This was week three of testing mid-size pickups and if you’re a middler, a person who prefers the happy medium to going full out off-roader or suburban commuter for your pickup, well Chevrolet’s Colorado will suit you well.
This bright red (Red Hot) Colorado was the top-level ZR2 with the Bison package, so slots in at the high-end of this segment’s pricing and is fully meant for off-road action. Not living on a farm or being a contractor that frequents construction sites, I had to settle for an on-road test.
In that environment, the one most of us face daily, the Colorado ZR2 Bison was a reasonable mix of power, handling and ride. Compared to the Jeep Gladiator I tested 2 weeks earlier, the Colorado’s ride and handling were superior. Compared with last week’s Ford Ranger, the handling was not as precise, but the ride a bit better.
Power is strong and heavy on grunt because the 308-horse 3.6-liter V6 that comes standard here had been replaced by a Duramax 2.8-liter I4 turbodiesel ($3,500 option). While horsepower is down compared to the others and to the standard V6 at 186, the torque is a monster 369 lb.-ft. That’s something you feel as soon as you tromp the accelerator and it’ll allow the crew cab I tested to tow 5,000 lbs. That’s 2,500 lbs. short of last week’s Ford Ranger though.
And the price you pay, other than higher diesel fuel costs, is in grumble and clatter. This Duramax sounds like a big rig shifting through the lower gears in the 6-speed automatic tranny it’s linked to. The engine puts out a guttural sound that no other pickup in this segment seems to make. I’d tested a Ford F-150 with turbodiesel power earlier this summer, and it ran as smooth and quiet as any gas-powered engine. The Duramax, definitely did not.
Handling with the Colorado is good, certainly light years ahead of the rock-crawling focused Gladiator. But there’s a bit of play in the wheel along with a smooth lighter feel than you get in the Ranger. It won’t wear you out, and is easy to keep the Colorado centered in a lane as you cruise the freeway.
Ride is slightly less bouncy and severe than the Ranger, maybe the Colorado’s slightly longer (2 inches) wheelbase helps there. But keep in mind this Chevy was loaded up with the Bison trim package that puts a heavy emphasis on off-road ability, all for $5,750.
This package includes a bunch of tweaks by the off-road aftermarket folks at American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), although these are mostly visual, such as round tubular steel front and rear bumpers, special wheel flares, 17-inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, a flow-through Chevrolet-lettered grille (similar to that on Ford’s Raptor), and badged headrests and floor mats.
On the functional side are special Boron Steel skid plates that help protect the undercarriage when you take your Bison for a rock crawl or serious off-road run. On this model Chevy also widens the rear track by 3.5 inches and raises the truck’s suspension by 2 inches.
It also introduces Multimatic Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve damper technology here to improve the truck’s off-roading ability, plus there are push-button controls to lock the front and rear differentials to aid traction in tough terrain.
All that’s great, for the off-road crowd. On-road it helped some to take the edge off sharp highway and side road pot holes and cracks. While there’s still a decent amount of jiggle on such pavement, nothing seems too severe or bothersome. The truck’s weight may help limit bounce somewhat at just over 5,000 lbs. That’s about 600 lbs. heavier than the svelte Ranger.
Naturally the truck offers 4-wheel drive, which is adjusted via a knob on the dash, allowing an automatic setting or high and low 4WD.
The power seats were black leather on top, cloth on the sides and the dash was black and featured pure Chevy styling, very straightforward and blocky, but thankfully with large dash buttons and dials for easy adjustment. There was some lighter gray stitching on the seats, steering wheel and large armrest/storage box between the seats and console. Stack trim was a matte silver.
Standard here are heated seats and steering wheel and the seats are fairly flat with just a bit of contouring. They’re easy to slide in and out of once you make that giant leap up to the cockpit. I found that when it was dry outside you could grab the wheel and put one foot on the tubular steel bumpers that run under the doors to hoist yourself aboard. When wet, those bumpers are slick though. Folks under about 5-10 will likely prefer running boards to mount their Colorado.
As mentioned, the dash is well laid out and the infotainment screen simple to use. The large buttons make it easy to adjust while driving, no hunting and pecking with your little finger’s tip to try and select a radio channel or turn on the climate controls.
The steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model with trip computer, cruise control and such on the hub, plus radio volume and tuning controlled via toggles on the hub’s rear.
Wisely there’s a wireless charger phone charger on the console by the armrest, but it’s a tad small. Not all cell phones will fit in it. My Galaxy did, and charged quickly.
The only real oddity here was the key-start ignition. Ranger had a switch-blade style ignition key which seemed old-fashioned, but the Colorado still uses a regular flat key, which felt extremely 1990s to use, now that nearly all new vehicles have push-button start. It felt even odder because there is a key fob for keyless entry to the truck, so why not have all the functions in one fob? It’s not like this is a low-cost entry-level model. More on that in a sec.
In back is a short bed with spray-in liner and a light on the cab to illuminate the bed. I also like that Chevy splurged on a slow-lower tailgate to avoid a noisy clunk and the possibly that the gate may hit something hard on its way down. Ranger has the old-style tailgate.
Gas mileage and price were a bit surprising here too. I got a reasonable 22.9 miles per gallon, exactly what the trip computer showed. That alone is a surprise, but the truck is rated at just 18 mpg city and 22 highway. My miles were fairly evenly divided. For the record, I got just 19 mpg in the Ranger’s gas-powered model in very similar driving. Diesels usually are somewhat better than gas-powered vehicles, but it’s rare I exceed the EPA figures.
The base price for this ZR2 model was roughly $2 grand more than the tested Ranger’s final price. This lists at $43,995, including delivery, but is the top-end model. Yet with its Bison package and diesel engine and 6-speed tranny this truck hit $53,245. That’s in the Jeep Gladiator range as it was tested, and a full $12 grand more than the tested Ranger.
Yet you can get a Work Truck version of the Colorado for $27,695 with delivery. It uses a 2.5-liter I4 and is 2WD. And there are many trims in between, all with either Crew or Extended Cab. The good news is that a test drive of the various trims and brands offering mid-size pickups should help you narrow your focus, and I’ll bet you’ll find the Colorado well positioned dead center of the market.
FAST STATS: 2019 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD ZR2 Crew Short Box/Bison
Hits: Strong power with torque-heavy diesel, 4×4, decent handling, crew cab, heated seats and steering wheel, wireless charger, good dash layout, screen and large buttons, plus easy-lower tailgate. Better observed gas mileage than gas-powered Ranger.
Misses: Somewhat jiggly ride, no running boards so a big step-up, key-start, clattery diesel engine.
Made in: Wentzville, Mo.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 308 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 5,012 lbs.
Length: 212.4 in.
Wheelbase: 128.5 in.
Tow: 5,000 lbs.
MPG: 22.9 (tested)
Base Price: $43,995 (includes delivery)
ZR2 Bison (AEV front/rear bumpers, 17-inch alum. wheels, wheel flares, badged floor liners and embroidered headrests, hot-stamped Boron Steel skid plates, along with fog lamps and Chevy-lettered grille), $5,750
2.8-liter Duramax I4 turbodiesel w/6-speed automatic, $3,500
Test vehicle: $53,245
Sources: Chevy, kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage