First Drive: 2004 Chevrolet Colorado ZQ8
Larry Edsall © PickupTruck.com,
Posted: 02-22-04 23:35
“Are you sure you want to do this?” asks the voice coming
from inside the full-face racing helmet that covered the driver’s
The driver is Tom Wallace, who on his rare free weekends, races a tube-frame,
carbon-bodied, 750-horsepower GT1-class Chevrolet Camaro. Wallace also
was part of the engineering team that made GM history in the mid-1980s
by building the Buick GNX, a rear-drive, turbo V6-powered car that was
faster in the quarter-mile than the mighty Chevrolet Corvette.
For the next
few laps, Wallace will wring out another rear-drive Chevy, although this
one can switch to four-wheel-drive at the turn of a knob. This one also
has four doors plus an open bed behind the passenger compartment and,
for good measure, will tow 4000 pounds.
This is a 2004 Chevrolet Colorado, equipped with the ZQ8 “sport”
suspension package. Wallace is vehicle line executive for General Motors’
mid-size trucks, and one of his roles is to push those trucks to –
o.k., often beyond – their limits. Apparently it’s rare that
anyone volunteers to ride along.
chosen to do so because I know Wallace will get every foot-pound of performance
out of this truck, will test the adhesion of its tires beyond the point
where I’d be comfortable driving, and I want to experience just
what this truck and suspension can do.
I already have a pretty good idea, if not of the absolute limits, then
at least of dynamics that only a handful of paying customers are likely
to exceed. I’ve just driven the Colorado on paved public roads that
twist into the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, and now we’ve
come to GM’s Desert Proving Grounds in the flat desert landscape
in Mesa to do laps around the vehicle dynamics road course in this truck
and its competitors.
By the way, none of those competitors are trucks. There’s not a
Ranger or Dakota, a Frontier or Tacoma in sight. Instead, the competitive
set for this test includes a Pontiac Vibe GT, a turbocharged Chrysler
PT Cruiser GT and a Ford Mustang V6.
Wallace had provided lively conversation over the dinner table a couple
of nights earlier – and we’ll return to the subject of a Colorado
SS in a few moments – but now, before he has to fly back to Detroit
for yet another of those meetings that keep him away from the race track,
we’ve asked him to show us the wild way around the course.
does, see-sawing the steering wheel to keep the truck pointed toward the
next apex while the tires squeal loudly as they struggle to relay to the
pavement the inputs from Wallace’s right foot. It’s a losing
battle. The Continental TouringContact AS tires were carefully chosen
for this truck, but street tires of 235/50 aspect are not going to provide
optimum traction in the face of driving as aggressive as Wallace’s
is on the track today.
But with the volumes at which this Colorado sells – nearly 20 percent
of Chevy’s all-new-for-’04 midsize pickup will be equipped
with the ZQ8 suspension – performance engineer Joe Taverna had
to take a more reasoned approach as he was tuning all of the suspension
packages for GMT 355.
GMT 355 is the internal codename for the truck sold as the Chevrolet
Colorado and GMC Canyon. They are available in three body styles –
regular, extended and crew cab – in two- and four-wheel drive and
with the standard, heavy-duty Z85 suspension, a Z71 off-road package or
the Chevy-exclusive ZQ8 “sport” version.
Initial dynamic targets for the ZQ8 were the old Chevy S-10 Extreme pickup,
and when that standard was passed almost immediately, the Chevy Camaro
Z28 was the next handling benchmark. Next, Taverna took aim at the Vibe
GT and suddenly we’re looking not so much at a compact truck as
we are at a sport compact.
Imagine, fast and furious, and with a couple of jet skis or dirt bikes
But we’re still looking at a compact truck that has to be able
to do some serious work; and as Wallace will tell you, there’s not
nearly as much play time as we’d like to think. Still, Taverna
found a way to make the Colorados that ride on the ZQ8 setup as sporty
as possible, at least for a truck that will sell in significant volumes.
And in the process he caused a change that enhances the ride quality of
every GMT 355.