2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Desert Boss Review: Off-Road Commander

Lee Bailie
by Lee Bailie

Love It

Leave It

Off-Road Capabilities

Ride and Handling on Choppy Pavement


Fuel Economy

Interior Amenities

High Step-in Height

When I first laid eyes on my Chevrolet Colorado tester, I thought this is not a vehicle for blending in.

Finished in Nitro Yellow, this jacked-up, off-road-focused mid-size pick-up is begging to be noticed. And commented upon. During my seven days with it, that happened several times. Passersby loved the color, and its general bad-ass appearance.

And how could you not, really? I mean, just look at it.

This thing was made for pounding the biggest sand dunes and craggiest desert moonscapes you can throw at it.

But I’ll get to that. First, some stuff you need to know about Chevy’s all-new third gen mid-size pickup.

New Powertrains

As was the case for the two previous generations, GM’s mid-size truck is available as a Chevy and GMC (Canyon). I’ve driven the latter, and wrote about the experience for AutoGuide, but this was my first time behind the wheel of the new Colorado.

Both trucks share powertrains and chassis architecture but are packaged differently. For the new gen, GM has made significant changes under the hood. Gone are the old four and six-cylinder engines, and six-speed automatic transmission found in the outgoing truck.

Instead, the new Colorado is powered by three variants of a 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine first offered in the full-size Silverado pickup. The base engine, standard for WT and LT grades, produces 237 horsepower and 259 lb-ft. of torque with a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.

Next up is the 2.7 Turbo Plus, standard on Z71 and Trail Boss trims, which puts out 310 horsepower and 390 lb-ft. of torque with max towing rated at 7,700 pounds. This engine is available as an option for WT and LT.

Finally, for the range-topping ZR2 is the standard 2.7 Turbo High-Output which produces 310 horsepower and 430 lb-ft. of torque, which has a max towing rating of 6,000 pounds. All engine variants are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that powers 2WD and 4WD configurations.

For comparison, the most powerful engine in the outgoing truck, a 3.6-liter V6, produces 308 hp and 275 lb-ft. of torque with a max towing figure of 7,000 pounds.

ZR2 Desert Boss

As mentioned, the ZR2 is the most off-road capable Colorado available, and it comes loaded with a list of standard dirt-flinging equipment as long as your arm.

In addition to the high-output turbo engine, the ZR2 comes with a factory three-inch lift, Multimatic DSSV dampers at all four corners, 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch all-terrain tires, and modified front and rear bumpers for improved approach and departure angles and off-road obstacle clearance.

The Desert Boss package ($9,295, or $12,695 in Canada) adds a slew of extras, including underbody cameras (forward and rearward-facing), off-road front bumper fascia with safari bar, off-road sport bar with ZR2 sail panel, off-road roof light bar, 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels, and decal package.

Suffice to say, the Desert Boss package, which is offered just for the 2023 model year, makes for a formidable off-roader with looks to match. And for those who may have missed out, fear not, for Chevy’s rolling out the ZR2 Bison for 2024, which includes similar features.

Tough On The Outside, Luxe On The Inside…

When it comes to the ZR2’s looks, the photos really tell the story. Like the full-size Silverado, the Colorado possesses a boxy, squared-off, and aggressive look with a sporty stance and bold grille treatment that varies based on grade. Slim LED headlights and a prominent power-dome hood add to the truck’s muscular high-tech appearance, while the red-outlined Chevy “Flowtie” grille badge, is a unique ZR2 detail.

Inside, the ZR2 has a good helping of premium content, including an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and dual-zone automatic climate controls. As for seating, the ZR2 is finished in a combination of cloth and synthetic Evotex trim, but leather is available.

My tester is outfitted with some other extras, including the ZR2 Convenience Package III ($1,490 / $1,895 in Canada), which adds perforated leather front seating, ventilated front seats, driver memory settings, heated steering wheel, wireless charging, rear center armrest, and a driver’s seat map pocket.

This package also includes safety features such as rear cross traffic braking, blind zone steering assist, and rear park assist.

Lots Of Tech

Two large digital displays anchor the ZR2’s cabin: an 11-inch driver information center, and an 11.3-inch multimedia touchscreen with Google built-in.

The former is a fully configurable HD display that features three themes, a driver-selectable gauge display, and two instrument cluster layouts: balanced or enhanced. An off-road performance display which monitors vitals such as steering angle, transfer case, and pitch and roll, is also included.

The latter comes with Google built-in which can be used for accessing maps and music. Voice commands via Google Assistant are also supported, along with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Four USB ports (two front / two rear) are also standard.

On (and Off) The Road

Because my time with it included driving from Toronto to Detroit and back for a press event, I logged more than 620 miles (1,000 km) in my ZR2 tester. The trekking included a mix of bare and snow-covered city streets and arterial roads, along with some off-road trails. And a LOT of highway miles. It performed well in all circumstances but, as one might expect, off-roading is where it really shines. More on that shortly.

On pavement in normal mode, (there are five settings: normal, tow / haul, off-road, terrain and baja) the 2.7-litre turbo delivers good acceleration from rest and at speed. Noise from the turbo four and all-terrain tires is consistent, but it’s not too intrusive – at least not to the point one cannot adjust to – and power delivery feels linear.

Ride quality on pavement is a bit of a mixed bag. On smooth surfaces, like highways, it’s fine. But on cracked, frost-heaved roads, it’s jittery and jostling. At times, it also feels a bit floaty and ponderous, especially during cornering. That said, I am impressed with its precise steering and excellent braking. It also handled snowy Michigan roads with ease, thanks to 4HI and the terrain drive mode setting.

But when it comes to off-roading, the ZR2 is the real deal. The trail I use to evaluate vehicles of this type is snow-covered at this time of year, but still serves as a good benchmark. At roughly 3.7 miles (6 km) long, the trail beings as a dirt road before switching to gravel and rock, and finally to dirt and mud. In the spring, thawing produces good ponding for water fording and slick mud bogs that are firm tests for tires and suspension.

Given the thick snow layer, the ride out and back contained none of the drama warmer weather can bring, but it was still fun. The DSSV-suspended, AT tire-wearing ZR2 romped through the snow with ease, and because bumpier sections have been flattened with the white stuff, I was able to speed up to about 37 mph (60 km/h). The truck tracked straight and true, and the ride was well-controlled and almost smooth, but the snow certainly helped in that regard.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Desert Boss: The Verdict

The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Desert Boss has a lot going for it, especially for those who intend to use it for a lot of off-roading and overlanding. With its three-inch factory lift, beadlock-capable rims, all-terrain tires and Multimatic DSSV dampers, it’s built to take on the all the sand, mud, dirt, and water one can throw at it.

It’s boxy, aggressive looks suit its ready-for-anything character, while also looking cool at the same time. Inside, its cabin is filled with layers of comfort and convenience we’ve grown accustomed to in modern cars. And who doesn’t want to warm their backsides with perforated leather while enjoying HD camera views of the terrain they’re smashing over? Not me.

Are there trade-offs? Sure. As mentioned, pavement ride and handling can be a bit choppy. Getting in and out of the truck requires some flexibility, and perhaps a step stool, if you’re short. And the 2.7 turbo is thirsty. At times I averaged less than 15 mpg (15.9 L/100 km). But that can vary, as can the ZR2’s price tag which, in the case of my tester, is a bit hefty.

But if you’re the type who lives in wide open spaces, or has plans to conquer them, the ZR2 Desert Boss just might be your truck.

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Fast Facts


2.7-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder


310 hp; 430 lb-ft.





Fuel Economy (mpg):

16 city, 16 highway

Fuel Economy (L/100 km):

14.8 city, 15.1 highway

Starting Price (USD):


As Tested (USD):

$62,275 (incl. dest.)

Starting Price (CAD):


As Tested (CAD):

$76,608 (incl. dest.)

Lee Bailie
Lee Bailie

With more than 20 years of industry experience, which includes automotive retail, motorsports PR, and writing and editing for various automotive publications, Lee is an AutoGuide freelancer, and car guy to the core. For nearly a decade and a half, he has married his two consuming passions together – journalism and the automotive industry. Whether it’s providing coverage on debuts from an auto show floor, writing road test reviews, or previewing a new model coming soon, Lee is eager to share his passion for the automotive industry with his readers. He is a long-standing member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and won a feature writing award in 2018.

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 1 comment
  • Dave Dave on Jan 31, 2024

    Have owned at least ten 4×4 vehicles. The point of 4 cylinder turbo motors is to get better Gass mileage. All my Ford and chevrolet 4×4 veh I cleaned averaged 17 - 20 miles per gallon with v8 motors. Dump the twin turbo junk your putting in these trucks for a real motor with out twin problems built in that just don't last as long as regular motors. Then I might purchase one of your new 4×4 s.