The new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado may be smaller than a full-size pickup, but it's no small truck; it provides much of the style, features and capabilities of its bigger brothers for much less money.
The Chevrolet Colorado is back after a three-year hiatus, and midsize pickup truck shoppers couldn't be more thrilled. With the demise of the Ford Ranger and Dodge/Ram Dakota, the new Colorado along with its GMC stablemate, the Canyon, are the only American-brand midsize trucks on the market — and given the dispositions of Ford and Dodge (now Ram for pickups and commercial trucks), this looks set to be the case for the foreseeable future.
The new Colorado is bigger than the one it replaces, but it's considerably smaller than a full-size Chevrolet Silverado pickup. It's available in two lengths, two cab configurations and with two powertrains for the moment (compare the 2012 model and the 2015 model here), with a highly anticipated third engine option coming in 2016. While this is a smaller truck than the Silverado, make no mistake — this is still a fully functioning, tough-as-nails work vehicle. But have GM's upgrades civilized it to the same extent as its larger brother? We spent a week with both a bare-bones, four-cylinder extended-cab Work Truck model and a loaded V-6-powered Z71 off-road version to see just what Chevy has crafted.
Exterior & Styling
I can't deny it; the Colorado is a very attractive truck. Chunky and butch, but still featuring some of the sleekness of Chevrolet's corporate grille and headlight treatment, the Colorado is a distinctive, fresh face in the midsize truck segment. It's sleeker than the mechanically identical GMC Canyon, which features a blockier, Tonka-type look. Unlike the Canyon, the Colorado has more styling connection with the Chevrolet car lineup than the truck lineup — whereas the Canyon looks very much like a baby Sierra, the Colorado does not look like a junior Silverado. There's something appealing about the simplicity of the base model's lack of adornments, with its steel wheels and minimal use of chrome, but also something exciting about the higher-riding, chunky, off-road readiness of the Z71 models. In either guise, Chevy stylists did a bang-up job here.
How It Drives
The standard powertrain setup in the Colorado combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission, driving only the rear wheels (four-wheel drive is optional on the four-cylinder model, but it requires the automatic transmission). It's not exactly a wimpy four, as it pumps out a healthy 200 horsepower — the problem is that it has at least 3,960 pounds of truck to move around. As you might imagine, it doesn't do so with much zest. The combination is adequate to get the Colorado moving, and can even handle a fully loaded 1,400-pound payload without too much degradation of acceleration, but the manual transmission is just not pleasant at all. For a little more money, the automatic is the way to go, as there's nearly no difference in payload or towing ability between the transmissions. Or for more than a little more money, upgrade to the 3.6-liter V-6 engine, which pumps out 305 hp through that six-speed automatic only. It can be had in rear- or four-wheel drive, and is a far more appealing powertrain thanks to much more sprightly acceleration and stronger towing abilities. In fact, the Colorado with the V-6 and a special tow package is rated to haul up to 7,000 pounds, more than enough to get a boat or a pair of motorcycles to where you want to take them.
The four-wheel-drive system is a manually activated one, meaning you must switch it on and off via a knob on the console. The driver has a choice of 2WD or 4WD High and 4WD Low for more extreme traction situations, which also means that the four-wheel-drive system should only be used on low-grip surfaces. The Colorado's GMC Canyon sibling offers automatic four-wheel drive, allowing you to leave it on regardless of driving surface and have it activate as needed, a segment exclusive. Both the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma offer selectable four-wheel-drive systems like the Colorado.
Around town, the Colorado WT in extended-cab, long-bed configuration is bouncy and harsh, and the highly boosted steering combines with tall sidewall tires to give it a numbness that feels very utilitarian. The V-6 Z71 model, however, with its crew cab and short box, is much more civilized and pleasant. The steering is still on the numbly boosted side, but ride quality is dramatically improved over the basic truck. It should be — the Z71 outweighs the base model by more than 500 pounds. Braking performance in either truck is acceptable, bringing both trucks to a halt with confidence, even when loaded to full payload capacity. At the top end of the range, the Colorado Z71 rides far more comfortably than a comparably equipped Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, which is that truck's top off-road model, but is largely on par with the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X, despite the latter's smaller size and shorter wheelbase.
Off-road, the Z71 holds its own in bad terrain, but it's clear that the off-road package is meant for lower-speed duty, and not storming through desert gullies and washes in the way one can with the Frontier PRO-4X or Tacoma TRD Pro. The Z71 adds a standard Eaton mechanical locking rear differential, off-road suspension, all-terrain tires and a transfer-case skid plate — all off-road readiness preparation — but the Colorado's low front air dam prevents any serious rock climbing from occurring. Even the Chevrolet accessories catalog doesn't have anything in it to better prep for off-road duty — one hopes that this will be addressed soon, perhaps in a new ZR2 package like the concept shown at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show. For now, though, the Colorado is best used on pavement or in relatively tame off-road environments. This makes it quite a different animal from the Frontier PRO-4X, which has a more aggressive off-road suspension that handles rough terrain at high speeds in champion fashion, or from the Tacoma TRD Pro, which has an even more extensive off-road equipment list but isn't pleasant to drive on-road or off.
The Colorado's fuel economy is respectable, if not stellar. The base rear-wheel-drive four-cylinder, six-speed-manual combination is EPA-rated at 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined, which increases to 20/27/22 when you opt for the automatic transmission. Go the four-wheel-drive V-6 route and fuel economy ratings drop to 17/24/20 mpg, still respectable for a decent-sized truck. We subjected both trucks to a dedicated fuel economy test loop and got an interesting result: Without a payload, both the four-cylinder and V-6 versions garnered a 23.76 mpg average. This is rather astonishing given that the V-6 is considerably heavier, but it may have better aerodynamics, and the automatic is likely to keep it in the most favorable gear. The result gives more justification to the idea that if you can afford it, the V-6 is definitely the better option, as fuel economy is not a deciding factor.
GM truck interiors are a far cry from what they used to be, and the Colorado is no exception. Plastic quality is a grade better than other trucks in this segment, and assembly quality seems to be equally good. There are a few obvious corner-cutting measures, especially in the lesser trims — the polyurethane used to mold the steering wheel and shift knob is particularly unpleasant, with a sticky, tacky feel to it that gets more unpleasant as your drive wears on. One or two assembled interior components look like they need another round of design approvals, such as the passenger-side grab handle, which looks like it was screwed together from 10 different parts. But overall, the Colorado looks and feels good, with large seats covered either in durable-feeling fabric or a decent-quality leather-and-fabric combination.
As with most cars and trucks, you'll likely be more pleased with your purchase if you opt for more content in higher trims. The base model does come with standard features that competitors don't have, such as power doors and windows, and a power height-adjustable driver's seat bottom, but things like power adjustable mirrors and a rear window defogger are still optional. The trim I tested was one step up from that, the Work Truck, but the only difference in content is front bucket seats, rear jump seats, carpet and the ability to order the WT with a V-6 and four-wheel drive. The Nissan Frontier may start several thousand dollars less than the Colorado, but it doesn't have anywhere near the same level of standard equipment — manual windows and locks and even a lack of a radio and air conditioning on the base model. In the Colorado extended cab, two jump seats are standard, but are really only of marginal use. The crew cab has fold-down seats that also feature under-seat storage, enabling you to carry larger, bulkier items.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The Colorado's size and amenities make it feel in many ways like its full-size Silverado brother, and the truck's amenities help to perpetuate that feeling. The standard radio display is a color 4.2-inch LCD screen that provides a higher level of function than most base-model midsize pickups. The upgrade option is Chevy's MyLink system with an 8-inch touch-screen, just like the one found across the rest of the Chevy lineup. It features voice commands and integration with Apple's Siri concierge as well, but like my experience with every one of GM's multimedia systems, it features insufficient processing speed: Voice commands take a long time to process, and even changing tracks on a plugged-in iPod takes a couple seconds between button push and song change. GM promises that the next-generation MyLink will be faster. Still, it provides more functionality than competitors from Nissan or Toyota, with a much bigger, easier-to-read screen. Other optional equipment includes a Bose premium audio system, a sliding rear window, remote vehicle starter and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Cargo & Towing
Two bed lengths are available for the Colorado. The extended cab comes only with the long bed, a 6-foot-2-inch-long box, whereas the crew cab can be had with a shorter, 5-foot-2-inch box or the longer one. In-cabin storage is decent as well, with the aforementioned under-seat storage available in the crew cab, but plenty of cubbies and storage areas throughout the cabin. The Frontier has a smaller box, either 4.75 feet long or 6 feet long, depending on options, while the Tacoma has bed sizes similar to the Colorado. But the Colorado has both of the Japanese pickups beat in depth of the cargo box — it features much taller bed sides than either the Frontier or Tacoma, which are both at 18 inches, making for a larger cargo area overall.
The Chevy has its competitors beat for towing capacity; it's able to haul 7,000 pounds when equipped with the V-6 and a trailering package (the four-cylinder is tow rated at just 3,500 pounds). The Frontier's maximum towing ability is 6,100 pounds, while the Toyota's is a bit higher, at 6,500 pounds. Payloads are different as well, with the Colorado rated to carry 1,490 pounds of whatever you like in its bed, while the Frontier maxes out at just less than 1,100 pounds and the Tacoma manages only 1,305 pounds. The Colorado is simply a bigger, more robust truck, but we wonder if that advantage will last when redesigned next-generation Tacomas and Frontiers eventually appear in the next couple of years.
The Colorado has not been through the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's full range of testing but has earned a good rating (on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal and poor) in one test: the moderate-overlap frontal crash test. See the results here. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has only tested the extended cab versions, you can find those results here.
The Colorado has the standard complement of airbags, stability control, etc., but unlike most trucks it now offers things like lane departure warning and forward collision warning (this is slowly changing, however). A backup camera is standard on all models. See all of the Colorado's standard safety features here.
Value in Its Class
The Colorado isn't the cheapest midsize pickup truck on the market, starting at $20,995, including a destination fee, for a 4x2 extended cab with four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, but it's better equipped than cheaper trucks like the Frontier. The base model isn't typically the truck people buy for themselves — it's the one they drive at work that's been bought as part of a fleet purchase. The LT 4x2 crew-cab trim will likely be the high-volume model, starting at $27,985, but the one I drove was the Z71 4x4 crew cab, featuring the V-6 engine, two-speed transfer case, off-road suspension and a starting price of $34,990. The options list added the Bose audio system for $500, navigation for $495, a spray-on bedliner for $475 and a trailering package for $250 for a grand total of $36,710. Option up a Colorado your way here.
Competitors are a little behind the times, for now. The Toyota Tacoma still outsells the new Colorado by a wide margin, and it's due for an update in late 2015. The current model is not quite competitive on equipment, featuring a much less powerful V-6 engine, less interior space and a five-speed automatic transmission, but it features a more off-road-ready TRD Pro edition that shames the Colorado off-road. The least expensive Tacoma is the 4x2 Access Cab with a four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission for $21,850, including destination, and the top end can approach $40,000 for a loaded 4x4 TRD Pro. The Frontier is a little less expensive, starting at $18,875 for a 4x2 four-cylinder King Cab, but it comes extremely poorly equipped (not even a radio). The most expensive version is a long-bed crew-cab V-6 SL trim, not the off-road PRO-4X model, and it goes for just less than $37,000. See how the Colorado stacks up against competitors here.