The all-new 2012 Chevrolet Colorado offers all the toughness of the previous model but now has more creature comforts and a more stylish design, inside and out, that will likely broaden its appeal.
We drove the turbo-diesel with a five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission in Chiang Rai, in northern Thailand. This new midsize is available with a 2.5- or 2.8-liter four-cylinder Duramax diesel engine. Both engines meet the strict European emission requirements and are produced at GM’s Rayong powertrain plant in southern Thailand.
The Colorado is completely new from tip to tail, with a large gold bowtie on the nose and tailgate. The Chrome-accented headlamps sit higher on the new hood and flow into the front fender arches. Fog lamps sit at each corner of the front bumper, which has a tough metal sump-guard integrated underneath to protect the bottom of the powertrain during hard off-roading. At the rear, large LED taillights complete the more vertical look. You can expect GM to use more chrome on the exterior for a premium look on all three cab configurations.
We drove the four-door Crew version because the extended and regular cab models will be introduced at a later date. Seven color choices will be available: Alpine White, Switchblade Silver, Black Sapphire, Royal Gray, Sizzle Red, Oceanic Blue and auburn brown.
The cabin is more carlike, with a dashboard that comes equipped with dual airbags (on the top-trim LTZ only; the LT carries fewer features). The interesting-looking center stack seems to be borrowed from the Chevrolet Captiva, an SUV not yet sold in the U.S. The speedometer and tachometer display is borrowed from the Camaro, and it’s backlit with ice-blue illumination.
An information display in the gauge cluster provides travel data, average fuel consumption, total fuel used and more. At first glance, the interior looks more like an upscale SUV interior, unlike anything you’d see in the basic pickups that are usually sold for commercial use in Thailand.
The Colorado’s CD/MP3/WMA stereo can connect to Bluetooth devices and is iPod-compatible and USB-ready. The overall sound quality was quite good. A narrow glove box offers more knee room for the front passenger, and two cupholders can accommodate average-size bottles and cans.
We started our drive with the LT model, which came with a 2.5-liter turbo-diesel engine and a five-speed manual gearbox. Our drive on the open highway started in the wee hours of the morning, so we decided to run with the windows down and the air conditioning turned off. We enjoyed our highway drive; the driver’s seat comfortably cradled our large frames and allowed us to take in the long journey without a sore back or any stiffness.
The drive was smooth, and the engine pushed out 150 brake horsepower at 3,800 rpm with a generous 258 pounds-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. The Colorado rode surprisingly well, and handling at speeds approaching 70 mph was fine.
It soaked up bumps and did well on gravel roads, with the rack-and-pinion steering returning a good feel and firm feedback, just like in an SUV. To get an SUV-like ride on the highway, the Colorado’s frame was designed to take more stiffness by using bigger cabin mounts and tunable torsion bars that are biased for a smoother ride — something GM had been criticized for on earlier small pickups.
The clutch was fairly light, so when we reached the tight and twisty section of the drive up to the Thai-Burmese border, there was little effort to keep the momentum going as we rowed the gears from 2nd to 3rd and back to 2nd. The 2.5-liter diesel had ample power, so we never needed to downshift more than one gear.
Torque felt strong and seemed to be delivered early the power band, and with the new suspension setup, we did not need to slow down much at sharp corners. The rear brakes are still drums, but we found the pickup’s capability plenty strong enough to stop us confidently as we drove down steep hills without any fuss.
The Colorado's turning circle is tighter than most vehicles in its class, allowing us to negotiate tight mountain switchbacks with ease. Our Colorado LT came fitted with 16-inch wheels running 245/70 tires, while the top-end LTZ model is fitted with 17-inch wheels running 255/65 tires.
We were given a range of off-road sections to test the Colorado’s capabilities. Underneath the new sheet metal is a double-wishbone configuration with coil springs and a stabilizer bar in front, and leaf springs and a live axle in back. A quick look underneath the vehicle reveals that the Colorado is equipped with a generous amount of ground clearance as well as good approach and departure angles (30 degrees and 22 degrees, respectively) that beat Japanese competitors.
From gravel tracks to soft sand, the Colorado did not overreach its capabilities, as it was surefooted in its traction on all sections. The steering felt more direct on the gravel compared with the previous model. It’s worth noting that when we hit some larger rocks, there was very little kickback from the steering, leaving us with a more confident feel.
The LTZ trim comes with airbags for the driver and the front passenger and three-point seat belts for every passenger. Driver aids include traction control, electronic stability control, panic brake assist (increases braking force and triggers the antilock brakes), hydraulic brake assist (automatically increases braking pressure to enhance stopping power), cornering brake control (helps the driver maintain control when the brakes are applied midcorner) and hydraulic brake fade assist (increases braking pressure when the system detects brake fade).
GM looks to have a clear winner with the new Colorado — it far surpasses the vehicle it replaces, and it throws considerable dirt at the competition. The SUV-like cabin, smoother ride and handling, long list of safety features, powerful and efficient engines, and the bold new look should excite many new Thai buyers. Whether that strategy will work when the Colorado arrives in the U.S. might be a different story.