Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new pickup gets a high five.
Colorado is Chevrolet's new moniker for its midsize pickup, replacing the S10. It's more, however, than just substituting an outdoorsy name for a nondescript alpha-numeric designation. The Colorado is new from the tire print up, so to christen it anew is apropos.
The new Chevrolet Colorado is slightly larger than the S10 it replaces. It gains in passenger space and loses a minor amount of cargo space. It comes with a completely new five-cylinder engine option instead of a V6 and its towing rating decreases. The new Colorado is designed to offer favor comfort over towing and hauling capability that is seldom tested by most mid-size truck owners. In other words, buyers who want to pull heavy trailers and haul big loads should be shopping full-size pickups such as the Chevy Silverado. The Chevy Colorado is designed for the owner who wants the utility of a pickup at hand, but doesn't regularly tow or haul heavy loads. Roominess and comfort are more important to the Colorado driver.
Chevrolet defines models in the Colorado line by drivetrain and cab configuration. Therefore, the Colorado comes in six basic variations, a regular cab, an extended cab and a crew cab, each with the choice of either four-wheel or two wheel drive.
Base Work Truck models come with hose-it-out vinyl floor mats and base cloth seating, ideal for muddy boot applications. Air conditioning, and AM/FM stereo, 15-inch steel wheels and split-bench folding seats are standard; a rear seat for base extended models comes only as an option.
Civilian users will be happier with the LS trim level, which adds color-keyed carpets, a floor console and armrest, tilt wheel, cruise control, CD player, bright interior accents, aluminum wheels, plus a rear seat for extended cab models.
The Z71 High Stance off-road suspension is available on base and LS models, four-wheel or two-wheel drive, and includes larger wheel flares and, on 4x4 models, skid plates. Ground clearance at the rear differential is 8.4 inches.
The Colorado is also available with the ZQ8 sport suspension. Riding about two inches lower than the standard suspension, these sport trucks also have a monochromatic paint scheme, fog lamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It's available only with two-wheel drive and comes standard with 17-inch wheels. It carries a base price of $17,545.
Major Colorado options include power windows, locks and mirrors ($500); traction control for 2WD models ($295); locking rear differential ($270); side curtain airbags ($195); leather-trimmed heated power-adjustable bucket seats ($1,495).
The Chevrolet Colorado is mechanically identical to the GMC Canyon. Trim and packaging of features differ, however, and some equipment, such as Chevy's ZQ8 sport suspension, is not available on the GMC.
The Chevy Colorado follows the lead of the Silverado in styling with its bold chrome crossbar grille and multi-lens headlamps (high and low beams, daytime running lamps and turn signals). On models so equipped, fog lamps are inset into the bumper. The lamp assembly has a flying wedge contour, higher at the outside. Otherwise the Colorado has a clean, modern look, the Crew Cab looking well balanced despite the extra cab length. Reach-through door handles allow a full handful of grip for easy opening even with gloves.
Cargo boxes are 6-foot, 1-inch on regular and extended cab models and 5-foot, 1-inch on the Crew Cab. A two-position locking tailgate, fully closed or 55-degrees open, as well as lowered to horizontal, provides more cargo utility. When partway down, the Colorado can carry a 4-by-8 foot sheet of plywood flat.
Chevrolet dealers have a range of accessories, including a bed extender, hard and soft tonneau covers, tubular assist steps and splash guards, that can be installed at the time of delivery, naturally at extra cost. For more information, visit www.gmaccessories.com.
The interior of the Chevrolet Colorado LS is swathed in hard plastic that's not very finger friendly but should prove to be durable, important in a pickup truck. Inside door releases feel solid and sturdy, though have the same hard feel. The leather wrapped steering wheel, however, is well cushioned and feels good in hand and should for the long haul.
Each door panel has a molded map pocket that's also contoured for a bottle or can. The center console has cup holders as well and these look capable of handling a variety of drink containers. The center arm rest opens for a small storage space, big enough for a large wallet, and it wobbles when pushed. A small tray on the console will be useful for all sorts of oddments that don't need to be covered.
The instrument panel is traditional white on black with orange needles. It's very legible and doesn't hide its functionality with artsy markings. Practical control design continues to the center stack. No ground-breaking innovation here, just straightforward knobs and dials that don't require a post graduate degree to operate.
The front buckets are wide and soft and most derrieres should find them comfy on long trips. They offer little lateral support, but that would be important only to those who try to drive their Colorado like a sports car.
The Crew Cab's rear seat has surprising leg room and a comfortable back angle, not the near vertical back rest found even in some full-size pickup cabs. The chair-height rear seat gives lots of legroom. Wider cabin gives more shoulder room for adult males, but don't expect full-size cab width.
The 2.8-liter four-cylinder engine that comes standard is new for 2004. Called the Vortec 2800, it makes a muscular 185 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm. That should be enough for most mid-size pickup truck duties, though it's not offered on Crew Cab models.
The new five-cylinder configuration, most recently seen in Audis and Volvos, produces a distinctive, siren-like sound at full throttle, something found in the Colorado as well. At cruise, the engine is quiet and there's no indication that it's anything out of the ordinary. The Vortec 3500 3.5-liter (as well as the 2.8-liter four-cylinder) is a derivative of the Vortec 4200 six-cylinder used in the Chevy Trailblazer.
The engines feature sports car-like all-aluminum construction, yielding improved performance and fuel economy (less weight to haul around and improved cooling). Efficiency and power is increased by dual overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder, plus electronic (drive-by-wire) throttle control, variable exhaust timing and a 10:1 compression ratio.
All that translates to 220 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 225 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm. The Vortec 3500 sustains that torque level over 90 percent of its rev range, good when hauling of heavy loads or towing trailers. Recommended fuel is 87 octane regular, making the Colorado cheaper to keep.
Max towing for the Colorado with the five-cylinder engine and automatic transmission is 4000 pounds, 2000 less than the old S10. Chevrolet was willing to trade capability that few used in a midsized truck for a more comfortable ride, important for those who frequently use their trucks for general passenger hauling.
Driving a rear-drive Colorado with the Vortec 3500 proves that Chevy made the right decisions. With foot to the floor, an unladen Colorado zips up to traffic speed, the Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed automatic clipping off shifts smoothly enough to be unremarkable. On loose gravel, whether on a dirt road or just off the pavement, if given too much power, the traction control system reduces power completely and the Colorado falls on its face. That's not important except when trying to merge into fast-moving traffic from a pebbly roadside. The traction control override button, located high on the dash, can be used in such a situation. In snow, however, the traction control should help in taming a pickup's lightly loaded rear end.
By sacrificing some towing capacity, GM engineers were able to reduce the rear spring weight and otherwise tune the suspension for a smooth ride, and that's really evident in the Colorado. On a washboard dirt road the rear end isn't bouncing around like a Polynesian hula dancer's grass skirt. It's the front end that feels firmer. It still rides like a truck, but it isn't nasty about it.
The front disc/rear drum brakes are big and meaty and certainly should be enough for any load the Colorado is allowed to carry. Suspension was firm enough to handle hard stops on pavement without drama. The ABS does its job neatly, keeping the truck in line even when slamming on the brakes on a gravelly road.
The Colorado is a new generation of mid-size pickup trucks, a market that has largely been ignored while the larger pickups get all the attention. But for anyone looking for a smaller truck that's not cramped on the inside and is still capable of handling a respectable load or pulling a personal watercraft, the Colorado is ideal. Load three dirt bikes on a trailer, the assorted gear in the bed and three bikers and a couple hangers-on can head to the track. Or take the kids to soccer practice and bring home a dozen bags of mulch. The Colorado handles it all with aplomb.
Chevrolet Colorado Regular Cab 2WD ($16,200); Extended Cab 2WD ($18,545); Crew Cab LS 2WD ($20,670); Regular Cab 4WD ($18,760); Extended Cab 4WD ($21,105); Crew Cab LS 4WD ($23,230).
Options As Tested
automatic transmission ($1,095); power locks, windows and mirrors ($500); leather heated seats ($1,495); side-curtain airbags ($1,000); XM Satellite Radio ($325).
Chevrolet Colorado Crew Cab LS 4x2 ($21,011).
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