There is no doubt that the 2023 Chevrolet Colorado has received an extreme makeover that has strengthened its image, with a bold front end and wrinkled wings. This new third-generation example is a stark contrast to the outgoing unit, which looks little more than a scaled-down full-size truck. It fails 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 the territory, but the Colorado looks poised to mount 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-hanging, hard-to-remove spoiler that barely cleared a parking block, let alone off-highway . obstacle is worth the name. The previous Z71 “off-road” model couldn’t clear the 20.0-degree Ramp Ride Index ramp, resulting in a score of zero.
At the rear, the parts have been placed about 2.5 inches higher for better exhaust clearance, as there is no longer a need 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 crease is shaped, and the lower rear shock mount is less vulnerable to impacts because it’s been moved closer to the rear spring. In other words, the Z71 can now easily tip over the pavement, and the WT (work truck) and LT trims are more capable of maneuvering job sites or pole line roads.
Chevrolet’s engineering team didn’t stop there. The new Trail Boss is a budget-minded off-roader that slots in below the ZR2 while outperforming and costing less than the Z71. It combines 32-inch all-terrain tires, flared fenders, and a nearly identical wide stance to the ZR2 with a 2.0-inch lift that’s more than cosmetic. Compared to the WT, LT and Z71, the Trail Boss sports an extra 1.5 inches of front suspension travel and an extra 1.0 inches of rear travel, enough to make a difference in the wild, let alone on our RTI ramp. The longer shock is still a twin-tube unit, and it shares its rear limited-slip differential with the Z71. If you want Multimatic spool valve dampers and lockable front and rear differentials, the unreleased ZR2 has them, plus a higher lift and more rear suspension travel.
Besides the move toward off-road legitimacy, another theme defines the new Colorado: simplification. There was only one cab and bed option this time, a crew cab with a five foot two inch bed. That’s the most popular configuration by a very wide margin, so the loss of diversity in the cab/bed realm won’t turn off many buyers. Chevrolet has taken steps to appease those who might be desperate for a longer bed, adding an optional mid-level tailgate stop that aligns its top edge with the inner fender bulge to form a flat base for hauling plywood or drywall.
The engine lineup 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, albeit in three flavors. All are backed by an eight-speed automatic and four-wheel-drive versions (optional on WT and LT and single configuration on others) have automatic four-wheel-drive engagement settings and 2.72:1 low-range gearing. No fuel economy figures are available for its three guises, but one is claimed to be more fuel-efficient than the 2.5-liter four, two are more powerful than the V-6, and the top dog makes more torque than the diesel.
The somewhat lost base version of the 2.7 Turbo comes standard in the WT and LT, where it produces 237 horsepower, 259 pound-feet of torque and supports a 3500-pound towing rating. The 2.7 Turbo Plus is optional in that truck and standard in the Z71 and Trail Boss, and it’s good for 310 horses, 390 pound-feet and 7700 pounds of towing capacity, which ties the Jeep Gladiator for best in class. The ZR2 gets a 2.7 Turbo HO (high output), with the same horsepower as the Plus but with 430 pound-feet of torque; that’s due to a software reflash, not a mechanical difference. The best part: Turbo Plus owners can pay the dealer for an HO calibration at delivery or any time after purchase.
Our ZR2 drive will come later, but we tried everything else. On pavement, all four share similar traits: The suspension easily soaks up irregular pavement without excessive jolts, and they’re adept at gliding over rough road surfaces. They feel smooth and well put together, the exception being the occasional rear kick that any unloaded truck can produce when driven over the wrong kind of bump. All of them are also a joy to spin around town as they steer smoothly and exhibit a straight-forward feel, with 17-inch tires fitted to the WT that stand out.
The base engine makes enough nuts for an economy-minded powertrain, perhaps due to its low torque peak of 1250 rpm. It does sound pretty badass, though, in contrast to the 2.7 Turbo Plus, which is more or less rough while being able to move the heavier Z71 and Trail Boss with little apparent effort. We tend to prefer the eight-speed automatic over the competition’s 10-speed unit, and that’s certainly the case here. But there’s no sport mode among the drive settings, which include Normal, Tow/Haul, Off-Road and Terrain.
Off the pavement, the Z71 and Trail Boss are impressive. Their suspension soaks up rough terrain without emitting any noise or vibration that isn’t absorbed into the drum-tight cabin, and their limited-slip rear differential maintains forward progress even with one rear wheel climbing high in the air through the diagonal ditch. The highlight is probably 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 Terrain’s in-mode dial, the booster supports a smooth one-pedal drive mode, a speed range you can adjust by setting the shift lever to L and tweaking the manual shift button. Unlike competing systems, the Colorado setup is completely free of any ABS pulsation and feels like one-pedal driving in an EV, with subtle controls that let us tiptoe down and out the other side without ever thinking to touch the actual brake pedal. Don’t like that idea? Select Off Road mode and normal service resumes.
The theme of simplification continues inside, where all Colorado trims from WT up get keyless ignition—actually great for off-roading since there’s no jingling key. 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 present on the new Honda Accord’s high-zoot Touring trim.
But simplification also brings some familiarity. The window lock button is on the touchscreen, as are the headlight controls (although the last button has an always-visible access icon). Maybe it’s okay? The window locks aren’t something we toggle much, and the headlights are fully automatically controlled to come on at dusk or whenever the wipers work. But the least interesting aspect is probably the interior materials, which are mostly plastic with unconvincing details that are a bit too shiny. The Trail Boss keeps its price low by being based on the WT, so the interior is also less impressive. But the Z71, the most luxurious, has a soft-touch dashboard and an armrest treatment of mysterious rubber origin.
Prices have gone up, but not to alarming levels—especially considering the many upgrades. A two-wheel drive WT costs $30,695, which is almost $1000 more than before. The four-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 carry a $10K premium at $48,295.
In many ways, the appeal of the new Chevrolet Colorado has risen to an all-time high. It’s made the leap from a pint-sized pickup that doesn’t know what it wants in life to a more confident truck that should appeal to outdoor lifestyle buyers traditionally drawn to the Tacoma. Will it work that way? We’ll find out for sure when the new Tacoma and Ford Ranger appear in the coming months. This will be interesting.
2023 Chevrolet Colorado
Vehicle Type: front, rear or rear engine/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 in
Width: 74.9-76.3 in
Height: 70.7-71.9 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 58/43 ft3
Curb weight (C/D approx): 4300-4700 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 6.0-7.2 seconds
1/4-Mile: 14.7-15.9 seconds
Top Speed: 100 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/City/Highway: 20-23/17-20/24-26 mpg