What was good for Texas was good for pickups. So full-size pickups got bigger, and midsize trucks began to vanish. Gone were the Ford Ranger, the Dodge Dakota, and, most recently, the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado.
But three years after disappearing, the Colorado returns, completely redone in more manageable bite-sized proportions compared to those full-sized Texan trucks. The Colorado may not be the biggest pickup in contention for the 2015 Motor Trend Truck of the Year, but it turns out to be the best in more of our judging categories than anything else.
"The Colorado to me is the perfect-size truck again," Reynolds said. "Its simplicity and purity are what a truck ought to be about."
Indeed, for many, a midsize pickup appeals to a more modest sense of size. The segment has been shrinking due to neglect. So when the Colorado reappeared, it trounced the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier in a comparison test, clearly marking itself as a segment leader. No other vehicle tested stands out as much."This is a really good, honest little truck," Evans said. "I can see it being very popular with small businesses that have been running old Rangers and the like."
The Colorado also provides a considerable value for consumers looking at that segment, another criteria Motor Trend judges weighed.
Our two test vehicles, an extended cab work truck with a sticker price of $23,300 and a crew cab Z71 pickup at $36,210, were the least expensive of the TOTY contestants. You could buy three Colorado work trucks for less than the $74,665 F-450 we tested. Granted, those are short-bed to long-bed comparisons, but the Colorado represents solid value in its segment, comparably priced against the (less impressive) Tacoma and Frontier.
The lower price never left editors wanting for more.
"For a very basic offering, it doesn't feel that cheap," Loh said of the work truck. "There are almost no button blanks or other obvious signs of cost cutting, aside from the wide bezel on the tiny screen."
Good things do come in small packages.
There are currently two engines to choose from: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 3.6-liter V-6. Next year, Chevrolet will introduce a 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4, slightly modified from the overseas market.
All the engines are mated to a Hydramatic six-speed automatic transmission or, on lower trim levels of the 2.5-liter, an Eaton six-speed manual. Our two testers came with the automatic, which received the one consistent gripe from editors. While the transmission provided good acceleration and never lurched, it did seem to want to get to sixth gear in a hurry, sometimes causing the Colorado to lag. But stomp on the accelerator, and it would drop a gear or two, and the truck was off and running.
The Colorado is rated to tow 7,000 pounds with a V-6 and towing package, which we did not sample. The 2.5-liter is rated for 3,500 pounds, but Chevy doesn't sell a hitch on 2.5-liter models, so we put one on and towed a 3,000-pound trailer. Acceleration to 60 mph slowed from 9.3 to 17.4 seconds -- slowing just slightly more as a percentage than its GMC sibling Canyon 3.6 V-6 did with the same trailer (7.7-13.3 seconds). Our Z71 model did not include a hitch.
Editors noted that either empty or loaded, the Colorado provided a solid, smooth ride. Its size became a noticeable asset instead of a mark against it. "I had been concerned that these midsize trucks were too close in size to the full-size ones," Markus said, "but this seems enough smaller to feel nimble."
Added Lieberman, "The Colorado has the best steering I've ever experienced on any truck, full stop."
With the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine creating 200 hp and the 3.6-liter V-6 generating 305, both trucks had more than enough muscle. Colorados weigh between 3,900 pounds and 4,450 pounds depending on configuration.
The truck was also the most efficient in its segment. The EPA estimates 20/27/22 mpg and 17/24/20 mpg for the four-cylinder and six-cylinder models, respectively. Our Real MPG testing confirmed similar mileage; the four-banger reached 16.8/23.6/19.3 mpg, and the more powerful Colorado with the V-6 hit 17.7/22.2/19.5 mpg.
"I, like many others, was critical of the Colorado initially because of its size and pricing," Seabaugh said, "but it really looks, feels, and drives significantly smaller than the full-size Silverado."
Additionally, Chevrolet keeps the construction of the Colorado simple. Unlike full-size offerings that can be configured more ways than a Rubik's Cube, the Colorado comes in either extended cab or crew cab body styles and two beds: one short, the other long. There are currently two engines and either two-wheel or four-wheel-drive options. It's smart packaging, providing enough consumer choice to make it popular but not so much to make it confusing.
There are also a number of segment-first safety features, such as camera-dependent forward collision alert and lane-departure warning systems. Backup cameras are standard for all vehicles. The optional Chevy MyLink provides for hands-free calling, with a button allowing use of Siri on an iPhone to control everything from music to text messages. It will even read texts aloud. If that keeps people's eyes on the road instead of their phone, it's a significant safety feature. If people still foolishly look down at their phone, the Colorado comes with six airbags, and Chevy expects it to perform well in future crash testing.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Colorado was the base model work truck, which never felt cheap or inferior.
"I suspect for $23,300, many fleet drivers would be very satisfied with the Colorado because it has A/C, a meaty center armrest, nice cloth selection, and much more manageable overall size," Kong said.
There are also a slew of standard features. Some were developed for the Silverado and passed down to the Colorado, such as the CornerStep, which creates a foothold in the bumper so you can easily climb up into the bed. There are also 13 tie-down locations in the bed and optional moveable cargo rings that make it easier to rope down any load.
On the Z71 model, the EZ-Lift-and-Lower tailgate uses a torsion bar to reduce the effort needed to open and close the tailgate. These aren't necessarily new features to the truck market, but they are thoughtful additions to the Colorado.
Inside both cabins, the space feels open. "You'd never use the word 'cramped' to describe this truck," Lieberman said. There is only one USB port in the base model, but there are four ports in the Z71 model. That premium off-roading model also comes with an 8-inch color touchscreen and Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system, which is easy to use and allows for smartphone connectivity. (The Colorado also offers 4G LTE connectivity, as will most new GM products.)
"The extra bells and whistles look great and work well -- just like a mini Silverado -- but don't diminish the base model as much as you might think," Loh said.
Like a Ronco knives commercial, the Colorado seemed to say, "But wait, there's more." Chevy loaded it up with storage bins and places to hold all the stuff a driver might need inside the cabin. There's even a 3.5-inch digital screen on the instrument cluster that provides the driver with trip computer and vehicle and eco-coaching information.
These trucks are up for many a task. Whether hauling plywood from Home Depot, carrying bikes to a trailhead, or commuting to work, the Colorado bested everything else tested for performance of intended function.
Every editor agreed that the Colorado's exterior design was inspiring. Chevrolet said it purposely pushed the pickup's design to look different than the Silverado's. The unique grille comes in either chrome or gunmetal and carries a big Chevy bow tie in the center.
The extended cab model has great proportions, but the crew cab model stretches those limits. Our Z71 model included all-terrain tires that lifted the Colorado slightly and an available running board that looked like it could serve as a rock rail. It stuck out too far, and many editors noted they hit their legs on it when getting in or out of the Z71. "The entire time I was driving the Z71 Colorado, I was resisting the urge to dive off the road into the dirt and practice for the Baja 1000," Evans said. "It felt so light and capable, I just wanted to tear across the desert with it."
Really, when you look back to the original small pickups, the new Colorado is quite large in comparison. A regular cab, short-bed 2003 Chevy S-10 was just 190.1 inches long and 62.0 inches tall; a new Colorado in its smallest configuration is 212.7 inches long and 70.3 inches tall. But it's not nearly as big as all of those full-size pickups, which have incredible power and capability that many owners will never likely use.
More important, no contender that we tested excelled in all six of our judging criteria to the extent the Colorado did. It's well-designed and thoughtfully engineered, and it conquers its segment. By creating a truly smaller truck, the Colorado should go on the shopping list of people who want the utility of a pickup but not the grandiose size.
Texas may not embrace this truck, but a lot of other people will love it for what it is -- and what it is not.
Photos by Motor Trend staff and provided by the automaker.