A series of ZnO/Cr2O3 catalysts with different Zn:Cr ratios was prepared by coprecipitation at a constant pH of 7 and applied in methanol synthesis at 260–300 °C and 60 bar. The X-ray diffraction (XRD) results showed that the calcined catalysts with ratios from 65:35 to 55:45 consist of ZnCr2O4 spinel with a low degree of crystallinity. For catalysts with Zn:Cr ratios smaller than 1, the formation of chromates was observed in agreement with temperature-programmed reduction results. Raman and XRD results did not provide evidence for the presence of segregated ZnO, indicating the existence of Zn-rich nonstoichiometric Zn–Cr spinel in the calcined catalyst. The catalyst with Zn:Cr = 65:35 exhibits the best performance in methanol synthesis. The Zn:Cr ratio of this catalyst corresponds to that of the Zn4Cr2(OH)12CO3 precursor with hydrotalcite-like structure obtained by coprecipitation, which is converted during calcination into a nonstoichiometric Zn–Cr spinel with an optimum amount of oxygen vacancies resulting in high activity in methanol synthesis. Density functional theory calculations are used to examine the formation of oxygen vacancies and to measure the reducibility of the methanol synthesis catalysts. Doping Cr into bulk and the (10–10) surface of ZnO does not enhance the reducibility of ZnO, confirming that Cr:ZnO cannot be the active phase. The (100) surface of the ZnCr2O4 spinel has a favorable oxygen vacancy formation energy of 1.58 eV. Doping this surface with excess Zn charge-balanced by oxygen vacancies to give a 60% Zn content yields a catalyst composed of an amorphous ZnO layer supported on the spinel with high reducibility, confirming this as the active phase for the methanol synthesis catalyst.