Trying to guess which car, SUV and pickup will win their respective categories in the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards program can be more difficult some years than others, but most folks that keep their ear to the road had the 2020 lineup of winners picked out long before the big announcement this week.
The true name of the award is North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), in spite of having a third category covering SUVs added in 2017. The NACTOY awards were first presented in 1994.
A total of 50 automotive journalists made up the NACTOY jury this year, from print, online, radio and broadcast media in both the U.S. and Canada, with the nine finalists (three per category) presented in the fall and the eventual winners awarded each year at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. This year’s announcement changed to a separate event at the TCF Center (previously called Cobo Hall/Cobo Center) in Detroit, however, due to the NAIAS rescheduling to June 7-20, 2020.
Notably, each year nominated vehicles need be completely new, totally redesigned, or significantly refreshed, or in other words the vehicle being nominated must be something most buyers would consider entirely new or wholly different from its predecessor. Additionally, each finalist earned its top-three placement via judgment of its segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction, and dollar value.
This year’s selection process began in June of 2019, with vehicle eligibility chosen after three voting rounds. NACTOY chose the independent accounting firm of Deloitte LLP for tallying up all votes and then kept them secret until the organization’s President, Lauren Fix, Vice President, Chris Paukert, and Secretary-Treasurer, Kirk Bell unsealed the envelopes on stage.
Finalists in this year’s “Car” category included Chevrolet’s Corvette, Hyundai’s Sonata and Toyota’s Supra, with the winner being the new seventh-generation mid-engine Corvette, a completely reimagined car that will totally upend the premium sports car segment. Of note, it has been six years since a sports car won the Car category, so hats off to General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and its Corvette team for designing something so sensational that it couldn’t be overlooked, while both Toyota and Hyundai should also be recognized for their superb finalists.
“A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy’s muscle-car icon. They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics,” said The Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne.
“Utility Vehicle” finalists were all entirely new to the SUV market, and included the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Lincoln Aviator. Most industry commentators seemed to believe that one of the two Hyundai Motor Group entries would win (the Palisade and Telluride are basically the same SUV below the metal), and as many guessed the Kia Telluride took home the honours.
“The Telluride’s interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics and advanced technology maintain the premium experience,” commented Cox Automotive Executive Publisher Karl Brauer. “Traditional SUV brands take note: there’s a new star player on the field.”
Finally, this year’s “Truck” of the year finalists included the Ford Ranger (new to us yet available in Asian markets for years), the completely new Jeep Gladiator, and the redesigned Ram HD (Heavy Duty)2500 and 3500, with the winner being the impressive new Gladiator. We’d have to look way back to 1999 in order to find a Jeep that won its category, incidentally, with that model being the Grand Cherokee.
“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else,” said John Voelcker, an experienced automotive journalist. “The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is … but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?”
NACTOY is an independent, non-profit organization, for your information, run by elected officers and funded by dues-paying journalist members.
Learn about the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Jeep Gladiator right here on CarCostCanada, where you can access trim, package and individual option pricing, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands during negotiations with your local retailer. Although info about the new Corvette is not available yet, at the time of writing you could get up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new Kia Telluride, or factory leasing and financing rates from 4.09 percent for the new Jeep Gladiator.
It’s easy to point the finger at Volkswagen for ridding us of the diesel, but they weren’t the only German automaker to cheat environmental regulations in order to legitimize their oil burners. Now we can thank General Motors for staying the diesel engine’s execution, at least temporarily.
Yes, no sooner am I reporting on the General’s wonderful 1.6-litre turbo-diesel powerplant and it’s already being discontinued from the 2020 Equinox lineup, relegated back to mid-size pickup truck duty. This means you’d better act fast if you want to own a new 2019 Equinox Diesel.
You may not know that Hyundai and Mazda promised diesel powertrains of their own for this very 2019 model year, but they’ve probably seen the fading light of diesel’s demise in this new “woke” era, with Hyundai recently introducing a number of all-electric SUVs, one even fueled with hydrogen. Trying to refuel that fuel cell model at Vancouver’s only hydrogen station might pose a problem unless you happen to live five minutes away like I do, but I’d still rather have the go-anywhere efficiency of a diesel.
Recently I spent a week with 1.5-litre turbo-four gasoline-powered Equinox Premium (the white one in the photos), and after that another week with the same trim with the turbo-diesel I’ve been blabbing on about (the blue version), while I’ve yet to spend a minute with the most compact crossover SUV’s most potent 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder.
The entry-level engine might initially appear a bit on the weak side thanks to only 170 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque available, at least on paper, but it was more than sufficient for this fairly lightweight compact crossover, plus it’s ultra friendly to those keeping tabs on their budgets due to a claimed Transport Canada fuel economy rating of 9.2 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 8.3 combined in FWD trim, or 9.3 city, 7.8 highway and 8.6 combined with its optional AWD.
The available 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which features AWD as standard equipment, should provide those looking for excitement with thrills aplenty thanks to 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, but despite the impressive nine-speed automatic it comes mated to, which adds up to three extra gears over the two less potent engines’ six-speed automatic transmissions, the more advanced drivetrain manages only 10.9 L/100km in the city, 8.3 on the highway and 9.7 combined.
Incidentally, all models come standard with auto stop/start, which instantly turns off the engine when the Equinox comes to a full stop, and then automatically restarts it when lifting off the brake pedal, the process helping reduce emissions and fuel usage.
All in all, the above numbers are really quite decent when comparing them to competitors with similar performance, but both gasoline-fueled models don’t come close to matching the fuel economy of the Equinox Diesel, that gets an 8.5 L/100km city, 6.0 highway (6.1 with AWD) and 7.4 combined claimed rating. Then again, line those numbers up next to the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s figures and the Chevy almost looks gluttonous, what with a mere 5.8 L/100km of city consumption, plus 6.3 on the highway and 6.0 combined, plus the Japanese model’s $32,090 entry price is about a thousand cheaper than the least expensive Equinox LT FWD model, which starts at $33,100. It’s $6,400 more than the $26,700 base Equinox LS as well, and $5,300 less than the $38,400 Equinox AWD Premier Diesel shown on this page. All-wheel drive adds $2,400 to the base LS price, incidentally, while the sportier Equinox AWD 2.0 Premier is available from $37,900.
I should mention that all the quoted prices above don’t include the destination charge or any other fees, but you can check such details plus all the prices of trims, packages and individual options right here on CarCostCanada, where we also provide you the latest manufacturer rebates (especially helpful during year-end clear-outs) as well as dealer invoice pricing that could easily save you thousands.
Now that we’re talking savings, Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV is the compact SUV class’s most efficient model by a long shot, but with a base price of $43,498 (before government rebates) it’s a lot more expensive, which makes GM’s duo of diesels the most efficient non-electrified crossover pairing in the compact crowd. Combine that with diesel pump pricing that’s usually a lot lower than regular unleaded, and it should save you money if you drive enough. It should be noted the 2.0-litre turbo is thriftier than a number of similarly powerful compact crossovers too, so big marks to GM for offering so many engine and transmission options, plus making them all better than average when it comes to fuel economy.
I have to admit to preferring the diesel-turbo to the base gasoline-powered turbo-four, both from a performance and efficiency perspective. The diesel might only put out 137 horsepower, but it delivers a much stronger 240 lb-ft of torque down, and like the base engine it’s all available from just 2,000 rpm.
Also impressive, the Equinox’ AWD system aids fuel economy even more. Unlike the majority of SUVs in this class that use full-time AWD systems, or employ a viscous-type coupling that causes the rear wheels to engage automatically, GM’s SUVs use the front wheels to drive until traction becomes a problem, at which point a warning appears within the instrument cluster and you’re recommended to switch over to AWD by pressing a button on the lower centre console. I first questioned whether or not my Equinox was fitted with AWD when my front tires kept breaking traction during takeoff, this due to all of the diesel’s rubber-smoking torque, but after noticing the AWD button and then putting it into action, no more squealing tires.
Another bonus was the base six-speed automatic, which while down a couple of gears from some others in this class, including the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four, was nevertheless very responsive. You can even row through the gears by flicking a rocker switch on top of the shift knob with your thumb, which is an unusual but welcome alternative to shifting the whole gear lever or pulling on a set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (now that I mentioned that, don’t try to shift by pulling the buttons on the backside of the Equinox’ steering wheel, as you’ll probably just swap radio stations). Back to that six-speed, I never found it lacking gears, as each engine provided plenty of torque over very wide rev ranges, and the transmission shifted nice and smooth no matter whether I was doing so manually or leaving it to its own devices.
The Equinox also has a nice smooth suspension, which is par for the course when talking about GM products, other than performance-first models like the Corvette Z06. Back to the compact crossover SUV segment, the Equinox takes to corners well too, easily providing a level of smile-inducing sporty performance. It feels light in weight, nimble, and plenty of fun through the curves, plus it’s great at zipping in and out of heavy inner-city traffic, or just cruising down the freeway.
I was able to take in the Equinox Premier’s impressive interior better during more relaxed stints behind the wheel, however. It’s finished to a higher degree than some of its key rivals, a quality factor that immediately becomes noticeable when closing the driver’s door. It just feels more solid and better built than a number of its tinnier challengers, with this refinement continuing throughout the cabin. For instance, both smooth and perforated patterned and contrast-stitched leatherette covers the entire instrument panel, while tastefully applied aluminum-like accents dress up the steering wheel, the primary gauge cluster, each dash vent, the centre stack switchgear, and the lower console controls.
A weakness is the amount of pliable interior plastics, but Chevy does cover each armrest plus much of the door inserts and uppers in a padded, contrast-stitched leatherette, while it finishes off the rest of those door uppers in a synthetic soft paint that also is used for dressing up the dash top and much of the instrument panel, plus the top edges of the centre stack and lower console. To clarify, this isn’t the type of paint that eventually peels off, but instead it is permanently bonded to the plastic and therefore provides a nicer texture than the usual hard shell plastic found in this class.
Pushing such premium touches yet further upstream is a truly nice set of steering wheel switchgear, my test model even featuring a heated steering wheel rim as well as adaptive cruise control, while some of the buttons at hand actuated the colour multi-information display in the otherwise analogue gauge package, this incorporating a digital readout for traffic sign info, plus a back seat reminder that detects whether or not you opened the rear doors before departing on your journey, and when arriving warns that something or someone might have been left in the rear passenger compartment.
Lastly, the Equinox tops off its centre stack with a truly impressive infotainment touchscreen. I really like the clear and elegantly simple circular graphics and bright colours used for the main menu interface, which look modern, fresh and are easy to sort out. Chevy has created one of the best infotainment systems in the mainstream industry, and while some competitors might offer larger touchscreens, this eight-inch system is brilliantly sharp thanks to excellent resolution, and provides deep, rich colours with superb contrast. The navigation system’s map is clear and easy to read, while inputting addresses is easy, plus the route guidance was totally accurate each time I used it. I only wish the satellite radio interface showed album cover graphics, but that was hardly a deal-breaker.
The Equinox infotainment system also includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, plus one of the best 360-degree parking monitors I’ve ever experienced. From its default mode, which makes the “bird’s-eye” view surround camera smaller and puts it to the left of the display with a bigger rearview camera along with its dynamic guidelines to the right, it can be switched up to a full reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, or instead provide a different view of that same backup camera, an overhead view of that rear camera, or alternatively a weird frontal view that actually seems as if the SUV is being filmed from a drone hovering slightly ahead and above. There are simultaneous views of the curb and road, ultra-close-ups of the front, plus more. This camera kept me spellbound for at least an hour. By the way, both this top-tier camera system and the entry-level version were upgraded for image quality this year.
Just below the infotainment display is a two-zone auto HVAC interface that’s nicely organized and attractive, but my favourite set of buttons activated the three-way heatable and/or cooled front seats, the second of these items rarely available in this category, but really appreciated for keeping backside dry and cool during summer’s heat.
Follow the centre stack down to its base and you’ll find a sizeable compartment with a rubberized floor that’s ideal for a big smartphone. Chevy included a wireless charging pad, always convenient, plus the Equinox went from one regular USB-A port to a set of USBs, one for the usual A plug and another for new USB-C connectors, which is what my Samsung S9 uses. An aux plug and 12-volt charger come standard as well, while two additional USB charging ports can be found in a bin under the front centre armrest.
Glance upward and you’ll find an overhead console housing a sunglasses holder, LED reading lights, plus controls for OnStar, SOS, etcetera, plus of course switchgear for the panoramic sunroof and its powered sunshade. I love big glass roofs like this, because they shed plenty of light inside, brightening the entire vehicle’s ambience.
Of course, none of this would matter if the Equinox wasn’t comfortable, and to that end it provided plenty of room for my medium-build five-foot-eight body, as well as an excellent driving position that gave me total support and kept me in full control. Such isn’t always the case. In fact, some rivals’ tilt and telescopic steering won’t reach far enough rearward to compensate for my need to pull the driver’s seat far enough rearward for my longer than average legs (for a five-foot-eight person at least).
What’s more, when my driver’s seat was set up for my long-legged short torso body type, I still had about eight inches of room for my knees when sitting behind in the second row, and plenty of space from side to side plus about two inches over my head. The panoramic sunroof noted a moment ago pushed the surrounding roof area down a couple of inches than it would have if not included, but not a problem for me.
As far as rear seat features go, the Equinox Premier gets a set of LED reading lights on both sides, two additional USB-A charging ports (new for 2019), a regular household-style three-prong 120-volt socket, and the best rear seat heaters I’ve ever tried out, in that their three-way controls adjust the lower cushion and the backrest temperatures, or just the back alone. I don’t think you’ll hear a lot of complaints from the kiddos, but being that the rear seatbacks are divided 60/40 with no centre pass-through, active families that ski will be forced to play rock, paper, scissors for the heated side.
I like that Chevy incorporates levers on the cargo wall for folding those rear seatbacks down automatically. Just pull on them once and the seats drop down quickly, expanding the already sizeable 847-litre (29.9 cu-ft) dedicated cargo area to a really big 1,809 litres (63.9 cu ft).
Being just a year into its lifecycle, the 2019 Equinox looks identical to the 2018 model, but nevertheless GM has put a great deal of effort into rejigging trims and packages. To begin, a new Lights and Bright package is available with the second-rung LT, adding a chromed grille surround, LED headlights and tail lamps, as well as a special set of 19-inch alloys. Front-drive LT models no longer include a standard leather-clad shift knob, however, but it’s now part of an upgrade package.
My test model did feature a $2,995 Driver Confidence and Convenience II package, mind you, which is exclusive to Premier trim and includes the 360-degree parking monitor mentioned before, plus auto high beams, dynamic cruise control with stop-and-go, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, a safety alert seat that vibrates when veering out of your lane or causing any other number of issues, a heated steering wheel, an eight-way powered front passenger seat with power lumbar, and the cooled driver and front passenger seats, plus the heatable rear seats mentioned earlier.
You can also get the Driver Confidence II or Driver Convenience II packages separately, while my tester wore a no-cost set of 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. I won’t go into detail about all the options available, but suffice to say that anyone wanting to personalize their Equinox won’t have a problem.
On that note my test model included a $1,305 Infotainment II package as well, featuring the aforementioned panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, HD radio, and a different set of 19-inch alloys, while some Premier trim highlights include LED headlamps and taillights, chromed door handles and mirror housings, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and auto-dimming outside mirrors, a leather-clad steering wheel rim, a colour multi-information display, a universal garage door opener, two-zone auto climate control, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (the base model gets a 7.0-inch display), wireless smartphone charging, rear parking assist, blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, a hands-free power tailgate, and more.
If you’re not convinced the Equinox is worthy of your attention by now, you’ve already made up your mind on something else. If you’re still on the fence, however, or just starting to search, make sure to include this impressive compact crossover SUV on your list. Just remember, however, that the diesel option will be cancelled soon, so claim yours if you like the idea of driving seriously far on a single tank of fuel. No matter the engine the Equinox is a good choice.
The Colorado ZR2 is one wicked looking pickup truck. Chevrolet got the design just right, and together with its beefy styling and rugged suspension, GM’s most popular brand has brought one impressive off-road race replica to market.
To be clear, Chevy wasn’t first to this market sector and certainly won’t be the final entry. While there are probably others I should mentioned, Dodge’s Power Wagon was one of the street-capable off-road race truck initiators, although today’s 4×4 fans will likely point to the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor as first on the scene, as far as OEM custom off-roaders go.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) Ram brand has tried to answer back with its 2016 to present 1500 Rebel, which is much like previous Power Wagons with bolder frontal styling, while Toyota arrived a few years ago with its Tundra and Tacoma TRD Pro packages, the latter recently adding a snorkel-style air intake that makes it appear like it can swim across rivers, through mud holes, or any other deep, liquid barrier.
Right about now I should also draw your attention to the fresh new 2020 Jeep Gladiator, which when suited up in Rubicon trim might be the most credible 4×4 in the mid-size pickup category (it’s definitely has good roots), while delivering payload and trailering capacities that compete well too.
While I’m covering all of these trail-rated cargo (and family) haulers I need to mention Chevrolet’s recently re-skinned Silverado that can be specified in new Trail Boss trim with a two-inch lift kit, improving off-road capability over its GMC Sierra Elevation cousin, but other than this the Trail Boss is mostly about cosmetics, whereas Nissan offers tough Pro-4X trims on its aging Frontier and more up-to-date Titan half-ton and heavy-half Titan XD models. Lastly, Honda offers its Ridgeline with a Black Edition and… well… it’s no CRF250X, let alone ZR2 rival.
The Gladiator Rubicon and Tacoma TRD Pro are the only mid-size ZR2 competitors capable of whacking through the wilderness (GMC’s Canyon doesn’t provide anything quite as 4×4-worthy), and the Chevy can be made even more capable with its Bison upgrade package, yet all of the above deserve comment (including the 2018 to present Ford Ranger Raptor that’s now getting snapped up by wealthier off-road enthusiasts in Asia).
Obviously size matters, with the North American Raptor, the Rebel (Power Wagon), the Tundra, and the Silverado/Sierra fraternal twins being full-size models, and the Tacoma, Ranger, Frontier, and this Colorado (plus the Canyon) more compact in their mid-size proportions.
Another big differentiator is the powertrains on offer, and being that this review is about a mid-size model I’ll focus on its key rivals, with most incorporating four-cylinder and (when equipped to compete off the beaten path) V6 gasoline-powered engines. The two GM mid-size trucks do likewise, but they also buck tradition by adding a high-torque, fuel-efficient turbo-diesel mill.
So, let’s focus in on the standard and optional ZR2 powertrains and how each measures up when compared to its Jeep and Toyota challengers, and then factor in some of their 4×4-related features. For starters, I spent a week with each engine, starting with a greyish Deepwood Green Metallic painted one that’s in fact a 2018 model (I’ll talk about the differences later in this review). This optional colour was cancelled for 2019, but the superb 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel four-cylinder under its bulging hood remains. It makes 181 horsepower and a best-in-segment 369 lb-ft of torque from a mere 2,000 rpm, and comes paired to a strong six-speed automatic transmission.
It’s fuel-efficient compared to rivals thanks to a 12.5 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 11.7 combined Transport Canada rating, but whether or not its stingy enough to justify its lofty $4,090 price tag will depend on the number of years and kilometres you plan to employ its service, or if you really want to take advantage of its efficiency for travelling farther into the wild yonder than gasoline-powered 4×4 owners dare go, or if you appreciate the tractability of its massive torque when trekking into said wilderness more than the immediate power its V6 offers.
Behind the blackened grille of the Kinetic Blue Metallic painted (a $495 option) 2019 ZR2 is the standard 3.6-litre V6 that produces 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque from 4,000 rpm. Just like the diesel, the V6 powers the rear axle or both diffs via part-time four-wheel drive, but unlike the diesel the standard engine’s gearbox is an even more economical eight-speed unit. The combo results in an estimated 15.0 L/100km in the city, 13.0 on the highway and 14.1 combined, partly due to cylinder deactivation when less performance is needed, and while decent it’s hardly the GM engine of choice for driving past pumps.
The Gladiator, on the other hand, only comes with FCA’s 3.6-litre V6, which makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That’s off by 23 horsepower and 15 lb-ft when compared to the base ZR2 V6, although it offers up a standard six-speed manual (no such luck with the ZR2) or alternatively an eight-speed auto, plus part-time 4WD, and comes with a Transport Canada rating that ranges between 10.4 and 14.1 L/100km city/highway combined depending on trims and transmissions.
As for the Tacoma TRD Pro, it’s standard with Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6 that puts out 276 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is down some 32 horsepower and 10 lb-ft of torque on the V6-powered ZR2, and mates up to a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto plus part-time 4WD, while achieving city/highway combined fuel economy ranging from 11.9 to 12.9 L/100km, depending on transmissions and cabs.
All of the above V6s will outrun the Duramax turbo-diesel by significant margins, something I immediately noticed when setting out in the 2019 Colorado, but the advantage of the diesel’s 109, 104 and 94 lb-ft of torque advantage when compared to the Gladiator, Tacoma and ZR2 V6 respectively, gives the diesel big advantages on the trail, plus of course its 11.7 city/highway combined fuel economy that can only be beaten by one single Gladiator trim (and I’d be shocked to witness the FCA V6 winning out in real-world back-to-back tests).
Engine torque is important when off-road, but there are other factors that are even more important when leaving pavement, such as ground clearance, front and rear overhangs, and wheelbase length to name a few. The Tacoma provides the shortest wheelbase at 3,236 mm (127.4 in), but its 5,392-mm (212.3-in) nose-to-tail length means its overhangs are more pronounced, resulting in a truck that won’t hang up as easily when scaling sharp crests or other obstacles, but will probably scrape its front and rear bumpers when approaching a steep incline or levelling off after a radical decline. By comparison, the Colorado’s wheelbase is nearly as short at 3,258 mm (128.3 in), but improves on approach and departure angles with the shortest overall length of 5,347 mm (210.5 in), whereas the Gladiator has the longest wheelbase by far at 3,487 mm (137.3 in), plus it measures a limousine-like 5,537 mm (218.0 in) from front to back (ok, not quite as long as a limo, but you get my drift).
To clarify, I’ve only tested the 2018 and 2019 ZR2 models plus a 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro (it now includes the aforementioned snorkel and a number of other improvements), so I can’t offer a full critique of the latest TRD Pro or the Gladiator. As noted earlier, I had a version of the 2018 ZR2 with the Duramax Turbo-Diesel for a week, plus spent a week with a 2019 V6-powered variant, and mostly drove them around town and within suburban, rural areas on tarmac, but also took both out on the trail, the latter deep diving in hood-high standing water. I tested the previous Tacoma off-road too, and I had no trouble negotiating the chosen trail, but being a different location and a long time ago (two years is eons in vehicle development time), a direct comparo wouldn’t be fair.
On that note I hope to test a Gladiator Rubicon this summer, and you can bet I’ll be getting it as dirty as possible when I do. It features a disconnecting front sway bar to help with articulation (something I first experienced in a Ram Power Wagon, and is now also part of the Ram 1500 Rebel upgrade), plus it uses the Wrangler’s solid front axle that’s considered an improvement over the independent front suspensions used by the ZR2 and most other modern pickup trucks. Of course, I’ll make sure to use experiences from my ZR2 tests as part of my future Gladiator review.
Like the first 2017 Colorado ZR2 and the greenish-grey 2018 turbo-diesel model partially reviewed here, the newest 2019 ZR2 receives the same substantial increase in ride height, and therefore gets the same 50-mm (2.0-inch) increase in ground clearance, while any high-speed handling negatives are offset by 90 mm (3.5 inches) of increased front and rear track, plus stiffer new cast-iron lower front control arms, and a unique set of 8- by 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road rubber.
What’s more, a 1.0-inch-diameter solid anti-roll bar replaces the usual 1.5-inch hollow one, improving suspension articulation, while last but hardly least are special Multimatic DSSV Position Sensitive Spool Valve Damping Performance shocks that help cushion the otherwise jarring impacts of rocks, roots and other obstacles you might find along an ungraded back road or trail (the TRD Pro utilizes Fox-sourced shocks, by the way, which are rated highly as well).
The skid plates below and tubular rocker extensions at each side are easier to see, both having been designed to protect vulnerable components beneath as well as low hanging bodywork, but the ZR2’s matte black grille and even more aggressive black domed hood make it even more noticeable to onlookers, not to mention its rugged black bumpers that get abbreviated at each corner to improve approach and departure angles, and extended black fender flares that make room for its all-terrain rubber.
The local 4×4 park chosen is one I test trucks and SUVs on regularly, so I’m familiar with its plentiful obstacles. While difficult for many presumed off-roaders, most of its challenges are a cakewalk for the ZR2, but were still intimidating without a spotting crew to guide me through. During the diesel’s mostly dry afternoon I was able to drag the rear-mounted spare tire over some deep rutted knolls plus up and down some steep terrain, once again finding ground at the rear (but not the front), while I was able to lift the left rear into midair and leave it there spinning (a silly thing some 4×4 fans do for kicks), and while there was a lot more skill remaining in this truck than my dirt playground could not fully extract, I was able to prove that the ZR2 is capable enough for serious off-road duty, yet still plenty comfortable.
The second off-road adventure with the 2019 ZR2 came mid-winter, on a particularly cold and rainy day. Rain means mud at best and massive pools of standing water at worst (or maybe best, depending on how you look at it). The steep grades that were child’s play before required locking both front and rear differentials now (just like with the Gladiator, albeit not so with the Taco TRD Pro that only includes lockers at the rear), but doing so allowed easy control all the way up and all the way down. Even better, partway into a 50-foot puddle my heart started to race when the truck’s front end slipped deeper into a set of ruts, forcing dirty water across the top of the hood and even onto the windshield, but a steady foot on the throttle allowed the meaty tires to keep momentum up, and the ZR2 pulled me to the other side without fanfare (other than my pounding heart). At that point I was wishing I’d had the TRD Pro’s snorkel, but obviously the ZR2 didn’t need it, this time around at least.
The thought of swamping an engine (which would void the warranty) makes the $6,980 need for the ZR2’s Bison package seem cheap. Of course, the Bison package wouldn’t have necessarily helped in this situation (it really should include a snorkel, if not just for style points), and I can’t say I’d want the ZR2 in Red Hot paint (I’d rather have the option of colours), but it gets design points for its bold “CHEVROLET” emblazoned grille (similar to the Raptor’s “FORD” grille replacement), unique AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) front and rear bumpers (the one up front capable of accepting a winch), the beefier black extended fender flares, special 17-inch AEV alloy wheels, fog lights, contoured front and rear floor liners, and about 90 kilograms (200 lbs) of super-strong boron steel AEV skid plates (front, transfer case, fuel tank, and rear differential) to better protect its vital components.
Of course, the ZR2 is still extremely capable without Bison upgrades, and quite a standout in the styling department too. The regular Colorado a bit tame to my eyes, at least when compared to most competitors, specifically the latest Tacoma and new Gladiator, but the ZR2’s bulging domed matte black louvered hood, redesigned matte black front bumpers and rear bumpers, exposed skid plates, robust tubular rocker protectors, and other trim upgrades give it a tougher look. Look beyond the machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets and you’ll be able to see the bright yellow Multimatic dampers, unless they’re covered in dirt.
The ZR2’s lack of side steps might look good and not hang up on protruding trail debris, but it hampers access for shorter folk like me. There aren’t any Corner Steps on the back bumper to provide a leg up to the bed either, these issues being the only complaints I have against this special model.
Once inside I enjoyed the view provided by the aforementioned ride height and the Colorado’s inherently great sightlines in all directions. This helps in traffic, of course, possibly even giving you the edge needed to find your way up to the front of the pack. There’s where you’ll enjoy V6 performance, the larger of the two being a good choice for those wanting power over fuel efficiency. The V6 delivers a decided jump off the line and then keeps up the pace right up to legal highway speeds and beyond, while the diesel only jumps off the line initially, and simply can’t maintain the same level of forward thrust as its revs rise. This will be just find for diesel enthusiasts like me, because the engine helps it feel more like a work truck capably going about its business, and of course it pays big dividends when it comes time to fill up.
Colorado ZR2 buyers won’t have to make a choice about handling, fortunately, because both engines manage corners equally well. Even with its increased suspension, or possibly because of it, the ride is fairly smooth and quite comfortable, unless jumping curbs. Those slightly firmer Multimatic dampers, which work so very well off-road, also help to reduce body roll at higher speeds on pavement, resulting in a truck that’s surprisingly athletic through high-speed serpentine curves, unless you’re attempting to go quicker than anything so top-heavy and obviously 4×4-focused is supposed to go. Braking is pretty good too, but once again we shouldn’t get in over our heads. The ZR2 weighs in at 1,987 kg (4,381 lbs), and more when upgraded with the aforementioned Bison package, so judge stopping distances accordingly.
As per usual I only pushed the ZR2 hard during testing, and no matter the surfaces driven over or the speeds attained, the driver’s seat was comfortable and supportive. I especially appreciated the lateral support provided by its big side bolsters, which stopped me sliding sideways on what could have otherwise been slippery leather.
The upholstery was dyed black as usual, albeit highlighted with a red embroidered “2” as part of the otherwise black “ZR2” insignia on the headrests. The ZR2’s steering wheel receives no such name recognition, but it has a meaty rim that’s wrapped in soft and comfortable leather, with grippy baseball-style stitching in the middle. Other than its four-spoke design it appears more like the type of sport steering wheel you’d find in a performance car, and thanks to the generous reach of its standard tilt and telescoping steering column I fit in perfectly. I was able to sit upright with the steering wheel perfectly positioned for my long-legged, short torso, five-foot-eight, slight-build body, safely and comfortably with my hands at the optimal nine and three o’clock positions, further allowing an easy reach to the pedals below and once again, great visibility all-round.
The rear seating area of this Crew Cab, short box configured ZR2 (the ZR2 can also be had with an Extended Cab and a long box) is roomy for adults (and kids) of all shapes and sizes. When the driver’s seat was positioned for my height, there was still about five inches in front of my knees and more than enough room for my feet, plus I had another three to four inches over my head, and five inches from my shoulders and hips to the door, plus I’d guess you could seat a smaller person comfortably between the two outboard positions. With only two in back, more comfort can be accessed via a wide centre armrest filled with large cupholders that include rubber grips to hold cups or bottles in place. Other handy features include twin rear USB ports and a 12-volt charger.
If you want to keep your gear dry and safe from theft, the rear seat headrests fold forward and the backrests tumble flat so you can lay your belongings on top, or instead you can lift the lower seat cushion up to expose a storage compartment underneath, this complete with every tool you’ll need to lower the spare tire from below the bed and then change the wheel.
Seats and armrests aside, the ZR2 doesn’t offer any soft, pliable composite surface treatments in the rear, but back up front the dash top receives a nice soft paint to absorb sound and make it more appealing to touch, as does much of the instrument panel. It should also be noted this isn’t the priciest trim in Chevy’s Colorado fleet, due to being optimized primarily for off-road purposes, but it was certainly nice enough for this class of truck. On the positive are some attractive metal-like accents around the centre stack and lower console, plus the door handles and armrests. The door handles inside are chromed too, as are the centres of some knobs on the centre stack.
The primary gauge cluster is legible in all lighting conditioned thanks to bright background lighting and good shielding from sunlight. It’s filled with the usual tachometer to the left and speedometer on the right, with a fuel gauge and engine temperature meter topping off a fairly large 4.2-inch high-resolution colour multi-information display just below at centre.
The latter is controlled with a pad of four arrows on the right-side steering wheel spoke, which when pushed provides a bright menu of multicoloured functions including info, audio, phone, navigation, options, and more, while the navigation system provides directions within the gauge cluster’s multi-info display where they can be seen more easily without removing eyes too far from the road ahead, with more detailed mapping shown on the large 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen over on the centre stack (this 8.0-inch display is now standard with all Colorado trims except the base Work Truck or WT that still does ok with its new 7.0-inch touchscreen).
That larger touchscreen includes Chevy’s well laid-out, bright, and colourful HD menu display that seems as if it was inspired by Apple’s iPhone/iPad, which I think is a good thing, but if you want something even more inline with Cupertino you can plug your phone into a specified USB to access the standard Apple CarPlay app, or alternatively Android Auto (although I don’t like it anywhere near was much). I’m glad that Chevy gives us these smartphone connectivity alternatives, while also featuring an audio system that can be easily connected to a phone with Bluetooth wireless streaming, or alternatively you can listen to satellite radio, plus all the classic AM/FM/HD radio stations.
The navigation system worked well, with accurate routing and nicely detailed mapping that was easy enough to sort out. I only wished that it warned me of a turn sooner, but instead it gave instant notice and even then the directions were in black and white and fairly small, making them hard to make out. Larger, brighter and in colour would’ve been ideal, and saying something like “Turn right in 50 meters”. I liked that the infotainment system received text messages and provided a number of stock responses for communicating safely while driving, while other useful apps include OnStar, traffic info, and shopping (not sure about that last one while driving though).
Along with navigation, the ZR2 includes a fabulous high-definition backup camera with active guidelines (but in need to inform you the Gladiator’s reportedly has front and rear trail cams that can even be cleaned via the infotainment system), with some other standard ZR2 features including a phone charging pad placed just in front of the centre armrest (standard with Z71 trim and above), plus a USB port inside the armrest if your phone needs wired power. Chevrolet also provides two more USB ports (one supporting new USB C-type devices) and an aux port, plus an available SD card reader, within another storage bin at the base of the centre stack, allowing you and your devices to be well cared for. Finally, the latest Colorado includes a second microphone mounted closer to the front passenger to improve the voice quality of Bluetooth hands-free connected phones, while a personal favourite had nothing to do with connectivity, but rather the ZR2’s heated steering wheel that warmed my hands on some cold winter mornings, this now standard with all trims above the LT.
Speaking of warmth, standard ZR2 features include GM’s superb heated front seats that not only warm up the lower cushion and backrest together, but can be adjusted to only heat the latter, which is great for people like me who occasionally suffer from lower back pain and just want some temporary relief. This in mind, the ZR2 only includes single-zone automatic climate control, not the expected dual-zone design provided to top-line versions of the Tacoma and Gladiator.
I think most of us could live without such a luxury, but I really appreciate having proximity-sensing entry and a pushbutton ignition system. The ZR2 doesn’t get a sunroof either, which might bother those wowed by Jeep’s removable roof. I appreciated the padded sunglasses holder on the overhead console, and the reading lights were decent enough, but they’re only incandescent lamps, not LEDs. The centre mirror is auto-dimming, however, plus along with OnStar it includes a button for voice activation as well as an “SOS” one to reach out for help when required.
A row of useful switches can be found on the centre stack too, including one for turning off the stability control, plus a bed light, hill descent control, an exhaust brake that’s useful when towing, a hazard light, and finally two individual toggles for the front and rear differential locks noted before.
Trailering in mind, the ZR2’s towing capacity is rated at 2,268 kilos (5,000 lbs) no matter which engine is being used, while its payload is a sizeable 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs) with the four-door short-bed or 528 kg (1,164 lbs) with the extended-cab long-bed. The Tacoma TRD Pro, on the other hand, is capable of a 2,900-kg (6,400-lb) tow rating and a payload of 454 kg (1,000 lbs), whereas the Gladiator Rubicon (the closest to the ZR2) can trailer up to 2,040 kg (4,500 lbs) and haul a payload of up to 544 kg (1,200 lbs) with the manual, or drag 3,175 kg (7,000 lbs) of trailer weight or carry 526 kg (1,160 lbs) on its backside when equipped with its automatic.
You may have noticed that I haven’t covered all of the ZR2’s comfort and convenience features in this review, but take note they’re easily available on the Chevrolet retail website or right here at CarCostCanada, where I sourced all 2019 Colorado pricing info including trims, packages and standalone options, not to mention money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing. Suffice to say it’s well equipped for its $46,100 Extra Cab base price, or $47,600 when opting for the Crew Cab, plus freight and fees of course.
No matter the Colorado ZR2 powertrain you choose, you’ll be getting a well-designed mid-size pickup truck that can overcome nearly any obstacle on or off the road. I’d opt for the diesel with the Bison upgrade and find an aftermarket snorkel, but hey, it’s easy to say that without following through on a payment plan. It’s great that Chevy provides so many options, allowing plenty of opportunity to personalize.