In case you're not a frequent reader of this magazine or have fast-forwarded through every commercial break over the past dozen months, the new-for-2015 Colorado midsize pickup was the well-deserved recipient of our 2015 Truck of the Year award. Chevy took a swing at building the ultimate midsize truck from the ground up, and lo and behold, it connected. At this point, you might be wondering, how'd it get back in contention just one year later? How the heck did it win again?
For the former, the answer is simple. For 2016, the Colorado is available with a 181-horsepower, 2.8-liter inline-four Duramax diesel, making it the only midsize truck to offer such an engine (along with its GMC Canyon cousin). That's a significant powertrain addition, enough to warrant a title-defense invite. For the latter, the answer is a bit more complex but no less convincing.
Let's begin with probably the most important criterion, the one that speaks to capability, dynamic performance, and overall driver enjoyment. "What really shines here is simply the truck's small size and lighter weight, which result in unusually sharp steering and deft handing," Reynolds said, "and all this wrapped around an engine that provides such great economy."
Truth be told, the Colorado isn't all that small or light, it's essentially the same size as the enlarged new Tacoma and a few hundred pounds heavier, to boot———but it is engineered to drive small and light, feeling more like a crossover than a truck. "The difference between the Tacoma and Colorado is night and day," Seabaugh said. "While the Tacoma feels old-school and truckish, the Colorado drives like the future of small trucks." This subjective disparity carries over to the test track, where the 4x2 and 4x4 Colorados outperformed their Tacoma counterparts in both lateral acceleration and 60-0 braking. At the dragstrip, the Colorados hustled from 0 to 60 in 8.6 (LT) and 9.5 (Z71) seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.5 at 82.1 mph (LT) and 16.9 at 78.9 (Z71).
None of their times was especially notable, certainly given the Tacomas' quicker stats, but the Colorados' behavior on road convinced our judges that the Duramax was the most potent and rewarding engine among the midsize contenders. "It's a sweetheart to drive," Kong noted. "It doesn't feel like it's struggling, straining, or overexerting itself." Added Loh: "The torque of the diesel provides a lot of confidence when towing. Even when pulling the max trailer, the little red Colorado never felt under undue strain." Indeed, despite lugging a 7,600-pound trailer, the Colorado LT hit the quarter mile in 23.4 seconds, handily outpacing the Tacoma SR5 and its 6,700-pound anchor at 24.1.
In payload testing up and down the 11.2-mile Davis Dam grade, the Colorados were saddled with 500 pounds each. From behind the wheel, though, 500 felt more like 50. Up the strenuous grade, the Duramax's 369 lb-ft of torque (from 2,000 rpm) asked for only a roll-on of the throttle———generally not even a downshift———to push a burdened Colorado with total ease. "Rock solid at speed, and it really doesn't show any obvious signs that it's hauling a heavy load," Seabaugh said. The LT's 50-70-mph frustration-test time of 8.3 seconds trailed the Tacoma SR5's 7.0, but its smooth, torque-laden surge seemed calm, cool, and collected against the Taco's multiple downshifts and wailing V-6.
From outside the cabin, the Duramax exhibited noticeable but not obtrusive diesel clatter. Conversely, from inside the cabin, the Duramax bordered on library quiet thanks to added acoustic damping in the dash and engine cover as well as a centrifugal pendulum vibration absorber in the Hydra-Matic 6L50 automatic's torque converter, a trick piece of engineering that cancels out the engine's torsional vibrations.
Down the Davis Dam grade, the Colorado's standard smart diesel exhaust brake system, which it inherited from the Silverado HD, used compression power from the engine to help maintain speed and reduce brake wear. As a result, there was no need to manually downshift to engage engine braking; just ease off the throttle and steadily cruise down.
Advancement in Design
Sure, it's a year old, and a younger Tacoma is on the scene, but the Colorado remains the segment's design benchmark. The styling is sporty and handsome yet understated. It draws you in the longer you admire the clean lines, bold front fascia, and tight panel gaps. Then there are the details. From its deep bed depth, CornerStep rear bumper, and second-row under-seat storage to triple-sealed doors and segment-first aluminum hood and active aero grill shutters, the Colorado was designed to function as well as it looks.
Inside, the story's much the same. The mix of materials and design presentation are not as fresh or original as those in the Tacoma, but the ergonomics and ease of use are second to none. "Ergonomics are still spectacular," Kong said. "The easy-to-reach, narrower center stack region places everything within easy reach of an outstretched arm." Added Vance: "The interior provides no frills, but all the basic functions are there, including a back seat in which the backrest folds flat and the seat bottom swings up to provide cargo area along with some cubbies."
Performance of Intended Function
"The Colorado performed well in all the tests," Martinez said. "Towing, hauling, cruising, hustling, soft-roading———it impressed thoroughly. The torquey, nicely sorted powertrain, its handsome design, the long amenities list, its superior fuel economy, and the handy versatility push the Colorado marque———and the popular segment it occupies———further." And ultimately, that's more than enough to make the 2016 Chevy Colorado a pickup worthy of the Motor Trend Truck of the Year title two years running.