Those hoping for the revival of a true, compact pickup, keep moving. But for those looking for a modern, contemporary pickup that also happens to be somewhat smaller than a full-size truck might be interested in the new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, which debuts at the 2013 Los Angeles auto show.
Hyperbole? Possibly, but not when you consider the midsize pickup market segment in North America is down to two offerings – the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier – both of which haven’t been substantially revised since their introductions in 2004. Though Ford, Toyota, and even Volkswagen have rolled out new, modernized midsize trucks abroad, they haven’t in the U.S. mostly because the market is a tough niche to master.
“The market used to be huge,” concedes Jeff Luke, GM’s chief engineer of truck platforms. “But when you stacked a compact or midsize truck up against a modern full-size truck,” that value proposition was lost. The fuel economy was almost the same; the cost was almost the same; so the buyer looked at that and said ‘why not buy bigger?’ “
“That’s why full-size trucks pushed out midsize pickups, but we believe that market will expand if there’s not as much overlap as before.”
Global Roots, Adapted for America
It’s no secret that GM’s new midsize pickups are based off its global Chevrolet midsize pickup platform, which has been sold under the Colorado, S10, and LUV nameplates around the globe since late 2012. That said, the North American 2015 Colorado isn’t just a federalized version of that truck – in fact, it’s been subject to a fairly extensive makeover.
“The old GMT355 [previous generation Colorado/GMC Canyon] was also a global program, but the amount we were able to tailor that truck to the U.S. market was less than what we were able to do with this,” says Luke.
He isn’t kidding. The soft, curvaceous forms of the global Colorado, occasionally criticized for being too soft and car-like, don’t resurface in the North American-spec truck. The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado’s front fascia is unique, and more upright than its international siblings. The squared-off hood is pure Silverado, but the Malibu-like split grille neatly flows into tapered composite headlamp assemblies. While the global Colorado uses round wheel arches, the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado adopts square wheel wells – something Chevy’s design staff views as a hallmark for its North American trucks – and wraps them in deep, chunky flares.
The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado’s cabs still bear some resemblance to its foreign counterparts, but does incorporate subtle tweaks – for instance, the rake of the windscreen is increased to reduce drag. The makeover continues within, as Colorados sold here wear an all-new instrument panel patterned after the Silverado, ditching the waterfall center console in favor of a large ovoid form punctuated with chunky buttons and large toggle switches. And while global Colorados offer three cab choices, the North American 2015 model offers only two: an extended cab, in concert with a six-foot box; or a four-door crew-cab, which can be paired with either a five- or six-foot box.
On that note, the 2015 Colorado’s bed sides are taller than its foreign siblings, improving cargo capacity while giving the truck’s profile a little more shoulder above the beltline. Smoothed, rectangular taillamps replace the scalloped lenses used overseas, while the rear bumper gains the corner steps introduced on the 2014 Silverado.
But all of this pales to the change lurking beneath the surface: North American Colorados ride on a completely different frame from their global counterparts. According to Luke, the 2015 Colorado’s fully-boxed frame is essentially a scaled-down version of that employed by the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. Luke says the switcheroo was dictated in part to meet side impact standards, but it does also result in a fairly stout package. Full towing and payload details have yet to be released, but GM does say gas Colorado models should be able to tow up to 6700 pounds.
Three Powertrain Choices
The North American adaptation extends to the 2015 Colorado’s powertrain choices.
In our market, the 2015 Colorado’s base engine is a direct-injection 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Sound familiar? It’s basically the same engine you’ll find in both the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu and the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, although it has been slightly reworked to deliver a broader torque curve for truck use. Preliminary specifications suggest the Colorado-ized 2.5-liter produces 193 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. That’s better than the 185-hp 2.9-liter four-cylinder used in the old Colorado, and it also bests both the Toyota Tacoma’s 159-hp/180 lb-ft 2.7-liter four-cylinder and the Nissan Frontier’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which is rated at 152-hp and 171 lb-ft.
Buyers seeking more power can step up to GM’s omnipresent direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6, used everywhere from the 2014 Chevy Equinox to the 2014 Cadillac CTS. In the 2015 Colorado, the engine yields 300 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. That bests both the Tacoma and Frontier’s six-cylinder options, but even matches the 300 hp offered by the 2012 Colorado’s optional 5.3-liter V-8.
If you’re looking to match the 5.3-liter’s 320 lb-ft of torque, you’ll need to wait another year. For the 2016 model year, a Duramax-branded 2.8-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder will be offered. Derived from GM’s new global family of four-cylinder diesel engines, the engine is one of the few major components the North American 2015 Colorado shares with the global model. GM is still working to certify and federalize a U.S.-spec variant, but expect power to be close to 197 hp at 3600 rpm and 324 lb-ft at 2000 rpm.
Regardless of the engine ordered, all 2015 (and 2016) Colorados will be built with a six-speed automatic transmission. A manual transmission is sadly not in the cards, but Luke says his team is investigating “other numbers of speeds” – something we’ve heard before during the launch of a larger Chevy-branded pickup truck, and likely pointing to either the 8- or 10-speed automatics GM is presently developing. Four-wheel drive models boast a two-speed transfer case with a selectable automatic 4WD setting.
As exciting as it is to see innovation and fresh sheetmetal in a rather stagnant market segment, GM needs to tread lightly with the new 2015 Colorado to avoid competing against itself. We’re not just talking about the Colorado’s twin, the forthcoming 2015 GMC Canyon, which is due later in 2015 – we’re talking about stepping on the toes of the new 2014 Silverado itself. Though the Colorado is a bit smaller than the Silverado, that 6700-pound tow rating steps on the toes of base-grade 2014 Silverados built with the 4.3-liter V-6.
Will buyers simply jump ship to the larger truck once more, citing bang for the buck? GM doesn’t think so, suggesting there’s a pent-up demand for a modern pickup in a smaller form factor. Provided it can truly differentiate the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado from its larger competitors — especially its larger in-house competitors — by way of fuel economy and pricing, the 2015 Colorado might just rediscover a niche.