2015 Chevy Colorado First Drive - Import FighterPosted in Vehicle Reviews on December 17, 2014
Let’s face it: We all thought mini-trucks were dead. Ford bailed out of the segment after selling more of them than anyone else for years, and the Japanese twins haven’t been updated since Michael Jackson was found not guilty of child molestation charges in 2005. I have to admit that I didn’t see the need for a smaller truck after the ½-tons started getting better fuel economy than their smaller cousins. Not to mention that their price and overall length had become essentially the same.
Welcome to 2014, where some of those basic assumptions have changed. For one, price has escalated in fullsize trucks in the last few years. Our 2013 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year winner, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, sports an as-tested $56,000 sticker, while a base Colorado starts at just $20,995. Next, capacities have grown to the point where a 1500 may just be overkill for most typical pickup tasks. How often do you tow 12,000 pounds? Finally, GM thinks that there’s a sizable group of “active lifestyle” crossover owners who want to get back into a pickup, but feel that ½-tons are just too much truck for them. I’m not sure about that last idea, but I will agree that there may finally be a reason to look at buying a downsized truck again.
GM brought almost every iteration of these trucks for us to sample near the beach in Carlsbad, California, and even had some hooked up to boat and motorcycle trailers and some with kayaks and other assorted outdoor adventure gear mounted in various ways. Up first was the Z71-equipped Crew Cab 4x4, which is only available with the 3.6L V-6 and six-speed automatic. Unlike the Silverado, the smaller truck makes do with the same springs, shocks, and calibration as the base truck. That means the “off-road” version of the Colorado/Canyon upgrades consists merely of skidplates and badging. When questioned, Brad Schreiber, the engineer responsible for suspension tuning, explained they were able to achieve their off-road ride and handling goals with the base suspension, so the expense and complexity of engineering another suspension wasn’t necessary. That answer had me worried, since it sounded a little like they ran out of money or time and also because almost every other “off-road” package offered by GM and other manufacturers includes some kind of upgraded shock absorber. Thankfully, actually getting in the truck and driving proved my fears to be unfounded.
Our prescribed driving route consisted of about 15 miles of city streets, country backroads, and interstate. However, I did manage to find a short section of steep and rutted fire road to test out the new truck’s off-road prowess. Even Brad appreciated the break from the normal route and a chance to prove his suspension calibration in the dirt. Not much of a test, I admit, but one can learn plenty about a truck in just a short section of dirt. This short stretch was thankfully rutted and steep enough to require selecting low range on the T-case. The results are favorable, and the ride is plush but controlled, with none of the harsh characteristics of the Z71-equipped 1500s. The overall feel is very similar to a new Silverado, in that it’s superbly quiet and rattle free. Brad explained that this in large part due to its fully boxed frame that shares ancestry with the bigger truck, triple sealed doors, extra attention to sound deadening around the rear of the cab, and new Goodyear Wrangler all-terrains that were specifically engineered for this application.
The V-6 is smooth and quiet and makes very good power at all engine speeds. In fact, the torque curve is table flat at around 270 lb-ft from 1,800 to 6,500 rpm. It’s interesting to note that both engines offered in the Colorado are essentially intellectual opposites of what’s available in the big trucks. The V-8s being old school and relying on trusty pushrod valvetrains with two valves per cylinder, while this truck’s V-6 and I-4 feature dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. Merging onto the freeway with 75 mph traffic is no problem, and the power is just enough to feel spirited, in spite of the added weight of the Z71 goodies. The six-speed auto’s shifts are quick and firm, and the automatic grade-braking feature is very welcome. Where the ride differs from the bigger Silverado is in terms of visibility and what I’ll call an eagerness to play. That’s mostly because the sight lines are far better out of this truck because of the chiseled exterior lines compared to the Silverado’s. As a result, the truck feels far smaller and more willing to dance, both on and off the road. The Colorado has a feeling of being bigger than it really is on the inside, while feeling smaller than it really is on the outside—That’s a very good thing. Keep in mind that this truck is 900 pounds lighter than the Silverado, which helps greatly in making it feel sporty.
Seeking as much contrast as possible, I drove the 2.5L four-cylinder-equipped Base trim level two-wheel-drive version with the automatic transmission (a manual was not available). The four-banger is more than up to the task but not something you’d drive for the joy of it. More like something that gets the job done without being annoying—kind of like an employee who’s acceptable but not great at their job. I’m not sure I understand the need for the smaller engine, since there’s only a 1-mpg improvement in the highway rating and even the cheap version of the interior is still completely comfortable and well equipped. The step up to Z71 configuration requires a leap to $31,555 MSRP, but gets you the V-6, a six-speed automatic, an automatic rear locking differential, and a long list of other dirt-related goodies.
While the V-6 is fun and the I-4 is more than adequate, the really pleasant surprise in this truck is the upcoming 2.8L four-cylinder Duramax diesel for the ’16 model year. Towing, torque, and fuel economy should be impressive in real-life usage. I’m guessing over 30 mpg highway, while still being able to haul or tow fairly large loads. I’m thinking this is where the Colorado becomes a can’t-miss hit. Ram is the only other player to offer a small diesel in a pickup, and that’s a 3.0L V-6 in the 1500. Sales of that truck have proven to be far better than anticipated, and they’re doing so well that they’re restricted by engine supplies. If they could get more, they could sell them.
So is the mini-truck back to stay? The Colorado owns a fantastic niche of high-quality feel, fuel economy, nimble and sporty feel, and pleasant ride on- and off-road. Having spent a considerable amount of time with our previous Frontier and Tacoma long-term test vehicles, I can say that this new GM feels a million miles ahead of them in terms of comfort, build quality, power, and efficiency. If you don’t need the full towing and hauling capacity that modern ½-ton pickups now offer, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon will be worth a good, hard look.
Vehicle/model: ’15 Chevrolet Colorado Z71
Base price: $31,555
As tested: N/A
Engine: 3.6L V-6 VVT DI
Rated hp/torque (lb-ft): 305/269
Transmission: 6L50 six-speed auto
Transfer case: 2-spd
4WD system(s): 4-Hi, 4-Lo, Neutral, 2WD
Low-range ratio: 2.72:1
Frame type: High-strength steel
Suspension, f/r: Independent coil-over-shock/solid axle with semi-elliptic two-stage leaf springs
Axles, f/r: 7.6in/8.6in
Axle ratio: 3.42:1
Max crawl ratio: N/A
Steering: Rack-and-pinion, electric power-assisted
Brakes, f/r: 12.2in disc/12.75in disc
Wheels (in): 17x8 aluminum
Wheelbase (in): Extended Cab longbox/Crew Cab shortbox (128.3); Crew Cab longbox (140.5)
Length (in): Extended Cab longbox/Crew Cab shortbox (212.7); Crew Cab longbox (224.9)
Height (in): 70.7
Width (in): 74.3
Base curb weight (lb): 4,450 (Crew Cab longbox with V-6)
Approach/departure angles (deg): 17.3/19.8
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.1
Payload (lb): 1,590
Fuel capacity (gal): 21
Fuel economy (mpg): N/A
*As tested, preliminary, subject to change