2005 Chevrolet Colorado Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Roomier and more stylish than its predecessor.
A roomier cab was a key design goal when the Chevrolet Colorado was launched last year. Designed from the ground up to replace the S10 compact pickup, Colorado brings a fresh name and perspective to GM's line of trucks. That perspective includes more space for humans.
Colorado is bigger than the old S10, and that's the trend: Compact pickups are no longer compact. They're growing in size, so much so that the term 'compact pickup' may be obsolete. Colorado is an inch wider and a couple of inches longer than the S10, and its wheelbase is three inches longer. The new Dodge Dakota is even bigger. The new Toyota Tacoma is even bigger yet. Meanwhile, Nissan is coming out with a new Frontier that's dramatically larger than the old one. Left behind is the aging Ford Ranger. Ranger is five inches shorter than a comparable Colorado. The EPA still calls this segment 'compact,' but manufacturers are beginning to call it 'mid-size.' Whatever you call them, these new pickups are bigger than the trucks they replace. Yet they're still substantially smaller than full-size pickups such as the Chevy Silverado.
The reason for this increase in size is comfort. Pickup buyers want roomier cabs. Often, these trucks are often alternatives to cars, and their owners want more hip room, leg room and head room. Most are willing to sacrifice bed length for cab room. That's why regular cab trucks, which typically offered the longest beds, are all but extinct. The extended cab has replaced the regular cab as the truck for serious haulers, many of whom like being able to stash gear, tools, luggage, groceries behind the seats. Crew cabs have taken off in popularity because they offer the convenience of comfortable back seats for family and friends. Their short bed lengths are an acceptable compromise for many buyers.
With this in mind, the Chevy Colorado gave up a little bed length for a roomier cab. The cab is about four inches longer than a comparable S10 cab. Still, it has a six-foot bed with regular and extended cabs, and a five-foot bed on crew cabs. Colorado also gives up a little towing capability for a smoother ride. That's not to say it's lost the capability that makes a truck useful. A properly equipped Colorado is rated to tow 4,000 pounds, enough for transporting ATVs, dirt bikes, personal watercraft, light boats or small camping trailers. And in most configurations, the Colorado can carry more weight in the bed than could a similarly equipped S10. So it'll get the job done.
Indeed, we think the trade-offs have paid off. Colorado is much smoother and feels more refined than the old S10, which bounced around on rough roads. And it's a bit more stylish. Order the five-cylinder engine and it accelerates smartly. (That's right: five-cylinder.) The Crew Cab features a roomy back seat that's surprisingly comfortable and not bolt-upright. Yet Colorado fits into tight parking spaces, something that can't be said of full-size pickups.
Though introduced as a 2004 model, the Colorado is still new to the street and we found the 2005 models continue to turn heads. The Chevrolet Colorado is mechanically identical to the GMC Canyon, but trim and packaging differ. For 2005, Colorado offers a new exterior color (Superior Blue Metallic) and some equipment upgrades. About a hundred permutations are available, giving buyers lots of choices to fit their needs.
Colorado comes with three different suspensions: The rugged Z85 is the standard suspension and is available with two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, so you don't have to get the fancy off-road model to get 4WD. The Z71 off-road suspension is available with 2WD and 4WD. Appropriately, the low-riding ZQ8 sport suspension is only available with 2WD. Each comes in base or LS trim, though equipment varies with the suspension package. Regular Cab, Extended Cab, and Crew Cab versions are available, though not every cab style is offered with every suspension/trim combination.
A 2.8-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard in most models, rated 175 horsepower. A 3.5-liter five-cylinder rated 220 horsepower is optional ($1,000). A five-speed manual transmission is standard with either engine, with a four-speed automatic ($1,095) optional. Exceptions are ZQ8 LS and Z71 LS Crew Cabs, which come only with the inline-5 and automatic.
The Colorado ($15,695) Z85 base model comes with air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, a 60/40 split-bench folding seat, anti-lock brakes, and 15-inch steel wheels. Upgrading to LS trim adds color-keyed carpets, a center armrest with storage, tilt steering column (on Extended and Crew Cab models), cruise control, CD player, bright interior accents, and 15-inch aluminum wheels with P205/75R15 tires (on Regular and Extended Cabs; Crew Cabs roll on slightly wider rubber). It's available as an extended cab ($18,040). The 4WD versions are available in both regular cab ($18,255) and extended cab ($20,600).
The ZQ8 Sport model ($17,040) rides about two inches lower than a base Colorado, and features a monochromatic paint scheme, fog lamps, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Otherwise it is equipped similarly to the base suspension/base trim model. It comes only with 2WD and rolls on P235/50R17 tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels. The Sport LS ($18,570) adds bucket seats and a center console, cruise control, and other amenities from the base-suspension LS.
The Z71 off-road model ($17,330) packs an automatic-locking rear differential, P265/75R15 on/off-road tires, and a Smoke Gray grille and wheel flares to complement its high-riding, off-highway suspension. (Ground clearance at the rear differential is 7.5 inches.) Order 4WD and you get skid plates, too. Again, there's an LS version ($18,600) with trim and equipment upgrades, although bench seats remain standard.
Power windows, locks and mirrors are standard on Crew Cabs and optional ($500) on other models. Traction control is standard on 2WD LS Crew Cabs, and on all 2WD Z71s but optional on other 2WD models ($295). Curtain-style side-impact airbags designed for head protection come standard on LS Crew Cabs, but are optional on other models. New Gen 6 OnStar ($695) boasts easier hands-free operation and other refinements for 2005; it's available only with LS trim. LS Crew Cabs also offer optional heated, power-adjustable bucket seats with leather seating surfaces ($1,495).
Two commercial-fleet models are available as Regular Cab ($15,045) and Extended Cab ($17,390) versions of the base-trim, base-suspension, 2WD truck. They come with hose-it-out vinyl floor mats and base cloth seating, ideal for muddy-boot applications. Bumpers are painted, shocks are heavy-duty gas-charged units, and air conditioning is an extra-cost option. They're good trucks to buy for other people to drive.
Chevy Colorado follows the styling lead of the Silverado, with its bold chrome horizontal-bar grille and multi-lens headlamps. The lamp assembly has a flying wedge contour, higher at the outside, and includes high and low beams, daytime running lamps and turn signals. On models so equipped, fog lamps are inset into the bumper.
Colorado's fender bulges are angular and aggressive. The leading edge of the front fender flares isn't finished elegantly, but otherwise the Colorado has a clean, modern look. The Crew Cab looks 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 Crew Cabs. A two-position locking tailgate, which opens to 55 degrees or to fully horizontal, provides more cargo utility. When the tailgate is partway down, the Colorado can carry a 4-by-8 foot sheet of plywood flat, supported by the wheel wells and the rear edge of the tailgate.
The ZQ8 Sport models look slammed with their lower ride height. In fact, they ride 3.5 inches lower than the standard 2WD Colorado, with a ground clearance of just 5 inches. The standard Colorado has 8.5 inches of ground clearance, 2WD or 4WD. The Z71 off-road suspension raises the ground clearance to 9.3 inches, 2WD or 4WD.
All Crew Cab and Extended Cab models ride on a 126-inch wheelbase, while regular cab models ride on a 111-inch wheelbase. Overall length is 207 inches for all but regular cabs, which are 193 inches. Overall height is about 65 inches for the standard Z85 suspension, 66.3 inches with 4WD; 63.5 inches for the low-rider ZQ8 Sport models; 67 inches for the Z71 off-road models, 2WD and 4WD.
Chevrolet dealers offer a range of accessories, including a bed extender, hard and soft tonneau covers, tubular assist steps and splash guards. All can be installed at the time of delivery and can be financed as part of the deal.
The interior of the Chevrolet Colorado is swathed in hard plastic that's not finger friendly but should prove to be durable, important in a pickup truck. Inside door releases feel solid and sturdy, but have the same hard feel. The leather-wrapped steering wheel, however, is well cushioned and feels good in hand and should remain comfortable for the long haul.
The front bucket seats are wide and soft, but both cloth and leather versions lack lateral support. Getting into the Z71 off-road models requires stepping up. Specifically, Z71's step-in height is 22 inches, compared with 21.4 for the standard 4WD suspension, 18.4 with 2WD, and just 16.5 for the low-riding ZQ8 Sport.
Each door panel has a molded map pocket contoured for a bottle or can. The center console has cup holders that look capable of handling a variety of drink containers. The center arm rest opens into a small storage space, big enough for a large wallet, but 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 easy to read and doesn't hide its functionality with artsy markings. This practical approach continues to the center stack. No ground-breaking innovation here, just straightforward knobs and dials that don't require a postgraduate degree to operate. Turning on the dome light requires fumbling around for a small thumbwheel, however, which we found difficult while navigating in pre-dawn darkness. For this reason, we recommend the optional electrochomic (automatic-dimming) rearview mirror ($175), which features map lights, compass and outside temperature display.
The Crew Cab's back seat is surprisingly comfortable, particularly when compared with the back seats of past compact crew cabs. There's a reasonable amount of leg room, especially with a little cooperation from those sitting in front, and the seat height is comfortably high. The seatback angles back slightly, making it more comfortable than the bolt-upright backrest found in some pickups. The wide cabin provides enough shoulder room for adult males, but don't expect the width of a full-size cab. Getting in and out of the back is a little awkward because the door is relatively narrow and you have to swing your feet in to clear the wide B-pillar (the post between the front and rear doors).
Forget about sitting in the back of an Extended Cab. It has back seats, but they're only good for hauling kids and only then for short distances. The rear seats flip down, providing a good place for cargo and, with modifications, it would be okay for a medium-size dog. The rear doors swing open suicide style.
Called the Vortec 2800, the Colorado's standard 2.8-liter, four-cylinder engine was all-new for 2004. It makes 185 pound-feet of torque at 2800 rpm. It delivers adequate acceleration, particularly when paired with the five-speed manual, and should be enough for most mid-size pickup truck duties. Just don't expect to accelerate like a rocket. The manual shifts smoothly, though the gate into Reverse seemed a bit reluctant at times. The four-cylinder gets an EPA-estimated 20/27 mpg City/Highway (with manual transmission and 2WD).
The optional engine, called Vortec 3500, is an inline-5. It's an unusual configuration for a U.S. vehicle, but German automakers have been using them for years. Mercedes-Benz offered five-cylinder diesels in the '70s, and Audi's premier engine was in inline-5 from 1977-91. More recently Volvo has adopted the straight-five idea. All of these engines produce a distinctive, siren-like sound at full throttle, and so does the five-cylinder Colorado. At cruise, however, GM's five-cylinder is quiet, and there's no indication that it's anything out of the ordinary. If you like inline-6 engines better than V6s, then you'll like the inline-5. It's much more responsive than the four-cylinder and delivers quicker acceleration. It's also smoother.
The five-cylinder Vortec 3500 delivers 220 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 225 pound-feet of torque at 2800 rpm. That's more power but less torque than the optional V6 on the old S10. On the other hand, the Colorado's inline-5 sustains that torque level over 90 percent of its rev range, good when hauling heavy loads or towing trailers. Recommended fuel is 87 octane regular and it's rated 19/25 mpg (manual 2WD). Maximum towing load for the Colorado with the five-cylinder engine and automatic transmission is 4000 pounds, almost 2000 pounds less than a V6 S10.
Both the 2800 and 3500 were derived from the Vortec 4200 inline-6 used in the Chevy Trailblazer. They simply lopped cylinders off the six to get the five and four. All of these engines feature all-aluminum construction, yielding improved performance and fuel economy, with less weight to haul around, and improved cooling. Efficiency and power are 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.
Driving a standard Colorado with the Vortec 3500 proves that Chevy made the right decision. By sacrificing some towing capacity, GM engineers were able to reduce the rear spring rate 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. Colorado still rides like a truck, but it isn't nasty about it.
With your right 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. But goose it on loose gravel or dirt, and the traction control system shuts down the power and the Colorado bogs. 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 the pickup's lightly loaded rear end.
The front disc/rear drum brakes are big and meaty and certainly should be enough for any load the Colorado is allowed to carry. The suspension is 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 Z71 models ride well for a pickup with an off-road suspension. We haven't driven it off road.
The ZQ8 sport suspension rides well. It ha.
Chevrolet Colorado offers the increased roominess of the newest generation of mid-size pickup trucks. Anyone looking for a smaller truck that's not cramped on the inside, but is still capable of handling a respectable load or pulling a lightweight trailer, should find the Colorado a good choice. Load three dirt bikes on a trailer, and assorted gear in the bed, and three bikers and a couple of 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.
- Contributing to this report was John Matras in Pennsylvania.
Chevrolet Colorado Z85 Regular Cab 2WD ($15,695); Z85 Extended Cab 2WD ($18,040); Z85 LS Crew Cab 4WD ($23,745); ZQ8 Sport LS Extended Cab 2WD ($21,220); Z71 LS Extened Cab 4WD ($23,905); Z71 LS Crew Cab 4WD ($27,030).
Options As Tested
OnStar ($695) includes 1 yr Safe & Sound subscription; XM Satellite Radio ($325) includes first 3 months' subscription; traction control ($295); power convenience package ($500) includes power programmable windows and door locks, power mirrors, remote keyless entry; side-curtain airbags ($325); vinyl floor mats ($45).
Chevrolet Colorado 2WD LS ZQ8 Extended Cab ($21,220).
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