The Chevrolet Colorado is the best of the midsize pickups, with virtues that surpass most of what is offered by the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and even the individualistic Honda Ridgeline.
We’ve found the Colorado beats the top-selling Tacoma in ride, handling, packaging, fit and finish, interior space and materials, connectivity, driving position, and bed features.
And now we think the Tacoma TRD Off-Road, perennial ruler of rugged terrain among midsize pickups, may have finally met its challenge in the form of the new Colorado ZR2, introduced late in the 2017 model year.
Colorado ZR2 is a hard-core off-road truck with its own bodywork designed to improve approach and departure angles. It rides on a big wide track, lifted suspension, and hefty 31-inch Goodyear all-terrain tires. It has a mean and adventuresome look, ready for the Baja, with locking differentials, front and rear. There’s a choice between a superb diesel or a wonderful V6. The Colorado ZR2 feels highly capable to us, and it’s way more comfortable than the Tacoma TRD. It’s just the thing for traversing a boulder field.
For most, the Colorado Z71 delivers more than enough four-wheel-drive capability, plenty for primitive roads and two-tracks.
The current, second-generation Colorado was introduced in the U.S. as a 2015 model, notable for its comfort. For 2017, Colorado got a new 3.6-liter V6 with direct fuel injection, making a strong 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, with a new 8-speed automatic transmission.
The standard Colorado engine is an eminently usable 2.5-liter four cylinder making 200 horsepower with a sharp 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission. It’s winning powertrain either way.
Also available is a 2.8-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that makes 369 pound-feet of torque, with 181 horsepower at the top end. It’s the best choice for towing, rated to pull up to 7700 pounds, though we’d opt for a Silverado long before approaching that kind of weight. The diesel also works well for rugged terrain. The diesel is rated by the EPA at 30 miles per gallon Highway with two-wheel drive. We found it smooth, very refined, and powerful, emitting a wonderful sound.
A 100th Anniversary Edition package is available for the 2018 Colorado, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Chevrolet truck.
The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon are mostly identical mechanically.
Colorado rides on a boxed frame with coil spring suspension in front, leaf springs at the rear. The electric power steering is weighted well. Its ride and handling is far better than the Nissan Frontier, as well as the Tacoma. Four-wheel disc brakes with long-life rotors are standard.
Buyers can choose among cab and bed configurations, including the standard extended cab with two small rear doors, a very small bench seat, and six-foot bed; or the four-door crew cab with either a five- or six-foot bed (or no bed at all, for commercial sales). There’s no regular cab any more.
A crew cab Colorado works well as a second family car.
Four-wheel drive is available. On Colorado LT and Z71 models four-wheel drive can be activated manually. Autotrac activates the front wheels electronically, like all-wheel drive, for better grip and control on the road. Four-wheel-drive drops fuel economy by about two miles per gallon compared with rear-wheel drive. On the base model, the part-time four-wheel-drive system is simpler, intended more for mud, sand or snow.
The Z71 should suit most off-road needs, with a slightly raised suspension, unique dampers, and limited-slip rear differential. The ZR2 should be able to manage most any navigable situation encountered.
Fuel economy for the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission is an EPA-rated 20/26 mpg City/Highway, or 22 mpg Combined. The turbodiesel is rated 22/30 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined. Colorado 4WD 3.6-liter V6 is rated 17/24 mpg City/Highway, 19 mpg Combined on Regular gasoline. It runs on four cylinders when six aren’t needed to maintain the speed.
Colorado gets four stars overall from the NHTSA in crash testing, with five stars for side impact. Colorado earned the top Good rating for the demanding small overlap front test from the IIHS, a score that few vehicles achieve, let alone pickup trucks.
The Colorado doesn’t go in for luxury features. That’s covered by the GMC Canyon Denali.
The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado comes in base, WT, LT, Z71 and ZR2 models in many configurations. We counted 23, spanning a wide price range.
Standard equipment on all models except the base includes six airbags, stability control, trailer sway control, hill start assist, rearview camera, easy-lowering tailgate, touchscreen audio, and USB port. The Z71 gets hill descent control. Options include forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, Bluetooth, navigation, OnStar, 4G LTE data connectivity, and a larger touchscreen with Apple CarPlay.
The Chevy Colorado doesn’t have the relentlessly rectilinear lines of the full-size Chevy Silverado, nor the fat grille of the GMC Canyon, overkilled by chrome. The Colorado’s rising shoulder line softens the pickup silhouette with boxy fenders. The grille is slim and relatively small. The Colorado looks like a truck, a good-looking truck. It does not look like a Honda Ridgeline.
The ZR2’s front bumper is trimmed for clearance over rocks, and its wheels are pushed out. It looks planted, despite the lifted suspension. The hood bulges. The ZR2 is clean, avoiding the aftermarket look. It classes up any off-road gathering.
In the cabin, the Colorado is like the Silverado, rugged and upscale, with a fit and finish that’s better than that of the Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier.
It feels plenty truck-like inside, but there’s an element of sedan in the well-finished dashboard, the seat bolstering, and aluminum-look door and dash trim. The beefy steering wheel has lots of controls. The shift lever is mounted on a wide and tall console that can store an iPad, while holding two big cupholders and up to four USB ports, along with many small storage slots, bins, and trays.
There’s excellent headroom and legroom and a big view out the windshield. The front seats are relatively skinny, and have a more natural driving position than other trucks in the class, with a higher hip point and a more ergonomic relationship to the steering wheel, unlike the splayed-legs stance you have to take in the Tacoma. The Colorado is far more relaxing to drive for trips longer than an hour.
The rear of the extended cab is a pair of jump seats best suited for packages or child seats, or maybe kids. The crew cab offers cramped accommodations for two adults in the back seats, with bolt-upright seatbacks and a marked lack of knee room. Keep that in mind when you’re thinking of making it a second family car.
The bed is a big selling point. The payload is 1410 to 1590 pounds, while there’s an available bed extender that stretches the six-foot bed to eight feet, as big as a full-size truck, by using the tailgate. The step on the bumper makes it easy to climb into, and the slow-dropping tailgate will be appreciated every day. There are some 17 points for tie-downs, either a spray-in bedliner or a drop-in one, and available cargo dividers, a system of racks and carriers, cargo nets and tonneau covers, and a drop-in toolbox.
For a pickup truck, the Colorado offers a smooth ride that handles bumps well, making it a compelling alternative to a car. Some motions make it into the cabin, but wide sidewalls on the tires absorb a lot. We would be fine with a commute over rough roads in a Colorado, which we can’t say about the Tacoma or Frontier.
The Honda Ridgeline is also a rival, but it’s different. The Ridgeline has unitbody construction (like a car or a crossover), while the Colorado is body-on-frame, better for trucks because that design is superior for towing, hauling and durability.
The 3.6-liter V6 makes 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The 2.8-liter turbodiesel was new for 2016. It makes 181 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque at just 2000 rpm, so it pulls like a V8 across the rev range, even at high elevations and up steep grades, with few downshifts. The optional exhaust brake helps control downhill speeds with a full load. We find it smooth, solid and confident, a delightful diesel.
If you don’t carry or tow big loads, the base 2.5-liter engine, with its 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque, will probably work for you. It’s acceptable for medium-speed urban duty. You can get it with a manual transmission, however the 6-speed automatic works well with the four-cylinder engine. Now you have a car that can haul stuff.
The Toyota and Nissan four-cylinder trucks get better fuel mileage and Tacoma dominates in durability and rugged-terrain capability, but the Colorado is a far better choice for the kind of driving and infrequent hauling that a lot of truck buyers do. The Colorado is a much more comfortable truck and it’s nicer to drive than the Tacoma or Frontier.
The new ZR2 uses active dampers, developed with the experience from decades of offroad endurance racing, and even Formula 1. They are named Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve dampers supplied by Mulitmatic. The technology is also used on the Chevy Camaro ZL1. The reaction time of these dampers to deal with wheel movement is astonishingly quick.
We found the ZR2 drives very nicely around town, ours equipped with the diesel. We haven’t driven one off pavement yet, but the suspension feels extremely capable and we have no doubt it will deliver. The Goodyears have aggressive tread on the edges of the sidewalls for traction in muddy ruts.
The Chevy Colorado offers a strong powertrain, good looks, convenient cabin, smooth ride, and decent handling. We think it’s best in class, the best truck among midsize pickups. We like all of its characters: from simple four-cylinder stick-shift Work Truck, to second family car, to high-tech offroad monster.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with NCTD editor Mitch McCullough reporting from New Jersey and staff reports.