Test: GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado
The folks from General Motors were apologetic about the lack of a serious off-roading venue when they used the paved byways around Burlington, Vermont to introduce their new 2004 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks to the automotive media.
But there was no need for apologies when they chose three trails in the mountainous desert environment east of Phoenix to show just what these new trucks are capable of when they’re miles from the nearest pavement.
The Colorado and Canyon are GM’s midsize pickup trucks, all new and grown up versions of the S-10 and Sonoma, which actually were getting so long on the tooth that GM vehicle line executive Tom Wallace jokes that they were old enough to vote and to drink in most states.
The architecture for the new trucks, known internally by their code-name --GMT 355 – was developed in conjunction with Isuzu, but the Colorado and Canyon share neither powertrain nor sheetmetal with the trucks Isuzu is building on the other side of the Pacific Rim.
While the S-10 and Sonoma were designed nearly two decades ago primarily with commercial use in mind, the growing personal-use truck market was on the mind of those developing the GMT 355s, and thus there’s even one version of the Chevy that has a lowered suspension and a four-cylinder engine that should make it ripe for sport truck modification.
The trio of trucks we drove along Arizona’s Telegraph Canyon, Martinez Mine and Box Canyon trails all were equipped with GM’s new 3.5-liter, inline five-cylinder Vortec 3500 engine, a derivative of the highly acclaimed 4.2-liter inline six that powers the Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy. While the six is inherently balanced, the five gets a pair of balance shafts that help it smoothly deliver 220 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque.
All three trucks – a Canyon SLE crew cab, a Colorado extended cab with a manual transmission, and a Colorado standard cab with a four-speed automatic -- also rode on GM’s Z71 off-road suspension setup: 40mm monotube shocks front and rear, urethane rear jounce bumper (instead of rubber), 15-inch, 265/75-aspect General Ameritrac TR off-road tires on seven-inch wide cast aluminum wheels, a G80 “Eaton Locker” rear differential. Four-wheel-drive versions also get skid plates and front recovery hooks.