Chevy’s off-roader? My first impressions of the 2016 Colorado
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to test drive my father’s new 2016 Chevy Colorado.
Earlier this year, my dad traded his faithful 98 Silverado in for a slightly smaller hauler.
After a few short days tooling around, I can safely say this pint-sized truck is Chevy’s best contender yet in this highly competitive segment.
Whether or not it will be enough to go toe-to-toe with Toyota’s king pin, the Tacoma, has yet to be seen.
Chevy also appears to be positioning this truck as its offering to the off-road market with special editions like the Z71 Trail Boss.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the truck. These are my first impressions of the vehicle with a bias toward off-road capability and potential.
Unfortunately for the purposes of this review, the vehicle’s off-road merits could not be tested.
Trucks have gotten big in the last decade, really big. The Colorado was actually closer in size to my dad’s old Silverado than a brand new one.
I find the Colorado’s design more pleasing and less utilitarian than the Silverado or even the GMC Canyon, which is essentially the same truck with a different body.
Something about the aggressive front fascia and the shape of the windows makes this truck feel a little bit less like a truck.
Visually the 2016 Colorado is a handsome truck. It has one of the better looking front ends to grace the market.
Around front is where the Colorado’s most polarizing feature can be found. A black plastic air dam that extends nearly 8-inches beyond the bottom the bumper.
On road the air dam is no-doubt the reason for the trucks best in class fuel efficiency, but off-road it’s a liability. With air dam installed, the truck has a rather poor 17.3 degree approach angle.
The good news is the air dam can be removed. The bad news is it isn’t all that easy to get off.
Despite the low hanging front end, the Colorado is among the more attractive trucks out there.
Under the sleek chassis are two heavy steel frame rails and a heavy-duty live rear axle supported by leaf springs. It is a truck after all.
The body of the truck sits fairly low on the frame, this means less ground clearance, but also the sense you’re sitting higher in the seat. The lower door sills also make it easier to get in and out of the truck, but make bent rocker panels a real possibility off-road.
Undercarriage – no surprises here
Up front, the truck has a pretty standard independent double wishbone suspension with a set of unbranded GM coil over shocks. According to GM’s documentation, these are the softer riding twin-tube variety.
I found it interesting the truck didn’t appear to have a front drive shaft. It instead appears to deliver power directly through the transmission.
In the back, you’ll find a good size gas tank, a beefy looking (aluminum?) drive shaft leading to a solid rear axle.
Behind the axle, you’ll find the full size, temporary use spare tire. The spare tire is kind of a head-scratcher for me. It’s an odd-sized, off-brand tire mounted on a 16-inch rim, and it’s labeled for temporary use. It’s actually a wider tire than the four mounted to the truck, which means it hangs even lower from the undercarriage.
Why Chevy wouldn’t just put a matching spare under truck is beyond me.
I know it’s common practice, but I’ve never been a fan of mounting spares in the undercarriage. On the Colorado, the spare tire hangs pretty low. On the pavement or even badly rutted dirt roads, this shouldn’t be a problem. If your adventures take you into anything much rougher than that, I’d be seriously worried about puncturing it or damaging the rims.
My advice, if you’re headed off-road, throw the spare in the bed.
Speaking of tires, this Colorado is rolling on a set of 30-inch all-season Goodyear Wrangler Fortitudes H/Ts, mounted to a set of very attractive 17-inch rims.
These are street tires, which means on pavement, wet, dry, slick or icy, these heavy siped all-seasons will do just fine. Their low-rolling resistance should also help with fuel efficiency.
The Fortitudes actually have a pretty aggressive tread pattern for an all-season, which will help the vehicle’s stability on those loose dirt and gravel roads.
For anything rougher than a forest or fire road, I’d recommend either different tread or Chevy’s beefier Z71 Trail Boss package that comes equipped with Goodyear’s Wrangler Duratracs.
Under the hood
The 2016 Colorado is available with one of three power plants: an inline 4-cylinder engine that puts out an impressive 200 horsepower, a V6 putting out 300 horses or a 4-cylinder diesel that makes up in torque what it lacks in horsepower.
Under the hood of my dad’s Colorado, you’ll find the biggest of three motors, Chevy’s 3.6 liter naturally aspirated V6. The funny thing is this little motor puts out 50 more horsepower while sipping less gas than the 5.7 liter V8 that was in his old truck, and you can really feel it when you get on the gas.
Of course, the old V8 was capable of putting out a whopping 330 pound-feet of torque at 2,800 RPM, far more and at a lower RPM than the Colorado’s 269 pound-feet at 4,000 RPM.
Driving the Colorado, there was never a time when I was wanting for more power. Rated at 18 MPG city and 26 MPG on the highway, the cost of delivering that power isn’t too bad either.
Putting all that power to the wheels is the first six-speed automatic gearbox I’ve used that isn’t monotonously slow to upshift or constantly searching for gears.
Tied to the transmission is an electronically controlled transfer case, which makes engaging the truck’s part-time four-wheel drive a whole lot easier than the manually operated transfer cases of old. It also makes getting in and out of low-range a whole lot easier because the vehicle does all the shifting for you.
During my short time behind the wheel of the Colorado, I’ve come away with a couple of first impressions.
The first thing I noticed was how removed from the road I felt. Chevy has done a great job insulating the driver and their passengers from the harshness of the road. In a straight line, the Colorado felt a lot more like a car.
Through tight turns, a generous amount of body roll served as a reminder it’s still a truck.
With Chevy’s peppy little six-cylinder under the hood and a very smooth six-speed transmission, there was never any of the hesitation I’ve come to expect from GM products with not enough horsepower tied to too many gears.
In the crowded streets of Canal Park and downtown Duluth, it didn’t take long to appreciate the truck’s smaller profile.
In the country, the bigger bed and superior towing capacity of a full-size truck is king. For the city dweller, however, a mid-size truck is perfect for fitting through tight alleys and narrow streets.
Trucks have gotten big in the last few years. So big that today most half-ton trucks dwarf Hummer’s H1, which was famous for being too big to be practical. I’d hate to try fitting a full-size truck through Duluth’s tight streets.
At highway speeds, the truck felt composed, sailing along comfortably at 55 MPH without issue. I never had any difficulty keeping the big vehicle in its lane, something I can’t say about my Jeep.
In the cabin, the truck is utterly silent. I was taken aback by how quietly the truck accelerated to highway speeds. I really didn’t get a sense of how quickly I was going, until I was 10-miles over the limit.
Chevy really did an excellent job insulating the driver from the elements. Wind noise was practically imperceptible.
The cabin itself is a reminder you are still behind the wheel of a GM product. Plenty of plastic punctuates the interior. Neat, simple and utilitarian is exactly how I would describe the Colorado’s interior.
The seats were comfortable, if firm. Surprisingly, there was enough leg room in the back for an adult, that is, assuming the front passenger is willing to give up some leg room.
The Colorado’s infotainment center was refreshingly simple to use with plenty of buttons and dials and a very friendly user interface tied to an 8-inch touch screen display.
In short, the Colorado is one of the most comfortable trucks I’ve driven to date.
The answer to this question isn’t as simple as it might seem. With a couple easy modifications, the Colorado could be an excellent light off-roader. With a few more extensive modifications, it could be made to tackle some pretty gnarly terrain.
Whether it’s a modest LT trim or Chevy’s off-road ready Z71 package, the Colorado has a lot going for it. This is because Chevy’s z71 package, apart from having better tires, skid plates and a standard automatic locking differential, is just an appearance package.
The good news is, the locking diff is an option on the cheaper WT and LT trims, and while the Z71’s Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain tires are good, they are far from the best on the market.
No matter what trim you spring for, every Colorado off the lot suffers from the same problems.
That damn air dam
By this point you are probably sick of me talking about the air dam. It hangs way too low on the truck. Without it the Colorado’s approach angle is improved dramatically. A better approach angle means being able to climb over taller obstacles. I wish that Chevy had found a better way to improve fuel economy that didn’t hamper the vehicles capability.
With the air dam unbolted, the Colorado’s greatest limitation off-road is ground clearance. There just isn’t enough of it. On most vehicles, ground clearance is measured from the lowest point. For the Colorado, this is only 8.2 inches. That’s not a ton of clearance to work with.
An option ticked for the customer by many dealerships, side steps can be a real problem off-road. The low-hanging side steps reduce the already limited ground clearance and can easily become snagged on rocks.
If I were looking for an off-road ready Colorado, I’d pick up a LT trim with the optional locking differential. Once home, I’d immediately remove the air dam and side steps if equipped. I’d also pull the spare tire out from under the chassis and mount it in the bed.
For tires, I’d swap out the all-seasons for an aggressive all-terrain like BF-Goodrich’s KO2s. These are an awesome, well recommended set of all-terrains that do really well in pretty much everything but mud.