Today’s Ur-Turn comes from Phillip Thomas, the rallycross driver/Subaru guru/LeMons mechanic that saved our butts during our ill-fated LeMons attempt. Philip spends most of his time behind the wheel of a pickup truck, towing race cars, collecting parts cars and going about his daily business in various half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton gas and diesel trucks. We asked him for his perspective on the new Chevrolet Colorado.
The Brazilians still call it the S10. Back in the day the S10, like the Ford Ranger, was the venerable American small truck. Modest, simple, hard working little trucklets that were still capable of respectable towing and hauling. And, as with the Ranger, it remained effectively unchanged for almost 25 years. In 2004, the Ford Ranger continued to soldier on into the abyss mostly unchanged, but Chevrolet decided it was time for a new compact.
When the Colorado was slotted into place in 2004, there was a bit of a lukewarm feeling. Gone was the small and capable S10, and in its place was a truck with less power, torque, and towing capabilities in a package that was fairly ugly. The interior was standard GM of the era, meaning functional but cheap. But it was sturdy. It got reasonable fuel economy. It was small (but not too close to its bigger brother, like the Dakota), and it sold well. Hell, NAPA Autoparts probably bought every white short-cab/short-bed (SCSB) that rolled out of the factory.
In those ten years, the Colorado stagnated – not even the V8 upgrade mid-cycle was enough. Its only rivals, the Tacoma and Frontier, have come a long way. The Frontier with its stroked 350Z motor (The VQ40DE 4.0L V6) is a respectably quick, capable hauler. The similarly powered Tacoma is still the sales king and arguably the class leader.
The ’15 Colorado comes to us with unique sheet metal front and rear, while sharing the cab with the global mid-size Colorado/S10. It’s a nice new take on GM truck styling, and stays conservative compared to the massively chromed Silverado. Inside, the two trucks are much closer in terms of family resemblance.
What’s really interesting to me isn’t the MyLink system or the new sheetmetal, but the guts of the truck. Of course, there’s the venerable “too weak to get my employee into trouble” four cylinder that will make its way into most fleet trucks and frugal buyers. The new 2.5L four banger produces 193 horse power, and 184 foot pounds of torque; the latter of which spreads 90% of its guts over a 2,000 rpm through 6,200 rpm range. Not exactly ground breaking power, but the emphasis on a flat and high revving torque band should keep this motor from being too miserable.
At launch, the high output option is GM’s familiar 3.6L DOHC V6. While making nearly identical numbers as the Pentastar V6 at 306 horse power and 270 foot pounds of torque, it jumps all over the Frontier’s 261 horse power and 281 foot pounds and curb stomps the Tacoma’s 236 horse power and 261 foot pounds. This will be the volume motor, and I’m happy for it. Everyone at TTAC, from Jack to Alex to Derek, is fond of the “high feature” V6. In top tier, it will tow in excess of 6700 pounds, a very respectable figure for the class.
Both are mated to a six speed automatic, though global markets get both five and six speed manuals depending on motor choice. I can only dream of a three pedal small truck with a bowtie on the hood.
But what really stands out in this package is the newly imported Duramax 2.8L I4, produced by VM Motori. In Brazilian spec, it packs 180 horsepower and a brawny 346 foot pounds ready at 2,000 rpm. Not only would this give the Colorado best in class torque, but also maintain healthy fuel economy. For a real world, but apples to oranges comparison, our diesel race car tow rigs average around 20-25% better fuel economy compared to their gas brethren. We’ll have to sit on our hands until the EPA gets done with testing but the 2.8L Duramax manages to meet Brazil’s relatively strict emissions standards with no DPF filters.
The rest of the truck is as standard as it gets. Ladder frame, solid rear axle with optional G80 locking diff. RWD and 4×4 drivetrains. Though no standard cab will be offered at the start, it does come in an extended cab with a six foot bed, and a quad cab with either a four or six foot bed. Four wheel disc brakes are standard on our Colorado a welcome upgrade over the Brazilian S10’s rear-drum only package.
Now, the purpose of this truck? Simple, to be 90 percent of the Silverado with out its hefty size and fuel economy. I’m not a Luddite Texan who believes the height of pickup trucks was 40 years ago. But I do find modern half-tons to be oversized. Stick a 2014 next to a 2004, and see what I mean. The full-sizers have gained a lot of girth in ten years.
Contrary to what many believe, image isn’t the sole driver behind full-size truck purchases. Now that the full-size, body-on-frame sedan has died, trucks have taken their place, and you only need to take a look at half-ton model mix to see this in action. Most of them are Quadcabs with four full doors and enough back seat room for the children, with the shortest bed latched on and the base V8.
Outright utility – in the hauling lumber and sheetrock sense – is not what sells the modern half-ton in spades. But when you need a vehicle that can carry yourself, your family and your Home Depot purchases in comfort, a modern Quadcab is a great choice. Then again, so is a Tahoe. But there’s still a significant contingent of buyers who opt for the Lambda CUVs, the car-based crossovers that do 90 percent of what a GMT900 will do, but at a lower cost and with better fuel economy. Think of the Colorado as the Chevrolet Traverse of GM’s truck lineup. It offers greater fuel economy without sacrificing too much capability.
Beyond the family buyers or work users, there’s also an ignored contingent of current and future truck buyers that will find the Colorado very appealing: Generation Y. The new era of truck buyers isn’t just a bunch of hopped up brocacho millennials who all want jacked F150’s, Silverados, and Rams with 22” wheels and a metric Fordton (Ford is my four letter word) of chrome. There’s a fair number of potential truck buyers who desire the functionality of a pickup, but don’t want to pay full-size truck money or the requisite fuel bills.
A look at Chevrolet’s press photography shows that their marketing team has a specific vision of a millennial customer in mind: the guy (or gal) who had a daily driven Tacoma in college; the modest, small and capable little work horse, but has their nice job and is looking for a bit of an upgrade. They like to throw a mountain bike in the back of the bed, or attach a rig for a surfboard. They’re not so caught up in the whole “tough guy/cowboy” truck image, but the utility is a big draw. They are what markets call “lifestyle” buyers.
In 2012, Toyota moved 141,000 Tacomas – not an insignificant number, but certainly not major volumes in a car market of nearly 16 million units. With funkier styling and a diesel engine, the Colorado has the potential to be a shot in the arm for GM and the small truck market overall. Of course, GM could also spoil the whole thing by spending so much on incentives that a Silverado becomes an unbeatable deal by the time the buyer is playing the “four square” game with the F&I manager. But a Texan can dream. Fingers crossed for that 6-speed manual.