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Follow-Up Test: 2004 Chevrolet Colorado Sport
The Z28 of Pickup Trucks

By John DiPietro
Date posted: 03-18-2004

Car buffs will recognize that the first generation (1967-1969) Camaro Z28 was a car that was more about sporty handling than all-out brute horsepower. A firmer suspension, quicker steering and even the option of four-wheel disc brakes made it clear that these were cars designed to unravel a twisty road (or racetrack), not just accelerate hard in a straight line. Instead of a muscle-bound big block, these Z28s had a lighter, high-winding 302-cubic-inch V8. If a Camaro enthusiast wanted a torque-rich muscle car to blow off Mustangs and GTOs at the lights, he could get an SS packing a 375-horse "Turbo Jet" 396.

So…why are we talking about Camaro Z28s when the subject of this test is, of all things, a pickup truck? A few reasons, actually. Mainly because, like an early Z28, the Colorado Sport's (whose option code happens to be ZQ8) forte is responsive, taut handling coupled with respectable but not overwhelming power under the hood. And consider this: trucks have become the vehicle of choice for many enthusiasts who, in decades past, probably would've bought a muscle or pony car. Think we're nuts? Consider these current showroom offerings from the old "Big Three": Chevy's Silverado SS, Dodge's Ram SRT-10 (that sports a Viper's 500-horsepower V10) and Ford's supercharged F-150 Lightning. The SRT-10 and the Lightning will flat out spank most any hallowed muscle car you could name, and they also go around corners and stop quite nicely as well.

Based on the all-new Chevy Colorado, the Sport has hardware tweaks that include a lowered suspension (2.0 inches closer to terra firma than the base truck), quick-ratio power steering and 17-inch alloys wearing 235/50 performance tires. Visual pizzazz is added via color-keyed wheel flares, grille and bumpers.

Unfortunately, our interior assessment is something we might as well have copied and pasted from most of our other Chevrolet interior critiques. In short, we think that the designers and product planners could have done better here. The cabin is user-friendly but bland and could use some jazzing up (maybe some metallic or simulated carbon-fiber accents around the center stack, door panels and steering wheel) and some higher-grade plastic trim. At least the steering wheel breaks from Chevy tradition; it's not ugly and even looks kind of like a Corvette's wheel. After we discovered the Sport's healthy grip in the corners, we agreed that some lateral support in the front buckets would also be most appreciated.

In order to allow the half-dozen journalists to fully explore the Colorado Sport's performance capabilities, the company provided a day at the General Motors Proving Grounds located near Phoenix, Ariz. We were taken to a small track that included a couple of big sweepers and a variety of tighter, smaller turns. For comparison's sake, they had a Chrysler PT Cruiser GT, Ford Mustang and a Pontiac Vibe GT on hand. Apart from the Mustang being a base V6 model, we have to commend those guys for having the gumption to provide the top-performance versions of the Vibe and PT. While we initially thought it was weird (and maybe a bad decision by Chevrolet) to have these vehicles on hand as competitors to a midsize pickup, the purpose was to show off the Colorado's capabilities. And it was a mission accomplished. Where the Colorado Sport exhibited crisp turn-in (the steering is quick — only 2.9 turns lock-to-lock) and flat cornering, the Mustang, and to a lesser extent the PT, felt lazy and wallowed through the curves. The Vibe GT felt pretty good — buttoned-down and with the best steering feel of the group. But the Colorado Sport, especially the regular-cab four-banger, was a big surprise.

For years, American pickups with four-cylinder engines have lagged behind their Japanese counterparts in every important category — performance, refinement and reliability. Those days may be over, as the inline four found in the Colorado is a little powerhouse. The PR folks told us not to ignore the refrigerator-white, regular-cab Colorado Sport that was nearly invisible among the bigger and flashier yellow and red extended-cab Sports. They also said that we'd be so surprised at the little bugger's performance that we might pop the hood open to confirm for ourselves that it was just a four-banger under there. Although PR types are prone to hyperbole, it turns out they weren't exaggerating one bit here.

Rated at 175 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, the Colorado's 2.8-liter "Vortec 2800" inline four was as energetic as an aerobics instructor fired up on a Starbucks double espresso. Matched to the five-speed manual gearbox, this little sleeper was a hoot to whip around the track and care had to be taken to limit wheelspin when blasting out of the tighter turns. And it had a nice snort to the exhaust, too.

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I'm very surprised that Edmunds actually had a positive review of a GM product. There were no comments about inferior build quality and poor reliability. If these anti-GM guys like it, it must be one hell of a truck!
 

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Many auto critics are juiced that GM finally dropped the S-10, which has a platform going back decades, and hardly inspires any enthusiasm from tech-hungry import lovers.

I am too.
 

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Originally posted by Maetrix66@Mar 19 2004, 01:36 PM
I've never heard of the "vortec 2800" inline 4 before, is it a new engine, or did they just stroke and bore a 2200????
The 2.8 is new its based on the new 3.5 inline that is available in the Colorado, which happens to be based off of the 4.2 inline 6 used in the mid-sized suv's. Basically I think they took the six and chopped off one cylinder for each engine.
 

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i was shocked to hear that the S10 would be no longer, kind of depressed, those 80's and early ninties S10s rivaled really well against toyota offroad, and the name has been around for a long time. and the thought of "colorado" didnt impress me much... but from what i have read about the colorado sport, this is a great truck and the S10 should have been taken out years ago.

im surprised to hear it being compared to cars in handling, it is a pickup truck you know! first i got my new autoweek mag and they compared it to the pt crusier GT (not too suprising) then the Vibe GT, which is a great handling car from what i understand. and then to my surprise the Mustang V6! and the Truck got BETTER times!

Auto week was giving it the nickname of the Pony Truck, very impressive if you ask me.
 

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I for one have never driven one of the new Colorados or Canyons so I was glad to hear that they liked the handling so much. But I have priced them and sat in them so thus far have formed some opinions of them. Firstly if GM is going to purport a sport model why not usher in the 4.2 l-6? This surely would be a great time to do so. At least put this engine in the 4 door version as it is much heavier and in need of the extra power. Secondly I agree with the article on the interior, ie; it is dissapointing. I found lots of cheap hard plastic and that terrible seat material even on the door panals. Pulling down a visor I thought for sure it was going to break off in my hand! Very flimsy indeed! Feels like the 3 screws are being held in by cardboard which I think is the case here. And only the most expensive 25k-28k models seemed to have a leather wrapped wheel and a exterior door molding. Lastly the price! A base 2 wheel drive model with auto, 5 banger, posi, tilt and cruise and a Cd is almost 20 large, plain steel wheels, vinyl floor and all. When I ask people what they think should be changed on the new pickup trucks most agree on a lower price tag and inclusion of the 6 cylinder engine. Just my 2 cents.
 

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I am willing to bet the 4.2 will not fit, but the V8s should. I never saw the advantage of the 4.2 over the 4.8 anyway.
 

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Originally posted by Rabbit@Mar 20 2004, 10:29 AM
I am willing to bet the 4.2 will not fit, but the V8s should. I never saw the advantage of the 4.2 over the 4.8 anyway.
how about the same power out put, less gas?

The 2.8, 3.5, and 4.2 are all based off teh same Inline Atlas motor. The 4.2 is a great motor and makes massive power for a little 6, and more then most V8. The I6 is just a long engine, and wont fit under the hood of the 355 twins. But, since people put small blocks in s10's, im sure you could put a 4.8 in the 355 twins, boasting 285hp. This wouldnt cut into the Silvarado market, and I dont see how it could. The Colorado is a much smaller truck, and if people want a full size truck, they will get a full sized truck. But we all know if you can put in a 4.8, the 6.0 is the same engine(different stroke/bore) and that calls for a 400hp LS2!! Put that in a light model that I heard is around 3100lbs? ahhh, you dont need some megaubersupercharged 6.0... you just need the Colorado.
 

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Originally posted by bigals87z28+Mar 20 2004, 01:59 PM--></div><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (bigals87z28 @ Mar 20 2004, 01:59 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> <!--QuoteBegin-Rabbit@Mar 20 2004, 10:29 AM
I am willing to bet the 4.2 will not fit, but the V8s should.  I never saw the advantage of the 4.2 over the 4.8 anyway.
how about the same power out put, less gas?

The 2.8, 3.5, and 4.2 are all based off teh same Inline Atlas motor. The 4.2 is a great motor and makes massive power for a little 6, and more then most V8. The I6 is just a long engine, and wont fit under the hood of the 355 twins. But, since people put small blocks in s10's, im sure you could put a 4.8 in the 355 twins, boasting 285hp. This wouldnt cut into the Silvarado market, and I dont see how it could. The Colorado is a much smaller truck, and if people want a full size truck, they will get a full sized truck. But we all know if you can put in a 4.8, the 6.0 is the same engine(different stroke/bore) and that calls for a 400hp LS2!! Put that in a light model that I heard is around 3100lbs? ahhh, you dont need some megaubersupercharged 6.0... you just need the Colorado. [/b][/quote]
Though I agree that the I-6 is a great motor, 4.2L is hardly a SMALL 6-cylinder engine.
 

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The Buick Rainier with the 5.3 V8 gets 16/19 mpg. With the 4.2 it gets 16/21. I would go as far as to say the 4.8 would get even BETTER fuel milage than the 4.2. Probably better in the city and about the same on the highway. All that and you get more low end grunt and slightly more power across the entire powerband. The 4.8 can also handle a lower idle which helps a lot in towing.

I'm just not impressed with the Atlas engines. At least the old 4.3 could tow. Now they replaced it with that too-high revving I5. The I4 is really the only one I like better than the engine it replaces.
 

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Pulling down a visor I thought for sure it was going to break off in my hand! Very flimsy indeed! Feels like the 3 screws are being held in by cardboard which I think is the case here
Like all Ford vehicles...
 

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Notice on the sport how they talk about body colored grille and flares and stuff. Can the idiots not figure out that the handles are still black! All door handles should be painted too. Every truck I get I have to take off the handles, cheesy plastic caps and grille to paint the stuff to look descent.
 

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The I5's peak torque is the same RPM as the V6.
Maybe 20 ft-lb less, but it peaks at the same spot.
I would love to see how torque curves compare
between the two engines.
 

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The I5 makes 90% of its torque from 1600-5600 RPM. That comes to about 200 ft. lbs. This is according to GM.

The 4.3 makes 200 ft. lbs. at 1000 RPM. At 1600, it is making about 240 ft. pounds. It makes 240-260 ft. lbs. from 1500 up to about 4500 RPM at which point it drops down to 200 at it's 5000 RPM redline.

MUCH better for towing because it can hold it's rpms at lower speeds which makes launching with 5000 pounds behind you a breeze.

I got THAT info from this:

 

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Price is not a problem on the Colorado. My S10 was a little over $20,000. It's a single cab with about every option, including yellow paint. That said, I test drove a similarly equipped Colorado sport (my S10 is ZQ8 equipped) and the price was very close. The Colorado was pretty much a loaded single cab sport. It stickered a little over $20,000. About $550 more than my S10.

By the way, does anyone know if there will be a sport side bed for the Colorado?
 

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I am waiting for the stepside also. i had the Sonoma ext.cab 4.3 auto with the ZQ8. It stickered at 23k and I got it for 16,500. I loved that truck. the Canyon does not carry the option anymore.
 
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