The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado represents General Motors' reentry into the compact pickup truck market after a two-year absence. It's significantly larger than the Colorado it replaces, but that mainly brings it up to the same scale of its longtime archrivals, the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.
What Is It?
The last-generation Colorado compact pickup was introduced in 2004, and when it appeared it was only modestly larger than its predecessor, the Chevrolet S-10. Then, just one year later, Toyota and Nissan came out with significantly enlarged compacts. More midsize than compact, they made the Colorado feel small in comparison.
Today, the aging Tacoma and Frontier remain more or less unchanged going into their 11th year of production, which gives the upsized 2015 Chevrolet Colorado a big advantage. Much has changed in the last decade, from engine technology to in-car electronics, and the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado benefits from a lot of new thinking.
The 2015 Colorado is available as a four-passenger extended cab with a 6-foot-2-inch long bed or a five-passenger crew cab with a 5-foot-2-inch short bed. Both configurations ride on a rigid fully boxed frame with a 128.3-inch wheelbase.
The stubby regular cab truck and its short-wheelbase frame have been discontinued. Instead, Chevy has added a new 140.5-inch long-wheelbase frame that finally allows the desirable crew cab to coexist with the longer 6-foot-2-inch bed, a combination that Toyota and Nissan have sold with much success for many years.
What Has Changed?
Everything about the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado is new, from those fully boxed frames to the enlarged cabs that sit atop them to every button, knob and stitch inside. But the most transformative changes are concealed under the hood.
Gone are the tepid 2.9-liter four-cylinder and the loathsome 3.7-liter straight-5 engine. They've been replaced with smaller motors that are simultaneously more powerful and less thirsty thanks to the efficiency of direct fuel injection and variable valve timing.
The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder now makes 200 horsepower (up from 185) and delivers 191 pound-feet of torque, 90 percent of which is available at just 2,000 rpm. But the optional 3.6-liter V6 is the one that really transforms this truck. It makes 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, a huge jump from the 242 of each made by the retired five-cylinder.
What's more, both engines now come paired with a six-speed automatic instead of the last generation's four-speed automatic. Fleet customers and bargain hunters can get their hands on a six-speed manual at the low end of the price scale, however.
The basic suspension layout is similar to the competition and isn't much of a surprise. The front end rides on double wishbones and coil springs, while the back half sits atop the usual solid axle and leaf springs.
But there's still something new underneath. More efficient electronic rack-and-pinion power steering replaces the hydraulically boosted steering of old. And the rear brakes are now discs instead of drums, which makes the standard stability control, traction control and antilock braking systems that much more effective.
How Many Trim Levels Are There?
Chevrolet offers the new Colorado in four trim levels. In all cases the 2.5-liter four-cylinder is the standard offering unless you buy a crew cab short bed 4x4 or any crew cab with the long bed. The V6 comes standard on these configurations.
The rubber floor mat special (vinyl, but who's counting) goes by the name Base. It's only available in two-wheel drive with the extended cab, the 2.5-liter four and the six-speed manual gearbox. And it only seats two because the usual rear side-facing jump seats are deleted.
Next up is the Work Truck, which is offered in all three cab and bed configurations. It can be upgraded to four-wheel drive, and the V6 is optional on those versions that don't have it as standard equipment. The six-speed automatic is essentially standard unless you get the two-wheel-drive extended-cab configuration that mimics the Base truck.
The volume-selling LT sits one notch higher, and at this point the six-speed automatic is universal. It rides on 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, with 18-inch wheels and tires available as an option. Keyless entry comes standard here, as does the Chevy MyLink 8-inch touchscreen audio system and its extra USB port and Sirius/XM radio.
The steering wheel gets a grippy leather covering, telescoping adjustment and control buttons for the audio system and cruise control. Class-exclusive systems like lane departure warning and forward collision alert can be added as part of a Safety package, and the Convenience and Luxury packages bring heated seats, automatic climate control and a host of other goodies.
The Z71 sits atop the pile, having grown into a trim level unto itself instead of just an off-road package. Most of the contents of the Convenience and Luxury packages come standard, but the Safety package is not available. The 18-inch tires and wheels have been banished, too, in favor of the taller sidewalls of 17-inch rubber with an all-terrain tread. Four-wheel drive is not a prerequisite here because the Z71 also comes as a two-wheel-drive truck.
How Does It Drive?
Much of our time was spent in a V6-powered 4x4 crew cab with the short bed, the configuration that's expected to account for the biggest percentage of total sales.
The smoothness of the powertrain is evident as soon as we fire the engine. There simply isn't much idle vibration. It's infinitely more refined than the old five-cylinder and it seems to have the edge on the Frontier and Tacoma.
It pulls hard when we stand on the gas, and the six-speed automatic shifts smoothly from gear to gear as we accelerate to cruising speed. Triple-sealed doors help ensure there isn't much wind or road noise when we get there, either. This is a vastly more refined truck than the one it replaces.
The steering feels steady going straight ahead and the truck bends reassuringly into turns accurately and with minimal body lean. It feels more connected and composed than the last Tacoma we drove. The steering response does feel a bit slow, but GM is quick to point out that the Colorado's turning circle is tighter than the Tacoma's.
As ever, a back-to-back test on home soil is on order. But it's clear the Colorado has made a massive leap forward compared to its former self.
What About Ride Comfort?
Compared to the last Tacoma we drove, the new Colorado feels more taut and controlled. GM seems to have gotten the balance right: The ride isn't overly hard, and the body doesn't bounce much when the road gets really wavy.
The fully boxed frame and its nine crossmembers (we counted) deserve a lot of credit. A stiff structure makes it easier for the springs and dampers to do their job, and that's probably why potholes are absorbed and dismissed without a lot of after-shake.
Still, the ride can exhibit the slight firmness of an empty truck. The situation improves with a couple extra companions in the cab. The upgraded front seats that come standard in the Z71 (and appear in the LT Luxury package) do their part to take the edge off, too.
What Is the Interior Like?
Apart from the seats, which look as inviting as they feel, the cab of the new Colorado is a revelation, moving or not. The bargain-basement feel of the old truck has been wiped away, replaced instead with a downsized version of the handsome interior of the Silverado 1500.
Easy-to-read gauges adorn the instrument panel, and the 8-inch MyLink touchscreen and its attendant controls fit well in the middle of the dash. The available $495 navigation upgrade utilizes the same screen and doesn't compromise usability one bit.
The climate controls occupy a nicely arranged pod of their own just below, and the amply sized air vents they control are well positioned to spray cool air all around the enlarged cabin.
That's a good thing because the back half of the crew cab gains the most from the makeover. A full 35.8 inches of rear legroom gives the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado crew cab a 2.2-inch advantage over the Frontier and a 3.2-inch surplus relative to the Tacoma. But we're not as enamored with the extended cab, as the front-facing rear seats make it feel more like a storage compartment than a place for a couple of your friends.
Throughout, the look and feel of the materials in the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado have been brought up a couple of pegs. More than anything, the upgraded interior of the new Colorado makes the Tacoma and Frontier feel long in the tooth.
How About Off-Road?
The 4x4 version of the Colorado features a two-speed, low-range transfer case that's electronically controlled by a switch on the dash. It's a part-time system that lacks a center differential, so it's not intended for use on paved surfaces. No surprise there.
Z71 models come with an automatic locking rear differential as standard equipment, and the "G80" option will add the same functionality to any Colorado all the way down to the Work Truck level.
All of that sounds like a good foundation, but 8.4 inches of ground clearance isn't exactly class-leading. And the 4x4 versions don't stand any higher than their 4x2 counterparts, either. What's more, the front bodywork hangs low, favoring aerodynamics in the name of fuel economy instead of a respectable off-road approach angle. The engineers at Chevrolet tell us the lower half of the fascia can be removed by undoing several bolts, but we have yet to try it.
The Chevrolet S-10 was once offered with an incredible ZR-2 off-road package that was something of a mini-Raptor in its day. We quizzed a couple of Colorado engineers about this, but they just smiled and said nothing. Fingers crossed, but not this year, in any case.
What About Cargo and Towing?
The bed of the Colorado is distinctive in that it looks so tall, and indeed GM says the cargo box is 2 inches deeper than the competition. It looks every bit of that, but the real advantage may be that a taller bed equals a longer tailgate.
And so 8-foot lumber doesn't overhang the folded-down tailgate of the 6-foot-2-inch box. Dirt bikes look more at home back there, too. And Chevrolet has numerous bed hardware accessories available to tie it all down.
The numbers aren't bad, either. Its maximum tow rating of 7,000 pounds gives the Colorado a 500-pound advantage on that front. And the towing numbers are directly comparable because, like Toyota, GM followed SAE J2807 tow-test guidelines.
It takes the Z82 Trailering package (receiver hitch and integrated seven-pin wiring), the V6 engine and the locking differential to get to this level, but there's no optional axle ratio to buy. All V6 Colorados utilize the same 3.42 final-drive gears, which means the maximum tow rating and the rated fuel economy can be achieved by the same truck. If only the full-size truck market were this transparent and straightforward.
What's more, the power and torque are there, and past experience with other GM six-speed truck transmissions show that the calibration team knows what it's doing when it comes to towing. And yes, they've provided a Tow/Haul mode switch here, too.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
This is the part where people expect the rug to get pulled out from under them, but that's not going to happen here. The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado V6 4x2 with 63 extra horses and 7,000 pounds of towing capacity is rated at 21 mpg combined (18 city/26 highway). The old 242-hp five-cylinder it replaces was good for 19 mpg combined (17 city/23 highway).
What's more, this makes the new 305-hp 3.6-liter V6 fractionally more fuel-efficient than the old 2.9-liter four-cylinder that was the old truck's 185-hp base engine. That one was rated at 21 combined (18 city/25 highway) when paired with an automatic. Direct injection, variable valve timing and two extra cogs in the transmission are worth their weight in gasoline, it would seem.
No four-cylinder ratings were available at the time of this writing, but they can only be better. As for the rumored turbodiesel, that one isn't coming until the 2016 model year. But it is on the horizon.
How Much and When Can I Get One?
The cheapest Base 2WD Extended Cab four-cylinder manual starts at $20,995. The 2WD LT Crew Cab short bed that's on most people's radar will start at $27,985 with the four-cylinder engine. The same truck in 4x4 trim starts at $32,960, but the difference can't be wholly attributed to the 4x4 system because the V6 engine is standard at that point.
The Z71 Crew Cab 4x4 short bed we spent the most time in stands near the top of the range at $34,990. Interestingly, it only costs $300 to upgrade from a crew cab short bed to a crew cab long bed, and that applies at any grade level.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The 2015 Toyota Tacoma is perhaps the Colorado's strongest competition, with a host of loyal fans. It's going into its 11th year with no significant changes, so it's no wonder its interior appointments appear dated and its powertrains lag behind in both power and fuel economy. Still, Toyota's design emphasis on off-road capability is real. For certain customers the Tacoma still has the measure of the Colorado.
Nissan's 2015 Frontier is the other obvious choice, but it's as old as the Toyota and suffers from the same need for a full redesign. It makes a bit more power than the Tacoma, but lags behind in fuel economy. If anything, the Frontier's interior is even more in need of an upgrade.
There is another, of course, but it's the 2015 GMC Canyon, a nearly identical in-house rival that almost doesn't count as competition.
Why Should You Consider This Truck?
You don't need excessive towing and hauling capability, but you want the flexibility of a pickup truck. Or you simply want a truck that won't fill up your entire garage and is easy to park. Either way, the Colorado delivers on both fronts and does so with much of the same refinement as its bigger brother.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Truck?
If off-road capability and toughness are top priorities, the Colorado has yet to prove itself. The limited ground clearance and low-hanging bodywork suggest that a properly equipped Toyota Tacoma would still be a better choice for such work.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.