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2023 Chevy Colorado First Drive Review: Small truck gets major makeover

2023 Chevy Colorado First Drive Review: Small truck gets major makeover

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JULIAN, Calif. — The all-new 2023 Chevrolet Colorado appears to be hot on the heels of its big brother, the Silverado, but don’t be so sure. You see, while it’s true that the current-gen Silverado was the first Chevy truck to receive GM’s turbocharged 2.7-liter engine three years ago, the Big Four was actually designed with the next-gen Colorado in mind . It was also the Colorado’s new interior that influenced the design direction of the Silverado’s quasi-emergency makeover a year ago—not the other way around. Basically, we got a slow preview of this mid-size pickup without even knowing it.

This is important because it shows that Chevy intended the Colorado to be a more distinctive, less Mini Me type of midsize truck. At least the Silverado hasn’t stolen its exterior styling cues, which are more youthful, athletic, and tougher without going overboard with machismo (see Silverado HD). You can see the Toyota Tacoma’s influence here, or at least the influence of how much more successful it is, although it’s not particularly good. People who buy these do so in part because they are smaller than a full-size and appreciate the superior maneuverability and off-road capability. They also dig the accompanying look, which is definitely not just miniaturized tundra.

This new Colorado is a lot more Tacoma-like in that regard, while being a lot better at the basics that Toyota’s wildly popular small pickup isn’t. The driving position is not glued to the ground like the Tacoma, there is enough legroom in the back seat, the interior technology is up to date thanks to Google, the ride is smoother and the engine is quieter and more efficient. Its hill descent assist also doesn’t sound like small arms fire emanating from under the front bumper when in use. Which all means the Colorado is trying to steal some of the Tacoma’s lunch money, and if there’s any justice in the world, it absolutely should. It’s a better truck.

With that obvious comparison out of the way, however, let’s dive deeper into the specifics of this all-new Colorado. This 2.7 liter turbocharged inline four is now the only engine available, replacing the old truck’s naturally aspirated inline four, V6 and turbodiesel. However, “motor only” is not entirely accurate, as there are three mood states. The base version, stock on Work Truck and LT trim levels, makes 237 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. While obviously superior to the sorry old sack NA Four Banger (200hp, 191lb-ft), it still feels on the cowardly side, suffering from extreme throttle lag accompanied by a terribly muddy pedal. Maybe it was just our special test truck, but this version of the engine may need some tweaking.

The mid-level version, or “2.7 Turbo Plus,” isn’t just a software flash — there are actually additional parts involved, including a piston cooling splash that isn’t needed in the lower-powered version, and several pieces of noise-dampening foam. However, there are also various ones and zeros, and it all boils down to an engine that produces 310 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. That would be more power than the outgoing V6 and more torque than the old turbodiesel. That certainly sounds like a mission accomplished, at least on paper.

On the road, this 2.7 is much more responsive to throttle inputs and suitably bold for a truck. Chevy estimates that most trim levels and powertrain combinations should hit 60 mph in under 7 seconds. The eight-speed automatic tends to upshift too quickly when momentarily letting off the gas while cruising up a grade (a sport mode would be nice, although there’s a tow/haul mode that should theoretically address this when towing and/or hauling). ).

According to Chevy, Silverado customers complained that the 2.7-liter didn’t sound enough like a truck engine, so engineers tried to address that in the Colorado (by 2024, the 2.7-liter will be identical in both trucks) . If you think a truck engine should sound like a diesel then mission accomplished there too as you will hear a very turbo diesel like wastegate whistle followed by the growl of the engine kicking it. All that premature upshifting can make this noise a bit annoying in certain steady-state driving situations, as each throttle pull is accompanied by the whistle. With a heavier foot, however, the 2.7 still sounds totally like a direct-injection four-cylinder. A duck is a duck is a duck. At least it’s a really strong duck.

And with the 2.7 Turbo High Output it can get even more powerful, this time 100% the result of a software flash that you can actually get from a dealer after the initial purchase. It produces the same 310 hp but torque is increased to 430 lb-ft. This is the setup that will come standard on the longest range, desert-busting ZR2 that we didn’t get to race on this go-around, but all other trims can be fitted as an option. Yes, even the work truck.

A look at the trim level shows just how popular off-roading is (or at least appears to be able to drive off-road) for midsize truck buyers. Of the Colorado’s six trim levels, four are of the more rugged variety. The Trail Boss, a new trim actually inherited from Silverado, builds on the surprisingly decent trim levels of the Work Truck with a 2-inch factory lift, 3-inch wider track, standard four-wheel drive, and off-road drive modes (Off-Road for smooth surfaces and terrain for rougher ones), an auto-locking rear differential, hill descent assist, recovery hooks, and unique styling touches including larger fender flares, lots of gloss black trim, and 18-inch wheels all wrapped in-terrain rubber. We drove a Trail Boss with the optional mud-terrain tires, which didn’t add as much extra noise as we expected, but you do notice the firmer reactions to road bumps, which in turn send more vibration through the truck’s frame. Apart from that, this body-on-frame pickup with rear leaf springs behaves well in terms of ride and handling. It is reasonably composed, comfortable and civilized.

Its mid-size dimensions also make it far more maneuverable than a full-sizer, a fact we probably appreciated most as we traversed a rutted trail east of San Diego. We didn’t have to worry about scraping paint on shrubs, and it was much easier to dodge big rocks or ruts. Absolutely no comparison when parking.

On the other hand, you obviously give up a lot of space when you race the Colorado against a Silverado. The Colorado now only offers one body combination: double cab and what would previously have been known as a short bed. Its 61.7-inch length is best-in-class for a short bed, but if you want a long double-cab bed, you’ll need to go for a Tacoma or Nissan Frontier.

Inside, it’s very good that the Silverado got its version of this design motif first, because we all would have written, “The Colorado now has a better interior than the more expensive Silverado.” Aesthetically, they’re related anyway, but the cheaper Colorado has a lot to offer across the board more hard plastic, especially on the doors and center console. The right side of the dashboard is also found on the Work Truck and Trail Boss (pictured above), but on the LT and Z71 it’s replaced with nice padded leatherette with color accent stitching.

However, every Colorado features the same 11.3-inch touchscreen as upper-trim Silverados, complete with its Google-made operating system. Navigation is therefore the Google Maps interface you are used to, natural language commands are provided by Google Assistant and the overall interface is easy to understand. However, we appreciate that GM kept its same general radio layout with virtual preset buttons under song/station info. As a refresher, the OS may be a common Android Automotive OS shared by multiple brands, but it’s been redesigned so a Chevrolet and a Volvo don’t look or even work exactly the same.

It also gets unique feature content, including off-road-specific vehicle info pages and a variety of camera angles available. Basically a fancier Trail Boss, the Colorado Z71 can add a unique underbody camera and low-mount front camera to match the Trail Boss’s regular front and rear cameras. You can split these different feeds (the two forward feeds would have been especially helpful if you had inch your way up a blind slope if the bottom camera wasn’t caked with mud), or use side-by-side views of the camera’s front or rear wheels.

Other highlights include a cushioned tailgate with an available storage compartment and the ability to stop midway to prop up a long surfboard, plywood, etc. The front overhang is also now shorter and the spare wheel rises higher off the ground. Improvement of the approach and departure angles. It also has a removable front air dam again for improved clearance, but it will definitely be less necessary now that it doesn’t dangle dangerously close to the ground. The creatively jagged hood not only looks interesting, but is a compromise between the aesthetic preferences for a rugged, high-hooded look and the visibility benefits of a lower hood.

In 2019, we placed the outgoing Colorado third out of four in a medium-sized truck group test. We appreciated its ride, handling and utility, but felt its engine was fine and its interior was in dire need of modernization and quality improvement. Well, those positives have been maintained and those negatives have been addressed. Would it be enough to topple the winner of that test, the then-new (for the US, anyway) Ford Ranger? We can’t know for sure, but the chances are good considering the comparable prices. At the very least, we would have much preferred the look of the Colorado. Oh yes, by the way: The truck that came last in this comparison almost four years ago? That would be the Tacoma. It really shouldn’t stand a chance now… as long as customers are willing to give this Colorado a chance.

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