The Colorado may have had the statistical edge in a few categories when it hit the dealerships ahead of the Dodge Dakota, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, but let’s see how our Chevy midsize crew cab test truck now stacks up against the latest competition in a few key categories. The following chart reflects 2005 comparable models from the competition. All are 2-wheel-drive crew cabs and come with the biggest engine, automatic transmission, lowest rear axle ratio, top trim level and proper tow equipment. The Toyota reflects the short-bed, PreRunner configuration. As of this writing, Nissan had not released all data on the new Frontier, so some numbers are missing or preliminary estimates.
** Preliminary estimates
The Z71 suspension option gives a 2-wheel-drive Colorado the look and ride of the 4-wheel-drive without the extra weight and expense. It uses the same torsion-bar setup (all other 2WD models have coil springs) that the 4-wheel-drives have up front, including gas-charged monotube shock absorbers, a 28mm stabilizer bar and urethane jounce bumpers. In the rear is a live axle-leaf-spring arrangement, but the Z71 adds a locking differential and traction control. The Z71 package also includes front tow hooks and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Only one point about the Z71 package is annoying: the wheels. Many will find them bold and distinctive but I find them unimpressive, bordering on hokey. It’s just a first impression and nothing to get twisted about, but the ZQ8 wheels are more appealing to that street truck package than the Z71 wheels are to the off-road look.
The Z71 badge first gained popularity as a super-stiff option on fullsize 4x4 trucks and SUVs. Now the Z71 is no longer just an RPO number; it’s a complete model that has been expanded to 2-wheel-drives and compact trucks. While previous Z71 suspensions were notorious for a painfully rough ride, the Colorado Z71 is refined and tuned for a more compliant ride on the pavement without giving up too much control over rough terrain. GM has said it didn’t mind sacrificing towing capacity in favor of a smoother ride. The base Z85 suspension would probably be the proper platform to test this strategy against the competition, but the new Z71 offers a strong dose of civility lacking in previous off-road suspensions in other GM products.
The Z71 adds 3.5 inches of ground clearance over the Z85 and ZQ8 suspensions, and the step-in height is 5.5 inches higher than the ZQ8. The stance is aggressive without being cartoonish and follows the pre-runner look popular in desert states. The Z71 also adds bigger P265/75R16 tires that hold up well off-road. But 2WD owners need to be aware that even with the locking differential and traction control, Z71 is not a substitute for 4-wheel-drive. If you’ve got a slippery boat ramp, like to hit the mud or find yourself in deep snow or sand, then get the 4WD model.
In the open desert, the 2WD Z71 soaks up moguls with surprising authority and maintains a confident ride through turns in the dirt. Steering response and feel are much improved over the old S-10, thanks to a new rack-and-pinion system. The 2WD version is slightly quicker than the 4WD, but both have a fairly wide 44.6-foot turning circle.