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Review: 2015 Chevrolet Colorado

DEC. 5, 2014

Automakers routinely try to create new segments, hoping an unusual vehicle will find a fresh set of customers. But with the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, General Motors is aiming at an old segment that’s been largely abandoned and forgotten: the midsize pickup. And G.M. is betting there are buyers who want the utility of a pickup in a somewhat smaller package than the full-size Chevy Silverado.

It is a disruptive move, threatening the friendly complacency that has lately characterized the segment, inhabited of late by only two elderly, genteel competitors: the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.

The Tacoma and Frontier were new for the 2005 model year, and there hasn’t been much incentive to modernize since in 2011 Ford stopped building the Ranger and Chrysler discontinued the Dakota.

“Here we are, crashing their party,” said Brad Schreiber, the engineer responsible for the ride and handling of the new Colorado and its sibling, the GMC Canyon.

The last-generation Colorado, a disappointing vehicle with such a poor structure that the pickup bed waggled, was developed largely by Isuzu. Introduced as a 2004 model, it was discontinued after the 2012 model year and is only now being replaced.

The 2015 model is available as either an extended cab or crew cab with either 5-foot-2 or 6-foot-2 bed lengths.

Engine choices are a 200-horsepower 2.5-liter 4 cylinder or a 3.6-liter V6 rated at 305 horsepower. A 6-speed manual is available on the least expensive models; everything else gets a 6-speed automatic.

There are rear-wheel and 4-wheel-drive models. But the 4-wheel drive is a part-time system designed for use only on slippery surfaces.

The least expensive “Base” model has an extended cab, the shorter bed, rear-wheel drive and the 6-speed manual transmission. It is $20,995 including the $875 shipping charge.

Consumers seeking a less plain but fiscally conservative approach can choose the LT trim. With an extended cab, the longer bed, rear-wheel drive, the 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic, the price is $26,045. Four-wheel drive adds $4,050, which means that for $30,095 the Colorado buyer still gets a 4-cylinder engine. The V6 costs $1,235 more.

I tested a Crew Cab LT with the long bed, 4-wheel drive, V6 and automatic transmission, for a starting price of $33,260. Options included heated seats, 18-inch wheels, leather interior, upgraded stereo, remote start, navigation system, lane departure alerts and collision warning as well as a fully automatic locking rear differential. The total came to $38,870.

That may seem like a big window sticker for a midsize pickup. But it is easy to miss how expensive full-size pickups have become. A comparably equipped Chevy Silverado V6 can easily cost $7,000 more.

In addition to price, there is quite a difference in size. The largest Colorado is the Crew Cab with the long bed and an overall length of 224.9 inches — nearly 15 inches shorter than a comparable Silverado. All Colorados are 5.7 inches narrower than the Silverado. So, unlike a full-size pickup, the Colorado feels tidy, maneuverable and piece-of-cake easy to place in its lane.

It is also eager, by truck standards, to head into a turn. The steering has a nice weight, and when the Colorado is going straight there is none of the truckish on-center looseness that can undermine driver confidence. Indeed, the Colorado can be aimed through a turn, and it follows directions without any fiddling corrections. The feel of the brake pedal is so good it would be appropriate in a sport sedan.

The ride is comfortable for a body-on-frame truck, and even on broken roads the Colorado feels incredibly solid, a tremble-free zone. That reflects the extensive use of high- and ultra-high-strength steel.

The Colorado is based on new underpinnings, including an independent front suspension and solid rear axle. “Everything from the suspension to frame to body structure is new,” said Mr. Schreiber, the ride-and-handling engineer.

The engines and transmissions are borrowed from elsewhere in the G.M. family. The automatic transmission was a disappointment. It was often slow to react, as if trying to figure out what it was supposed to do. At times, it wasn't clear why it shifted gears; occasionally, a shift was harsh.

When a quick response was needed, the V6 didn't help much partly because its peak torque — 269 pound-feet — wasn't reached until 4,000 r.p.m. But once the correct gear was selected — after the automatic’s pause for deliberation — the engine dealt adequately, if noisily, with the truck’s 4,450 pounds of bulk.

The fuel economy for the tested version isn't great. The government rating is 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 m.p.g. on the highway. A Silverado with a 5.3 liter V8, 4-wheel drive and 6-speed automatic is rated only 1 m.p.g. lower in town and 2 lower on the highway.

The 4-cylinder doesn't provide much improvement. A Colorado with 4-wheel drive and 6-speed automatic is rated at 19 m.p.g. city and 25 highway.

Next year, G.M. will offer a 2.8-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel rated at 181 horsepower with 369 pound-feet of torque at an accessible 2,000 r.p.m. The automaker has not offered fuel-economy estimates for that engine. For the tested truck, General Motors rates the payload , which is the maximum recommended weight of passengers and cargo, at 1,520 pounds. That’s only 190 pounds less than a 4-wheel-drive Silverado Crew Cab with a 5.3 liter V8, 6-foot-6 bed and 4-wheel drive.

The Colorado I tested was rated to tow 7,000 pounds because it was equipped with the optional $250 trailering package, which also requires the locking rear differential for an additional $325. The standard rating is 3,500 pounds.

Whether carrying or towing, pickups are all about practicality, and that emphasis continues with the Colorado’s interior. There are plenty of trays and storage bins, and G.M. has embraced the simplicity of the knob for some controls. But there are also hard plastic surfaces one would not expect in a truck that costs almost $39,000. Also, even in the Crew Cab, a 6-foot adult seated in back is likely to be cramped.

One nice feature is a standard backup camera even on the least expensive model.

While flawed by the transmission and so-so fuel economy, the Colorado, and the identical-performing Canyon, offer satisfying handling, relative affordability as well as adequate towing and cargo capacity.

And it appears there are plenty of people who still like midsize pickups: About 8.3 million are still registered in the United States, according to an analysis by Experian Automotive. About 528,000 of those are the old Colorado, suggesting that the previous version was less than a sales success.

“That truck was less than what we hoped it would be,” said Mr. Schreiber, the engineer. “I think we want to put the previous generation behind us and distance ourselves from that truck.”

Indeed, G.M. has put light years between the old and new Colorados. The latest truck should be a bombshell in the midsize pickup segment.

Some of those shock waves are already embarrassing a full-size competitor, the all-new 2015 Ford F-150. Last week, Motor Trend magazine picked the Colorado as its Truck of the Year, an honor that many in the industry had expected to go to the aluminum-body F-150, which Ford has been promoting as a breakthrough model. The editors at Motor Trend praised the Colorado for features including versatility, handling, fuel economy and value.

But Chevrolet shouldn't get too cocky; the midsize game isn't over, and it may just be starting to get interesting. Toyota will introduce a new Tacoma next month at the Detroit auto show.



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