Chevy Colorado was designed for the way most people use a mid-size pickup. So it emphasizes interior room and comfort. Most are willing to sacrifice bed length for interior space, and towing capacity for a smoother ride. So the Colorado is engineered for room and comfort, for a smooth ride and for fuel efficiency.
Yet the Colorado is far from a car with a bed. In fact, the Colorado provides all the trucking capacity most owners will ever use. It has a six-foot bed with Regular and Extended Cabs, and a five-foot bed on Crew Cabs. A properly equipped Colorado is rated to tow 4,000 pounds, enough for transporting ATVs, dirt bikes, personal watercraft, bass boats, and small camping trailers. For most people, the Colorado is more than enough truck to get the job done. With high fuel prices and crowded parking lots, it makes more sense than having a full-size pickup.
We found the Chevrolet Colorado rides smoothly and feels refined. Order the five-cylinder engine and it accelerates smartly. The Crew Cab features a roomy back seat that's surprisingly comfortable and not bolt-upright.
A work truck model is available, an inexpensive Regular Cab called the WT designed as a worksite tool. It comes with hose-it-out vinyl floor mats and durable vinyl bench seating, ideal for muddy boots. It also comes with air conditioning.
Considered a mid-size pickup, the Colorado is substantially smaller and more maneuverable than full-size pickups such as the Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, or Chevy Silverado. These are important benefits because even those who frequently use pickups to perform genuine truck duties spend most of their time driving with an empty bed. Unlike a full-size pickup, the Colorado fits into tight parking spaces.
For 2007, Chevrolet increased the size of both the base and the optional engines. The base-level four-cylinder engine was bored out to 2.9 liters for 185 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. The optional five-cylinder engine was enlarged from to 3.7 liters, for 242 horsepower and 242 pound-feet. Other improvements included a smoother-shifting automatic transmission, a more powerful 125-amp alternator, a standard tire-pressure monitor, and brighter interior trim.
Changes for 2008 are modest, but still significant. Chevy has cleaned up the Colorado's appearance, with less charcoal-colored trim for a more monochromatic look, especially at the LS trim level, which now wears body-color bumpers. In general, fewer trim levels and option packages are offered, although most of the same features are still available as stand-alone options. The net effect should be to simplify ordering.
Chevrolet Colorado Z85 LS Regular Cab 2WD ($15,165); Z85 LS Extended Cab 2WD ($17,490); Z85 LT Crew Cab 4WD ($24,950); Z71 LT Extened Cab 4WD ($25,865); Z71 LT Crew Cab 4WD ($26,605)
The Chevy Colorado has been cleaned up for 2008, with more body-color trim, and less black or charcoal plastic, for more solid, monochromatic look.
Aside from that, the Colorado looks much as it did when it was introduced as an all-new model for 2004. Then as now, the Colorado suggests a downsized and oddly Cubist rendition of the full-size Silverado. This impression begins with Colorado's bold chrome horizontal-bar grille and multi-lens headlamps. The lamp assembly has a flying wedge contour, higher at the outside, and houses high and low beams, daytime running lamps and turn signals. On models so equipped, fog lamps are inset into the bumper.
Overall, the Colorado has a clean, modern look. The fender bulges are angular and aggressive, more so than Silverado's. The leading edge of the front fender flares isn't finished elegantly, however. Reach-through door handles allow a full handful of grip for easy opening, even with gloves.
The Crew Cab looks well balanced despite the extra cab length. 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.
Ride height varies by suspension grade and has a dramatic effect on the truck's appearance. The standard Colorado has about 7.3 inches of ground clearance with 2WD and 7.7 inches with 4WD, varying slightly with cab style. The Z71 off-road suspension raises the ground clearance to around 8.9 inches, with 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 192 inches long. Overall height is about 65 inches for the standard Z85 suspension, 68 inches with 4WD.
Chevy Truck 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 by the dealer and financed as part of the deal.
There have been no changes to the Colorado's interior for 2008, except that OnStar is now standard on all models. Most of the Colorado's interior is swathed in hard plastic that's not finger friendly but should prove to be durable, important in a working truck. Inside door releases feel solid and sturdy in operation, but are finished with the same hard texture. The LT's leather-wrapped steering wheel is well cushioned, however, feels good in hand, and should remain comfortable for the long haul.
The optional front bucket seats are wide and soft, and lack lateral support, whether upholstered in cloth or leather.
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 armrest opens into a small storage space, big enough for a large wallet, but it wobbles when pushed. A small tray on the console is useful.
Instruments are traditional white-on-black with orange needles. They are easy to read and don't hide their 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, which features map lights, compass and outside temperature display. Light switches on mirrors often lead to thumbprints and frequent mirror adjustments, but in this case they're a step up.
The Crew Cab's back seat is surprisingly comfortable, particularly when compared with the back seats of old-generation compact Crew Cabs. There's a reasonable amount of leg room, especially with a little cooperation from those sitting in front, and the seat is comfortably high. The seatback angles back slightly, making it more comfortable than the bolt-upright backrest found in some other pickups. The wide cabin provides enough shoulder room for adult males, but don't expect the width of a full-size pickup. Getting in and out of the back seats 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 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 are rear hinged.
Chevrolet appears to have struck the right balance between capability and comfort for its midsize pickup. Colorado rides like a truck, but it isn't nasty about it. By aiming for a more modest towing capacity, GM engineers were able to reduce the rear spring rate and tune the suspension for a smooth ride. The rear end doesn't bounce around on washboard dirt roads the way it does on older trucks. It's the front end that feels firmer.
The 2.9-liters engine produces 185 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 190 pound-feet of torque at 2800 rpm. The 2.9-liter engine gets an EPA-rated City/Highway 18/24 mpg with either the four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission.
The optional inline-5 displaces 3.7 liters and develops 242 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque. That's less the optional 4.0-liter V6 engines in the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, both of which rate north of 260 pound-feet of torque. Dodge Dakota's top V8 boasts 329 pound-feet of torque, but the Dakota is a bigger, heavier truck. In the Colorado's defense, we should point out that the inline-5 sustains its peak torque over 90 percent of its rev range, which is important when hauling heavy loads or towing trailers. The maximum towing load for the Colorado with the five-cylinder engine and automatic transmission is 4,000 pounds, compared with 6,500 for the V6 Tacoma or Frontier, and 7,050 for the max-V8 Dakota. Colorado's five-cylinder runs happily on 87 octane Regular gas, while Toyota recommends (but does not require) Premium for its six-cylinder. The 3.7-liter engine gets and EPA-rated 16/22 mpg City/Highway.
A five-cylinder engine is 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 1970s, and Audi's premier engine was an 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 just fine. It's much more responsive than the four-cylinder and delivers quicker acceleration. It's also smoother. Just don't mention the number of jugs it has in a cowboy bar.
Both Colorado engines were derived from the Vortec 4200 inline-6 used in the Chevy TrailBlazer. GM lopped cylinders off the six to get the five and four. These are modern engines featuring all-aluminum construction, dual overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, electronic (drive-by-wire) throttle control, and a high 10:1 compression ratio. Along with a larger displacement for 2007, both Colorado engines also benefitted from larger intake and exhaust valves, revised cam profiles, new 2M electronic control module, and a number of refinements to reduce noise.
Colorado accelerates decently in traffic, and its Hydra-Matic 4L60 four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. But goose it on loose gravel or dirt, and the traction control system shuts down the power and the Colorado bogs. We discovered this while 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, but obviously you'll need to think that through in advance. In snow, however, the traction control should help in taming the pickup's lightly loaded rear end.
The brakes are big and meaty and certainly should be enough for any load the Colorado is rated to carry. Using front discs and rear drums, they are easy to modulate for smooth stops and work well when applied. Standard four-wheel ABS helps the driver maintain steering control in an emergency braking maneuver. It does its job neatly, keeping the truck in line even when slamming on the brakes on a gravel road.
All models offer stable and predictable handling. The suspension is firm enough to handle hard stops on pavement without drama. The Colorado is a truck, however, so it doesn't corner or stop like a car. We found it tended toward understeer, plowing in corners when pushed beyond the grip of the tires.
We were pleased with the operation of the four-wheel-drive system. There's no doubt when it engages: There's a small clunk when it shifts into 4WD HI (which can be done on the fly) and a bigger clunk when it shifts into 4WD LO (requiring the vehicle be stopped and in neutral). No full-time all-wheel drive is available; this is a truck-style part-time four-wheel-drive system and should not be used on dry pavement.
The Z71 models ride well for a pickup with an off-road suspension. We were able to test a Z71 in deep, sucking mud. We climbed a greasy, rocky hillside that, in the winter months, becomes Pennsylvania's Jack Frost ski resort. In neither case did the Colorado disappoint us.
Chevy 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.
John Matras reported from rural Pennsylvania; with NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Southern California; and John Katz in Pennsylvania.