2012 Chevrolet Colorado

AdChoices

2004 Chevrolet Colorado

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2012.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Overdue new compact pickup truck is a big improvement over predecessor.
Pros:
  • Better design
  • Strong engine
  • Agile
Cons:
  • Stiff ride
  • Uncomfortable rear seats
  • Rather fuel-thirsty

The all-new Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck is long overdue, but should attract many buyers because it has everything from handsome styling to two new engines.

The Colorado—great name for a pickup!—eventually will completely replace the slightly smaller Chevy S-10 pickup, which debuted in the early 1980s. The S-10 will be sold for a year or so only as a 4-wheel-drive crew cab model.

Chevrolet calls the Colorado a midsize pickup, but it's not as large as the midsize Dodge Dakota pickup.

Small Pickup Background
Compact pickups became very popular in the early 1970s, when they arrived with small, fuel-sipping engines from Japanese automakers—just in time for the country's first big gasoline crunch. They eventually were joined by small American pickups, which were much more fuel-efficient that large U.S. pickups.

No matter where they came from, small pickups were highly affordable and used by many as substitutes for cars. They were especially popular among young drivers, who customized them and didn't have to pay a lot to insure them.

Compact pickups with V6 engines and roomier cabs helped keep up interest in small pickups in the 1980s. The 1990s saw new and revamped models that offered even more room and additional car-like features.

Ford Ranger Challenger
The Ford Ranger has been the No. 1 compact pickup for many years, but the Colorado is a stronger rival than the S-10 was. For one thing, the Colorado is offered in crew cab form with an extended cab and four car-like doors.

Surprisingly, there's no crew cab version of the Ranger, although it offers an extended cab body style with a rear seat. However, the $15,565-$27,960 Colorado also comes with an extended cab and dual rear-hinged back doors. The base version has a regular cab and no rear seat area.

Fairly Roomy
Up to three occupants fit in the base Colorado, while the extended cab's rear seat mostly is for pre-teens. The crew cab has a split-folding rear seat and adequate room for two adults in back. However, legroom for a 6-footer is tight behind a driver who shoves his seat more than halfway back.

The crew cab has a 5-foot long cargo box, while the other versions have a 6-foot-long box. An unusual feature is a tailgate that can be secured in a partially open position to support 4-by-8-foot sheet goods.

Two Drive Systems
Chevy wanted the Colorado to be tough, so it has the body-on-frame construction of larger pickups and stiffer construction than the aged S-10. It is styled much like a big Chevy pickup and comes with rear-wheel drive or an all-wheel-drive system activated by a dashboard switch. The system has low-range gearing for rough off-road driving, but isn't for use on dry roads.

Chevy wants the Colorado to appeal to a large audience. It calls the new truck a "personal-use" vehicle for singles, couples or families who want packaging efficiency, driving and parking ease and low ownership costs—but who don't want or need the higher payloads, towing capacities and expenses of a full-size pickup.

The Colorado's segment-leading features include optional traction control for rear-wheel-drive models, head-protecting side airbags for all seating rows and a locking rear differential on both 2- and 4-wheel-drive models.

Different Suspensions
There also is a Z71 off-road suspension with an elevated ground clearance and a ZQ8 sport suspension for the rear-wheel-drive version.

The ZQ8 is a Chevrolet exclusive and includes 17-inch wheels, compared to rather small 15-inch wheels on other Colorados. However, buyers must be careful when choosing suspensions because the standard Z85 suspension is quite firm and the off-road and sport suspensions are even firmer—:and will become tiresome on long trips.

Fun to Drive
Nimble handling is provided by quick rack-and-pinion steering and all three suspensions, although 4-wheel-drive versions have a larger turning radius. Quick, sure stops are delivered by standard anti-lock brakes.

The Colorado has more powerful engines than those in last year's S-10. The base engine is a 2.8 liter 4-cylinder unit with a healthy 175 horsepower, while the other is a 3.5-liter inline 5-cylinder with 220 horsepower.

Unusual Engine
Some Chevy truck buyers likely will find a 5-cylinder truck engine to be unusual. Why no V6? Since both Colorado engines are basically cut-down versions of the 4.2-liter 275-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine that arrived in the 1992 Chevy TrailBlazer large sport-utility vehicle.

The engines produce lots of power for their relatively small sizes because they have such items as dual overhead camshafts, variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder instead of the usual two. Balance shafts reduce typical vibration found in engines with less than six cylinders.

Middling Fuel Economy

Colorado owners shouldn't expect high fuel economy. The 3.5 engine provides an estimated 17 mpg in the city and 22 on highways, and the 4-cylinder engine only does a little better. Premium gasoline is not needed.

The engines work with a rugged new 5-speed manual gearbox or a responsive 4-speed automatic transmission, which costs $1,095 for most Colorado versions. (Too bad the automatic isn't a 5-speed unit, like the one in the Ranger.) The Colorado automatic doesn't use a floor-mounted gear selector because it would eat into passenger room.

Marginal Rear Seats

Large door handles and fairly low floor make it easy to get in the quiet, businesslike interior, which is nicely finished. Front seats provide moderately good side support, but not much can be said for the rear seats, which have seatbacks that are too upright.

Gauges can be quickly read, and dashboard vents are nicely located. The smooth climate controls are large. So is the center console bin. The $395 AM/FM/CD sound system in my test truck had controls too small for easy driver operation when underway.

Tall windows allow good visibility and front occupants sit high. Rear windows roll all the way down in the crew cab, which has handy dual back seat cupholders.

Fluid filler areas easily can be reached in the neatly designed engine compartment, which has a hood held open by just a prop rod.

The wait has been long, but the Colorado arrives as one of the most competitive compact pickups. As with the old small pickups, the Colorado can be a versatile car substitute for some folks.

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BB05 - 4/23/2014 8:54:42 PM