The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon are the best of the mid-size pickups, at least as of this writing. Completely redesigned from the ground up and launched for 2015, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon went up against an aging and diminished group of mid-size trucks that included the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma (though an all-new Tacoma is being launched for the 2016 model year).
New for the 2016 Colorado is the late availability of a diesel engine: a 2.8-liter turbocharged Duramax four-cylinder. 2016 Chevrolet Colorado models benefit from updated integration with Apple iPhones, using Apple CarPlay capability, more apps supported, and an enhanced driver information display. Otherwise the 2016 Colorado models carry over unchanged from the 2015 model year.
The Chevrolet Colorado is an excellent alternative to a car for someone who wants or needs a pickup bed. Colorado’s payload capacity is 1540 pounds, more than that of a half-ton truck.
The base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s also used in the Impala. It makes 200-hp and 191 lb-ft of torque, using a manual transmission or automatic 6-speed. Colorado is rated to tow 3500 pounds.
The upgrade engine is an impressive 3.6-liter V6 making 305-hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, the same engine used in the Cadillac ATS. It sacrifices only a mile or two in fuel mileage. It’s rated to tow 7000 pounds, more than the Frontier and Tacoma, as well as some versions of Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram, and Ford F-150. A Ram 1500 V6 is rated to tow 4190 pounds.
The Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon use a boxed frame, coil springs in front, leaf springs in rear, electric power steering, and disc brakes with long-life rotors. Two-wheel drive is standard, four-wheel drive is an option. Colorado uses a more traditional four-wheel-drive system that includes a low range than the more sophisticated system used for the Canyon.
Different body styles work for buyers with different needs. There’s a four-door crew cab for carrying people, with a either a five- or six-foot pickup bed. There’s an extended cab with a six-foot bed.
The Colorado drives well and offers excellent packaging and interior space, bed features, fuel mileage, driving position, and connectivity.
The base Colorado is called the WT, for good ol’ work truck. The Colorado LT is nicely equipped, the one many will buy. The Z71 is the offroad model, with its own headlamps, 17-inch wheels, dark grille trim, and hill descent control.
Standard equipment on all Canyon models includes rearview camera, six airbags, stability control with trailer-sway control, and hill start assist. Connectivity-wise, there’s a USB port and touchscreen audio. Bluetooth and navigation are options, as is Chevy’s OnStar.
New for 2016, the Colorado’s MyLink interface now incorporates Apple CarPlay, which uses the truck’s touchscreen as a mirror display for some iPhone functions like messaging, streaming audio, and mapping.
The Colorado stretches and pulls the truck shape into a good-looking vehicle. With its smaller slimmer grille and soft rising shoulder line, the Colorado is not as in-your-face as are full-size trucks like the Silverado. The fenders are boxy enough to still say truck. It’s a global design, and that makes things tricky. The shape has to appeal to buyers from San Diego to San Salvador to Sumatra.
Inside, the Colorado is more like the Silverado, roomy and rugged, with better finish than 2015 Tacoma and Frontier. It feels like a GM sedan in the seat bolstering and aluminum-look door and dash trim. The beefy steering wheel has lots of control buttons, the center console with a shifter is wide.
It’s not roomy in the back seat of the crew cab. Okay for child seats but cramped for adults, in upright seatbacks with not much knee room. At least it will be quiet. Indeed, the Colorado is far and away the quietest pickup in its class. It seems quieter than a lot of cars and SUVs as well.
There’s a step on the bumper to get up into the bed, a tailgate that’s easy to lower and raise, and no less than 17 tie-down spots. Bed creations are numerous, from either a sprayed bedliner or a drop-in one; with cargo dividers, the GearOn racks and carriers, cargo nets, tonneau covers and toolboxes.
GM’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder is smooth but runs out of steam over 75 mph. It’s fine everywhere else. It comes with a manual transmission, while the V6 doesn’t, so if your truck must have a manual transmission, you take the smaller engine with it. The 6-speed automatic gets the most out of that engine, working with the 191 foot-pounds of torque. It has acceptable acceleration with an EPA-estimated 22 mpg Combined, same as Tacoma and Frontier.
The 3.6-liter V6 brings strong acceleration, while being more refined than some of the other sixes in the segment. Being a Cadillac engine, it’s smooth, although it makes more noise than the four-cylinder. Its Tow/Haul mode and automatic grade braking make towing bass boats and other light trailers a breeze.
The Colorado’s four-wheel-drive system is simpler than the automatic system used by the GMC Canyon. It’s an electrically switched part-time system with low-range.
The Colorado’s ride and handling are by far superior to the Tacoma and Frontier. The electric power steering is weighted well, has no dead zones, mostly tracks true, and adds effort quickly so you’re aware of cornering forces. The Colorado changes directions well for a truck. The body is stiff and doesn’t roll much. We thought 2WD four-cylinder models offered the best handling.
The suspension deftly deals with bumps, using its coil-over front shocks and a live rear axle and leaf springs. An empty bed might kick over railroad tracks, but remember it’s not a crossover, with unibody construction; it’s a body on a boxed frame. The ride might be less comfortable than a crossover, but it’s not like riding in a Wrangler. We found the Z71’s suspension setup gave the best comfort/handling compromise.
The versatile Colorado does a full-size job, especially with its Cadillac V6 engine. It offers ruggedness with a touch of sedan inside. Good six-speed automatic, real good ride and handling.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. Sam Moses contributed to this report.