First Drive: 2009 Chevy Colorado and 2009 GMC Canyon

Don Sherman
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Chevy's Colorado and GMC's Canyon are the Rodney Dangerfields of the mid-size pickup category. During their first five years of existence, they earned all the respect they deserved: nada.

Blame it on birthright. The early twenty-first century liaison between General Motors and Isuzu assigned the Japanese partner to the lead engineering role. Unfortunately, Isuzu's creativity wasn't up to GM's minimum standards, so the design had to be rejiggered, delaying introduction until the 2004 model year and prolonging the lives of the clunky S-10 and Sonoma pickups. To further cripple any chance of success, GM torpedoed the new powertrain roster. While the 2.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder base engine was reasonably competitive, the 3.5-liter in-line five faced enemies armed with six- and eight-cylinder engines.

Power and torque were not the issue. The five, subsequently upped to 3.7 liters, is still available and currently provides a healthy 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque. But when bar talk turns to engines, the joke's on any pickup owner who admits he's packing a five-shooter.

To make amends, Isuzu has left the engineering building and GM made honest hombres out of the Colorado and the Canyon. For 2009, the brakes are upgraded, a StabiliTrak electronic stability system is standard, and the exterior receives outpatient cosmetic surgery. But the real news is that a desirable engine has finally joined the options list. All hail the arrival of GM's LH8 Vortec 5.3-liter V-8. This engine not only gives power and performance a major boost, it's a genuinely smooth operator and reasonably fuel efficient. But most importantly, with a lineage link to Corvette V-8s, Colorado and Canyon bragging rights are now above reproach.The LH8's aluminum block saves 100 pounds over the cast-iron block found in a few other Vortec V-8s. Its list of special features includes a structural (cast-aluminum) oil pan, six-bolt main bearings, roller hydraulic lifters, roller-tipped rocker arms, full-floating wrist pins, polymer-coated pistons, and no less than four catalytic converters. The iridium-tipped spark plugs have a theoretical service life of 100,000 miles. This same Vortec also powers the Hummer H3 Alpha.

Even though this engine lacks overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, it delivers a potent 300 hp at 5200 rpm and 320 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. It revs to 6000 rpm and tops 20 mpg on the highway in two-wheel-drive trim. A four-speed Hydra-Matic 4L60 is the only available transmission.

Whether you buy it as a stand-alone option or buried deeply within some package, the new V-8 adds $1300 to the price of a Colorado or Canyon equipped with the 3.7-liter in-line five. It's not offered in the two-door standard-cab models but can be installed in both extended-cab (with jump-seat access provided by rear-hinged half doors) and real four-door crew-cab models. Care checking option boxes can keep the price from breaking through the $30,000 barrier. The tow rating is 6000 pounds for all configurations, a 500-pound gain over kin powered by the five-shooter.

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