Everywhere I went, the comments about this little red pickup truck, the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, were about the same.
"Nice truck," they'd say. Fans of this bright red Colorado tended to be middle aged men dressed in jeans, plaid flannel jackets and work boots. They were usually driving slightly older Chevy pickups or Suburbans themselves.
Perhaps it appealed to them because, although it's smaller than a full-size pickup, that's only because it's not as wide. This "little" truck is really not little at all; it even looks truckish. I parked it nose-to-nose with my 1980 Chevrolet 3/4-ton pickup and, in profile, they were roughly the same size. In fact, the Colorado may have been a smidgeon taller. Its front clip is certainly more car-like than the contemporary Silverado (and its utilitarian ancestors), but the smaller truck had a noticeable bulge in its hood. The little guy was flexing its truck muscle.
And its attitude must be what truck people like when they see it. Other than a front air dam that—although it was undoubtedly meant to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy—hung way too low to excite aesthetic pleasure, I liked the way the Colorado looked, too. But what I liked better was the fact that I could drive around in a vehicle that was a legitimate pickup truck without spending too much on fuel (I can't say the same for my '80 Chevy, which gets 13 mpg on a good day). There was no stuffing large objects into back seats, or worrying about how I might schlep a piece of furniture home or going into fits of nervous trembling that I might get the Colorado high-centered on an irregularity somewhere along a poorly maintained dirt road.
The base Colorado, in its four-cylinder-engine, manual transmission-equipped guise, is, in spirit, anyway, what trucks used to be before musclecar powerplants were dropped into a fleet of plodding workhorses. You aren't going to win any races with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine Chevy put in this truck. It comes in a dual-overhead cam configuration and is rated at 200 horsepower, but that peak doesn't come until 6,300 rpm, an engine speed you're not likely ever to want to reach driving a truck. The engine's 191 pound-feet of torque comes at 4,400 rpm, but it takes a while for the engine to reach that speed, hauling a vehicle that weighs nearly 4,000 pounds.
But the four-pot Colorado doesn't lumber like its inline-six-equipped forebears. It gets you where you need to go with reasonable, Corolla-like expediency, and will hum along at 85 mph all day with the transmission is in 6th gear.
Where the four-cylinder option really shines is when it comes time to look over your monthly fuel bill. According to the truck's fuel economy computer, I was getting between 20 and 23 mpg around town, depending upon how much of a hurry I was in. But on a three-hour highway cruise east from New York City toward the tip of Long Island, that number crept up to 25, then 26 mpg. If I had gone slower, it probably would have been better.
The 6-speed manual transmission was smooth and easy to shift. At 70 mph, in sixth gear, the engine spun at a mellow 2200 rpm. But it didn't take long to realize that, to avoid "Fast and Furious"-style multiple gear changes at highway speeds, dropping from sixth gear to third was the best option for passing. At first, I tried fifth, then fourth, and neither of them gave the rpm bump the engine needed to get the truck out of its own way. Once I got used to the 6-to-3 drop, it was no big deal.
As I mentioned, the Colorado is not a wide truck. The console between the front seats is not an option, so if you have more than one fully grown adult human who wants to ride with you, you can assure extras that their positions will be precarious. The back seats are hardly seats at all. I'm 5'8"—which is to say, not tall—and could barely fit my knees behind the front seat when it was pulled nearly all the way toward the front. The console got in the way of my inboard knee. Why Chevrolet doesn't offer a front bench seat and better rear jump seats is beyond me. They must have thought the rear seats would only be used by children under the age of 8. And dogs, who would enjoy the space better if the seats could be folded flat and out of the way. Buying a crew cab model would fix all that without resorting to engineering changes, but it would also add almost $5,000 to the sticker. Which sort of ouch do you prefer, backseat passengers' knees, or financial sting?
For the driver and front passenger, on the other hand, things couldn't be better. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with good visibility all around, even around the A-pillar. The dash is simple, symmetrical, even a little elegant, and the controls are well-laid out and easy to use. The Colorado also comes equipped with plenty of handy tie-down loops in the bed, so I had no trouble carrying long surfboards, large pieces of furniture, or a 4'x8' sheet of plywood.
The driving experience mixed a confident truck stance with small car ease of operation. When I was around other vehicles in the city, I felt like Napoleon must have felt had he strutted among his guests at Versailles wearing a pair of platform shoes. But on a long haul, it was easy to forget about stature and concentrate on the relaxing pleasure of driving a smooth, quiet vehicle. (It was quiet until I synced my iPhone with the infotainment stack, then Black Sabbath quickly undid all the good work GM's engineers did canceling noise.)
One of the best things about this truck other than its reasonable fuel economy was the number of features it came with for the price. When I saw that it was equipped with a locking, soft-opening tailgate, a rear bumper with corner steps on it, power almost-everything, a rear-vision camera, remote keyless entry and a lot of other things you would expect to come standard in a nicely appointed Toyota Camry, I thought for sure it would have been because several costly packages had been added. Nope. The sticker price was about $23,000. Not bad for something you can use to drive around town every day, and also load 1450 pounds of cinder blocks into the back of when you need to (GM says the Colorado will also tow 3000 pounds).
So really, buckboards and sedans delivery had much more in common with the stripped down work trucks of old than this steel-wheeled Colorado did. If you're in the market for something that's both nice and utilitarian, and carrying more than one passenger isn't a priority, consider the four-cylinder Colorado a fun, economical option.
By the numbers: 2015
MSRP: $23,415 (includes $825 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 2.5-liter, 200-hp 4-cylinder, rear-wheel drive
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy: 19/26 city/highway
In showrooms: Now