Once we posted our head-to-head feature — 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Vs. 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro — it didn’t take long to figure out that the meant we should give you more details about our testing procedures and focus.
We didn’t make this a strict apples-to-apples comparison — meaning V-6 gas engines only — because we thought it would be interesting to show how the first turbo-diesel in a serious off-roader, the Colorado ZR2, might compare with the mid-size off-road champ, the Tacoma TRD Pro. More importantly, the Colorado turbo-diesel was the first version of the vehicle we could get from GM. Often times, we can only get what manufacturers will send us. So, rather than delay the test, we decided to proceed with the GM’s pre-production turbo-diesel ZR2 to get you our thoughts as soon as possible.
We did pit the V-6 gas-engine Colorado and Tacoma against each other in our 2016 Midsize Pickup Truck Challenge. Check it out for all the details.
After some preliminary measurements (ground clearances, bed height, tire sizes, some suspension flex tests, etc.), we started our off-road-focused comparison test by taking both trucks to the Hungry Valley Off-Highway State Vehicular Recreation Area, about an hour north of Los Angeles. The state-funded park offers hundreds of miles of trails, washes and man-made obstacle courses for all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and 4x4s, making it perfect for our back-to-back comparison testing needs. We spent much of our time moving each of the pickups in and out of their off-road modes, both with and without the benefit of their respective locking differentials and/or traction control systems, to see how they fared.
Our first steps included seeing how well each pickup could get traction to the tires (none of which we aired down), and overcome the different rock and deep-hole obstacles on our short-course hill climb. These back-to-back runs allowed us to play with the different settings, get a sense for wheel slippage and suspension flexibility, as well as learn about each pickup’s limitations in a relatively safe, contained environment. This section of the test allowed us to see how well their different 4×4 technologies worked on both hard-rock and loose-dirt hill climbing. This is where we played quite a bit with Toyota’s lauded and finicky crawl control.
Then we moved to a more remote location in the park to test how well the suspensions and traction systems worked at higher speeds, finding a mile and a half stretch of rutted and whoop-de-do-lined open dirt road. We played with both trucks, again in back-to-back runs, putting each judge into each truck multiple times, in both two-wheel and four-wheel-drive high range. This testing allowed us to examine at what speeds each truck felt comfortable and where they felt pushed. You can see some of our observations, many of which focused on the various shock technologies, .
We finished our testing with a trip to one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world, as well as one of the largest and tallest open-use sand dune areas in North America: Dumont Dunes Off-Highway Vehicle Area. This gave us a chance to do some head-to-head 1/8-mile drag-racing runs in a remote and lonely section of the park to get a better sense of how these two traction-hungry pickups performed on gravel roads and open sand. We were able to evaluate the versatility of each truck’s four-wheel-driving capabilities at slow-go and higher-rpm ranges on the changing terrain. We also discovered where our own driving ability limitations exist: We got both trucks stuck in the sand. Let’s just say we learned a lot about the trucks and ourselves that day.
The half-dozen or so different types of terrains and off-road challenges we faced over the course of this test did give us a chance to see — sometimes in brutally harsh light — each truck’s strengths and weaknesses. And that was the point.
Now that it’s over, we can say both these pickups did an amazing job on everything we threw at them, with their performance differences only showing up at the fringes and extremes. That’s why the contest was so closely scored.
Ultimately, Chevy proved it did the right thing by offering a vehicle that can play in both fast and slow dirt sandboxes. For a first crack in a long time at delivering a serious off-roader to the mid-size pickup class, the ZR2 is impressive and likely to be the top off-road player for quite a while.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears