2016 Chevrolet Colorado Diesel First Drive [w/video]
Medium Truck, Big Torque, Minimal Sound
EngineTurbodiesel 2.8L I4
Power181 HP / 369 LB-FT
Base Price$40,000 (est)
As Tested Price$47,000 (est)
When we ask where all the noise went, Chevy's engineers, marketing guys, and PR reps all explain that this refinement is what Americans want. We're still not sure. This is a truck, after all, and the diesel pickup customer is different from the guy buying a diesel Cruze for his highway commute. Chevy contends that they're also not the same as the buyer of a Silverado HD.
Although this 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder has been in service elsewhere around the globe, its first US application is in the Colorado and its GMC Canyon twin. The engine puts out 181 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, and it does so unobtrusively as a result of a lot of modifications for our market. To keep normal diesel sensations out of the cabin, the intake and oil pan both get acoustic treatments. A new, thicker material is used for firewall sound deadening. Redesigned balance shafts have tighter tolerances to increase smoothness.
One of the more interesting and certainly unexpected vibration-reduction changes is a special torque converter from German supplier LuK equipped with a centrifugal pendulum absorber. This pendulum spreads from the center of the torque converter as engine speed increases and is tuned to absorb the four-cylinder's second-order vibrations, not just those in a narrow frequency band. It does an admirable job, especially considering the engine's biggish, 0.7-liter cylinders, which lead to bigger vibrations.
The diesel powertrain is smoother than the Colorado's gasoline V6.
The result is a powertrain that's smoother than GM's (not particularly smooth) corporate V6, which is available in the standard Colorado. It's quieter than a Cruze diesel and even out-softens some gas direct-injection engines on the market. Paradoxically, it may be the most refined of all of the Colorados. No vibration comes through the steering wheel, pedals, floorboards, or even the rearview mirror.
But you can tell it's a diesel when you hit the throttle. This truck is quick, but not blisteringly so. There's a broad band of usable torque and a standard 3.42 rear axle to help maximize it. The turbo does its spooling in short order from a stop – its compressor wheel is resized to improve off-the-line response and high-altitude performance – but you never hear it, not even on overrun. The six-speed auto is just as nice here as it is with the other Colorado engines, ready with a downshift when needed; there's also a manual mode and an up-down toggle on the side of the shifter when you want to choose for yourself.
To help keep speeds manageable on downhills and when towing, diesel Colorados get a standard exhaust brake. It's bundled with the towing package, actuated by the trailer-tow mode button, and makes use of the variable-vane turbo to shut off exhaust flow – the feature was implemented entirely through software and is unique to the US market. Despite being paired with tow/haul mode, the exhaust brake is intended for use when the truck is unladen as well as trailering. With nothing in back, it can act as a kind of sport mode, keeping the gear low and scrubbing a little more speed when off throttle. While we believe that a sport mode on a pickup is a silly concept, there's just something incongruously fun about hustling a moderately big thing like this down a lumpy, winding road.
Chevy is projecting 10 percent of Colorado buyers will go diesel.
Like the Colorado V6, this Duramax diesel is equipped only with an automatic. It's also crew cab-only, with a choice of two bed lengths and either two- or four-wheel drive, and it can't be ordered on the Work Truck trim. The restrictions likely have to do with expected take-rates – Chevy is projecting 10 percent of Colorado buyers will go diesel. Final options and pricing haven't been announced yet, but Chevy says the diesels will cost $3,730 more than a comparably equipped V6 model, which should put the starting price right around $40,000. No, that's not cheap. The turbodiesel will of course get better fuel economy than its gas counterparts, but without EPA numbers we can't yet determine how long it will take to pay back the powertrain premium.
Towing is the diesel's other strength compared to the four-cylinder and V6 gas Colorados. The two-wheel-drive diesel will pull up to 7,700 pounds, while the four-wheel-drive models can handle 7,600, up from a max of 7,000 pounds for a V6 Colorado. But the diesel is the only one to offer a trailer-brake controller, and it comes standard. That's maybe not worth the extra $3,730, but it is an enticement. The truck tows a moderately heavy trailer very nicely. With a load closer to its limit and the necessary weight-distributing hitch employed, you feel the trailer a little more behind you, but it doesn't overtax the engine. This is easily the best Colorado for anyone doing more than occasional towing, and you can still park it in a garage.
This is easily the best Colorado for anyone doing more than occasional towing, and you can still park it in a garage.
The rest of the Colorado diesel experience is very similar to the gas models: a nicely sized package that's maneuverable with well-tuned electric power steering. Diesel Colorados get retuned front dampers that account for the added weight of the engine. You don't really notice the extra heft in turns or under braking, and the ride is nice and even, almost supple on models with street-oriented tires. It's comfortable inside, and the range of available equipment and technology is carlike. For 2016, Chevy is adding Apple CarPlay compatibility to Colorados equipped with the eight-inch MyLink infotainment screen; Android Auto support will be added through a software update in March of 2016.
There are also two factory accessory packages for the 2016 Colorado, the new Midnight Edition and an updated Trail Boss, both of which are available with the diesel. The red Trail Boss pictured here was good fun; it's basically a Z71 with appearance add-ons, like the sweet sport bar with LED lights on top, but it does swap in Goodyear DuraTec tires for extra off-road cred. The big rubber makes it feel a little slower than the standard diesel truck, however.
The diesel will cost $3,730 more than a comparable V6 model, which should put the starting price right around $40,000. No, that's not cheap.
You may be wondering how we got all the way down here without mentioning the V-word and its associated scandal. The answer is that that was an emissions issue, not a problem with the fuel, and one GM is confident the new Duramax engine won't have. That a company cheated on its final exams shouldn't reduce our appetite for clean diesel engines in cars and light trucks. This Colorado's price, however, might keep those take rates low on its own.
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