First Drive: Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Dec 17, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    A Long Time Coming

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    By Ed Hellwig
    Date posted: 12-16-2003

    If you've been in this country for more than, say, a day or two, you probably already know about GM's full-size trucks. With advertising campaigns equal in size to the GDP of small countries, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra enjoy almost endless exposure on billboards and television in a quest to assure that every American is well aware of their powerful engines and sturdy construction.

    While those full-sizers have become national celebrities, General Motors' compact pickups haven't enjoyed quite the same level of attention. With smaller sales numbers, less powerful engines and limited ability to tear a tree stump out of the ground, the Chevrolet S-10 and GMC Sonoma soldiered on for a nearly a decade under substantially smaller spotlights.

    For 2004, those spotlights will get just a little bit brighter with the introduction of the all-new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon compact trucks. Larger in most dimensions than their predecessors, the Colorado and the Canyon were designed to be as comfortable as they are tough. New engines and class-exclusive features are also part of the mix to help give both trucks the edge they need to compete in a category filled with strong domestic and foreign competition.

    Drive either truck and the improvements over their predecessors are obvious. They're stiffer and smoother on the road and more spacious inside. It doesn't quite feel like 10 years' worth of development work went on, but there's at least a good three or four years of solid engineering under each skin. It's not the kind of overwhelming goodness that will vault Chevrolet and GMC directly to the head of the line, but as compact trucks go, the Colorado and Canyon are two of the best currently available.

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    Prominent on the list of improvements is a significantly stiffer frame that allows for more precise suspension tuning and less flex under stressful conditions. Unlike the previous trucks that flopped and wobbled over rough terrain, the Colorado and Canyon maintain their composure without compromising ride quality. In fact, on smooth pavement the overall feel is softer than you might expect for a pickup. A revised rack-and-pinion steering system further contributes to the more refined feel of the new trucks, but numbness on center keeps them from feeling truly connected to the road.

    Three different suspensions are offered: the standard heavy-duty setup, an elevated Z71 off-road package and a lowered street performance design. Despite its rough-sounding name, the standard heavy-duty setup is quite forgiving, making it ideal for everyday driving. Four-wheel-drive models sit 2 inches higher than their two-wheel counterparts but otherwise use the same basic design.

    If you plan on having your truck dirty as often as it's clean, the Z71 option is worth considering. Available on both two- and four-wheel-drive models, the Z71 suspension raises ride height three inches over a stock two-wheel-drive model. Also included in the package are larger tires, an underbody skid plate, heavy-duty shocks and a locking rear differential. The ride is slightly soggier than the standard suspension mostly due to the larger, more heavily treaded tires, but it's still better than previous GM compacts.

    For those looking for the ultimate in street performance, the Colorado offers a ZQ8 sport suspension on two-wheel-drive models designed to deliver sharp handling and a slammed custom truck look. Reduced height springs drop the ride height two inches lower than stock, while Bilstein shocks, a quick-ratio steering system and 17-inch wheels and tires provide added control. The stiffer setup is instantly noticeable behind the wheel, but it's not so harsh that you curse it over every bump in the street. Not only will it give Toyota's Tacoma S-Runner a run for its money in the handling department, it has well-defined looks to complement its performance.

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    As well sorted out as both trucks are when it comes to their suspensions, the two available engines might leave power-hungry drivers wishing for more. The base engine is a 2.8-liter inline four-cylinder rated at 175 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, while the optional power plant is a 3.5-liter inline five-cylinder that generates 220 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are scaled-down versions of the advanced 4.2-liter six-cylinder engine found in the TrailBlazer and Envoy SUVs that offer all aluminum construction, variable valve timing, dual overhead cams, and four valves per cylinder. A five-speed manual is standard on all models; a four-speed automatic is available as an option.

    With 220 hp, the optional 3.5-liter engine gives the Colorado and Canyon the highest horsepower rating in the class, but like its six-cylinder cousin, the power is situated higher in the power band than on most truck engines. Off-the-line grunt is just average as the engine fails to deliver much of a pull until nearly 4,000 rpm — a far cry from the old 4.3-liter pushrod V6 that delivered plenty of power down low but ran out of breath quickly thereafter. A unique growl at full roar and a smoother power delivery give the new five-cylinder an overall edge, but those looking for the trucklike feel of a large-displacement V6 may find the 3.5 a bit lacking.

    Such a drawback might seem inexcusable on a pickup truck, but GM designed the Colorado and Canyon to appeal to a wider range of buyers than the typical work truck market. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cabin where larger dimensions and additional amenities add more passenger comfort and convenience. The truck's overall length remains virtually unchanged, but a longer wheelbase stretches the cabin for added legroom front and rear, while a wider body adds slightly more hip- and shoulder room. The dimensional differences are slight, but anyone who has ever spent much time in the previous GM compacts will notice the added room.

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    Less impressive is the overall design and quality of the interior, as it still wears the drab gray plastic panels of its predecessors. The gauge cluster is slightly better but not great, and the build quality still isn't very impressive as most of the trim pieces flex and move when pressed upon. The flat seats lack much contour, and even the upgraded leather upholstery fails to elicit an upscale look and feel. In all fairness, there aren't any compact trucks on the market that could be called plush, but if GM really wants to court personal-use buyers, a more stylish and higher-quality interior would have helped.

    That said, there are some areas in which these trucks excel. They are the first compact trucks to offer side airbag protection as well as OnStar and factory-installed satellite radio. The optional 3.5-liter engine may not have the torque all buyers are looking for but with EPA fuel ratings of 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, it's a more efficient power plant than its competitors' top engines. Then there's the styling, a subjective matter for sure but one in which both trucks seem to garner the same positive results.

    Pushing the new Colorado and Canyon as personal-use trucks rather than true workhorse pickups may prove to be a smart move for GM. Most buyers fall into that category and are more likely to appreciate a more refined ride and extra passenger space than big-time tow ratings. However, doing so with such bland and unimpressive interiors and smaller displacement engines may threaten the automaker's ability to attract new customers. With all-new compact trucks coming next year from Dodge, Nissan and Toyota, the Colorado and Canyon are going to have their hands full. Both GM trucks offer levels of refinement and comfort that are better than anything currently on the market, but if you were hoping for serious power or a modern cabin design, these trucks come up a little short.

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    The Bottom Line: Good-looking and comfortable, GM's new compacts are big on style and refinement but a little short on power and cabin quality.

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  2. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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  3. BlazinBlazer Guy

    BlazinBlazer Guy Witness to The De-Evolution of Mankind.

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    I'll take a GMC Z71.... unless once I see ZQ8's I really love 'em.
     
  4. Supernoma

    Supernoma servus publicae OT Supporter

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    I took one for a spin the other day. Quite nice but I had some gruffs with it.

    They're not kidding about no bottem-end power. You gotta mash the petal to feel anything out of it. Coming from a lightly modded 4.3 this things is laughable.
    Drum brakes- even on a Z71 4x4.
    Rear sway bar only on the ZQ8 package, also no more Bilstein shocks.
    Cookie cutter radio and climate controls give the impression of cheapness.

    So what did I like about it?
    Styling, the Canyon in particular is leaps and bounds abve the current S-Series platform.
    New instrumentation, much improvement over the plain white on black. (They did get simpfiflied, no more voltage or oil pressure... another gruff of mine)

    All in all I like it, but there is rom for refinement. Im hoping to see little changes in the next couple model years.


    On another note.... there has been new rumors of a powetrain shortages/changes and available trucks will be in short supply for time to come.
     
  5. SycoPhant

    SycoPhant Get out my way

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    They look good, certainly joining the bigger look crowd with the Ranger and Dakota. I don't think they're going to do as well as they'd like and they're not going to gain much in sales numbers once the redesign wears off.
     
  6. Serialpimp

    Serialpimp Guest

    I have been waiting for em to come out for a while now,

    I need to find time to go check one out and drive one
     
  7. Surgie

    Surgie Mein Führer, I can walk!

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    So GM introduced that new hummer with the turbo i5 in it, wonder if thats gonna find its way into one of those two trucks eventually :x:
     
  8. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    If that Hummer makes production with very minimal changes from the concept, it'll easily be the baddest compact truck on the market. :eek3:
     
  9. Surgie

    Surgie Mein Führer, I can walk!

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    Yeah it is pretty bad ass, 350hp (more than any silverado on the market currently :eek3: ) in a smaller body but with fullsize rear & front ends :eek3:

    I have to admit though, if they put an i5 turbo into a canyon i'd be all over it in a heartbeat, lets just hope someone at GM makes that decision. Sounds like it'd be just the ticket to make up for that supposed lack of low-end grunt :big grin:

    Styling wise though i wouldn't put them above the current 'Noma, which i think is one of the better looking front ends on anything out there, and with an envoy bumper its just flat out sexy :yum: . Too bad the s-10 front dosn't look half that good, although i've seen some nice modded ones out there as well (all black up front looks awesome :)).

    Anyone know how much bigger these trucks are than the current s-series? I keep hearing them refer to them as midsize (as opposed to compact) but they don't appear to be that much bigger (if at all) and the curb weight seemed to be in the same ballpark to me :dunno:
     

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