After Extensive Testing, One Winner Emerges
In case you’re not a frequent reader of this magazine or have fast-forwarded through every commercial break over the past dozen months, the new-for-2015 Colorado midsize pickup was the well-deserved recipient of our 2015 Truck of the Year award. Chevy took a swing at building the ultimate midsize truck from the ground up, and lo and behold, it connected. At this point, you might be wondering, how’d it get back in contention just one year later? How the heck did it win again?
For the former, the answer is simple. For 2016, the Colorado is available with a 181-horsepower, 2.8-liter inline-four Duramax diesel, making it the only midsize truck to offer such an engine (along with its GMC Canyon cousin). That’s a significant powertrain addition, enough to warrant a title-defense invite. For the latter, the answer is a bit more complex but no less convincing.
Let’s begin with probably the most important criterion, the one that speaks to capability, dynamic performance, and overall driver enjoyment. “What really shines here is simply the truck’s small size and lighter weight, which result in unusually sharp steering and deft handing,” Reynolds said, “and all this wrapped around an engine that provides such great economy.”
Truth be told, the Colorado isn’t all that small or light—it’s essentially the same size as the enlarged new Tacoma and a few hundred pounds heavier, to boot—but it is engineered to drive small and light, feeling more like a crossover than a truck. “The difference between the Tacoma and Colorado is night and day,” Seabaugh said. “While the Tacoma feels old-school and truckish, the Colorado drives like the future of small trucks.” This subjective disparity carries over to the test track, where the 4×2 and 4×4 Colorados outperformed their Tacoma counterparts in both lateral acceleration and60-0 braking. At the dragstrip, the Colorados hustled from 0 to 60 in 8.6 (LT) and 9.5 (Z71) seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.5 at 82.1 mph (LT) and 16.9 at 78.9 (Z71).
None of their times was especially notable, certainly given the Tacomas’ quicker stats, but the Colorados’ behavior on road convinced our judges that the Duramax was the most potent and rewarding engine among the midsize contenders. “It’s a sweetheart to drive,” Kong noted. “It doesn’t feel like it’s struggling, straining, or overexerting itself.” Added Loh: “The torque of the diesel provides a lot of confidence when towing. Even when pulling the max trailer, the little red Colorado never felt under undue strain.” Indeed, despite lugging a 7,600-pound trailer, the Colorado LT hit the quarter mile in 23.4 seconds, handily outpacing the Tacoma SR5 and its 6,700-pound anchor at 24.1.
In payload testing up and down the 11.2-mile Davis Dam grade, the Colorados were saddled with 500 pounds each. From behind the wheel, though, 500 felt more like 50. Up the strenuous grade, the Duramax’s 369 lb-ft of torque (from 2,000 rpm) asked for only a roll-on of the throttle—generally not even a downshift—to push a burdened Colorado with total ease. “Rock solid at speed, and it really doesn’t show any obvious signs that it’s hauling a heavy load,” Seabaugh said. The LT’s 50-70-mph frustration-test time of 8.3 seconds trailed the Tacoma SR5’s 7.0, but its smooth, torque-laden surge seemed calm, cool, and collected against the Taco’s multiple downshifts and wailing V-6.
From outside the cabin, the Duramax exhibited noticeable but not obtrusive diesel clatter. Conversely, from inside the cabin, the Duramax bordered on library quiet thanks to added acoustic damping in the dash and engine cover as well as a centrifugal pendulum vibration absorber in the Hydra-Matic 6L50 automatic’s torque converter, a trick piece of engineering that cancels out the engine’s torsional vibrations.
Down the Davis Dam grade, the Colorado’s standard smart diesel exhaust brake system, which it inherited from the Silverado HD, used compression power from the engine to help maintain speed and reduce brake wear. As a result, there was no need to manually downshift to engage engine braking; just ease off the throttle and steadily cruise down.
As this issue went to press, EPA fuel economy numbers for the new Duramax had yet to be released. But per our own Real MPG testing, we can confirm that the Colorado diesel is far and away the most fuel-efficient midsize truck on the market. At 23.2/31.4/26.3 mpg city/highway/combined, the 4×2 Colorado LT Duramax returned numbers more in line with a 1.5-liter Malibu sedan (20.8/34.3/25.3), topping the tiny gas engine’s combined rating by 1 full mpg. To get an idea of how a comparable gas truck rates, the 4×2 Tacoma SR5 with a 3.5-liter V-6 touts EPA numbers of 19/24/21. (We were unable to obtain Real MPG numbers on this truck.) For a gas engine, the Taco’s numbers are excellent—near the top of the non-diesel pack, in fact—but in light of the Colorado Duramax, its scores make it look like it’s running the Tundra’s 5.7-liter V-8.
A go-anywhere 4×4 with nubby tires more your speed? The Z71 Trail Boss Duramax riding on mudslinging Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac rubber returned even more impressive numbers of 25.5/29.3/27.1. For context, albeit gas to diesel, the Tacoma TRD Off-Road with more road-bent Goodyear All-Terrain Adventure tires scored 15.8/21.8/18.1.
Of course, the Duramax isn’t the only efficient Colorado engine. Both the 2.5-liter I-4 and 3.6-liter V-6 gas engines deliver (or tie for) class-leading fuel economy.
The Duramax, available on Z71 and LT trims, commands a $3,730 premium over the gas V-6. But other options are required when selecting the diesel. For the Z71, the Trailering package is required, pushing the premium to $3,980. Opt for the LT, and a locking rear diff (standard on Z71) and Safety and Convenience packages are automatically added, elevating the extra cost to more than $5,000. But we feel it’s worth the money. “This diesel is wonderful,” Seabaugh said. “That it can tow 7,600 pounds and is averaging 24 mpg after two loops of mixed driving speaks volumes about this engine. Further, the diesel smooths out the shifts of the transmission and essentially gives it less work to do, as the gearbox doesn’t need to hunt to get the truck going—the massive torque curve has got that covered. Why you’d buy any other engine in this truck is beyond me.”
If your wallet can think beyond Seabaugh, both the 2.5 I-4 and 3.6 V-6 represent strong, class-competitive values. For example, a base extended-cab, long-box I-4 4×2 starts at less than $21,000, and a well-equipped crew-cab, short-box Z71 V-6 4×4 comes in around $37,000. Either way, each comes standard with a six-speed transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, locking tailgate, and a backup camera with dynamic guide lines.
Further, many of the Colorado’s options are pleasantly reasonable—navigation for $495, spray-in bedliner for $475, and a Safety package that includes forward collision alert and lane departure warning for $395—so customizing the ideal truck need not break the bank.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has yet to test the Colorado, leaving the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and its moderate overlap front test as our sole reference. The good news, fittingly, is that the Colorado—well, the GMC Canyon—received the highest score of Good, which translates to, “[Measurements] taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.”
The Colorado also has six airbags, stability control with rollover mitigation, hill start assist, and hill descent control (Z71).
Advancement in Design
Sure, it’s a year old, and a younger Tacoma is on the scene, but the Colorado remains the segment’s design benchmark. The styling is sporty and handsome yet understated. It draws you in the longer you admire the clean lines, bold front fascia, and tight panel gaps. Then there are the details. From its deep bed depth, CornerStep rear bumper, and second-row under-seat storage to triple-sealed doors and segment-first aluminum hood and active aero grill shutters, the Colorado was designed to function as well as it looks.
Inside, the story’s much the same. The mix of materials and design presentation are not as fresh or original as those in the Tacoma, but the ergonomics and ease of use are second to none. “Ergonomics are still spectacular,” Kong said. “The easy-to-reach, narrower center stack region places everything within easy reach of an outstretched arm.” Added Vance: “The interior provides no frills, but all the basic functions are there, including a back seat in which the backrest folds flat and the seat bottom swings up to provide cargo area along with some cubbies.”
Performance of Intended Function
Jack-of-all-trades. Swiss Army knife. There are many descriptors for the immensely versatile Colorado. With the new Duramax, Chevy’s midsize workhorse delivers best-in-class fuel economy (we expect the EPA to certify it at 31 mpg highway), superb drivability, and up to 7,700 pounds of towing and 1,547 pounds of payload capacity. Can we call it a Swiss-Army-jackknife-of-all-trades? Opt for the V-6, and towing and payload adjust to a still impressive 7,000 and 1,580, respectively. Want to take a run at the Rubicon? The new Trail Boss with an automatic locking rear diff, transfer case shield, and gnarly Goodyears is ready to give it a shot. Need a commercial truck without a box? The Colorado is the first in its segment to offer a box delete package for custom body upfits. Want to jump online or power up multiple devices? The Colorado offers a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot and up to four USB ports. Carry an iPhone? The Colorado’s MyLink now touts Apple CarPlay, enabling the use of myriad apps through the center-mounted multicolor touchscreen.
“The Colorado performed well in all the tests,” Martinez said. “Towing, hauling, cruising, hustling, soft-roading—it impressed thoroughly. The torquey, nicely sorted powertrain, its handsome design, the long amenities list, its superior fuel economy, and the handy versatility push the Colorado marque—and the popular segment it occupies—further.” And ultimately, that’s more than enough to make the 2016 Chevy Colorado a pickup worthy of the Motor Trend Truck of the Year title two years running.
|2016 Chevrolet Colorado LT Duramax Diesel||2016 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Duramax Diesel (Trail Boss)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, 4WD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbodiesel I-4, iron block/alum head||Turbodiesel I-4, iron block/alum head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||169.4 cu in/2,776cc||169.4 cu in/2,776cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||181 hp @ 3,400 rpm*||181 hp @ 3,400 rpm*|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||369 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm*||369 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm*|
|REDLINE||Not indicated||Not indicated|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||25.2 lb/hp||25.2 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed automatic||6-speed automatic|
|AXLE/FINAL/LOW RATIO||3.42:1/2.29:1/-||3.42:1/2.29:1/-; 2.72:1|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs|
|BRAKES, F;R||12.2-in vented disc; 12.8-in disc, ABS||12.2-in vented disc; 12.8-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.0 x 17-in, cast aluminum||8.0 x 17-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||255/65R17 110T M+S Goodyear Wrangler Fortitude HT||265/65R17 112S M+S Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac|
|WHEELBASE||128.3 in||128.3 in|
|TRACK, F/R||62.4/62.4 in||62.4/62.4 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||212.7 x 74.3 x 70.7 in||212.7 x 74.3 x 70.6|
|TURNING CIRCLE||41.3 ft||41.3 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,568 lb||4,922 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||55/45 %||56/44%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||41.4/38.3 in||41.4/38.3 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||45.0/35.8 in||45.0/35.8 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||57.5/56.2 in||57.5/56.2 in|
|PICKUP BOX L x W x H||61.7 x 57.8 x 20.9 in||61.7 x 57.8 x 20.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||41.3 cu ft||41.3 cu ft|
|WIDTH BET. WHEELHOUSES||44.4 in||44.4 in|
|PAYLOAD CAPACITY||1,432 lb||1,278 lb|
|TOWING CAPACITY||7,700 lb||7,600 lb|
|GVWR||6,000 lb||6,200 lb|
|GCWR||12,700 lb||12,700 lb|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.6 sec||2.7 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.9||5.5|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 82.1 mph||16.9 sec @ 78.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft||130ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.73 g (avg)||0.72 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||29.0 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)||29.7 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,500 rpm||1,500 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,895||$47,425|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||21.0 gal||21.0 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||Not yet rated||Not yet rated|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||23.2/31.4/26.3 mpg||25.5/29.3/27.1 mpg|