The Top 5 Chevy Colorado Mods: Building a Budget ZR2!

Updated on Jan 27, 2024

In recent years, we’ve seen a massive increase in manufacturers producing off-road-specific vehicle packages; think the Ford Raptor, RAM TRX, Wrangler Rubicon, and the Chevy Colorado ZR2. These packages offer some of the most impressive off-the-shelf performances; however, they come at a cost. 

Most high-end, off-road packages tack on an additional $10,000–$30,000 over base MSRP, and that’s without additional upgrades or dealer markups! 

But what if there’s an alternative offering exceptional performance and greater value? Well, there is! In this guide, we’re covering the process of transforming a base WT or LT spec Colorado into a capable off-road machine. While the result may not feature all of the bells and whistles of a fully loaded ZR2, it’ll be more than capable for most off-road enthusiasts.

What Is the Chevy Colorado ZR2?

Before getting into our build sheet, let’s first analyze the ZR2 package, including what it is, when it debuted, and what it offers over a basic Colorado Trim. 

With the recent emergence of several off-road packages, beyond the capabilities of conventional 4x4 models, Chevrolet saw an opening in the market for a capable midsize. Seeing that other competitors, like the Ford F-150 Raptor and RAM Power Wagon, were based on full-size pickups, Chevy opted to build on a smaller, more compact platform. As a result, 2017 saw the debut of the all-new Colorado ZR2: a midsize-performance pickup engineered for on and off-road excellence. 

Now in its second generation, the 2024 Colorado ZR2 has only improved upon an already impressive recipe, sporting such standard features as: 

  • A high-output 2.7L four-cylinder powerplant packing 310 horsepower and 430 lb.-ft. of torque

  • An 8-speed automatic transmission

  • Widened bodywork

  • Model-specific bumpers and body armor

  • 2-inch factory lift

  • Off-road-tuned suspension with DSSV dampers

  • 33-inch Goodyear tires

For more information on this impressive pickup, check-out our first-hand experiences with the model in our 2024 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Review!

Now that we understand what the Colorado ZR2 offers, it’s time to put together a build sheet!

Plan of Attack: Upgrade Areas

For starters, we’ll need a pickup. Chevy’s 2024 Colorado lineup has five available trims, including: 

  • WT: Work Truck trim, offering essential features

  • LT: Luxury Touring, offering superior amenities and tech

  • Trail Boss: A traditional off-road package outfitted for low-speed wheeling. This package is essentially a modified WT package, offering few amenities but capable dirt performance.  

  • Z71: A traditional off-road package outfitted for low-speed wheeling. This package is essentially a modified LT package, offering superior amenities and capable dirt performance.  

  • ZR2: A technologically advanced performance package delivering exceptional performance on and off-road. 

For this build, we’d recommend a WT or LT package, depending on your budget and desired amenities. Considering our planned upgrades, it’s best to minimize the initial investment, especially considering both the WT and LT are available with a de-tuned variant of the same 2.7L Turbocharged engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, and 3.42 differential gears!  

With our base truck selected, it’s time to cover our planned upgrade areas. We’ve separated these into five categories, including:

  • Suspension

  • Wheels and tires

  • Body armor

  • Underhood performance

  • Bed accessories


First, and arguably most vital on this list, is suspension. The Colorado ZR2 offers several upgrades over the base WT or LT configurations, including a factory-installed 2-inch suspension lift, 3-inch longer wheelbase, and DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) performance dampers. These additions help the Colorado ZR2 manage challenging washboards and treacherous terrain at high speeds, significantly improving stability in the dirt. 

Now, while we won't be able to match this level of performance with off-the-shelf products, we can get close for a fraction of the price. Products like the Icon 0 - 4" Adjustable Coilover Lift Kit and Eibach PRO-TRUCK 2"-3" Adjustable Lift Kit offer similar ride height increases and exceptional ride quality on and off-road, granting performance between the Trail Boss/Z71 trims and the top-tier ZR2.

Wheels and Tires

Loads of the Colorado ZR2’s off-road performance stem from its wheel and tire combination, sporting 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 33-inch mud-terrain tires. Not only does this setup widen track width, but it also significantly enhances traction in loose dirt, gravel, rocks, and mud.

Here’s an area where we can improve upon the performance of the ZR2’s factory equipment, seeing as multiple reviewers have complained about the weak, puncture-prone sidewalls of the ZR2’s factory Goodyear tires. Instead, consider a premium mud-terrain or hybrid-terrain tire, like the Toyo Open Country M/T or Nitto Ridge Grappler, offering excellent traction and various sizes. 

For wheels, we’d recommend an off-road proven alloy, like the Method Matte Black 703, or, for added traction, a beadlock-capable wheel, like the Black Rhino Silver Primm Beadlock.

Body Armor

The Colorado gains its rugged aesthetics and superior durability from several trim-specific body armor upgrades, including heavy-duty steel bumpers, sliders, and max-coverage fender flares. Fortunately, we carry all these products and more at RealTruck! Whether bouncing off brush and obstacles on the trail or fending off minor impacts and abrasions in a tight parking lot, we carry the parts to keep your Colorado’s body looking like new. 

For bumpers, we’d recommend a matching pair of high-clearance steel bumpers, like the Westin Pro-Mod Front Bumper and Westin Pro-Series Rear Bumper. These bumpers offer significant improvements in impact resistance, styling, and accessory mounting, significantly outperforming your Colorado’s factory-stamped steel units. We also offer rocker-protecting sliders, like N-Fab Rock Rails, and oversized fender flares, like Bushwacker Extend A Fender Flares.

Under Hood Performance

While both the WT and LT Colorado trims can be upgraded to the 2.7L Turbocharged I4 engine, neither receive the same power numbers as the high-output variant found in the ZR2. Thankfully, you don’t have to settle for factory power levels with our selection of performance accessories! We’d recommend the tried and true power package of a cold air intake, performance exhaust system, and a programmer

Or, to keep things simple, consider a comprehensive kit, like the aFe Scorcher! These systems include a tuner and intake system, providing dyno-proven gains.

Bed Accessories

Lastly, we have bed accessories. First-generation Colorado ZR2 packages, as well as special-edition second generations, come optioned with an OEM chase rack/bed rack, improving styling and added functionality. 

To bolster the looks and features of our mock ZR2, consider installing a premium overland rack or chase rack, like the N-Fab ARC Sport Bar or Go Rhino XRS Overland Xtreme Bed Rack! Both offer the ability to mount accessories like off-road lights and spare fluids; plus, they add a rugged, adventurous aesthetic! 

With these modifications performed, you’ve built a stylish and capable Colorado that’ll outperform any Trail Boss or Z71! While the ZR2 may offer slightly better performance on high-speed washes, our budget ZR2 build offers more performance capabilities than most pickup owners would ever exhaust; plus, we think it’ll look better, too. 

As always, shop our extensive catalog for any other upgrades and accessories! And for any inquiries, contact our knowledgeable support staff.

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