In the ’80s, the auto industry came up with an ingenious idea for meeting government dictates for higher mileage vehicles–downsizing.

Shrink the size of vehicles to reduce the weight. With less poundage to pull around, engines wouldn’t work as hard, and they’d consume less fuel.

Of course, it was a bandage approach because it meant that rear-seat passengers breathed on the necks of front-seat occupants. And when the driver reached into a pocket for toll change, chances are the pocket belonged to the passenger sitting alongside.

But mileage ratings rose and the government was happy that, though it couldn’t balance a budget, it could make auto manufacturers get better mileage.

However, those paying attention the last few years have noticed that big is back. Not necessarily huge (Hummer the exception), but vehicles that had been downsized are now being upsized.

Subcompacts are compact size, and those that had been compact have grown to midsize.

Each time an old vehicle is replaced by a new one in an automaker’s lineup, it seems the new one is slightly longer and wider, the engine a bit more powerful.

Yet the mileage rating is a tad higher, which makes upsizing worth the effort.

And that brings us to the ’04 Chevrolet Colorado, a midsize companion to the compact Chevy S-10 pickup for now, but its successor before the year is out.

To ensure there are trucks available in the Colorado production ramp-up, Chevy is keeping a four-door, four-wheel-drive S-10 Crew Cab in the lineup through at least summer.

Colorado looks very much like a full-size Silverado, only smaller. Colorado is bigger (3 inches in length and wheelbase, 1 inch in width) than S-10 and boasts a real name, and a good name at that.

Hard to believe that the same folks who chose the frumpy Uplander as the moniker for its 2005 crossover sport van were able to come up with something as clever as Colorado–though those who live in Nebraska might not agree.

While the S-10 feels like slipping on that suit you just found hiding in the closet the last two years, Colorado is more flattering to those to whom ABS refers to brakes, not the result of workouts.

We tested the ’04 Colorado Crew Cab in LS trim with four-wheel-drive.

More leg, head and arm room than an S-10, though if you travel in the back seat you might want to get out and stretch every 100 miles or so.

Colorado would be an even more comfortable fit if the cabin had been widened by two or three inches rather than a mere inch. More important, a wider vehicle tends to be more stable when it has a wider footprint on the road. Not that Colorado’s unstable, just that it could be more so.

But Colorado was designed in cooperation with Isuzu, in which GM owns an equity interest. If Isuzu sold more vehicles in the U.S., it would learn that U.S. consumers are a bit bigger than those at ho me in Japan.

But we digress.

Colorado offers a choice of two new engines, a 2.8-liter, 175-horsepower 4-cylinder or a 3.5-liter, 220-h.p. 5-cylinder with 5-speed manual as standard, 4-speed automatic as optional. The 2.8-liter is the mileage leader, the 3.5-liter the higher-performance choice.

The 2.8 has a rating of 20 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway with manual and 19/23 with 4WD and automatic.

The 3.5 is rated at 17/22 with four-wheel-drive and automatic, a rather welcome rating for a vehicle that holds four adults and is not afraid to tackle snowy roads.

S-10 comes with a 4.3-liter 180-h.p. V-6 with 4-speed automatic only that’s rated at 15/19 with 4WD.

So Colorado offers more room and comfort as well as more power, yet higher mileage than S-10. And Colorado comes with a 19.6 gallon tank, 2.1 gallons more than S-10 for greater range between fills.

Colorado is offered in regular, extended and Crew Cab versions in two-wheel or four-wheel-drive and a choice of regular, sport or off-road suspensions.

The four-wheel-drive on the test vehicle requires you only push a button in the dash to engage two or four wheels or four-wheel-low when the going gets tough.

It also came with the base suspension, which means you’ll feel some of those bumps in the road, bumps to which truck owners are accustomed. Still, the suspension was tuned to minimize harshness coming back into the cabin far better than S-10.

Tight cornering? Not in a truck.

There’s also a choice of 5- or 6-foot cargo beds. The test vehicle came with the 5-footer, which limits the length of lumber you can haul, but minimizes the troubles of getting into and out of tight spots–such as garages or parking-lot spaces.

A noteworthy change in the extended cab model is that it now comes with two forward-facing folding rear seats rather than two side-facing jump seats. More traditional, more functional and more practical because the last thing you want on a long trip is to have the two kids in back mug to mug.

If you like to load your vehicle with junk, better have a garage sale before getting a Crew Cab because it doesn’t have a wealth of hiding places. There’s a small storage tray in front of the center console, a small compartment in the top of the console and a larger, deeper compartment underneath. There’s dual cupholders in the center console upfront, dual cupholders in the fold-down armrest in back.

One gripe: There are two power plugs for such devices as cell phone and/or personal computer. But the plugs are wayyyyy under the dash, making them hard to reach and requiring a looooong cord to get to them.

The ’04 Colorado LS Crew Cab with 4WD starts at $24,080. If you opt for the 5-cylinder add $1,000 and for the 4-speed automatic add $1,095.

Think it odd that the transmission costs more than the engine? Consider power heated leather seats run $1,495, or nearly $500 more than either.

Standard equipment includes wide-profile 15-inch all-season radial tires mounted on aluminum wheels, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with CD player, power windows/locks/mirrors, side-curtain air bags, colored-keyed carpeting, cruise control with tilt steering wheel, foldaway outside mirrors, tinted glass, remote keyless entry and split/folding rear seat backs to provide added cargo carrying capacity inside the cabin.


2004 Chevrolet Colorado

LS Crew Cab 4WD

Wheelbase: 125.9 inches

Length: 207.1 inches

Engine: 3.5-liter, 220-h.p. 5-cylinder

Transmission: 4-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway

Base price: $24,080

Price as tested: $29,185. Includes $1,000 for 5-cylinder engine; $1,095 for 4-speed automatic; $ 1,495 for heated, power, leather seats; $695 for OnStar emergency communication system; $395 for AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD changer; $325 for XM satellite radio; and $100 for bodyside moldings. Add $635 for freight.

Pluses: Larger, midsize replacement for compact S-10 pickup. Broader lineup to tailor truck to individual needs by offering regular, extended cab or crew cab; short or long bed; regular, sport or off-road suspension; and choice of new 4 or 5-cylinder engines. Optional side-curtain air bags.

Minuses: $2,000 and change for 5-cylinder and automatic. $1,495 for heated leather seats. Patience needed to find cell phone power plug so far under the dash.

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