Once or twice a decade, a new car or truck will come out and be so good, so likeable and so well-done that it can make all the other OEMs think hard about matching it.
In the case of mid-size pickup trucks, that incredible new car is the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado.
In a segment that has been in the doldrums for a least five years, the new Colorado is good enough to have Ford and Ram scratching their heads -- reviewing old emails with a search heading of "Ranger" or "Dakota." Why did we cancel these, again?
Off the market since 2010 but now back rested, redesigned and re-energized, the new Colorado firmly ditches its old compact truck segment in favor of the much more capable, and better-sounding, 'mid-size truck' you see before you.
What happened in those four years of beauty sleep?
What is this magic potion to turn the admirable but fairly lackluster previous-gen Colorado into the best truck on the market for 95-percent of all truck uses?
Let's dive in to find out with the usual headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary.
HD Off-Road Drive Review
Included directly above is an HD drive review testing out the Colorado Z71's switch-able 4x4 modes and locking differentials on some old irrigation channels near the ocean in Charleston, South Carolina.
The first and most crucial thing you notice about the new Colorado Z71 is that it is big and tall. Not Big/Tall like the XXL pickups out there in the 1500 class -- more big, tall and lean might be a better description.
Where the old Colorado rode low and felt narrow at all times, the 2015 model is lifted on giant rubber. Its grille and cab designs feel modern but hard-working at the same time.
The nose is a bluff cliff of a face, with a high hood-line falling away almost vertically into the Chevy truck bowtie shroud in the upper grille. The wide horizontal element is a dark black on this cool Z71 trim, extending into the bumper and looking cool yet functional. If the current Silverado is almost too traditional in its looks, the Colorado hits the sweet spot with its elegant headlamp internals and projector-beam halogen lighting.
A chrome-rimmed foglamp lives in the lower bumpers in a blacked-out section of the painted bumper, while the lower chin spoiler is a good balance. It is hard-wearing and flexible, with the aerodynamic extension integrated into this short-overhand nose nicely. Functional, but modern and memorable up front.
In the sides and in profile, the Colorado's newness is plain to see -- But not plain-jane.
The Colorado actually has a fairly steep windshield angle slope, which meshes well with the rounded roofline. The glasshouse in this crew-cab truck angles upward toward the rear windows, creating a smooth and sleek beltline at truck-cab height.
This is clearly a truck that was designed -- not just styled.
You know that from the upward-moving lower sill stamping and the futuristic way the back door cutout and cab shape is angled. A bit of a slope is visible in the overall cab-to-pickup-box joining point. Sounds like a trivial detail, but combined with the built-in fender flares and cool brake-light shapes -- -the Colorado really is a solid A-grade design.
It sounds dull to type this, but that curved-cab design doesn't just help the Colorado feel light and sporty.
The functional benefits are pretty apparent too. Where the Tacoma and Frontier competition delivers a second row of seating, they cannot compete with the Colorado for roominess and overall seating comfort. The second row of the Colorado seats three in a genuinely-large, wide and premium layout. No more church-pew backseat angles to fret about, passengers!
Up front, the Colorado is also full of good news right from first sitting. An outstanding driving position sits high off the road with superb visibility all around. The tech is all very well-integrated -- with $500 optional Bose speakers and $500 upgraded Chevrolet MyLink with Nav touchscreen all very fresh indeed.
On the move, the Colorado Z71 feels spring-y and tight -- but only for the first block. At about 15-mph, the whole truck calms down and the ride becomes one of the smoothest of any pickup we've driven. Little road jiggles are still perceptible with these off-road tires and springs, but they are a fair trade for truly sharp and accurate handling. This Colorado loves to be driven hard, around bends, and with the throttle wide open.
That is not something offered on any full-size pickup truck.
Overall, the Colorado is just a big chuckable puppy of a machine. Ready to play anytime and every time.
This puppy likes to RUN HARD in the mud! The latest 3.6-liter V6 with direct-injection delivers 306-horsepower smoothly and with some nice engine bark as well. With just a driver aboard and no cargo or trailer -- the Colorado is absolutely rapid. Power to spare, with the six-speed automatic in the right gear for big speed almost telepathically.
If the other OEM's were suddenly feeling serious about re-entering the mid-size truck realm, a drive in the Colorado V6 will let them know they cannot just send out some dog of an engine, either.
No one is mentioning Nissan here, as the Frontier is set to offer a diesel in the near future. But the Frontier V6 feels down about 80-ponies versus the Colorado. Same too, we expect, for the new 2016 Tacoma from Toyota. The new Tacoma will offer a 3.5-liter V6 with a new atkinson-cycle engine that can run on speedy mode or super eco modes. But neither is anywhere near as potent as the Colorado V6.
Off-road, pretty impressive tech and capability in the Colorado as well. The lack of any old-fashion transfer case controls might worry Tacoma owners, but the Colorado is in another league of tech for its 4x4. Both the top Tacoma and Colorado offer locking differentials, switch-able 4x2, 4x4 and 4x4 Low Ranges.
But only the Colorado really delivers the modern buyer's preference: a 4-auto setting, and an electronically controlled transfer case. These mean the Colorado is actually very similar to drive in 4x4-High versus rear-drive 4x2 mode. The steering is still feelsome and accurate, parking is not a graunchy experience, and there is almost none of the front diff grittiness that the Tacoma is known for in 4x4 mode.
Two huge thumbs up, and one foot hard down on the throttle in the Colorado powertrain scorebox.
The killer spec of the Colorado V6 Z71 is its price. This truck with almost every available option comes in at just about $36,000. That is stellar value.
Base pricing for the extended-cab standard truck is from just $20,120.
Imagine you are back in auto-exec world now. You know the Colorado looks good enough to re-energize the entire compact truck market. You know it will easily deliver an incremental 200,000 units a year for Chevy and GMC versus the non-existent Ranger and Dakota you once made. TIme to green-light a new gen of mid-size truck?
Then you take a drive. Observe the incredible power, handling and hauling stats of the Colorado. Its precise steering and off-road ability to shame a Jeep.
Here is the issue with your product plans. Will the new Ranger for 2018 even be competitive with this Colorado -- on sale today?
That is a big *maybe.* And definitely not at the loaded Chevy's $36,000 pricetag.
This is a class-leader, to be sure.
This truck is so good, it has woken Nissan, Toyota, Ford and Dodge from their slumber of non-investment or non-product in the mid-size pickups class.
But while the other guys slept in, the well-rested 2015 Colorado Z71 is up at dawn. It is so good, the Colorado Z71 just leapfrogged the next Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier and even 2016 Toyota Tacoma in a single bound.
After loving the Colorado on and off-road, we know for certain that this Chevy is the most playful, best-handling and most-capable mid-size pickup truck of all time.