, fast, and wide open.

It’s time to punch up off-road mode again and give these spool valve shocks a workout.

This is where the slightly spongy on-road manners are justified. Pounding through the dirt off-road. It’s not magic carpet smooth, but the ride is nothing short of amazing. Bumps where I’d expect to connect my head with the roof are just eaten up. Instead of dirt, it feels like I’m driving down a slightly below average stretch of highway in a sportier car. You know the bumps are there, but they aren’t doing anything to upset the ride.

It feels like the worse the bumps are, the more the ZR2 likes it. Splashing through puddles and climbing over rocks, all taken in stride. The shocks really are that impressive. Thanks to the extra ground clearance, I didn’t even need to test out the factory installed rock-rails. Though if you’re not planning to use them you might want to look into a step bar instead. This is a tall truck.

After the sun sets, it’s a quiet drive back to the main road. These woods are full of deer, and even the occasional bear. So it’s not a place for fast-moving at night. Of course, you could use the bed for other evening date night activities, but you’d probably be carried off by flies.

They aren’t the sand dunes and desert running of the Southwestern US, but logging roads are much closer to the off-road experience the rest of North America can find. The Colorado ZR2 comes back for more every time. It handles sand, rock, dirt, gravel. Plus mulch. And the dog. Who needs fake mud decals when you can throw up the real thing on the bedsides every weekend?