We recently published the results, , how we tested and pieces from our head-to-head Challenge between the 2017 Colorado ZR2 and the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, but that testing focused on off-road capability and how the trucks performed on non-pavement surfaces.
Throughout our testing, we also did a lot of street driving from location to location and even from our homes in the greater Los Angeles area into the desert to find unpaved areas in which to run amok. Even though our focus was on the off-road performance of these competitors, pavement time gave us a good feel for how these trucks perform on the street and in day-to-day tasks. Although these observations did not factor into our scoring for the test, how these trucks do on the street is still important.
Having two different powertrains provided these trucks plenty of contrast when driving on the street. The 186-horsepower, turbo-diesel 2.8-liter four-cylinder in the ZR2 with its 369 pounds-feet of torque available at 2,000 rpm felt quicker and more potent off the line and at low speeds. Around town it got up to speed faster and was more aggressive than the Toyota, but it did run out of breath at highway speeds, especially when passing or merging. We wished for a bit more grunt.
The Tacoma TRD Pro's 278-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 puts out 265 pounds-feet of torque, but you don't get all that torque until 4,600 rpm. The engine also runs on the Atkinson cycle by default, which is better for efficiency but hurts performance. Get the engine into the higher revs and it comes alive, but in the mid-range it felt sluggish before transitioning from one intake and exhaust strategy to another. With the electronically controlled transmission switched into Power mode and with our foot heavy on the throttle, the TRD Pro had more giddy-up than the ZR2. This powertrain combo also had a big problem cruising on the highway: It wouldn't hold a gear on any kind of hill and it kicked out of Overdrive constantly, which created drone in the cabin. These deficits also made us think that the ZR2 is the preferred truck for towing because it comes standard with a trailer brake controller (the Tacoma lacks one) and it had a smoother power delivery and torque advantage.
Driving the ZR2 on the street reminded us of driving another off-road-oriented pickup: the Ford F-150 Raptor. It is a great comparison for the Chevy. Of course, the Chevy is smaller and has a shorter wheelbase, so it doesn't feel quite as composed as the Raptor, but the ZR2 shocks that do so much work on the trail also smooth things out on the street.
The TRD Pro also rides decently for an off-road-oriented vehicle; its shocks aren't quite as pliant as the ZR2's, so the ride is a bit busier feeling, but they were in no way harsh. The less aggressive tires that held the TRD Pro back a bit when off-road are quieter on pavement than the knobbier set that comes standard on the ZR2.
The TRD Pro tops the ZR2 when it comes to cabin quietness — the diesel engine and knobby tires don't do the ZR2 any favors in that regard. But the TRD Pro is not without its quirks, the seats being the main offender. We couldn't find a comfortable seating position, and the manual adjustments didn't make that any easier. For a truck that costs nearly $45,000, this is a weird feature to be missing. The seats in the Colorado had power functions and were more comfortable. Both trucks did come with standard leather seats.
When it came to multimedia systems, the ZR2 took a big win. Toyota doesn't offer Android Auto or Apple CarPlay on any of its vehicles (that even extends to Lexus, its luxury brand), so even if its system were bad those two features could pick up the slack. On top of that omission, the TRD Pro screen looked worse, was harder to use and had less functionality than the one in the ZR2. Hopefully this will be remedied during the next redesign; until then, the ZR2 is clearly ahead.
We hear the word diesel and we automatically presume a big fuel-economy win for the ZR2, but looking at the numbers that's not clear. The diesel versions of the ZR2 have EPA-estimated fuel-economy ratings of 19/22/20 mpg city/highway/combined, which beats the gas version of the ZR2 with the V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic combo handily (16/18/17 mpg).
However, that only puts the diesel ZR2 on par with the TRD Pro. That engine might cause some consternation with its power delivery, but it does have fuel-economy benefits. It has an EPA-estimated rating of 18/23/20 mpg, with its combined rating tying the ZR2 we tested.
The TRD Pro on its highway-heavy 127.6-mile route got 23.5 mpg on its trip computer and a calculated figure of 24.5 mpg, for an average of 24.0 mpg. The ZR2's route was 196.2 miles and had a bit more elevation change with some mountain roads thrown in near the Angeles Crest Highway. It returned 22.2 mpg on the computer and 22.0 calculated, good for an average of 22.1 mpg. That gives the TRD Pro a slight edge, but we think if it had run the longer route with the ZR2 it would not have done as well; that powertrain combo struggles on hills, which would have negatively impacted the fuel-economy results.
Although both these trucks are capable off-road, they don't give a lot back when it comes to daily driving and on-road performance. We would have no objections to driving either one every day, but we love pickups. Whatever quirks they have are not deal-breakers and in no way come close to canceling out their off-pavement prowess.
If you're trying to choose between these two, we suggest test-driving them before you decide. There's a big difference between the seating positions of the respective trucks and you may find that one simply fits you better. Just as our off-road testing ended with close results and praise for both rigs, we feel the same about their performance on the street.
Editor's note: This story was updated Aug. 9, 2017, to correct information about the ZR2's seats.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears