The compact and midsize pickup market is a tough place to do business; no one knows this better than Chevrolet. For the past 10 years, Chevy dealers have been fending off attacks from both domestic and foreign competitors using the aging S10 pickup as their frontline defense; good as it is, there's not much fight left in the design that first came to market in 1982. Enter the Colorado, a new midsize pickup set to replace the S10 for 2004.
The Colorado is only slightly larger than the S10 and nowhere near as large or powerful as the big, V8 powered Dodge Dakota. Still, there is much to like about this new pickup, beginning with its styling. The Colorado's big slab sides and large black wheel lip moldings make a definite statement about where this truck is heading. The model line consists of three cab configurationsRegular, Extended and Crew Cab and two wheelbase lengths. The Regular Cab and Extended Cab models both come with a 73-inch-long bed, while the Crew Cab models come with 61-inch-long beds. Both beds measure 57.2-inches in width at the floor and 42.6-inches between the wheel housing. Extended Cab models also feature two rear mini-doors that allow easy access to the rear cab for loading additional cargo.
Interior room is slightly improved over the old S10, with a set of forward-facing jumps seats in the Extended Cab models and a full bench seat in the Crew Cab. Front seat legroom is also slightly better and the new front seats feature much firmer foam and better back support, even with the standard bench seat. As for rear seat passengers, we can say that the Extended Cab's jump seats are best used only for short rides. The Crew Cab's rear seat is better suited to holding passengers, but its upright seatback forces passengers to sit bolt upright, a position we think would get tiring after about an hour or so.
The Colorado's new dash is awash in gray plastics, but it is well laid out and functional. The thick steering wheel is large enough as not to block the instrumentation. GM's newest audio units now grace the Colorado; they are powerful, clear and feature the option of XM Satellite radio and steering-wheel-mounted controls. Around back, the Colorado features a double-walled bed with a locking tailgate that can also be angled to hold cargo that extends beyond the bed's edge.
Chevrolet offers the Colorado in three trims: Z85, Sport and Z71. Of the three, we think the Sport is most attractive, with its matching body color grille, bumpers and wheel flares. Each trim also features a sub-trim category listed as base or LS.
The Colorado's greatest improvement over the old S10 can be found in its chassis and powertrains. The new body-on-frame chassis is much more rigid than the old pickup. You can feel it in the way the Colorado handles, off-road and corners. Even over washboard roads, our Colorado exhibited none of the dash rattling or squeaks we've come to expect from the S10. You can choose from a number of performance and off-road packages that add to the Colorado's rugged image.
Engine choices are all-new this year, but are limited to a choice of four and five-cylinder powerplants. The standard 2.8-liter four and the optional 3.5-liter five are both derivatives of the new inline six found in the TrailBlazer/Envoy duo. Though the engines might sound small, they are both big on power; the 2.8-liter four produces an impressive 175 horsepower and offers up most of its 185 lb.-ft. of torque between the ranges of 1200-5600 rpm. That's enough power to muscle any lightly-equipped 4x4 through the toughest terrain. The optional 3.5-liter engine makes a chart-topping 220 horsepower. The additional benefit of both of these engines is that they produce V8-like power while returning outstanding fuel economy: 20/27 for the 2.8 and 19/25 for the 3.5, both with the standard five-speed manual.
Transmission choices include a new five-speed manual built by Aisin or an optional electronic four-speed automatic. The tow ratings range from 2500-pounds for the 4x2 four-cylinder Regular Cab to 4000-pounds for a fully-loaded Crew Cab five-cylinder.