There’s no denying that the 2023 Chevrolet Colorado has received an extreme makeover that has significantly sharpened its image, with a bold front end and creased chiseled flanks. The new third-generation example stands in stark contrast to the outgoing unit, which came across as little more than a scaled-down full-size truck. It has failed to capitalize on its smaller size in a midsize segment increasingly defined by perceived toughness and off-road prowess. So far the Toyota Tacoma has owned that territory, but it looks like the Colorado will be a serious challenge.
This is because the changes are also functional and go beyond mere styling. The truck’s reworked air dam and shorter front overhang result in a healthy 29.1-degree approach angle for the Z71, which previously had a low-slung and hard-to-remove spoiler that would barely clear a parking block, let alone any highway off. obstacle worth the name. The previous Z71 “off-road” model couldn’t even clear a 20.0-degree Ramp Travel Index ramp, earning it a score of zero.
From the rear, the spare wheel is raised about 2.5 inches higher for better departure clearance, as it is no longer necessary to create space for the discontinued diesel engine’s DEF tank. It’s easy to see the terrain ahead because of the way the hood creases are shaped, and the lower rear shock mounts are less vulnerable to impact because they’ve been moved closer to the rear springs. In other words, a Z71 can now easily drive off the pavement, and the WT (work truck) and LT trims are better able to maneuver a job site or pole line road.
Chevrolet’s engineering team didn’t stop there. The new Trail Boss is a budget-oriented off-roader that slots in below the ZR2 while outperforming and costing less than a Z71. It combines 32-inch all-terrain tires, flared fenders, and nearly the same wide stance as the ZR2 with a 2.0-inch lift that’s more than cosmetic. Compared to the WT, LT and Z71, the Trail Boss has 1.5 inches of extra front suspension travel and an extra 1.0 inches in the rear, enough to make a difference in the wild, not to mention our RTI- ramp not. Its longer shocks are still twin-tube units, and it shares its rear limited-slip differential with the Z71. If you want Multimatic coil-valve dampers and lockable diffs front and rear, the yet-to-be-released ZR2 has it, plus a bigger lift and even more rear suspension.
In addition to the move to off-road legitimacy, another theme defines the new Colorado: simplification. There is only one cabin and bed choice this time, a crew cabin with a five-foot-two-inch bed. It’s the most popular configuration by a ridiculously wide margin, so the loss of variety in the cabin/bed area isn’t likely to deter many buyers. Chevrolet made a move to appease those who might be looking for a longer bed by adding an optional mid-level tailgate stop that aligns its top edge with the inner pushrods to form a level base for the transport of plywood or plaster.
The engine range has also been streamlined. The 2.5-liter inline-four, 2.8-liter inline-four turbo diesel, and 3.6-liter V-6 are history, replaced here by a turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four gas engine across the board, though it comes in three flavors. All are backed by an eight-speed automatic, and all-wheel-drive versions (optional on WT and LT and the only configuration on the others) have an automatic all-wheel-drive engagement and 2.72:1 low-range gearbox. No fuel economy figures are available for its three guises, but one is said to be more fuel efficient than the 2.5-liter four, two is more powerful than the V-6, and the top dog makes more torque than the diesel.
A somewhat underpowered 2.7 Turbo base version comes standard in the WT and LT, where it makes 237 horsepower, 259 pound-feet of torque and supports a 3500-pound towing rating. Optional in those trucks and standard in Z71 and Trail Boss, the 2.7 Turbo Plus is good for 310 horses, 390 pound-feet and 7700 pounds of towing capacity, tying the Jeep Gladiator for best in class. The ZR2 gets the 2.7 Turbo HO (high output), with the same horsepower as the Plus but with 430 pound-feet of torque; this is due to a software reflash, not mechanical differences. The best part: Turbo Plus owners can pay a dealer for the HO calibration upon delivery or any time after purchase.
Our ZR2 ride will come later, but we’ve sampled all the others. On pavement, all four shared a common characteristic: their suspensions easily absorb irregular pavement without excessive shaking, and they are adept at gliding over rough road surfaces. They feel smooth and well put together, the exception being the occasional kick from the rear that any unloaded truck can produce when going over the wrong kind of bump. All of them are equally enjoyable to drive around town, steering smoothly and showing a good sense of straight ahead, with the 17-inch tire fitted to the WT a surprising standout.
The base engine produces adequate beans for an economy-minded powertrain, possibly due to its low torque peak of 1250 rpm. It does sound a bit gravelly, however, in contrast to the 2.7 Turbo Plus, which is far less gruff while perfectly capable of moving the heavier Z71 and Trail Boss with little apparent effort. We tend to prefer eight-speed automatics over the competition’s 10-speed units, and that was indeed the case here. But there is no sport mode among the ride settings, which include normal, tow/haul, off-road and terrain.
Off the pavement, the Z71 and Trail Boss are impressive. Their suspensions absorbed rough terrain without transmitting any noise or undamped vibration into the drum-tight cabin, and their limited-slip rear differentials maintained forward progress even with one rear wheel stepped high in the air through a diagonal ditch. The highlight may have been the brakes, which are linear and firm in normal use due to the use of an electronic booster instead of a vacuum unit.
With the mode switch in Terrain, this booster supports a smooth one-pedal driving mode, the speed range of which you can adjust by setting the shift lever to L and adjusting the manual shifter. Unlike rival systems, the Colorado’s setup is completely free of any ABS pulsation and feels like one-pedal driving in an EV, with delicate control that drops us into dips and out the other side without ever thinking to touching the actual brake pedal. Don’t like the idea? Select Off-Road mode instead, and normal service resumes.
The simplification theme continues inside, where all Colorado trims get WT and on a keyless ignition—actually great for off-roading, since there are no jingling keys. A large 11.3-inch touchscreen is also standard, and it supports wireless smartphone integration and Google Built-In, which is a bit of a laugh considering the latter is only available on the new Honda Accord’s high-zoot Touring trim come.
But simplification also brings some peculiarities. The window lock button is on the touchscreen, as are the headlight controls (although the latter has an always-visible access icon). Maybe that’s right? Window lock is not something we vary much, and the headlights are so comprehensively automatically controlled that they come on at dusk or whenever the wipers are running. But the least appealing aspect might be the interior material, which is generally plasticky with an unconvincing grain that’s a bit too glossy. The Trail Boss keeps its price down by being based on the WT, so its interior is equally underwhelming. But even the most luxurious Z71 features a soft-touch dash and armrest treatment of mysterious rubbery origin.
Prices have gone up, but not to an alarming degree – especially considering the many improvements. A two-wheel drive WT costs $30,695, which is barely $1000 more than before. An all-wheel-drive WT starts at $33,995, which is $300 less than before. The Z71 costs $41,395, just $900 more than last year. As for the Trail Boss, it starts at a very reasonable $38,495. The ZR2, which we’ll sample in a few months, will command nearly a $10K premium at $48,295.
In many ways, the appeal of the new Chevrolet Colorado has risen to an all-time high. It made the leap from a pint-sized pickup that didn’t know what it wanted to be in life to a more confident truck that should appeal to the outdoor lifestyle buyers who traditionally gravitated to the Tacoma. Will it turn out that way? We’ll know for sure when the new Tacoma and Ford Ranger show up in the coming months. This is going to get interesting.
2023 Chevrolet Colorado
Vehicle Type: Front Engine, Rear or Rear/4 Wheel Drive, 5 Passenger, 4 Door Pickup
Base: WT 4×2, $30,695; LT 4×2, $33,095; WT 4×4, $33,995; LT 4×4, $36,395; Trail Boss, $38,495; Z71, $41,395
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.7-liter inline-4, 237 or 310 hp, 259 or 390 lb-ft
Wheelbase: 131.4 inches
Length: 212.7-213.2 inches
Width: 74.9-76.3 inches
Height: 70.7-71.9 inches
Passenger volume, L/H: 58/43 ft3
Combat weight (C/D east): 4300-4700 lbs.
PERFORMANCE (C/D EAST)
60 mph: 6.0-7.2 sec
1/4-mile: 14.7-15.9 sec
Top speed: 100 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EAST)
Combined/City/Highway: 20-23/17-20/24-26 mpg