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The Little Pickup Truck That Could: The 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Z71, Reviewed

Amou "Joe" Seto |
October 7, 2015 | 9:35 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

There was a time when mid-sized/compact pickup trucks were a common sight in the automotive marketplace. Along with the big three (Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) Toyota and Nissan had their respective midsize trucks. Eventually each of the big three manufacturers killed off their midsize trucks due to declining sales, leaving those who wished to buy a midsize pickup two choices: The Nissan Frontier or the Toyota Tacoma. General Motors had a change of heart and now, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon is back.

SEE ALSO: Tackling Cleghorn: We Take The 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Off Road

The Colorado sits comfortably underneath the Silverado in the Chevrolet’s truck lineup, and shares many features with its big brother. The CornerStep and EZ tailgate, the fully boxed perimeter, triple-sealed doors and Duralife brake rotors are all technology which was pioneered on the Silverado. From the front, the Colorado looks amazing, but from the back, it looks like the proportions are all completely wrong, especially when it comes to width. It just looks too square from the back compared to a Silverado or a Tacoma. Still, it’s only 0.3 inches skinnier than a Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab so the effect is only visual.

The Chevrolet Colorado rewrites the rulebook for Midsize trucks (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Chevrolet Colorado rewrites the rulebook for Midsize trucks (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

The biggest change for 2016 is the addition of a Duramax diesel engine. This will be the only truck in its class to have a diesel engine when it becomes available later in the model year, and it will output 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque. The Colorado’s gas cap is rectangular to accommodate what appears to be the DEF/Adblue filler hole. Since the Colorado Duramax is a 4-banger and the HD Duramax is a V8, let’s hope that we could see a V6/l6 Silverado 1500 in the near future.

The Colorado Chevrolet had loaned to me was equipped with a 3.6L V6 engine (known as the LFX) which produces 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. If this engine sounds familiar, it’s been around since 2012 where it made its debut in the V6 Camaro. It’s a noticeably smaller engine than the V6 offerings from Nissan and Toyota, both of which are four liters. To be honest, I really was expecting the 4.3L V6 from the Silverado to be the V6 option due to the higher torque output, but the LGX is more than capable of handling whatever you’ll throw at it. What bothers me is that the LGX, the replacement for the LFX has cylinder deactivation and is making its debut in the new Camaro and Cadillac ATS/CTS for 2016 models. Since the Silverado’s engines have cylinder deactivation and this is a 2016 model Colorado, it would have been nice to have the updated LGX over the LFX.    

The LFX 3.6L V6 in the Colorado (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The LFX 3.6L V6 in the Colorado (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

The Colorado is one of the easiest trucks to drive because it drives like a car. I know this may sound odd, but it drives very similarly to the Toyota Corolla S I reviewed early this year.
Due to the Colorado’s  power steering now being electric rather than hydraulic, at parking lot speed the steering feels like a carbon copy of the one used in the Toyota Corolla S, being overly light, slightly vague, having too many turns lock to lock and lacking in feedback. The Colorado isn’t very wide so it does feel very small compared to a full-size truck; the flipside is that it’s very easy to maneuver. You almost forget you’re driving a truck until you try to parallel park into a standard-size parking space, only to realize that the truck (especially with the 6 foot 2 bed and crew cab) is too long to fit. The enormous front brakes provided braking power significantly stronger than other smaller cars we’ve tested.

Much like the Corolla, the cabin is also very quiet and thus makes awkward silences even more awkward thanks to how eerily quiet it is. At 80 mph the Colorado runs into the same problem that the Corolla (and in fact most Toyota's) face which is an abundance of some-guy-in-the-library-whistling-through-their-nose wind noise. Make sure to get some music going or something because the noise gets old very quickly.

On our range topping Z71, you get a large amount of very useful luxuries. You get heated seats, a very powerful Bose stereo and automatic headlights. The navigation system does like to choose some maze-like directions which I found very annoying. If you’re one to fight with the navigation system like a married couple over directions, you’ll be fighting with this one a lot. Even little things like the crisp pull from the pulling the door handle to the loud whump when you close the door makes the truck feel solidly built.

The interior of the Colorado looks like a miniature version of the Silverado's (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The interior of the Colorado looks like a miniature version of the Silverado's (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

The truck bed is available in a 5’2” or a 6’2” box options, with the 6’2” box having 8.6 cubic feet of capacity over the 5’2” box. Features such as a bed light and a soft-drop tailgate make working with the colorado easy. The CornerStep bumper means you get the advantages of a stepside truck without having your truck look like something out the 1950’s, and spray-in and drop-in bedliner options are available for those who want it.

As for the question of off-road performance, the truck has all the right ingredients: part-time four wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case and an available Z71 off-road package. With the Z71 package, off road performance is seriously good. The Z71 package a $2,105 premium over the LT model but you get:

-A 4.10 rear axle ratio
-Off road suspension (featuring specially calibrate twin-tube shocks)
-Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain tires
-Z71 decals on the truck bed
-Z71 grille with Z71 badge
-G80 Automatic locking rear differential
-Transfer case skid plate
-Hill descent control
-17” aluminum wheels

The list above on its own is already good value, but the question asked here was if it was actually worth what you were paying for.  We tested the truck on Cleghorn OHV trail in San Bernardino, where we went crawling, climbing, and through windy sandy tracks and discovered that it was. We did face some problems with the front air dam while trying to go over some obstacles, but overall the truck did fine. You can read the full off-road story here.

The Colorado goes off-road. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Colorado goes off-road. (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

If you are switching from a full-size truck, you may have a difficult time acclimating to the smaller size. The size of the interior is notably smaller and interior storage options and limited. If you’re coming from a car you won’t really face any problems. There is underseat storage under the rear seats, but it’s almost useless. I was able to get my camera tripod to fit, only to discover that it didn’t fit properly when I put the seat cushion back down.

As good as the Colorado may seem, there are some minor issues which I have to address. The biggest problem I discovered with the Colorado, is the angled truck bed. On trucks such as the Silverado the top of the bed is parallel to the ground. On the Colorado, the bed is sloped upwards which means about a third of what you can see in the rearview the truck bed. Thankfully all Colorados come with a standard backup camera so you don’t have to worry about backing into things but when you are driving, this is a serious handicap.

The Z71 badge on the Colorado's front grille (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Z71 badge on the Colorado's front grille (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

There’s some very minor problems with build quality too, like the parking brake pedal fell off after 3 days. The sliding rear glass didn’t feel well fitted either, and when unlocked you can wobble it with your fingers. Much like the Silverado, I found the windshield to be on the small side. The whole time I kept driving it, I kept thinking to myself: I wish the windshield was just a tad bigger. There was no automatic transfer case like there was on the Silverado either which would have proved useful while off-roading.

Going to the inside, in the back of the crew cab is a bench seat that seats three. While the right and left seats are comfortable, the backrest on the middle seat feels like it’s a granite slab with some upholstery. The middle seat also serves as the fold-down cup holder, but there seems to be no cushioning whatsoever for when the cup holder is flipped back up for a seat. It is useable as a seat, as long as wherever you’re going to is just around the corner. Single cab configurations are also not available, but the same story applies true to the current Nissan Frontier, and may hold true for the 2016 Toyota Tacoma.

When the car turns on, all the warning lights will flash for a few seconds. It doesn’t matter if you disengage the parking brake while this christmas tree phenomenon is happening in the dashboard as the parking brake light will stay on regardless until the flashing stops.

The Colorado has found the perfect blend of drivability and practicality. It feels like a car when you’re driving it, has car-like amenities yet it can haul uncar-like loads and has superb off-road performance. It’s a seriously good all-rounder and as a result, earns the highest score possible for its class.

Overall Score: A+

Midsize Pickups Score: A+*

At-a-Glance Specifications:

Price As Tested: $37,080

Engine: 3.6L DOHC V6

Horsepower: 305 @ 6,800 RPM

Torque: 269 lb-ft.  @ 4,000

Transmission: Hydra-matic 6-speed automatic

Drive: Part-Time 4-wheel-drive

Tire Size: P265/60R18

Tire: Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain

Towing Capacity: 7,000 lbs (with Z82 trailering package)

Maximum Payload: 1,520 lbs

Bed Dimensions: 74 x 57.8 x 20.9 (inches)

Cargo Volume: 49.9 cubic ft.

Curb Weight: 6,000 lbs

Weight Distribution F/R: 58/42

Axle Ratio: 4.10

Our Combined MPG: 19.3

Fuel Capacity: 21 gal.

MPG (EPA Estimated) (City/Highway): 17/24

*This is the benchmark vehicle for this class.

Reach Staff Reporter Amou (Joe) Seto here. Follow him on Twitter here



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