- Both the Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport and the Chevy Colorado ZR2 are aimed at people who want to go off-road in their pickups.
- We sampled these midsize off-road warriors back-to-back.
- The Chevy Colorado ZR2 is a nicer truck. The Toyota TRD Sport is very capable, though less refined.
Chevy is credited with single-handedly reviving the compact-pickup-truck segment in the US, but the truth is that Toyota has long ruled it with its Tacoma. It was just that the “Taco” stood more or less alone, with only the Nissan Frontier to challenge it in the entry-level-pickup space.
The Chevy Colorado arrived in 2014 to crash the party. By rights, this segment isn’t the same as it was back in the day when the Chevy S-10 and the Ford Ranger were in the game. These new pickups are midsize, sitting a notch below the big stuff – Chevy’s Silverado and Toyota’s Tundra, for example.
I recently had a chance to check out the off-road, high-performance version of the Chevy Colorado, the ZR2. Soon after, I borrowed the Tacoma TRD Sport, the competition from Toyota.
OK, I didn’t go rock busting or explore a desert. But I did tool around in both trucks on the daunting winter roads of suburban New Jersey.
Here’s what I thought.
Editorial note: I heard from a number of readers about this comparison. Many asked why I hadn’t put the ZR2 up against a TRD Pro. The answer is that that the TRD Pro wasn’t available, and in any case, the TRD Sport stacked up pretty well. But I’ll be testing the TRD Pro in April, so look forward to a rematch.
Let’s start with the fetching 2018 Colorado ZR2, in “Cajun red tintcoat.”
Our test truck was $US43,475 – the Colorado ZR2 is already a lot pricier than the $US20,000 basic Colorado, but our tester came well-optioned out of the box before a few extras added about $US700.
Our ZR2 came with a crew cab and a “short box” bed. Some folks don’t much like short boxes, but I think that for most owners it’s ideal.
The Colorado ZR2 kind of blends aggression with sporty sleekness. But I don’t think the various fascia elements — grille, badge, headlights — are in good balance.
The stickers are angular and jazzy.
You have electronic locking differentials in the front and rear, so the Colorado ZR2 is ready for serious off-roading.
The front underbelly and rear transfer case are also shielded, so rock busting won’t cripple your pickup.
But I could do without this plastic faux hood scoop.
The bed is on the smaller side, but if you’re headed off-road, hauling capacity isn’t necessarily top of mind.
For daily duty, there’s plenty of room in the box for mountain bikes, camping gear, and home-improvement supplies.
On paper, the 308-horsepower, 3.6-litre V6 could be construed as underpowered. But in my hands, it was anything but. This pickup has nice pop.
The ZR2’s 0-60 has been clocked at a respectable six seconds. The motor is smoothly responsive, with solid – if not stunning – torque.
I’m a fan of naturally aspirated V6s that simply get the job done. The ZR2’s six-pot is a stout motor that’s unlikely to give owners a lot of trouble.
Fuel economy is meh: 16 mpg city/18 highway/17 combined. But you don’t buy a performance off-roading pickup to save on gas.
The ZR2’s power is channeled to the four-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The shifting was smooth. The transmission isn’t tuned to race for the upper gears to save fuel either. It holds in second through fifth to produce a sporty, powerful feel.
The interior is nice, nearly premium without being luxurious. That’s by design — this isn’t a truck meant to be babied, so the interior has to be able to endure some punishment.
For the driver, the instruments and steering wheel are pretty no-nonsense.
Beyond heated seats, cruise control, and the nicely appointed leather-wrapped steering wheel, you don’t get a lot of driver-assist features with the ZR2. But an off-road warrior such as this doesn’t need a suite of technologies that would be more at home on the freeway.
Here’s something retro: You start the Colorado ZR2 with a key in the ignition. No push-button!
We’ve liked the IntelliLink infotainment system on all Chevys, and in the ZR2 it’s up to snuff, though the screen is small.
Bluetooth device pairing is a snap, and there are USB/AUX options for plugging in gadgets.
Like all GM vehicles, the Colorado ZR2 has 4G LTE WiFi connectivity.
Our tester didn’t have the Bose audio system that we’ve enjoyed in many other vehicles from the brand, but the more basic stereo still sounded pretty good when we fired up the classic-vinyl station on Sirius XM.
Now to the more utilitarian 2017 Tacoma TRD Sport 4×4, in “quicksand.” Maybe not the best name for a colour, but it will probably look good dirty.
The Toyota stickered at $US38,031, which is a premium over the $US25,000 base Taco.
Like the ZR2, the TRD Sport was already set up with many options, but the add-on did contribute more to the final price.
Still, the Tacoma is thousands cheaper than the Colorado.
Obviously, we could get the more robust and pricier TRD Pro and put it up against the ZR2. And we intend to do that in a few months.
The TRD Sport came with an “access cab” — just two doors — and a longer bed than the Colorado, at 6 feet.
You can sacrifice some bed for rear doors and easier rear-seat access in a different configuration.
As much as I kind of dislike the front fascia of the Colorado, the Tacoma’s is certifiably unattractive. But it is purposeful and “trucky,” more so than the Chevy.
A lot of information on the sticker: “TRD” stands for Toyota Racing Development, “4×4” is self-explanatory, and “sport” just doubles down on the excitement.
With a limited-slip differential and an electronic transfer case, plus some sport shocks, the TRD is just as ready as the Colorado to tackle the world beyond the pavement.
The Tacoma also features a good scoop, but this one actually vents the engine bay.
The hump in the hood does affect visibility, though, and not in a good way.
A late-winter storm meant the TRD’s bed held mainly snow. But because it’s longer than the ZR2’s, it offers greater versatility.
The Taco’s 3.5-litre V6 puts out 278 horsepower. That’s less than the ZR2’s 308, but interestingly, the TRD Sport’s grunt is more visceral — or unrefined, depending on your perspective.
This V6 also yields a slower 0-60 mph time of about 7 1/2 seconds. But I thought it sounded huskier than the Colorado’s V6.
Fuel economy is 17 mpg city/21 highway/18 combined. That doesn’t sound all that great, but it beats the Colorado’s. And in practice, I didn’t seem to burn through much gas at all over the course of about a week.
A major difference between our two trucks: the Tacoma had a six-speed manual.
Shifting was clunky, but also very truck-like. That’s the thing about the Toyota Tacoma: It wants to consistently remind you that it’s a pickup.
I always struggled to get the thing into reverse. Over time, you’d probably develop the right feel, but it was frustrating. This pickup can be had with a six-speed automatic, however.
The interior is rather spartan, right down to the synthetic upholstery and the rear jump seats.
While the Colorado’s interior is prettier, the Toyota Tacoma’s looks as if it could handle some serious abuse.
The Tacoma’s setup for the driver is downright minimal. The only nod to luxury is the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
And what’s this? Yes, you also fire up the Tacoma TRD Sport with a key. Throwback!
Toyota’s infotainment system gets the job done, but the smallish 7-inch screen exacerbates its weakness relative to what we found in the Chevy.
This one isn’t a fair fight.
We’ve had issues with the infotainment setup in all Toyota’s vehicles, including those in its Lexus brand. The core functions are fine – Bluetooth paring, USB ports, navigation, Sirius XM radio – but Chevy vehicles offer infotainment that’s setting an industry standard.
The Tacoma’s audio was more or less even with the Colorado’s system.
And the winner is: the Chevy Colorado ZR2!
The Chevy Colorado ZR2 is, quite simply, a nicer pickup.
Will it beat the Toyota Tacoma’s legendary durability? I wouldn’t bet on it. Toyota pickups are designed to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ and tickin’.
For what it’s worth, both pickups are made in the US – the Chevy Colorado in Missouri and the Toyota Tacoma in Texas.
I wasn’t able to put the respective four-wheel-drive systems through a proper test, but I did drive over some small snowbanks in the TRD Sport, and it brushed them off as if they were off-road hors d’oeuvres. And other reviewers who have taken these trucks off the beaten path have applauded their capabilities.
But the Chevy Colorado wins this comparison because it’s more refined inside and is a bit easier to deal with daily. Plus, it has a much better infotainment system. At just over $US43,000 as tested, it’s also more expensive than the $US38,000 Toyota Tacoma – and worth it.
The looks aren’t quite as hardcore as the TRD’s, so the Colorado has wider appeal – something that matters if you don’t intend to drive your off-roader exclusively off-road.
You can sort of think of the ZR2 as a less intense, junior-ized version of the Ford Raptor or the Chevy Silverado Z71 – not that it isn’t intense on its own. I think the smaller size and sportier demeanour would be quite a lot of fun to take to the desert, maybe more so than bigger and far more powerful high-test pickups.
In the price-to-value ratio, you’re getting a lot of truck with the ZR2. If you lead an active, outdoorsy lifestyle, it’s definitely worth a look. It will be able to handle pretty much anything you can throw at it.
So there you have it: The Zr2 is the better midsize performance pickup!